Comparing a Computer and a "Non-computer" Interface

Consider the following situation:

I am going to a family reunion just outside of Holland, Michigan just after New Years.  I want to leave Iowa on Wednesday, January 3rd and return Sunday, January 7th.   In addition to myself, I will be traveling with my wife, a 6 year old and a 3 year old.



There are two tasks I would like you to consider as part of this larger situation:

  1. What would be my schedule and cost for the four of us for a round trip from Ottumwa, IA (the closest station to Cedar Falls) to Holland, MI?
  1. Suppose that my trip leaves tomorrow morning instead.  What is the status of the morning train from Ottumwa to Chicago?



Your Assignment

Amtrak has two different ways you could find out this information.  One on the phone and one on the computer. I want you to explore these two interfaces

  1. Sometime during the day, call 1-800-USA-RAIL.

    Browse the system and see what you think. Try solving the tasks listed above.  Feel free to explore a little bit.  For example, try to tell the system you want to leave from Cedar Falls and get it to suggest Ottumwa.

    If at anytime you are forwarded to an agent, go ahead and hang up, unless you want to talk. Also, please do not buy anything for real...unless you're planning to go to Michigan in January!

  2. Try the same tasks at the Amtrak website (


Which do you like better? Does one work better than the other from a human standpoint (i.e. cognition)?

No writeup is necessary, just give your impressions in class.