Coherence of the HTI master program

In the master program Human-Technology Interaction (HTI), the choice of domain courses is rather large and, besides the two HTI Design Tracks, the student must carry out the International Track, HTI Research Project and the Master Project. We aim at getting the subjects of these various projects in line with each other. The purpose is to offer the student the possibility to follow courses and carry out projects in a well-defined field of HTI research, so that he or she can rightfully be considered as a specialist in that field of HTI research.  This means that the scientific courses followed and projects carried out by the students during their masters must be well chosen and attuned to each other. On the other hand, this should not happen at the cost of the possibility of a broader orientation, which will be favored by part of the students.

There are two moments at which the students must submit their choices to the Examination Committee. The first is the total list of courses and projects, including the list of domain courses and the courses followed during the International Track. The second is at the start of the master project, the proposal for which must also be approved by this committee. Below, some considerations are formulated which may guide the students in making the right selections in these matters.

Human-behaviour courses

The master program HTI places the human being in interaction with technological systems at the centre of its interest. The HTI master program therefore presents a number of courses on human behaviour. On the one hand they supply the essential disciplinary knowledge on human behaviour: Social Behaviour, Perception, and Cognition; on the other hand they apply this knowledge to the HTI main themes: Environment and Behaviour, Human Factors, and Consumer Behaviour.  All these courses have an advanced master level and expect a solid background in psychology as supplied by the bachelor program Technological Innovation Sciences, or a premaster program / deficiency courses.

The HTI Design Tracks and Advanced Data Analysis

This part of the first-year master program HTI are central to the integration of knowledge on human-behaviour and technology. In the first of the HTI Design Tracks (A) the students are first provided with the tools of studying the interaction between the user and the technological systems. In this Design Track students form teams, and carry out a requirement study according to the principles, and use the techniques taught in the first part. In the second track (B) the student teams complete a full user-centered design cycle: a product, a system or an environment is evaluated, again with the techniques learned in track one; on the basis of this evaluation changes are applied, after which another evaluation is carried out that should prove, that the changes are indeed improvements.

The Advanced Data Analysis course introduces the students into methodological and statistical aspects required for empirical research. The techniques acquired must teach the students how data acquired in experiments on HTI can be analysed in a scientifically sound way. 

Domain courses

In the current master program, at least 20 ects (European Credit Transfer System) are reserved for courses belonging to a specified technological domain. At the moment, three domains are defined: ICT, Sustainable Energy, and the Built Environment. If the student has chosen one of these directions, he or she can choose courses from a list defined for each of these three directions. (The Domain Course list can be found here) This list contains some courses of a pure engineering character, while others have a more interdisciplinary character and will be referred to as integration courses. A careful choice is important for two reasons.

First, the knowledge acquired during these courses must form the theoretical and methodological foundation of the technological part of the projects the student will have to carry out. In view of this, it is important for the student to choose these subjects with care, so that their content is in line with the requirements for their master project. The student is, therefore, advised to consult preferably the prospected supervisor / mentor of his or her master project or, if this is not yet certain, one or two of the HTI teachers in the research field of their interest. Some master projects may require a more focused choice than others for which a broader selection of courses is legitimate.

Second, the choice of the courses must guarantee that the HTI masters, both in their master project and in their future work as HTI Masters of Science, are familiar with the technical background and the scientific issues of their chosen technological domain.  This does, however, not mean that HTI students who have, e.g., chosen for the ICT direction must have the same competences as ICT MSc's. But they must have shown that, in a limited number of ICT research domains, they are capable of acquiring the relevant technological knowledge for that domain in a reasonable amount of time. Hence, the choice of the courses must be such that they are third year B.Sc or Master level. The HTI MSc graduates must have shown that they are capable of going deeply into one of the domains of their discipline of choice.

As mentioned, students who want to educate themselves in a wider perspective will also be offered this choice. Furthermore, if well motivated, we also allow students to follow courses from more than one discipline. Various application domains, e.g., robotics, smart homes, or designed intelligence, cannot be assigned to one particular discipline. Those students, who want to specialize in one of such domains, will be offered the possibility to make a selection of engineering courses from various relevant disciplines. But they are advised to reflect on their choice and discuss it with the prospective supervisors of their master project, so that they are well prepared for carrying out the master project.

