Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Psychology

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.

“Did I choose to be a social designer?” And “Did the will and opportunity collide?”
My niece Joanna Choukeir Hojeily posted on FB:
“Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?
I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn’t exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?  I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn't exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
I replied:
“Your field existed since 1942 when designers tried to minimize the frequent pilot accidents in the air war with Germany. It was called industrial psychology, then industrial engineering, ergonomics, Human Factors in Engineering
The advent of fast computing, personal computing and fast graphics facilities shifted the trend to social graphic engineering or design…
It is the varied opportunities in developed countries that upgraded your passion for “social graphic design” projects: Giving priority to the health, safety and ease of use of products and services…”
I have posted about 50 articles on that topic in the category “Human Factors in Engineering”
I have in a previous article, in a short sentence that may have gone unnoticed, mentioned that the main objective of Human Factors in Engineering is designing interfaces between complex systems and targeted end users.
Modern days are an accumulation of very complex systems that societies can no longer live without and have to suffer their consequences in health, safety, comfort, risks or fatal accidents. 
Modern days rely on communications systems, on health care, on educational, on information, on transportation, on energy, on financial, on tourism, on diplomatic, and even on political systems.
Usually, there are purposes for establishing any system and the money generated could only be the consequences of satisfying human specific demands that a developed standard of living requires, or are encouraged through advertisements, or are initiated by new laws to regulating a society.
This modern world, more than in any previous centuries, is plagued with complex systems that are automated in many portions with no human understanding of how a system functions or can be repaired or be redesigned except a few rare professional experts.
These vast and very costly systems are created, assembled, maintained and run by different specialized personnel who have no serious interconnections among one another.
Every section of any system requires an interface with another section so that the end user can communicate with another section without any obligation to know or understand the details of the other section.
These interfaces have to be designed to be used with minimal skills, knowledge or special training.
Consumers require easy to use objects, safe objects, error free and accident free objects.
Consumers need to access these complex systems quickly, cheaply, without the requirement for extensive training or intermediate personnel to doing business or making the objects function according to their idiosyncrasies.
The Human Factors engineering discipline should be the application of the body of knowledge, information and facts about human abilities, limitations, (physical, mental and psychological) and characteristics to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human use.
The Human Factors engineering discipline is expected to direct its research toward practical design purposes and offer data that can be readily applied by engineers from different discipline”.
Here is a brief story of how I went about finishing my PhD dissertation.
My adviser had a business in forensic of accidents in workplace, safety consultancy and was focused on the lack of safety signs and pictorials since it was the rage of suing in consumer liability cases.
He proposed that I work on safety signs for my proposal and I didn’t feel hot about it: I sensed this topic was at best good enough for a Master’s thesis. The effects of safety signs were very short term, unless the system includes safety behaviors as an important part in the proper functioning of the corporation.
I recall that I worked for a year on a PhD proposal related to graphics of safety signs and pictorials. There were no personal computers and no graphic facilities. I toiled by hand.
My idea was to gather the used and adopted safety pictorials in many fields and try a taxonomy of elemental parts that designers could assemble in their jobs.  This proposal was killed by the team of advisers within half an hour of the session.
I tried another proposal related to cognitive engineering and it was not accepted. I was hooked to the cognitive field but my adviser would have none to do with cognition for my dissertation: he was not interested in such a field and it was not in his line of business.
To be fair, Dr. Purswell was more than patient with me and let me write two proposals related to cognition that both were turned down within a year.
I spent two years on idiosyncratic topics that my main advisor was not comfortable with, and I had no support system to guide me.
Two years earlier, my advisor told me: “Get on with my idea of a proposal. Get you degree and move on. At your age I had already three children...”
Two years earlier, one of my classmate obeyed the same advisor to the word and finished his dissertation (no experiment was conducted) and was accepted at a university as assistant professor, while I was toiling uselessly.
Finally, Dr. Purswell had to deliver an ultimatum or he would have no choice but to suspend my scholarships.
I was ordered to stop all part-time jobs. I obeyed and within a semester I wrote the proposal, designed the experiment, finished setting up the fictitious chemical lab and carried out several intelligence testing protocols just to divert the true objective from the over 120 “subjects”.
The subjects were mostly first year Psychology students because they are required to submit to experiments for credit-hours. That semester was hectic but a lot of fun.
The next semester was the worst of all semesters because I had to input thousands of data and read hundreds of pages of computer statistical results and the gruesome task of writing up my dissertation.
I had Dr. Schlegel in my advisory team and he forced me to use a specialized word processing program, simply because the print was professional and versatile. The problem was that no one could interpret the error in the program and fix it when I got stuck except him. I occasionally had to wait a couple of weeks to meet with him in order to untangle stupid word processing glitches.
By the time I submitted the final written copy I was totally depressed and I had erased from my mind any academic prospect.
To make matters worse, the US was experiencing a depressed market and universities had put a moratorium on hiring professors.
What a foreign PhD graduate with the wrong nationality and in a bad job market is to do to survive?
I asked for what I deserve. My temperament predicted this outcome.
I don’t complain in real life, but the blog is supposed to write about the oddities in life.

