PPIG 2005 Report

PPIG Workshop: 

by Edgar Chaparro

The 17th Annual Workshop of Psychology of Programming took place in Brighton, a lovely city in the south-east of England. The papers ranged from keynote talks through technical papers, to 'work in progress' papers that described a great range of exciting projects

Ken Kahn was the first keynote. He gave a very interactive talk, which discussed the trade-offs of concretising computational abstractions in children's programming environments.

The first session was about Collaborative Programming. A group from Sussex (I'm included) tried to uncover some of the factors that could affect Pair Programming. Later, Pablo Romero did a great job presenting Sallyann's paper which discussed discrepancies in the literature about rating expertise in collaborative software development. For those who don't know, she couldn't come because she gave birth to a handsome boy called Jacob, maybe a future PPIG member. Rosen showed us the importance of interpersonal relationships in software development teams. To close this first session, Cheng et al. presented a work in progress paper about an exploratory pair programming study which is being carried out at Stanford University.

In the first social event of the workshop we went to the Brighton Pier, where our friends from overseas could try the famous English Fish and Chips. Later, a walk around the city centre ended up in a nice bar called 'Zoot Street' where Chris and Pablo showed us a little of their entertainer's side, with a very funny Pub Quiz. I must say that the Pub Quiz has strengthened my knowledge of Finnish culture.

The second day started with a graphical visualisations session, Markku Tukianinen et al. presented a very interesting empirical study of the gaze behaviour during a dynamic program animation. The non-intrusive eye tracking used for the study was very interesting. Later Pablo et al. discussed the use of multiple sources of information in software debugging environments.

Both studies gave great insights on expertise, or should I say experience. The next paper was presented by Seppo Nevalainen. This was a study of short term effects of graphical versus textual visualisations of variables on program perception. Closing this session, Philip O'Brien argued in favour of exploring, from a theoretical perspective, the use of spatial cognition during program comprehension.

A session entitled Programming, Creativity and Creative Arts contained several exciting presentations. Greg Turner, a great guy from Australia, was the first speaker. I met him the day before, during the doctoral consortium, and it is hard not to like his idea. How can we make programming more comprehensible to artists? Later, Alan Blackwell gave a great presentation! Indeed his paper was a resounding success. We should have more Live Coding sessions!

His presentation gave us some thought-provoking ideas about programming environments of the future - something to be explored in future workshops. Finally, Ronald Leach and Caprice Ayers showed their work in progress paper that intends to establish an agenda for the study of creativity in programming.

The third session of the day was about Professional and Software Development. In this session Jorma Sajaniemi presented a paper which explores the the role of variables in Experts' programming knowledge. Later, Pamela O'Shea and Chris Exton argued about the role of source code within object-oriented ava program summaries, describing maintenance activities. John Sung from Sussex presented a cognitive approach to software engineering. Deirdre Carew et al. closed this session, presenting their study that investigates the comprehensibility of requirements specifications.

The design and tool session brought three work in progress papers. Andree Woodcock presented a pilot study that strengthened the idea of studying programming as a design activity. John Sturdy intends to build a tool that could support programmers' memory; I will definitely need such a tool. Finally, Luke Church introduced #Dasher an integrated Development Environment based on continuous gestures.

The last session of the day was about Methodologies. Laura Beckwith presented a methodology used in a study conducted in cooperation with Oregon State University and Drexel University. It was a qualitative investigation, aiming to uncover the impact of gender in problem-solving software features. A very interesting paper, it gave me much food for thought. It is interesting to consider how gender affects collaborative programming. Closing the day, Enda Dunican presented a framework for evaluating Qualitative Research methods in Computer Programming Education.

In the second night of the workshop we had our social dinner trying the best of Japanese culinary tradition at Moshi Moshi. It was a lot of fun and I have to acknowledge Marc Eisenstadt's effort, trying to find a camera to register it. He found one! So, take a look at his blog, maybe you are there.

The last day of the workshop was an extended session about teaching programming. There were very interesting papers. Daniel Farkas and Narayan Murthy showed the attitudes of students toward introductory programming courses for non-majors. He aims to investigate the reasons contributing to the decline in enrolment in computing programs.

Paul Bycling and Jorma Sajaniemi presented a study about the roles of variables in teaching programming. Susan Bergin and Ronan Reilly talked about the influence of motivation and comfort-level in a first year object-oriented programming course. Finally, Jim Ivins and Michele Poy-Suan Ong presented a psychometric study of computing undergraduates.

Marc Eisenstadt closed the 17th PPIG Workshop with an illuminating key note presentation where he discussed the relevance of the topics covered, and also outlined some of his ideas of social software. He talked about blogs, group wikis, RSS news feed, etc, where he raised a lot of questions about how we can use these new technologies for our benefit. Finally, he tried to predict what a PPIG workshop could be like 5 years from now.

I would like to finish this with a personal note. It was my first PPIG workshop and I found it a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests. Everyone was very kind and helpful which helped to create an amazing environment. I believe that the format used for the event, where works in progress were presented together with full papers, encouraged valuable feedback for all participants, in particular the younger ones.

Finally, thanks to Pablo and his team for organising everything so well. They managed to create a successful event that I hope will continue growing, but always within such a friendly environment.