HINF 5300: Personal Health Interface Design & Development

College of Computer and Information Science & Bouve College of Health Sciences

Fall 2017


Class Location:           Richards Hall 226

Credit Hours:††††††††††††† 4 SH

Class Times:†††††††††††††† Wednesdays 6-9 PM

Message Board:          Piazza: https://piazza.com/class#fall2017/hinf5300


Instructor of record:†† Stephen Intille, Ph.D.
Office:††††††††††††††††††††††† 910-177 Huntington

Office Hours:† †††††††††††Tue 8:45-9:45 or by appointment (To get access to 177, you must contact me in advance)

Phone:                        (617) 373-3711 (but email is much better)




This project-based, seminar course explores the design of innovative personal health human-computer interface technologies. Examples include assistive technologies that aid persons with disabilities, consumer wellness promotion applications, patient education and counseling systems, interfaces for reviewing personal health records, and eldercare and social network systems that monitor health and support independent living. Working in teams, students will design and build a prototype personal health interface system to solve a real problem using advanced user interface technologies such as smartwatches, head-mounted computers (e.g., Google Glass), ubiquitous always-on home technologies (e.g., Amazon's Echo), or wearable computing devices.


Topics surveyed in the course during the project design and development cycle include personal health informatics, iterative user interface design methods for advanced mobile interface systems, health interface development, innovative sensing for mobile and home systems, software architectures for iteratively testing prototype personal health interface technologies, human-computer interaction issues related to personal health technology, and technology transfer requirements to support future validation studies of technology. As they work on their own team projects, case studies on team development of new technology for personal health informatics will be discussed.


Students in this course will acquire practical experience working in a team to develop an innovative health technology concept from idea conception to functional prototype. Students will practice working together to create an innovative prototype system that can ultimately be deployed in a follow-up research study. Students will also practice public speaking, writing, and team communication skills critical for success in any workplace, but especially when working with interdisciplinary teams on complex projects. Technical students will have an opportunity to hone their programming skills for an advanced user interface device, such as smartwatches, Google Glass, Amazon's Echo, or some other novel user interface device/technology.


In Fall, 2013, the offering of this course was possibly the first in the country on the use of head-mounted computers for health. Projects from the Fall 2013 offering of the course were featured in the Northeastern News and in the Northeastern research blog. In the second year, teams also primarily used Google Glass devices. In the third year, teams developed projects using smartwatches and Google Cardboard (VR). This year, teams will address one of several project areas related to personal health informatics. The structure of the course is adapted somewhat year-to-year based on the background and experiences of students who elect to enroll.



Although not required, it is helpful if students have experience with one or more of following topics: research methods, human-computer interaction, health data analytics, and/or advanced programming (e.g., mobile, using sensors). Deep knowledge or work experience in a particular health or wellness domain is also valuable.

Course Objectives:

By the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:


Classroom Format:†


Most classes will be highly interactive, with individuals and/or teams working toward their final project goals and engaging in exercises to help their own team or other teams. Some classes will consist of presentations by individuals or teams with student and faculty critique. Other classes will consist of in-class exercises based on assigned readings with seminar style discussion. Some classes will involve peer critique/editing of work of other teams. Students will be required to prepare prior to class, and some classes will include an in-class assessment of that preparation.


Students will be asked to make short presentations on the material to provoke discussion and tie the material together with their teamís project development. Some classes will be devoted to presentation of preliminary or final project ideas and receiving feedback from invited experts. Weekly readings consist of technical documentation, selected research papers and book chapters, including material identified by teams as relevant to their team projects, once those ideas emerge. Some classes may include short presentations from guest faculty or students describing case studies of needs assessment, development, evaluation, or dissemination of innovative health technologies used in research projects.


Individual-based coursework will consist of in-class presentations and design exercises and demonstrating effective group work in class and with teams using the shared, online tools. All teams will be responsible for creating a working prototype of a system that could be used in a follow-on experiment, including all documentation and materials necessary to transfer that technology to another team in the future. Teams will submit and make a final presentation on their idea (including a demonstration), as well as a 6-page (CHI format) paper describing the motivation for, design of, and technical innovation underlying the team's novel personal health interface system.


Team-based coursework (where each team member has well-defined roles) will consist of development of a fully-functional personal health interface technology using a non-traditional, emerging user interface platform suitable for deployment in a pilot research study, with robust documentation of that system sufficient for someone other than the developers to use it.


