colorful logo for cs3500 class
Logo courtesy

California State University Stanislaus

CS 3500: Human-Centered Design

Summer 2015

Mon, Wed, Thu 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm, DBH 114

Instructor: Dr. Megan Thomas


Textbooks are The Design of Everyday Things, Revised and Expanded Edition, published in 2013, by Don Norman. A classic in the field of usablity. Also, The Resonant Interface: HCI Foundations for Interaction Design by Steven Heim. Resonant Interface is now out of print, so order it promptly. We won't start using the second textbook until a couple weeks into the semester, but there may be delivery difficulties.

If you're interested, the order we will cover book chapters is listed at the bottom of the class schedule.

Best way to contact Dr. Thomas:  Email

Important: put "cs3500" in the subject line of every email. Email without the "cs3500" might be automatically deleted by my spam filters. Remember to sign your emails. You may know exactly who is, but I do not.

Class E-Mailing List: Students must register for the class mailing list. Here is the web site where students can register for the mailing list.

Goals for General Education Courses:

(Effective Fall 2000)

Each GE course must meet Goals 1-5, and either Goal 6, Goal 7, or both Goals 6 and 7.

  1. Subject knowledge. To provide an educational experience that will enhance students' understanding of the discipline's basic principles, methodologies, and perspectives.
  2. Communication. To provide an educational experience that will enhance the ability to communicate.
  3. Inquiry and Critical Thinking. To provide and educational experience that will enhance critical thinking skills and will contribute to continuous inquiry and life-long learning.
  4. Information Retrieval and Evaluation. To provide an educational experience that will enhance the ability to find, understand, examine critically, and use information from various sources.
  5. Interdisciplinary Relationships. To provide an educational experience that will enhance students' understanding of a discipline's interrelationships with other disciplines.
  6. Global or Multicultural Perspectives. To provide an educational experience that will enhance the ability to look at issues from multiple perspectives and/or that will describe the discipline's impact on or connection to global issues, AND/OR
  7. Social Responsibility. To provide an educational experience that will help students understand the complexity of ethical judgment and social responsibility and/or that will describe the discipline's impact on or connection to social and ethical issues.


Attendance will not be explicitly tracked for grading purposes. Participation is part of the course grade. Some homework assignments will involve working with partners or groups, and in-class time will be allocated to allow students to work on those assignments. Because of the need to work with other students and to participate in in-class exercises and discussions in order to pass the class, the professor does not think a student could regularly skip class and still pass. Regular attendance is strongly recommended.


Grades will be based mainly upon reading responses, essays and team projects. A plus and minus grading scale will be used to assign final grades.

The final grade weighting of student work is estimated in the table below.  The final weights should be close to those in the table, but circumstances may arise during the semester that force reweighting.  (For example, if one of the homework assignments proves unusually difficult, the instructor may reduce the weight of that homework assignment and weight the other assignments higher.)

CR/NC grading may be requested only by filing a form in MSR by the appropriate deadline. See the Enrollment Services web page for more information about deadlines.

Reflections on Assigned Reading
Class Participation, etc



By three p.m. the day of lecture, students should complete the reading assignments for that class and post reading reflections to the appropriate "Thread" in the Discussion Board of the Blackboard course web site. Your reflections will not be visible until after the instructor grades the reflections, but after that point every student in the class may read every other students' reflections. Reflections are due on the lecture days when a chapter is listed under "Readings" in the course schedule.

Late reflections will not be accepted; it is important that students read the course materials before class and come to class prepared to discuss them.

One reflection will consist of:

Reflections will be graded on a 3-point scale. (Norman chapters may earn 3 points; Heim textbook's longer chapters may earn 6 points.)

  1. Inadequate reflection. Incomplete, or does not convince the reader the student has read the material, or poor grammar/spelling renders the reflection too difficult to read.
  2. Satisfies requirements.
  3. Good. Satisfies requirements well.
  4. Wow!

N.B. A student can earn an A in the class with all 3's for his/her reading reflections.

There will be three multiple-choice, time-limited quizzes, given through the Blackboard course web site. Students will take the quizzes outside of class time, and will have at least two days to do so. Once begun, a quiz must be completed; it will not be possible to pause the quiz and resume later.

Each week, half of the students in the class will have an essay due. In the weeks when you are not responsible for an essay, you are responsible for helping another student edit and improve their essay. Students who provide constructive and substansive help will receive a percentage of the points the essay author earns.

The essay author will post a good draft of the essay by 11:59 pm Friday of the week due. Post essay drafts to the Draft Essays Forum. The essay helpers / editors will post responses, as replies to the essay draft in the Blackboard Discussion Board, constructive suggestions for improving the essay, by 11:59 pm Monday of the next week. The final draft of the essay will be due by 11:59 pm Wednesday.

For each essay, the professor will post the list of student authors in the appropriate thread in the Discussion Board.

Student editors may pick the essays they edit, but should select essays in order to best ensure that all essays have multiple editors suggesting improvements. The professor reserves the right to change this policy if some student essays get lots of responses and some student essays get no help at all.

Student editors may earn up to 9 points total per week for editing posts. Each posted response to a different student essay draft may earn up to three points. A post containing a substantial paragraph of useful, constructive suggestions will earn 3 points. (Ineffective, unhelpful posts will earn zero points.)

Extra points are possible if a student editor chooses to respond to more than three essay drafts in a single week. The professor will keep track of such efforts. They may count towards participation or as extra credit, at the professor's discretion, at the end of the semester.

