Spotlight on PPIGers

EUSES* Consortium

We would like to introduce the new EUSES Consortium, a community of researchers from Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, University of Nebraska, Pennsylvania State University, and Cambridge University, who are working on the issue of dependability in end-user-programmed software.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Consortium brings together researchers with varied expertise, including end-user programming, software engineering, programming languages, education, and psychology, in order to work on the problem from many different dimensions.

Though not often viewed as software, email rules, spreadsheets, interactive web sites, and word processor macros, and other forms of automation are examples of programs written by end users. However, end users are generally not trained in software engineering, and the resulting lack of rigor can lead to undetected errors that can have negative consequences on par with those of traditional software bugs.

The EUSES Consortium's proposed solution to this problem is not to try to make software engineers out of end users, but instead to help motivate end users to adopt an awareness of quality control, and to help support them in this with behind-the-scenes reasoning and careful collaboration with the users.

At Oregon State University, Margaret Burnett, Gregg Rothermel, and Curtis Cook are working on the End-User Software Engineering Project, with the goal of helping end-users reduce the frequency and severity of the errors in their programs by using program analysis methods to reason about errors, and by encouraging self-directed exploration by the users of the results of the reasoning.

Martin Erwig is researching automatic detection of some types of errors using 'unit inference' in spreadsheets. Margaret Niess and Ellen Ford are researching pedagogical methods to encourage a quality-control culture for users of technology.

At Carnegie Mellon University, Brad Myers is working on the Natural Programming/Debugging project, which is using methods from the Human-Computer Interaction area to investigate the ways people naturally approach programming and debugging challenges. Recent results have included a new debugging technique that lets programmers ask 'Why' questions that reduced debugging time by almost a factor of 8.

Mary Shaw of Carnegie Mellon and Sebastian Elbaum of the University of Nebraska are working on fault detection in web software, using statistical, heuristic, machine mechanisms.

At Pennsylvania State University Mary Beth Rosson's Informal Learning in Software Construction group studies real-world situations and communities that can motivate and aid non-programmers with learning and using end-user programming tools.

Drexel University's Susan Wiedenbeck is researching intrinsic motivation and end users' comprehension/modification strategies. Cambridge University's Alan Blackwell is creating a model of attention investment, to find out how users decide to use programming features.

If these topics interest you, more information about EUSES, its members, and its members' research can be found at the consortium website.

At CHI'04 in Vienna, Brad Myers and Margaret Burnett organized a Special Interest Group (SIG) on this topic. At IEEE VL/HCC, in September, Susan Wiedenbeck will lead a 'Birds of a Feather' session, and Martin Erwig will hold a workshop on spreadsheet research.

Mary Beth Rosson is working with other collaborators on an NSF-supported grad student consortium on diversity in end-user development, also at IEEE VL/HCC.

We welcome opportunities to work with others; see our web page for opportunities.

Chris Mills-Price
Administrative Assistant, EUSES Consortium

*EUSES is an abbreviation for End Users Shaping Effective Software

Stephen Clarke

Stephen Clarke, who chaired a session at PPIG O4, presented a paper two years ago which explored how the cognitive dimensions framework could be adopted to evaluate the usability of libraries. Continuing his usability studies Stephen has since published a paper in that reputable periodical Dr Dobb's Journal. Congrats go to Stephen on his success!

A link to the full text of Stephen's article can be found here: API Usability

Editors note: A peruse of Dr Dobb's Journal can sometimes yield some interesting finds and is well worth an occasional look through.

Stephen also maintains a cognitive dimensions web-log.

Gerold Keefer

Gerold published a paper at the ESEPG conference that may be of interest to readers. It introduces the concepts of 'communication reliability' and 'communication distance' in a specifc project/organisational context.

You can view his paper at by following this link: Communication Reliability

The approach allows 'soft' aspects of a project setting to be quantified and is helpful in analysing and improving them.

There are a number of research questions associated to this paper. These are:

  1. How reliable are project success predictions based on communication reliability analysis? (this would require more industrial case studies)
  2. How does communication reliablity relate to development productivity?
  3. How can communication reliability be measured, particularly in industrial settings? (bad fixes are one way, however, there should be more.)
  4. How can we more precisely estimate the communication distance (and more precisely define ratings for the five factors)?

Willemien Visser

I have just finished an INRIA Research Report "Dynamic Aspects of Design Cognition: Elements for a Cognitive Model of Design".

I will be most grateful for every remark, because this text is of course being submitted for publication!

The text presents elements for a cognitive model of individual design. It starts with a discussion of two approaches to design, the traditional cognitive viewpoint on design, i.e. symbolic information processing (SIP), represented by Herbert A. Simon, and its main alternative, i.e. the "situativity" approach (SIT), mainly represented by Donald Schön.

The approach that I propose and that is based on research that I have been carrying out since the Eighties, supplements and integrates the SIP and SIT approaches, in a dynamic cognitive approach to design.

The report is available here: Dynamic Aspects of Design Cognition: Elements for a Cognitive Model of Design.