Fundamentals of Human-Centered Computing

HCC 8310

This is the syllabus website for Clemson University Fall 2020 course HCC 8310: Fundamentals of Human-Centered Computing.

Meeting information:

Credit hours: 3

Location: online (via WebEx)

Day and time: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30 – 1:45 pm

Instructor information:

Prof. Bart Knijnenburg


Office hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 1:45 – 2:45 pm (via WebEx)

Teaching assistent:

Marie Jarrell


Office hours: by appointment, via WebEx

Important: The information below may change!

Changes will be announced in class and through email.

Course description

This course is an introduction to the theory of Human-Centered Computing. It is primarily intended for students pursuing a PhD in HCC, but it is also useful for students who are generally interested in the science of understanding how people interact with computers.

This course has two specific goals. One goal is to acquaint you with the existing theories HCC researchers use to understand, describe, argue, and hypothesize about the interaction between humans and digital systems. The other goal is to teach you how to develop such theories using observation and analysis.

Note that this is not a course on the design and evaluation of user interfaces; for that, you will have to take CPSC 6140 - Human and Computer Interaction (if you are taking an engineering perspective) or HCC 8330 - Research Methods (if you are taking a scientific perspective). This is also not a course on developing and testing theories using user experiments; for that, you will have to take HCC 8330 - Research Methods for Human-Centered Computing and/or HCC 6400 - Measurement and Evaluation of HCC Systems.

Course modality (due to COVID-19)

Although this class is listed as “hybrid”, all instructions will take place via WebEx. The assignments involve interviewing people and analyzing data as a group. These activities can be easier and/or more rewarding in person—if you are able to do them in person safely (e.g. outdoors, masked, keeping a distance), you may do so. However, I will not penalize you for doing the interviews or the data analysis via teleconferencing software. Decide for yourself (in case of interviews) or with your group (in case of analyses) how you want to do it... just consider your safety above all else! (Particularly, if someone in your group prefers to meet online, please make arrangements for this.)

Communication: Announcements will be made via Canvas. It is highly recommended that you turn on your email notifications for Canvas and check your email at least once a day. To contact me or the TA, please email us or send a message via Canvas.

What are we going to do?

Course content and structure: This course consists of two parts. Part I is about generating theory using grounded theory analysis. Students will work in groups of 4 to pick a research topic, write an IRB proposal, conduct 12-15 semi-structured interviews, and transcribe and analyze the data to form new theories.

Part II is about learning existing theories of HCC and applying them to the chosen research topic. Students will write summaries and reflections on each theory (individually), and discuss the theories in class.

Both parts will come together in the term paper, which students will write (in groups of 4) about the selected research topic. The term paper consists of a literature review, theoretical analysis, and results from the semi-structured interviews.

Course materials: This course uses the following resources:

  • Charmaz, K. “Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis” (1st ed.): for sale on Amazon and PDF.
  • Rogers, Y. “HCI Theory: Classical, Modern, and Contemporary”: for sale on Amazon, and PDF (use a VPN to access).
  • Norman, D. “The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition”: for sale on Amazon, and PDF.
  • Additional readings as linked in the course schedule

Office hours: Office hours will be directly after class (Tuesday and Thursday 1:45-2:45 pm). If you want to attend office hours, please stay on the WebEx call at the end of the lecture.

Slides: Presentation slides are linked in the course schedule below (topics listed in orange are clickable and link to the slides). Please note that I may update these during the semester.

Recordings: Recordings of the lecture will be posted to Canvas after each lecture. Please be aware that from a participation perspective watching the recordings is not a sufficient substitute for attending and participating in the lectures (see “class participation” below).

Reflections: Nine times throughout the semester students will be expected to prepare a short paper of 1-2 pages, on the theory that will be discussed in the upcoming lecture. This should be a reflection on the theory itself rather than the paper presenting the theory. The reflection will have three components:

  • A summary of about one paragraph on the theory (one paragraph). This summary is not for me but rather for you, the student, to have a chance to articulate what the theory is about. It is often the case that we cannot understand a theory until we begin to articulate in writing what it expresses.
  • Your reflection on the theory (one paragraph). You can view this as your position statement. Here are some possible examples of what you might write about for this part of the reflection (you are of course not limited to these topics): A reaction to the reading, e.g. a critique; A theoretical position on the broader topic that the paper addresses; Supplementary ideas, taken from other sources on the topic. Be prepared to present and discuss your position statement in class.
  • Your initial idea of how the theory relates to the term paper topic you have chosen for this class (one paragraph).

It is important to consider that you need to write all three components: a summary, a position statement, and an application to your research topic. The summary is to help you articulate what the theory is about. The position statement is to help you think more deeply about the theory. The application is to help you integrate the theory into your term paper. Total length is about 1-2 pages for each reflection. The reflections are each worth 4% of your grade.