Essay Requirements
Final versions of all essays will be posted to the class Blackboard Discussion Board, in the Final Essays Forum, as a reply to the appropriately named Thread. Essays will be 500 to 1,000 words (approximately one to two pages) -- no shorter than 500 words, no longer than 1,000 words. Titles, or name / class information that might be at the top of the essay, do not count as part of the 500 - 1,000 words. Use the default font size and formatting Blackboard provides. I recommend composing your essay in a word processor program, then copying and pasting it in to the Blackboard Discussion Board. (If Blackboard crashes your web browser, you will still have your essay and can try again.)

Include a valid email address for you at the top of each essay, so that details of your essay grade can be emailed to you.

Essays will be made visible, within Blackboard, to the other students in this class.

Essay Writing
Essays will be reviews of various products, focusing on usability, and particularly on whatever usability topics we cover in class that week.

First, describe the product/item you are reviewing. Be succinct, but clear -- the grader should be able to uniquely identify the item based on your description. ("My TV" is vague. "My Samsung LN52B750, 52 inch, 1080p LCD TV purchased in 2009" is much better. N.B. Not the professor's TV, just a name picked off a list on a web site.) Feel free to include a photograph or drawing, if you think that is a good idea. The space taken up by the art will not count as part of the essay.

Perhaps, personalize the item -- why did you/someone you know buy it? What do you like? Dislike?

Analyze the usability of the item. Keep your focus on the topics of this week's lectures/readings. The week we cover human color perception, focus on the use of colors in your product. The week we cover physical constraints, focus on the use of physical constraints in the design of your product. And so forth.

Conclude and summarize. Give the product your personal recommendation (or not).

Write well! You are aiming to write so clear and useful a review that it would sail right to the top of any web page that ranks reviews by how useful they are to readers.

Advice on writing good reviews:

Essay Grading Rubric (20 points total):
01-4 pts5-7 pts8-10 pts
Keyword Usage No keywords from the current week of class used in analysis, or keyword usage reveals fundamentally flawed understanding, or essay is off topic. Only a couple of current keywords used in analysis, or most keyword usage reveals fundamentally flawed understanding Multiple, current keywords (3+) used in analysis, illustrating student correctly understands most of the keywords used Multiple, current keywords (3+) used in analysis, illustrating student correctly understands the keywords used
01-3 pts4-5 pts6-7 pts
Writing / Analysis QualityEssay is off topic.Disorganized or incoherent prose. Unclear whether or why student likes/dislikes tool. One or more paragraphs are off-topic.Moderately well organized, prose mostly coherent. Clear whether student likes/dislikes tool, though may not be clear why. Topic sentences may not be present for each paragraph.Well organized, coherent prose. Clear whether and why students likes/dislikes tool.
01 pt2 pts3 pts
Grammar/spellingNumerous grammar/spelling errors (1+ per paragraph); sentences that don't make sense.Many grammar/spelling errors; no completely incomprehensible sentencesSome grammar/spelling errorsFew/no grammar/spelling errors


If submitting the essay to Blackboard gives you trouble, contact the professor promptly.

Students will be responsible for completing multiple essays that thoughtfully critique the design and usability of assorted tools. There will also be multiple group assignments where students design new tools. Specific information on assignments will be given out in class.

Since one of the major goals of the General Education courses is to improve student communication skills, grammar and spelling will always count for written assignments.

Class participation is strongly encouraged -- asking questions, answering questions, engaging constructively with your partners on group assignments. Students will have the opportunity to provide feedback on group assignment partners, and "slacking off" may result in loss of course participation credit.

Academic Integrity:

The work you do for this course will be completed individually, unless it is explicitly labeled as group work, and must be your own work. You are not to submit other people's work and represent it as your own.

You may discuss general ideas about how to approach an assignment, but never specific details.

You may not show another student/group your solution to an assignment, nor look at his/her solution.

You may not have any another person "walk you through" an assignment, describe in detail about how to solve it, or sit with you as you write it. You also may not provide such help to another student. (The only exceptions to this ban are the course instructor and the CS lab system administrator.)

Under this policy, a student who gives inappropriate help is equally guilty with the student who receives it. Instead of providing such help to a student who does not understand the assignment, point them to course resources such as the lecture notes, the textbook, or the instructor.

You must also take reasonable steps to ensure that your work is not copied. Make sure to log out of shared computers, do not email your work to other students or post your work on the web, and do not leave printouts of your work in public places.

Students who violate this policy will receive no credit on the assignment, may receive an "F" in the course (at the instructor's discretion), and a report will be sent to the university Office of Judicial Affairs.

UCDavis has put an excellent guide to "ok" and "not ok" collaboration on homework assignments on-line. I recommend reading it.

(Credit for some of the phrasing of this academic integrity policy is due to Marty Stepp.)

Late Days:

Each student gets an automatic extension of 4 weekdays. You can use the extension on any (non-reading reflection) assignment(s) remaining during the semester (in increments that are rounded up to the nearest integer). For instance, you can hand in one assignment 4 days late, or each of four assignments 1 day late. When you hand in a late assignment, you must identify at the top of the assignment the following: (i) how late this assignment is, and (ii) how much of the total slip time you have left. If a group assignment is late, every member of the group will lose late days. (In other words, two students may not turn in an assignment 8 days late -- for every 24 hour period the assignment is late, both students must use 1 late day each.) No assignment will be accepted more then 4 days late. After you have used up your slip time, any assignment handed in late will be marked off 25% per day. There will be no extensions granted.

You have one week after the grades for an assignment are given out to request regrading. You must give a good reason for the regrade request, and you should be aware that the assignment will be regraded from scratch. You may gain points... or lose them.


Available at the CSU Stanislaus library:

There are also a number of HCI books available electronically through Safari Books Online, which our library web site provides access to. (You must use your OIT user name and password to log in to Safari.)

WWW Pages:

Documentaries and Movies: