“Make it matter” for students by experimenting with new and interesting topics for assignments and projects, and by using varied examples in your lectures and other materials. Students are more likely to persist in the face of a challenge when what they are learning is relevant to their life experiences and goals. Use examples that have broad appeal, place assignments in contexts that interest students, and explain how a particular idea is used in different contexts.

Some suggestions

Don’t assume what’s meaningful; find out! Don’t rely on your notion of what’s interesting and meaningful, and certainly don’t rely on stereotypes. Find out from your students--and from the students you want to recruit--what is meaningful to them! Surveys and clicker polls are a great tools for this.

Keep keeping it real. Don’t relegate the discussion of larger context to the beginning of a course. Keep bringing students back to the real world application of what they are learning. This can be as simple as showing how a concept is used in a familiar application or program (e.g., how hash maps are used in natural language processing to predict what a user will type into a search engine).

Highlight the people. To help students see the people behind the concepts, refer to the contributions of an individual or group. A great story is Grace Hopper and her team at Harvard University finding a literal bug in one of their machines.

Examples from the collection


Web Accessibility Evaluations

This lab helps students gain experience and proficiency with alternative modalities for browsing the web (i.e., navigation using the keyboard and using screen readers). Students will learn how to perform a website accessibility evaluation using a keyboard and screen reader. Students will also gain an appreciation for the prevalence of web accessibility issues, and will reflect on what can be done to improve web accessibility.

ACM Digital Library Entry

OER for Ethics and Computing Open Access Collection

Coverage of ethics and computing is proliferating at universities, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. This includes standalone courses, and incorporation of ethics into technical computer science and related courses. Most of these courses, particularly the standalone ones, make extensive use of recent media articles, papers, videos, and other resources about issues related to ethics and computing. Thousands of such media articles alone are published annually. There is enormous duplication of effort by people who are teaching these courses, as discovering these resources is not always an easy process.

Usability Observations of Everyday Things

This assignment is designed for an introductory human-computer interaction course. Students identify usability issues in everyday things. For example, confusing light switches, street signs, mobile applications, gaming consoles, or microwave ovens. There are three learning objectives: 1) demonstrate the ability to notice the usability of everyday things, 2) correctly apply usability terms and concepts, and 3) design a solution that addresses an identified weakness.

ACM Digital Library Entry

Using Science Fiction Trailers to Teach Social Responses to Communication Technology and the Media Equation

This group discussion activity helps students to explore how people socially respond to communication technology by explaining and applying the Media Equation and the Computers are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm for the study of human-technology interaction. Students will learn how to evaluate and apply CASA to human-technology interaction by discussing agents and technologies portrayed in science fiction movie trailers containing examples of virtual agents with social characteristics.

ACM Digital Library Entry

AI: Connect Four Agent

This assignment allows students to gain experience with AI game-playing algorithms, implementing minimax and alpha-beta pruningand designing a utility function for measuring game states. The assignment uses Connect Four, a relatively simple fully-observable and deterministic game that students are likely to have seen before. Students are responsible only for developing an agent to play the game; the game itself is already implemented and given as part of the student-facing materials. The assignment breaks down the requirements for the two algorithms into smaller chunks in order to make the whole assignment more approachable. We also provide code for Tic-Tac-Toe so that students can apply their code for minimax and alpha-beta pruning to a simpler game where sub-optimal moves will be more obvious, indicating potential bugs in their implementation. The assignment allows for a tournament to be played among all student submissions, potentially awarding extra credit to the winner of the class tournament.

ACM Digital Library Entry

AI: Informed Search to Navigate the Subway

This assignment allows students to gain experience with defining AI search problems and implementing uninformed and informed search algorithms. Students define the search problems for navigating a subway system, requiring them to define the goal test, cost function, and successor function. Students then implement breadth-first search, depth-first search, and A* search. Finally, the assignment requires students to implement a problem in a completely different domain (the 8-puzzle) in order to demonstrate that the search algorithms will work so long as the problem is correctly defined. Students are given data files for the Boston “T” and London “Tube” systems, including functions to parse these data files and build appropriate data structures. This allows students to focus on the search aspects of the problem, rather than implementing the required graph data structures from the raw data.

ACM Digital Library Entry

Usability Testing Plan Template: A flexible tool for planning and teaching usability evaluation

Usability testing is a key research method in human-computer
interaction (HCI). When students are designing for others, usability
testing is an opportunity to learn how the design is currently
working and how it can be improved. This usability testing plan
template gives individual students or teams a structure to help plan,
conduct, and analyze data from a study. The template walks
students through the process of planning a study through a series of
questions and planning materials. The template is especially helpful
for students new to usability testing and can be adapted and
adjusted as needed.

ACM Digital Library Entry

Using Citizen Science as a Theme for a User-Centered Design Course

Teaching students how to design and evaluate technology user experiences should be centered around understanding real-world user needs. In this project, students focus on a particular domain, Citizen Science, to motivate their learning of user research, prototyping, and usability testing. Citizen Science projects study phenomena in nature and the environment, such as monitoring the spread of invasive plant species or water quality. Citizen Science projects depend on volunteers to collect and submit data from local environments. Citizen Science is a compelling context for user-centered design because it involves multiple stakeholder groups, various front-end technologies (e.g., web and mobile), and information architecture. This project is scoped for a user-centered design and usability testing course for undergraduate computer science students. The course learning objectives are to (1) use research and design methods to develop an understanding of technology stakeholders and (2) apply that knowledge to create and refine design artifacts.

Using Affect-Aware Computing as a Theme for a User-Centered Design Course

This user-centered design project invites students to conduct hands-on human-computer interaction research and design by exploring affect-aware technology. These technologies seek to account for users’ emotions, moods, and other affective phenomena in the user experience. Examples include emojis used while texting, social robots that model emotional responses, and emotionally-aware chatbots. This project is for a user-centered design and usability testing course offered to undergraduate computer science students. The course learning objectives are to use research and design methods to (1) build an empirical understanding of technology stakeholders and (2) apply that knowledge to design and evaluate an interactive prototype. By immersing themselves in the complex domain of affect-aware computing, students learn to apply user-centered design to emerging technologies. Students create and refine common user-centered design artifacts, including personas, interaction designs, and prototypes. The reader of this paper will obtain recommendations for structuring the user-centered design projectand a high-level understanding of affect-aware computing.

Meme Magic: Project in Sprints

Meme Magic is a series of six assignments intended to provide progressive exposure to programming in Java using a popular and recent concept: Memes. Memes utilize an image conveying a concept or feeling with a caption provided by the Meme author. The series of assignments, designed as sprints in the context of a larger project, begin with the design and scaffolding of Java classes needed to write a program to produce text-based Memes and end with a fully-functional graphical user interface. For a detailed list of learning goals, please see the Learning Goals section. In the first sprint, students depict the overall project structure of a text-based meme application using Unified Markup Language (UML) and write method stubs in Java. In each of the next two sprints, students implement half of the specified functionality and integrate those components to a fully working application. Students are asked to add Comparators to sort memes to their application in sprint 4 and to unit test all of their code using JUnit in sprint 5. In the final sprint, students extend the functionality once more to a graphical user interface to experience event-driven programming.

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