Reports and term paper: Students will form groups of 4 to write a term paper on a topic of their choosing (with consent of the instructor). The term paper will be a culmination of all the work students do for this class. Specifically:

  • In week 1, each student will propose a research topic and comment on other topics.
  • In week 2, the instructor will form groups around popular topics.
  • In weeks 2-3, find key related literature, and write a short topic proposal (max. 3 pages). Students will also write an IRB proposal.
  • In weeks 4-8, students will conduct 8-10 semi-structured interviews and conduct a Grounded Theory analysis on the collected interview data. They will present their initial findings in class, and write an initial report. Another 4-5 interviews will be conducted, if needed, in subsequent weeks.
  • In weeks 8-12, students will learn about the main theories of Human-Centered Computing and reflect on how these theories apply to their research topic. They will present their findings in class, and write an interim report.
  • In weeks 13-16, students will finalize their term paper by integrating their topic proposal, initial report, and interim report in a ACM conference formatted research paper.

What is IRB? Any research that involves human subjects needs to be approved by Clemson’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). This board will make sure that any harm that the benefits of our study outweigh the potential risks to our study participants. Studies like the ones that we will be proposing are actually “exempt” from such review (because they cause virtually no harm), but we still need to submit a pro forma IRB proposal as kind of a “promise” that we indeed will cause no harm to our participants. Such proposals only require administrative review. For this class you do not have to actually submit your IRB proposal, but students who are interested in developing their work for publication will have to submit and get approval before they can start their data collection.

Class participation: You are expected to participate in the class discussions by sharing your discussion questions and by participating in the general discussion. If you are unable to make it to class, or if you feel uncomfortable asking/answering questions during class, you can instead join the discussion on Canvas. In this case (especially if you will not be able to make it to class), you are required to join the Canvas discussion before the start of the class to gain points for participation.

Prerequisites: This course has no prerequisites.


  • Reflections (individual): 36% (4% each)
  • Topic proposal (group): 4%
  • IRB proposal (group): 4%
  • IRB training (individual): 1%
  • Initial presentation + report (group): 10%
  • Class participation (individual): 5%
  • Interim presentation + report (group): 10%
  • Term paper (group): 30% (due on Dec 9 at noon)

In unusual circumstances these percentages could change, but I do not expect that to happen.

Late submissions: Late submissions are allowed, but I will deduct 5% per hour if your submission is late. Excusable late submissions (e.g. due to sickness) are an exception.

Grading feedback: You will receive an assignment grade with general feedback on how this grade was determined. If you want more feedback on your grade, please contact the TA. Since grading is the main responsibility of the TA, please do not assume that the instructor is aware of your grades (to request instructor feedback on your grades, see “regrading requests” below).

Regrading requests: Regrade requests must be submitted via email to the instructor, copying the TA. You must meet with the TA to get more feedback on your grade (see above) before requesting a regrade. Regrade requests must include the specific part of the assignment you want to be regraded and your reason for requesting a regrade. The instructor will regrade the assignment, but please keep in mind that the new grade is not guaranteed to be higher (and may in fact be lower) than the original grade. All regrades are final.

Grading timing: The TA and I will attempt to grade your assignments and midterm within 10 days of the submission deadline, but given the amount of work grading takes we cannot guarantee this schedule.

Group work and peer review

The majority of the work in this class will be done in groups. A lot of this group work is meant to be collaborative: you are supposed to meet for several hours to do the work together on the assignment. When your term project group is established, your first order of business is to schedule about 3 hours each week where you are all available to work on the collaborative parts of the assignments for this course. Plan your individual contributions around these meetings (i.e., get your individual stuff done before the meeting) so that you can make optimal use of the time you have to work together.

I expect that all group members participate equally in each assignment. Right after you hand in an assignment, each group member will fill out a peer evaluation stating who did what on the assignment. If we believe that certain a group member did significantly less work than the others, we may give this member (instead of the entire group) a lower grade on the assignment. Still, learning how to work effectively as a group is part of the learning objectives, so it is your shared responsibility to make sure that everyone does their fair share of work.

Course schedule

For your convenience, you can add the course schedule to your calendar (ICAL or HTML).

WeekDatesTopic and contentsWork
1.2Thursday Aug 20

Overview and welcome

2.1Tuesday Aug 25

Writing an IRB proposal

Read BEFORE class: Chapter 1 of Charmaz, Chapters 1-3 of Rogers

Due before class: Comment on topics

2.2Thursday Aug 27

Intro to Grounded Theory

Read before class: Chapter 2 of Charmaz

Due before class: Human subjects training

3.1Tuesday Sep 1

Interviewing and Observing

Read before class: Chapter 4 of Holtzblatt

Due before class: Topic proposal

3.2Thursday Sep 3


Read before class: Chapter 3 of Charmaz

Due before class: IRB proposal

4.1Tuesday Sep 8

Memo writing

Read before class: Chapter 4 of Charmaz

4.2Thursday Sep 10

Sampling and sorting

Read before class: Chapter 5 of Charmaz

5.1Tuesday Sep 15

Reconstructing theory

Read before class: Chapter 6-7 of Charmaz

5.2Thursday Sep 17

Writing your paper

Read before class: Chapter 8 of Charmaz

6.1Tuesday Sep 22

Make-up class slot
(if needed)

Work on your presentations!

