Volume 53, Number 4
Putting the Spotlight on Human Factors
By Jeremiah D. Still & Brian C. Cronk, Missouri Western State University
Every 10 years the Psychology Department at Missouri Western State University hosts the Great Plains Student Psychology Convention. This year nearly 400 faculty and students participated from eight states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. With this relatively large audience of undergraduate students, and professors who interact with undergraduate students, we decided to focus on an area of psychology that receives little attention in traditional introductory classes - human factors.
When choosing a focus for the conference, we had two motives. Missouri Western was the first to offer a human factors graduate program in the state of Missouri, and, obviously, the chance for self-promotion could not be ignored. But, more important, we had the subjective impression that even if students and their professors are familiar with human factors, they may not be familiar with the possibilities available for a human factors professional. We attempted to educate our captive audience by bringing in a human factors keynote address speaker, taking interested parties on a tour of the Psychology of Design (PoD) Lab, hosting a usability relay, and adding a human factors graduate student poster session to the agenda.
The semifinalists (L to R) include John Smyers, Park University; Michael Webster, Northwest Missouri State University; Emily Stern, University of Central Missouri; Matthew Barcus, Briar Cliff University; Grace Escobar, Union College; Samantha Gross, Park University; and Kayla Ann Bradly (Presentation Team Logistician), Wayne State University.
Human factors was brought to the forefront on the first day of the conference with a keynote address by HFES Fellow Ronald G. Shapiro. His presentation, "Games to Explain Human Factors: Come, Participate, Learn, & Have Fun!," brought human factors to life! Shapiro had the audience moving and laughing as he led activities designed to demonstrate the limits of our perception, attention, and response capabilities. In one activity, audience members were asked to rotate their right foot clockwise and, after a moment, while rotating the foot, attempt to draw a big "6" in the air with their right hand. (Try it yourself - if you can!) By the end of his presentation, we had learned to blame product designs, and not ourselves, for everyday mistakes.
Later that night, our graduate students conducted a usability "relay." Contestants completed a series of tasks as quickly as possible: sign up for a Facebook group, find tomorrow's high temperature, and find a Missouri Western campus map. They competed fervently for the chance to win a computer even though they had never seen the computer. The individual with the fastest relay time was awarded an Apple IIe in proper working order. The winner of the contest sincerely inquired, "Can I access Facebook on it?"
Here at Missouri Western, we were given the opportunity to introduce a large group of promising undergraduate students to a field that is often overlooked in mainstream psychology courses. This opportunity could not have come at a better time for us, as our human factors graduate program is rapidly approaching its second year. We are actively searching for motivated individuals with an interest in the research and design of products. For information regarding the program, visit the Web site.
Jeremiah D. Still, PhD, is an assistant professor and director of the Master's of Applied Science Option in Human Factors and Usability Testing at Missouri Western State University. Research in his Psychology of Design Lab explores the integration of cognitive theory and practical considerations within the design process.
Brian C. Cronk is a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Psychology and interim dean of graduate studies at Missouri Western State University.
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