CS789 - User Interface Tools - Spring 2005




Learning an Interface

Students are expected to choose an interface at the beginning of the course, and to learn how to use it during the course. The interface should not be closely similar to any interface the student already knows. (Closely similar interfaces would include, for example, Notepad and Word, vi and vim, emacs and xemacs.)

Students are expected to introspect on how they are using the interface they are learning, as they develop knowledge and skills, as they create work patterns and work arounds, as they extend the repertoire of tasks they can do with the interface, and so on. The results of this introspection are expected to provide examples and ideas for the student's project. They also provide examples to discuss during the discussion of activities that takes place during every class.

Students should expect to spend fifty to one hundred hours during the term learning the interface. For this reason they should choose an interface that they will find useful in their day-to-day work.

It is common for students to use the interface they learn as the primary tool used in preparing their project.

Interfaces learned do not have to be obviously computer-mediated. In past terms students have learned to play musical instruments, and how to drive automobiles. If you choose to learn such an interface it is a good idea to discuss it with the instructor at the beginning of the term.


The lectures of a course are pretty obviously a user interface to the body of knowledge and skills taught in the course, with the user being the student. But they are not by any means the only conceivable interface. Books, discussion and practice, among others, are possible interfaces that can provide similar functionality. In fact, most students who are serious about learning course material combine more than one interface, with the mix of interfaces chosen depending on the student's particular learning style. (Knowing well the learning style that works best for you is an extremely important aspect of self-knowledge.)

The project for this course consists of constructing a user interface to the course. An obvious project is to write a set of short essays, summarizing lecture material, likely with a little extra added from other sources -- properly referenced, of course. This is pretty easy to do, but neither requires much understanding or any creativity. Expect a low mark for your project (60% to 80%) if you choose this path and do it competently.

Why such a low mark for what is likely to be hard work?


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