Human Factors

Psychology/Computer Science 330

Spring 1995

Meeting Times: 9:00 - 12:00 AM, variable Text: Human Factors in Simple
Meeting Place: Science Hall 114 and Complex Systems
Instructor: John H. Krantz, Ph.D. by Robert W. Proctor and Trisha van Zandt
Office: Science Hall 112 Other readings on reserve in Library
Phone: x7307

Definition and Description:

Three-Mile Island! Many people do not know where this place is but they know very well what happened there - the largest nuclear accident in U.S. history. Something went wrong. Nearly very wrong. Why? Obviously some mechanical system failed, but the failure that occurred had been anticipated by the engineers that built the nuclear power plant and should not have been much of a concern. Sophisticated pieces of equipment are designed with the expectation that some time some part of the system will fail. The reason Three-Mile Island became serious was that the information the operators had about the failure was poor and they responded inappropriately. The United States was within about 2 minutes of a disaster of the scale of Chernobyl and yet it was completely unnecessary. Had the computer control room been adequately designed, taking into account human abilities and limitations, the disaster at Three-Mile Island would not even have rated a front page note in the local paper of the area. In this disaster we have one of the defining examples of the need for and importance of human factors.

A good, yet simple, definition of human factors is the design of equipment that people use intentionally taking into account how people operate. Since human beings have characteristic ways of perceiving, thinking, and feeling which cannot be easily modified, it makes sense to change machines to fit us rather than the other way around. Human factors is the scientific/engineering field that collects the relevant data for understanding how humans interact with machines, and uses that information towards the design and implementation of human-machine systems.


The objectives of this course are two-fold: 1) to introduce the field of human factors and the fundamental concepts of the discipline, 2) to introduce the way in which human factors specialists think. To best accomplish these objectives the course is broken down into three sections. The first section of the class will provide the basics of human perceptual, cognitive, and motor abilities relevant to human factors. The second portion of the course will consist the class forming a design teach to design some project that we will pick together as a class. The third and final portion of the course will be more individual. Each student will look at an existing system on campus and will develop recommendations based on human factors principles to increase the usefulness of that system. For this year the existing system is the Hanover College Catalog.

Reading Assignments and Course Schedule:
Day/Date Topic/Assignment Reading
Week #1
Apr 29 M Introduction to Human Factors Ch. 1
30 T Reliability and Error (Human and Machine) Ch. 3\Kantowitz Ch. 12
May 1 W Human Hearing/Signal Detection

81-83; 96-103; 122-127; 152-157; 66-70
2 R Human Visual Capabilities 83-96; 108-122; 132-152; 161-178
3 F Human Motor Capabilities Ch. 13, 14, 15
Week #2
6 M Human Information Processing I Ch. 4, 9
7 T Human Information Processing II Ch. 10, 11
8 W Displays and Controls Ch. 8,16,17
9 R Test I/Task Analysis and Workspace Design Ch. 17/Sanders Ch. 14, 15
10 F Analyze and Design Project - TBD meetings TBD
Week #3
13 M " "
14 T " "
15 W " "
16 R Design Report Due/Begin Review of Catalog
17 F " Individual meetings with me. TBD
Week #4
20 M "
21 T "
22 W "
23 R Class Presentations to Dean Jakoubek and Greg Wright on Design.
24 F Final Document Due and Review General Recommendations.

Class Assignments

The class is broken down into three sections each of which will have separate sets of assignments. The first section of the class will consist primarily of lecture/discussion on the background information of Human Factors. This section will conclude with an examination. The examination will be worth 100 points and will be for a mixed format. The types of items will be multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, problems and essays, etc.

The second section of the course will be:

A Design Project:

Of the many tasks that human factors psychologists undertake is the assisting in the design of new technology or spaces. In this class we will break up the class and design a new item. I have not decided what that item will be so I will give you, the class, a chance to decide what that item will be. To assist you in this task, below is a list of what has been done in past years and some other possible projects.

Ideas from past years:

  1. Design of a car dash.
  2. Design of the interface for a word processing program.
  3. Design of the Career Center student use space.

Other Ideas:

  1. Design of a VCR interface.
  2. Design and Email Program Interface.
  3. Design of a Science Building for Upper Division Classes and Labs.

Now, do not feel limited by this list. If you have other suggestions please get them to me as soon as possible. We will make a decision as to the project by the end of the first week. This timing is necessary so that I can get additional resources if necessary and set up the specifics of the project.

In general, for any of the projects that we might do, the class will become a design team. While we are all working on the same basic project, the class will divide into sub-units. Each sub-unit will develop a plan for their part of the project and present it to the class where the other sub-units will have a responsibility for critiquing the proposed portion of the project in light of how the proposals fit in with the rest of the project. For example, if we are working on a car dash, one group will design the displays, e.g., the speedometer. Well, the design and placement of the displays will impact on the controls, e.g., the steering wheel. It is the job of the controls group to make sure that the design of the displays do not seriously hamper a good design of the controls. After all of the groups have presented. Each member of each group will write a final design document to hand in on their section of the design. The document will give the overall goals of the design and tell how their section meets the design goals.

And the third section of the course will be:

Hanover College Catalog Recommendations:

Another important task of the human factors psychologist is to evaluate an existing technology or space for improvements. Such a task will comprise the third and final section of the course. In particular, at the request of Dean Jakoubek and with my full support, we will examine the college catalog and help the college improve the design an layout of the catalog so that it can be made as useful as possible. It is actually too big of a project for the class to do all of the catalog, so we will pick sections to do.

The sections of the catalog up for review (in order we will do. How many we do depends on the size of the class)

  1. General Layout and Design
  2. Catalog Organization, that is the proper order of the sections
  3. Table of Contents: Includes Section Labels and Format
  4. General Degree Requirements Section
  5. Course Offerings - Organization and General Layout
  6. Admissions Information
  7. Academic Information
  8. Special Curricular Programs and Opportunities
  9. Academic Calendar
  10. College Personnel
  11. History and Purpose
  12. Special Curricular Programs and Opportunities

To perform such a task will require understanding what the purpose of the catalog is. Thus, you will need to interview Dean Jakoubek and Greg Wright, out of publications. Dean Jakoubek has set aside 10 - 12 a.m. on Friday, May 17 for you to interview her. You will need to set up the specifics of how you as a class will conduct this interview. You will also need to talk to someone in admissions as they use this document in admissions and you will need to interview faculty and students who are the main users of this document. Then you will need to coordinate your work together as the recommendations of one section obviously depend upon the recommendations of other sections. We will meet individually and in small groups as necessary to assist in this work. Also, you will make a presentation on your section of the work to Dean Jakoubek and Greg Wright for their input and comments on your proposals. Then you will revise or defend you recommendations and write a final report to be submitted. I will need two copies as I will send one copy on to the administration for their use in redesigning the catalog.


The exam, each presentation and each paper will be worth 100 points each. As can be seen, active class participation is vital to the success of this course. Therefore, participation will be worth 100 points, or nearly 2 letter grades. Grades will be assigned on a 10% scale.