Required and Optional Texts:

This course has a moderate but steady reading load. Readings to prepare for class and as part of the project development are expected to require an average of 3-4 hours a week. In addition to assigned readings, students will also need to find and read additional material related to their team's topic, including health papers and technical materials necessary to learn how to develop for the user interface platform chosen by the team. Most readings required by the instructor will be available online or distributed in class.


Substantial portions of the following three books are included in the course readings. These books are excellent at providing thought-provoking overviews that will, hopefully, inspire students as they develop project ideas.

TCDM: Topol, E. (2012). The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Care. New York, NY: Basic Books. (Available via NEU library for online reading or from Amazon for about $14)

TPWSYN: Topol, E. J. (2015). The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands. New York: Basic Books. (Available via NEU library for online reading or from Amazon for about $20)

TIP: Christensen, C. M., et al. (2009). The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care. New York, McGraw-Hill. (Available from Amazon for about $20)

Additional Materials:†

None required. Team access to some innovative user interface platforms will be provided when possible (e.g., Google Glass, Android Wear smartwatches, etc.). Teams that desire to use unusual interface platforms may need to make those platforms available to the instructor and other teams at times throughout the semester for testing.

Course Schedule/Outline:


The class will meet once per week. Additional meetings between team members between classes will be required for many assignments. Team members are strongly encouraged to set aside at least one, ideally two, substantial blocks of time each week for face-to-face meetings.


The structure of this course each year will depend, to some extent, on the makeup of the students who elect to take it. The syllabus below is therefore tentative, to be revised during the first two weeks of class based on student experience and interest. The online version should always be the most current.


Course subject content is tentative and will change based upon class interest and composition.†



Grading Procedures and Criteria:

Prior experience with project-based courses such as this suggests that work in this course will generally fall into one of these categories:

       Superior, striking, or unexpected pieces of work with excellent effort demonstrating a mastery of the subject matter and a thoughtful use of concepts discussed in class; work that shows imagination, clarity of presentation, originality, creativity, and effort.

       Good work demonstrating a capacity to use the subject matter, with adequate preparation and clear presentation.

       Work that is adequate but that would benefit from increased effort or preparation.

       Work that is inadequate but demonstrates understanding of some material.

       Work that does not demonstrate understanding of the core concepts in the course. †

Course work falling into these categories correspond roughly to A, B, C, D, and F grades.

The final grade for the course will be computed by weighting the results from each assignment (using the grading scale above) according to the following formula:








Brainstorming ideas + 1 minute presentations




Two-minute pitch of best idea using frameworks; One-minute pitch improving a classmate’s idea




2x2 team pitch of most impactful/viable ideas using frameworks that team can pull off and that could be plausibly evaluated




Select idea and scientifically justify what we know and don’t know




Revise and resubmit idea justification (from Assignment#5); add timeline and action plan




Record practice run of mid-term presentation (includes emphasis on Idea novelty and impact justification, frameworks, scientific justification, plan for action, rough plan for evaluation)




Critique a practice run recording of a classmate and help to improve the idea and presentation




Develop a “paper prototype” of the interface 




Revised “paper prototype” of entire design




Functioning technical nugget(s)




Draft of full, final paper




Revised final paper




Working technical system with documentation (one swap completed)




Final prototype, demo, documentation, and paper




Team member/classmate evaluations; contributions to helping others

10% + borderline



In-class rapid reading assessments


Some work in this course will be done independently, but for the most part this course requires transdisciplinary teamwork. Teams will be assembled by the instructor to ensure that they are balanced in various areas of expertise required for the course project. Whenever possible, students with different backgrounds and skill sets will be paired. †


Working in teams can be both rewarding and challenging, and one goal of this course is to give students experience working with a team of students who have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Students who have concerns about their teamís ability to work together or individual team members should talk with the instructor as soon as any problems are identified.


Students will be asked throughout the course to evaluate their team member(s) as well as other students in the class (based on in-class exercises). These evaluations will factor into grade assignment.


Classroom Policies:


Students are expected to demonstrate qualities of academic integrity: a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values:† honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.

Actively engaging in verbal exchanges of ideas and concepts will be a major component of learning in this course. This will be stimulated by readings, class discussions and case problem solving. Therefore everyone will be expected to actively and positively listen to others and to communicate their ideas during class. Some students are less comfortable speaking in class than others, but open discussion of ideas and even disagreement is essential.  Therefore, all students are expected to read course materials prior to class and will be called upon at times even if they do not raise their hands. Participation does not result from talking a lot, but as a result of critical thinking and articulation of ideas.