 “An exercise for taxonomy of methods”

Article #14 in Human Factors

I am going to let you have a hand at classifying methods by providing a list of various methods that could be used in Industrial engineering, Human Factors, Ergonomics, and Industrial Psychology.

This first list of methods is organized in the sequence used to analyzing part of a system or a mission;

The second list is not necessarily randomized though thrown in without much order; otherwise it will not be an excellent exercise.

First, let us agree that a method is a procedure or a set of step by step process that our for runners of geniuses and scholars have tested, found it good, agreed on it on consensus basis and offered it for you to use for the benefit of progress and science.

Many of you will still try hard to find short cuts to anything, including methods, for the petty argument that the best criterion to discriminating among clever people is who waste time on methods and who are nerds.

Actually, the main reason I don’t try to teach many new methods in this course is that students might smack run into a real occupational stress which they are not immune of, especially that methods in human factors are complex and time consuming.

Here is this famous list of a few methods and you are to decide which ones are still in the conceptual phases and which have been “operationalized“.

The first list contains the following methods: operational analysis, activity analysis, critical incidents, function flow, decision/action, action/information analyses, functional allocation, task, fault tree, failure modes and effects analyses, time line, link analyses, simulation, controlled experimentation  operational sequence analysis, and workload assessment.

The second list is constituted of methods that human factors are trained to utilize if need be such as: verbal protocol, neural network, utility theory, preference judgments, psycho-physical methods, operational research, prototyping, information theory, cost/benefit methods, various statistical modeling packages, and expert systems.

Just wait, let me resume.

There are those that are intrinsic to artificial intelligence methodology such as: fuzzy logic, robotics, discrimination nets, pattern matching, knowledge representation, frames, schemata, semantic network, relational databases, searching methods, zero-sum games theory, logical reasoning methods, probabilistic reasoning, learning methods, natural language understanding, image formation and acquisition, connectedness, cellular logic, problem solving techniques, means-end analysis, geometric reasoning system, algebraic reasoning system.

If your education is multidisciplinary you may catalog the above methods according to specialty disciplines such as: artificial intelligence, robotics, econometrics, marketing, human factors, industrial engineering, other engineering majors, psychology or mathematics.

The most logical grouping is along the purpose, input, process/procedure, and output/product of the method, otherwise it would be impossible to define and understand any method.

Methods could be used to analyze systems, provide heuristic data about human performance, make predictions, generate subjective data, discover the cause and effects of the main factors, or evaluate the human-machine performance of products or systems.

The inputs could be qualitative or quantitative such as declarative data, categorical, or numerical generated from structured observations, records, interviews, questionnaires, computer generated or outputs from prior methods.

The outputs could be point data, behavioral trends, graphical in nature, context specific, generic, or reduction in alternatives.

The process could be a creative graphical or pictorial model, logical hierarchy or in network alternative, operational, empirical, informal, or systematic.

You may also group these methods according to their mathematical branches such as algebraic, probabilistic, or geometric.

You may collect them as to their deterministic, statistical sampling methods and probabilistic characters.

You may differentiate the methods as belonging to categorical, ordinal, discrete or continuous measurements.

You may wish to investigate the methods as parametric, non parametric, distribution free population or normally distributed.

You may separate them on their representation forms such as verbal, graphical, pictorial, or in table.

You may discriminate them on heuristic, observational, or experimental scientific values.

You may bundle these methods on qualitative or quantitative values.

You may as well separate them on their historical values or modern techniques based on newer technologies.

You may select them as to their state of the art methods such as ancient methods that new information and new paradigms have refuted their validity or recently developed.

You may define the methods as those digitally or analytically amenable for solving problems.

You may choose to draw several lists of those methods that are economically sounds, esoteric, or just plainly fuzzy sounding.

You may opt to differentiate these methods on requiring high level of mathematical reasoning that are out of your capability and those that can be comprehended through persistent efforts.