Read before class: Sinha et al. - Shopping for Clothes

6.2Thursday Sep 24

Initial presentations (groups 1-3)

7.1Tuesday Sep 29

Initial presentations (groups 4-6)

7.2Thursday Oct 1

Initial presentations (remaining groups)

8.1Tuesday Oct 6

Don Norman‘s Theory

Read before class: Chapter 4 of Rogers, Chapters 1-4 of Norman

Due before class: Reflection on Norman‘s Theory

8.2Thursday Oct 8

Cognitive Modeling

Read before class: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Anderson

Due before class: Reflection on Cognitive Modeling

9.1Tuesday Oct 13

Modern theories - overview

Read before class: Chapter 5 of Rogers

Due before class: Initial reports

9.2Thursday Oct 15

Distributed Cognition

Read before class: Hollan et al. “Distributed Cognition”

Due before class: Reflection on Distributed Cognition

10.1Tuesday Oct 20

Situated Action

Read before class: Suchman, “Office procedure as practical action”

Due before class: Reflection on Situated Action

10.2Thursday Oct 22

Activity Theory

Read before class: Kaptelinin and Nardi “Activity Theory in a Nutshell”

Due before class: Reflection on Activity Theory

11.1Tuesday Oct 27

Comparing theories

Read before class: Nardi “Studying Context”

Due before class: Reflection on Nardi‘s comparison

11.2Thursday Oct 29

Structuration Theory

Read before class: Barley, “Technology as an Occasion for Structuring” and Orlikowski, “The Duality of Technology”

Due before class: Reflection on Structuration Theory

12.1Tuesday Nov 3

No class (Fall Break)

12.2Thursday Nov 5

Boundary Objects

Read before class: Carlile, “A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries”

Due before class: Reflection on Boundary Objects

13.1Tuesday Nov 10

Contemporary Theory and Embodied Cognition

Read before class: Chapter 6 of Rogers, Kirsh, “Embodied cognition and the magical future of interaction design”

Due before class: Reflection on Embodied Cognition

13.2Thursday Nov 12


Read before class: Chapter 7 of Rogers

14.1Tuesday Nov 17

Interim presentations (groups 1-3)

14.2Thursday Nov 19

Interim presentations (groups 4-6)

Due before class: Interim reports

15.1Tuesday Nov 24

Interim presentations (remaining groups)

15.2Thursday Nov 26

No class (Thanksgiving)

16.1Tuesday Dec 1

Make-up class slot
(if needed)

Finalize your term paper!

16.2Thursday Dec 3

Make-up class slot
(if needed)

Finalize your term paper!

Wednesday Dec 9

Term paper due at noon

Attending class, etc.

Things discussed in class are part of the course materials, and I expect you to attend and participate in the lectures despite the availability of recordings. The recordings are available in case you are not be able to make it to class. If you are unable to attend, you are required to join the Canvas discussion before the start of the class if you wish to gain points for participation.

An exception to this rule is if you are unable to attend due to unforseen circumstances. In this case, please notify the instructor about your absence as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for participation.

You will get an email notification in the event that class is cancelled. If the instructor is more than 15 minutes late, you can assume a last-minute cancellation. Hopefully this will not happen!

Academic integrity

Please refer to the following official statement on academic integrity:

As members of the Clemson University community, we have inherited Thomas Green Clemson‘s vision of this institution as a “high seminary of learning.” Fundamental to this vision is a mutual commitment to truthfulness, honor, and responsibility, without which we cannot earn trust and respect of others. Futhermore, we recognize that academic dishonesty detracts from the value of a Clemson degree. Therefore, we shall not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing in any form.

Practically speaking: Do not cheat. Plagiarism will not be tolerated, and be dealt with through official university channels, see:

Please familiarize yourself with how to properly use citations. Use block quotations sparingly; it reduces the originality of your work (and consequently your grade!).

Disability access

Students with disabilities requesting accommodations should contact the Office of Student Disability Services via email or phone (864-656-6848) to discuss specific needs within the first month of classes. Students should present a Faculty Accommodation Letter from Student Disability Services when they meet with instructors. Accomodations are not retroactive and new Faculty Accommodation Letters must be presented each semester.

Title IX (Sexual Harassment) statement

Clemson University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, veteran‘s status, genetic information or protected activity (e.g., opposition to prohibited discrimination or participation in any complaint process, etc.) in employment, educational programs and activities, admissions and financial aid. This includes a prohibition against sexual harassment and sexual violence as mandated by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This policy is located at Mr. Jerry Knighton is the Clemson University Title IX Coordinator. He also is the Director of Access and Equity. His office is located at 111 Holzendorff Hall, 864.656.3181 (voice) or 864.565.0899 (TDD).