University policy dictates that students must seek the instructorís permission to tape record class lectures.


To facilitate discussion and learning, electronic devices must be turned off in class, including laptops and mobile phones. Slides shown in class will be available on the course website within a few days after each class.† ††


Please do not eat anything during the class other than a drink or small, non-fragrant snack (e.g., fruit, granola bar). Out of respect for your potentially hungry classmates and instructor, please eat dinner before or after the class.


Writing/Presentation Policies:


Assignments that involve writing and presentation will be judged on clarity of presentation and professionalism of presentation, as well as intellectual content. Students who are having difficulty with writing will be referred to the Northeastern University Writing Center (http://www.northeastern.edu/english/writing-center/).


Late Policy:

Prior to an assignment due date, a student may request an extension with a reasonable explanation.  It is the discretion of the instructor to permit late assignments.  Unexcused late assignments that are not used for in-class exercises will be subject to a reduction in grade of approximately one half letter grade per day late. Unexcused late assignments that are used for in-class exercises will be graded based on what is turned in for class.

The lowest score for the in-class reading rapid assessment assignments will be dropped at the end of the term, creating one "free pass" should a student be sick or unable to attend a specific class. There will be no makeups for in-class assessments/exercises.

Missing Class:

This class takes place only once per week, and much of the learning will occur through discussion. Therefore, attendance is required and factored into grading. Students who must miss class for any reason should notify the instructor in advance.

Academic Honesty:


All students are expected and encouraged to discuss the topics raised by this course with each other. Ideas incorporated from an outside source or another student must be documented appropriately in write-ups or presentations.† Students must abide by the NU Code of Student Conduct †(http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/code-of-student-conduct/) and Academic Integrity Policy (http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/academic-integrity-policy/). Acts of academic dishonesty will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR).


Academic honesty is fundamental to the learning process and there is absolutely no tolerance for academic dishonesty. As a reminder, †


Any student found cheating on assignments or with software code that raises concerns about potential cheating will receive a zero on that assignment and be reported to the administration of the student's college and OSCCR.  A second offense will result in a failing grade for the course. If the student is on a team and the assignment is a team assignment, then all students on the team will receive a zero and be reported to the administration of each student's college and OSCCR.


Students with questions about what is acceptable or unacceptable collaboration on assignments should ask the instructor.


Intellectual Property:


Intellectual property created in this course will be subject to the same rules as for any other course. More information on IP rights and regulations at Northeastern can be found here: http://www.northeastern.edu/governmentrelations/public_policy/intellectual_property_info.html.


Students must agree to allow another team of students to test the technology created in a subsequent semester, and so students should not propose ideas if they would not be comfortable with this arrangement.†



Students who have a disability are encouraged to seek accommodations though the University Disability Resource Center.† Please speak privately with the instructor about your needs for accommodations and strategies to support your success. This information will be kept confidential.

Title IX:

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, etc. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you can find the appropriate resources here: http://www.northeastern.edu/oidi/titleix/.

Course Evaluations:

The instructor may distribute optional mid-term and final course evaluations, to be returned anonymously. Responses to the questions help to improve this course during the current semester and for future students.

All students are also strongly encouraged to use the TRACE (Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation) system near the end of the course to evaluate this course. A reminder about TRACE should arrive via email about two weeks before the end of the course.

Google Glass and Other Innovative Interface Devices:

Teams may have access to smartphones, Google Glass devices, smartwatches, or other advanced interface technologies if they can be are provided by Prof. Intille. Such devices may need to be used in the vicinity of the mHealth Lab in 177 Huntington (9th floor). Devices loaned to students for the purpose of the course are not to be used by students who are not either in the class or authorized by Prof. Intille.  Teams that are loaned devices will not be assigned final grades for the course until the devices are returned.

The ability to use Google Glass devices in this class was made possible by a gift from Google, Inc. The gift was received because Prof. Intille proposed to use the Google Glass devices for research on personal health interface technology; one component of that work was teaching this class the first two years. Unfortunately, Google is not currently supporting Glass as it did in the past. However, the devices are still available should teams wish to use them. The limited number of Glass devices must be treated with extraordinary care.