PPIG 2002 Report #1

PPIG Workshop: 

By Chris Douce

14th PPIG Workshop at Brunel University, London

The 14th Annual Psychology of Programming Interest Group Workshop was held at Brunel University in West London between 18-21 June 2002 within the Department of Information Systems and Computing (DISC).

Brunel University is named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous engineer.

A total of eighteen papers were presented at this years PPIG workshop, divided into sessions entitled Programming Tools, Individual Differences, Programmer Education, Cognitive Dimensions, Diagrams and Cognitive Theories from ten different countries.

The first session, Programming Tools contained two papers. The first was entitled Using the Cognitive Dimensions framework in the evaluation of the UML object-oriented design language, presented by Maria Kutar from the University of Hertfordshire. Emma Triffitt, from Sheffield-Hallam University presented an evaluation of a tool used with the formal methods language 'Z' when used with novices.

Individual differences of programming ability is a topic that comes up time and time again. The second session was one of the most varied. Differences in distance learning styles were discussed by Kit Logan from the Open University. The sometimes contentious issue of Programming aptitude tests were explored by Markku Tukiainen.

Martha Crosby, visiting PPIG from the sunny shores of Hawaii presented a paper that further explored the notion of a beacon, describing some intriguing and fascinating eye-tracking experiments, inspiring many discussions beyond the domain of programming.

This year, programmer education formed the largest section of the proceedings. Papers discussed both tools that could be used to assist in the teaching of programming and also the didactic techniques lecturers could use to assist novice computing students.

While Simon Lynch tried to Soften the Complexity of Intelligent Systems, Enda Dunican discussed analogy deftly mixed with anecdote. Linda McIver, by now a respected PPIG old-timer, posed the question of what we should look for when we come to evaluate programming environments that we impress upon novices.

The visual animation of programs for the aid of students (and PPIG word games!) were skilfully presented by Jorma Sajaniemi, leaving some of the audience thinking 'if only I was taught using such a package when I was at university...'

The final paper of the session was presented by Jan Erik Mostrom addressed the topic of concurrency, an issues which is perceived by many professional programmers as one that is sometimes difficult!

Whilst, to many, programming may be perceived as a solitary problem solving activity the reality is usually somewhat different. The fourth section, entitled 'Social Organisation', aimed to explore how programmers or groups of programmers function and communicate. David Hales and Chris Douce attempted to introduce the discipline of artificial societies to the PPIG community and Lindsay Marshall pondered whether programmers communicate through oral tales, using programming folklore.

Sally Fincher began the session on Cognitive Dimensions, arguing the increasingly respected notion of patterns could be allied with the Cognitive Dimensions Framework. Chris Roast from Sheffield Hallam University changed step to a more formal tone, discussing a tool that can be used for the use of dimensions for evaluation.

Alan Blackwell, presenting on behalf of Kerry Rodden, outlined a project that may yield insight into the usability of class libraries, indicating that PPIGers continue to have a respectable interest in 'programming in the large'. Continuing the subject of classes, Christian Holmboe discussed the association between languages and the works of Wittgenstein.

The final session, Cognitive Theories, contained two papers presented by Alan Blackwell and Andrew Walenstein. Both papers had strong connections to earlier papers presented in other sessions. This highlights the breadth of interests held by PPIG members. Members presented papers that focus on both the practical aspects of programming (and programming education), and the theoretical.

Alan posed the question of 'what is programming?', a question that was almost as difficult to answer as 'what is psychology?' The final presentation of 2002 was given by Andrew who told us about HASTI, a lightweight cognitive modelling theory.

Three guest speakers gracefully complemented the workshops papers. Françoise Détienne from INRIA, France, described current research issues in the support of collaborative design. Thomas Green, spoke on the issue of notation design (computing and otherwise!) and how Cognitive Dimensions could assist to guide their construction. Mark Harman gave an invited speech entitled Side effects considered harmful (but rendered harmless), educating many of us about the complexities of the C increment operator.

Like so many PPIG workshops, the entertainment provided for the delegates could only be considered as spectacular. This year proved to be no exception, possibly the best ever. Two evenings were spent at local restaurants, the first a lovely pizzeria, the second was frequented by a popular musician who went by the name of Cher.

Workshop proceedings were punctuated by the thoughtfully arranged 2002 World Cup England versus Brazil match. Many thanks to Jasna for organising this treat for the Engish delegation. Some people also felt that it was pity that the result could not be also arranged. In retrospect, it was fitting that the better team won so the workshop could continue unhindered.

It was concluded that next years PPIG will be located at Keele, co-located with EASE, a workshop associated with Empirical Software Engineering.

It was felt that both the PPIG and EASE community could benefit by the dissemination of ideas between each group. More information about the future workshops will be posted on the e-mail list and on the web site when it becomes available.