Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘industrial engineers

New semester, new approach to teaching this complex course of Human Factors in engineering?

Posted on October 26, 2008 (and written in April 6, 2006. Article #42 )

Usually, over 60 students enroll in my class, and the administration refused to split my course into 2 classes to maximize “profit”.

In retaliation, this semester only ten students were allowed to enrolled for my class; one is a computer engineer finishing his degree and the remaining are industrial engineers.  As a reminder, this course is required for Industrial engineers IE

The other engineering disciplines managed to open up new elective courses for each one of them, and were trying to market them at the expense of the wishes of many students who wanted to take my course and their petitions were denied.

With this reduced class number, I had to capitalize on the advantages of smaller classes, once the shock is under control.  

This semester, methods applied in human factors engineering are the focus: Having the previous semester in the body of varied knowledge in the course materials might encourage my class to appreciate the efforts and time invested by the pool of human factors researchers and professionals to make available practical design guidelines for the other engineering professions.

Whereas in the previous semesters I shun away from exposing my class to new methods, except teaching them explicitly the concept of controlled experimentations, like the differences among dependent, independent and controlled variables.

I endeavored to correct their misunderstanding, thinking that there was an abundance of knowledge to assimilate for a meager semester in the previous semesters, I boldly changed direction in my teaching approach by investing more time on exposing and explaining the various methods that human factors might be applying in their profession.  

The first assignment was using excel to compare 40 methods used in human factors, industrial engineering, industrial psychology, and designers of intelligent machines.  

This assignment was a version of article #14, about the taxonomy of methods, from 20 articles that I wrote the previous years and offered them as an introduction to the course, in addition to the course materials.

The students were supposed to select five categories from more than the dozen ways to classifying methods such as definition, purpose, applications, inputs, processes, procedures, output/product, mathematical requirements, disciplines teaching them, advantages, disadvantages, sources/links, connections with other methods, and comments.

I expected that, as engineers, they would logically select for the columns applications, input, procedure, output, and comments because they are what define a method. But somehow, they opted for applications, procedures, advantages, disadvantages, and comments mainly because it is how the internet offer information.  

After 3 students submitted their assignment on time I handed them over 40 summary sheets for the 16 methods used to analyzing a system or a mission, at least 2 sheets for each of 16 methods, one sheet on the purpose, input, procedure, and output/product of the method and the other sheets as examples of what the output is expected to look for presentation.

I then asked the less performing students to concentrate on only the 16 methods for their assignment and most of them did not submit this assignment even two months later.

So far I used up six sessions for methods or related topics such as the methods applied in the process of analyzing systems’ performance, psychophysical procedures, the fundamentals of controlled experimentation methods, human factors performance criteria, and what human factors “measure/data” in their experiments. 

As for the body of knowledge I extract a few facts from experiments and asked them to participate in providing me with the rationales or processes that might explain these facts.

For example, if data show that females on average are two third the strength of males then what could be the underlying causes for that discovery?  

Could that fact be explained by the length of the muscles, the cross section thickness of the muscles, the number of muscle fibers, or the length of the corresponding bones?

Facts are entertaining but I figured that they are big boys to be constantly entertained while shovelful of money is being spent for their university education.

Facts are entertaining but there have to come a time when these big boys stop and wonder at the brain power, Herculean patience, and hard work behind these amusing sessions.

The next assignment was to observe the business of the main family’s bread earner, note down the minute tasks of his typical day work, learn about the business by attempting to generate detailed answers from a questionnaire they have to develop based on a set of investigative query and problems related to human factors performance criteria in the assignment sheet…

And to report back what are the routine and daily tasks that enabled the students to join a university.  

Three students worked with their fathers’ in summer times and enjoyed the assignment; the remaining students could not shake off their 8th grade habits, wrote the questionnaire, mailed it, and waited for the answers.  

I was expecting that the students would apply the methodology they learned in analyzing systems such as activity, decision, and task analyses… but the good stuff was not forthcoming.

To encourage them to cater to the business that they might inherit, I assigned them a lecture project that would generate the requisite analyses with a clear objective of focusing on near-accidents, foreseeable errors, safety of the workers and health conditions in the workplace.

So far, the products of the two quizzes were complete failures. Funny, although most of the questions in the second quiz were from the same chapter sources as the first quiz, it is amazing how ill prepared are the students for assimilating or focusing on the essential ideas, concepts, and methods.

With a third of the semester over, I can points to only two students who are delivering serious investment in time, hard work, and excitement and are shooting for a deserved grade of A.

Article #20, April 18, 2005

“How could we fit Human Factors in the engineering curriculum?”

First of all, I would like that at least one Human Factors course be a required to all the engineering disciplines and architects.

The engineering students were awe struck that there is a whole body of knowledge specifically targeted to improving their designs and new important set of criteria which they agree with but were never exposed to in their design training.

This course was an eye opener to the various problems that engineers will have to deal with once they leave the university setting and move on to the working environment. Engineering students were following a one dimensional view of the world through equations, number crunching and manipulation of formulas that permitted them to solve simple engineering problems and may be a few design problems that never included the end users in the equation.

Now they realized that they may be exposed to problems of shift work, discrimination based on age and gender, occupational mental stress, occupational physical pains and aches, potential risks and injuries, human errors and their consequences, and the urgency to target the end users whom will use their designs.

Next, I would like that all engineering disciplines be required to take the design of experiment course. It is a pre-requisite for industrial engineers in their last two years curriculum.

This course of experimental design is highly important for several reasons: first the course material in Human Factors is pregnant with statistical results drawn from experiments which use human as subjects in the experiments.

Unfortunately, the design of experiment is not required for the other engineering disciplines and not even offered or encouraged as an optional alternative.

I have a real hard time explaining through examples the difference among the independent variables, the dependent variables and control variables from the Human Factors course. 

May be a couple of students finally end up comprehending how experiments are designed but learning the process and procedures to run a valid experiment require long training and many special courses.

How could an engineering graduate update his education and continue to keep pace with the practice if he cannot read research papers and critic them? 

The process of designing and conducting experiments is tedious, time consuming and requires skills.

Engineering students have no idea how experiments are done and their final projects are very inefficient.

Their experiments are basically of the type one independent variable and one dependent variable like scientists used to perform in the 18th century. 

Students have to perform several sets of these inefficient experiments for their final project while one well designed experiment would do.

Nowadays, inference experiments or cause and effects experiments can easily be designed with three factors or independent variables and two dependent variables and still permit good interpretation of the statistical results which provide a wealth of information on the interactions of the factors in a single experiment.

Thirdly, I would like that industrial engineers be offered an optional course on the cognitive aspects of Human Factors since computer information processing and communication is the sin qua of this age of technological advancement and mass accessibility to information.

More importantly, this follow up course will allow students to design, conduct and run a complete experiment using human subjects, learn the process and procedures of comprehending research papers, analyze the validity of the experiments and have a hand on designing a simple interface.

I am leaning toward starting with the design of an interface from the beginning and whenever common sense assumptions dictates certain parts of  the design to actually ask the student designing an experiment to validate the common sense assumptions.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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