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Promoting Human Factors to young people

Key points

  • We have raised the awareness of both young people and their teachers across the UK about the importance of human factors in design, and particularly medical device design.
  • We use familiar, everyday concepts and devices, like microwaves, to provide context for talking about medical device design.
  • We have provided free resources to schools to help teachers introduce human factors issues into their teaching and given continuing professional development workshops for teachers across the UK.
  • We have delivered talks with human factors and medical device design themes to young people in schools and at science festivals

Promoting human factors amongst young people is important because they are the clinicians, developers and decision makers (not to mention the patients) of the future. They

Although human factors is not explicitly on the UK school Computing curriculum, an awareness of the way people interact with each other and with computers and other gadgets is important and can be an interesting way of introducing other topics.

To ultimately gain a culture change a research program not only needs to educate and raise awareness in current professionals but also change the perceptions of future clinicians, developers from the outset, and on a large scale. We have therefore worked with the following audiences.

Talks, Shows and Science Festivals
We have given workshops and presentations at a series of Science Festivals. For example, we have given workshops for a number of years at the Brighton Science Festival ('Bright Sparks') where we have engaged hundreds of children and their families. We used everyday gadgets, like clocks, radios and microwaves, to demonstrate how the principles of good design can make things easier, or harder, for the people trying to use those gadgets. We've also used these activities to explore with young people why, when a problem happens, blaming the user is rarely the best response and instead focussing on learning so as to improve the design is usually better.

We've also used magic shows and tricks to engage an audience and introduce CHI+MED concepts. Members of the team have demonstrated magic in shows for school-aged pupils at Brighton, Big Bang, Royal Institution's Family Fun Day and Microsoft Duxford, using magic to explain principles of computer science (algorithms and self-working magic tricks) as well as the idea of systems thinking and design - a magician designs the environment to help conceal something from the audience but designers of safety-critical machines need to ensure users don't miss a thing.

Examples include Dom Furniss (UCL) using the Errordiary project to introduce Human Factors in schools, Chrystie Myketiak (QMUL) giving a 'Women in Computing' talk to schools and Paul Curzon and Peter McOwan (QMUL) performing magic shows at a variety of events including major science festivals and the Ri Masterclasses series.

Peter McOwan spoke to 'Engage 2014', a one-day conference for those working in public engagement, and delivered a magic show to the delighted participants - you can see the enthusiastic tweets sent in response on this Storify collection.

Magazines and Booklets
We have developed several printed magazines and booklets as well as web-based resources and have provided these free to schools around the UK. In early 2015 we produced a magic book with a print run of over 20,000 copies and thousands more of our PDFs have been downloaded. With an eye on wider cultural themes we have exploited a cs4fn resource, the Women in Computing magazine, to encourage girls and young women to think differently about computing careers and to recognise computer science's ability to transcend different disciplines. Chrystie Myketiak (QMUL) has given talks in schools drawing on these themes from the magazine.

Changing the Curriculum
Peter McOwan (QMUL) was involved in drafting the new curricula for GCSE and A-level Computing, that came into force in September 2014, and as a result the guidance included considerations about whether a device is 'fit for purpose'. Computational Thinking Guidance includes human factors issues not just algorithmic design and a whole theme on evaluation

Supporting Teachers
We gave a series of workshops for teachers that included human factors. The aim was to give teachers themselves a deeper understanding of the issues and also practical, fun ways to teach it themselves. The workshops are linked to the new UK computing curriculum which has required ICT teachers to retrain and learn about computer science so this was a major opportunity to influence what happens in classrooms. These workshops have helped teachers embed CHI+MED ideas and the magic approach in their teaching. We also developed supporting activity sheets for teachers. These activities have been taken up by teachers across the country including by other groups supporting teachers, such as the Mayor of London funded Digital Schoolhouse project.

People enjoy our activities and magazines and feedback has been extremely positive. However the nature of some of our activities, at fast-moving events, means we've not always been able to sample a wide cross-section. Further evidence of people's enjoyment comes from the numbers of repeat requests for us to deliver a presentation, or with people signing up to receive our materials.

Curzon, P (2014) Unplugged computational thinking for fun, Invited Keynote, KEYCIT- Key Competencies in Informatics and ICT, July, 

Curzon, P (2013) cs4fn and computational thinking unplugged, Invited Keynote. 8th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, Denmark, ACM

Curzon, P., and McOwan, P.W. (2013), Teaching Formal Methods Using Magic Tricks, Fun with Formal Methods, Workshop at the 25th International Conference on Computer Aided Verification, St Petersburg, Russia, July.

Curzon, P., (2012)" Serious Fun with Interdisciplinary Computer Science", Invited Keynote, STEM interdisciplinary education workshop, Society for Design & Process Science Conference Berlin, Germany.

These activities involved CHI+MED teaming up with high profile engagement projects including cs4fn, Teaching London Computing, Digital Schoolhouse and Technocamps, leveraging funding from EPSRC, the EU, Google, the Department of Education and the Greater London Assembly. We have also worked with Hertford College, Harris Academies and Goldsmiths.