Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Psychology of Computer Programmers - Guest Posting by Libby Enstrom

The Psychology of Computer Programmers

Computer programmers understand human behavior from a goal-oriented, task-driven perspective. They assume that people want to accomplish the same tasks more quickly and receive benefits and satisfaction from improving processes. In short, programmers use applied psychology to add incentives for consumers to use their products. However, the incentives are often based in reality, not in cyberspace.

Saving time is one important goal that new applications strive to accomplish for their users. In addition to time, there are other “currencies” that coders can tap into. One recently developed website, called: “Confusometer,” helps students provide direct feedback to lectures.

Created by a professor at the University of Toronto, Liam Kaufman, the confusometer allows students with Internet access to record whether they understand the topic or do not. Users simply navigate to the website, either by laptop or mobile device, and press the red button if they do not understand. Once the material sinks in, they press the green button. Consequently, students no longer need to raise their hands to engage, which adds a ton of value to large lectures where many students do not want to interrupt such a large group.

The back end of the web site is another front end, of sorts. The website automatically forms a metric in real time, which visually represents the level of intelligibility of the subject to the class. The website is called “Understoodit.com.” It has been implemented successfully in over three undergraduate courses at the University of Toronto. Students love it. Professors swear by it. Business intelligence software developers could learn a lot from this simple program.

Professor Kaufman’s design demonstrates a number of important facets of a quickly emerging field: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Firstly, technology has improved to the point of allowing non-professionals to devise their own programs. This trend is likely to steepen in the near future, and it importantly saves programmers a lot of homework. Instead of devising particular apps that will perform one range of tasks, developers are focusing on creating platforms that support modification to the platform itself. Facebook, for instance, supports social applications. Spotify, one app that is integrated with Facebook, nests its own applications on top of that. Given the increased ease of designing applications, it may not take long before business software enables employees to devise their own programs to save time, money, and work.

More general applications rely on principles that guide human interaction. Just as the colors green and red are used by “Understoodit.com” to tap into students’ preconceived notions of go and stop, Apple uses other, even more basic assumptions to help consumers interact with products.

Note-taking and mind-mapping are two areas that facilitate understanding and are sometimes combined. Essentially, these apps help users to visualize the relationships between facts, ideas, pictures and concepts. Users can input notes, then connect them, break them apart, and otherwise manipulate them to accurately represent their ideas in a graphical format. In the construction of these programs, Apple taps into the popularity of visual thinking, the penchant that most people have for thinking visually. By giving its users the ability to see their ideas represented in a graphical environment, the company essentially allows consumers to play to their own mental strength.

For more specific applications, such as Professor Kaufman’s, programmers would need to have direct experience with the goals, values, and processes of the people they aim to help. By developing platforms that support programming innovations, coders are essentially saving themselves a lot of homework and working to give users the tools they need to improve their own lives, in whatever “currency” they deem most valuable.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home