International track

The international track has a minimum requirement of 20 ects of the second year of the HTI master program. However, as students will be abroad for a full semester, we advise students that don't want to delay their studies to do a 30 ECTS international track of which 10 ECTS can be domain courses. The primary aim of this international track is to offer the student the opportunity to get familiar with working in an international academic environment. Its content has to be discussed with the prospective supervisor of the student's master project. According to the need and character of the master project the international track can consist of carrying out a research project or of following a number of lectures. The prospective supervisor of the student must coordinate this with the contact person at the university abroad. In addition, according to the theoretical or methodological requirements the courses can be focused on methodological experimental of on theoretical issues.  Moreover, the courses can focus on human behaviour studies or on engineering studies. The students are advised to carefully think about their motivations, aspirations, and capacities in choosing the subject of their master project, discuss this with the HTI teachers and try to realize a well-motivated choice of international courses accordingly.

HTI research project

The primary aim of the HTI research project, 9 ects, is that the students learn how to define a research question, set up an experiment, collect and analyse data statistically in an independent research project. Hence, the students must complete a full HTI research cycle from problem definition to reporting the results. In general, these projects will be supervised by HTI teachers and be part of the research program of these teachers. In principle, there does not necessarily have to be a link between the HTI research project and the master project. The students can choose to orient themselves more widely or, if they want more focus, consider this project as a start-up of their master project.

In the standard program, this research project is planned in the second semester. However, if your planning is different (for example, when you start the program in February or when you still have other courses to do from a deficiency of premaster program) you can also do the research project at a different moment.

For students who wish to get experience to work in an interdisciplinary team, the HTI research project can be carried out in the form of an interdepartmental project.

Interdepartmental project (optional)

The interdepartmental project (8 ects) can be carried out as part of the HTI research project. An extra assignment of 1 ects may be added in order to make up the difference of 1 ects for the 9-ects HTI research project. Note that 2011 is the last opportunity for such a project (see: http://www.ifp.tue.nl/ ).

A large part of the HTI graduates will in their future careers work in multidisciplinary teams involving, e.g., electrical engineers, statisticians, economists, or psychologists. The interdepartmental project offers the students the opportunity to have the experience of working in such a team on an interdisciplinary project. Generally, students from at least three departments work together in such a project. The group size is about 6 to 8.  Various different departments define interdepartmental projects, the content of which can be quite diverse.

A list of interdepartmental projects is published at regular intervals by the coordinators of the interdepartmental projects.  Some projects, depending on their nature, include HTI students in these projects.  In general, these projects will appeal to the specific knowledge of HTI students, concerning e.g. user studies or interface design. There does not have to be a direct relation between the subject of the project and the other parts of the educational program. The students are free to choose one of the projects. The students can use this project to broaden their horizon. 

The master project

The master project is a full-fledged research project. The students must show their ability to carry out a well-defined research project in the field of HTI. The content of the engineering courses and the international track must be chosen in such a way that the students are as well prepared for this project as possible, as far as knowledge is concerned, theoretically and methodologically. It appears that the choice of the subject of the project often determines the future career of the student. It is, therefore, important that the student start with this project well prepared and well motivated. The project can be carried out within our sub department, a research and development department of a governmental or non-profit organization, a company, or at another department or university. It can be done in the Netherlands or abroad.

It is important in this that the student has a supervisor from the organization, and two teachers, from this university as contact persons during the project. These two teachers, the supervisor and the student must then formulate a project proposal that has to be ratified by our Examination Committee. It is important that the technical engineering aspect, the human-behaviour aspect, and the methodological aspect of the HTI project are well formulated. This forms an important part of the quality control of the program.

Final remarks

The combination of the engineering courses, integration courses and the various projects, together with the nominal human behaviour courses, the methodological courses, the HTI design tracks and the Interdepartmental project must, all together, form a consistent whole with a high academic level and adapted to the interest, the aspiration and capacities of the student. The Examination Committee, who will check the level and the coherence of the parts of the program, must approve it.

It is important to realize that the above requirements leave room for a lot of different possibilities leading to educational programs of different kinds. This is done deliberately in order to allow the students to select their courses according, e.g., to whether they want to focus on a well-defined research topic, or want to educate themselves more broadly; some students will want to focus more on technical, engineering issues, while others may prefer to concentrate on human behaviour aspects of HTI; some students may want to carry out their projects in a well defined application domain, while others may be more interested in theoretical issues of HTI.  Furthermore, it appears to happen quite often that the student's interest shifts from, e.g., technical to more user-related research issues, for instance for students who start the HTI master with an engineering background.  Others, who were primarily interested in specific applications, shift to the fundamental problems they encounter in carrying out their projects.  It is important for the students to make the right choices in this situation and to realize that the choices can sometimes influence their career prospects considerably. They are, therefore, advised to think over their choices carefully and to discuss these issues with HTI researchers from the sub department of HTI or from elsewhere.