You could as well sort them according to which ones fit nicely into the courses that you have already taken, but failed to recollect that they were indeed methods worth acquiring for your career.

You may use any of these taxonomies to answer an optional exam question with no guarantees that you might get a substantial grade.

It would be interesting to collect statistics on how often these methods are being used, by whom, for what rational and by which line of business and by which universities.

It would be interesting to translate these methods into Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, or Russian.

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Article #13, April 10, 2005

 “How basic are task taxonomies in Human Factors?”

The follow up question is: how can we conceive practical human error taxonomies before working out taxonomies for the tasks required in a system, its processes or steps in a method? 

If the type of skills required by an operator to perform a set of tasks are not well defined and studied it might not be that useful to apply a complex error taxonomy that does not delineate the applicable domain. For example, how can we allocate functions to either operators or machines or how can we decided who is better at performing a set of tasks an automated machine or a trained operator if we fail or cannot classify the human capabilities and limitations versus the potential capabilities and limitations of the machine we intend to design?

There is a relationship between task taxonomy and task analysis.  Originally, task analysis methods were conceived to break down a job into work modules and then to elemental tasks that standard time measurements could be applied to in order to maximize profit on human efforts. The purpose of task analysis is to originate an ordered list of all the task that people will do in a system with details on information requirements, task times, operator actions, environmental conditions, evaluations, and decisions that must be made.

Consequently, a task analysis should produce estimates of time and effort required to perform tasks, determination of staffing, skills, and training requirements, pinpointing the necessary interfaces between operators and the system, and to provide inputs to reviews and specifications.  This process enables detailed examination in the evaluation of human functions in terms of abilities, skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for performance of any function from inputs to outputs.  When profits are the bottom line you should also have in mind that reducing errors is a major criterion beside time saved and direct costs.

It seems implicit when allocating standard times that the appropriate conditions of work are explicitly defined, the age and gender of the worker are acknowledged, the duration and frequency of rest breaks accounted for, the eventuality that overtime work is considered and ability to cope with boredom and repetitive tasks because all these variables would affect the standard times for accomplishing a job efficiently with minimum errors for the long haul.

If you were to decide between the two alternatives: either correcting standard times to finish a task based on experiments accounting for the above factors that might affect efficiency, safety and health of workers, or allocating a separate expense fund based on actuarial studies for rate of illnesses, rate of errors, hospitalization cost and overturn among workers if the uncorrected standard times are applied, then which choice would you definitely retain?

A task analysis of a system allow estimate of the likelihood of a certain error (i.e., the product of frequency and the probability of occurrence of a certain error) and how often the error will occur for a duration, thus enabling a numerical estimate for the acceptability level and need for a redesign.

The consequences for lack of a task analysis combined by practical error taxonomies in designing a system are not that futile on operators, end users and the whole performance of systems since time is of the essence for delivering a functional product. 

The fact that current technology can automate the travel of airplanes from take off, to cruising and to landing without the need of a pilot does not guarantee safety or acceptability by airplane commuters.

The obvious problem is who in his right mind would board an airplane without a certified pilot and a co-pilot? It seems that in Japan the fast trains have no train pilot aboard but are controlled before reaching destinations.  In this case, passengers are taking these trains but would rather be doubly secured by having trained pilots on board no matter the extremely high safety records of these automated trains.

Nowadays, most of these functions and task allocations are done by computer programs with the hope that an expert professional is going to take serious time to analyze the printouts and provide a judicious human feedback. These computer programs have, crossing our fingers, the necessary constraints on safety standards, health standards, serious errors restrictions and labor requirements for the least.

A student provided a version of the “Shel” model as a standard task taxonomy that would permit sharing of data among different modes of transportation and other industries.  Apparently, this model can serve as an organizational tool for data collection in the investigation of workplace.  The components of the Shel model are 1) Live ware (the individual to human interface); 2) Hardware (human to machine interface); 3) Software (human to system interface); and 4) Environment (human to environment interface).  The model might relate all peripheral elements to central human live ware and thus focus on the factors which influence human performance.

The best way to assimilate the concept of task taxonomy is by examples.  For the purpose, one of the assignments is to study the job of the bread earner of the family, through questions, observation, and investigation and analyze its task taxonomy. Another assignment is a lecture project analyzing the task taxonomy of an industry or system not covered in the course materials.

Are you wondering what methods could be used in Industrial engineering, Human Factors or Industrial Psychology for improving designs?  Would you be interested at working taxonomy for methods in the next article?


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