PPIG WIP 2006 Report

PPIG Workshop: 

Unroll Your Ideas: a work-in-progress meeting of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group

January 12-13 2006
Coventry School of Art and Design, Coventry University, UK

This was a fascinating and very lively SmallPig workshop. There were a large proportion of participants new to PPIG, yet the ethos of a PPIG workshop, with its focus on lively constructive discussion, was achieved.

Thanks should be given to Prof. Stephen Payne who was invited to give the opening address. He gave a talk entitled 'Deciding how to spend your time....' which presented the results of three very different experiments, interpreted as showing: People allocate their time and effort across a set of texts, or tasks, by monitoring their 'gain' and switching between texts / tasks whenever their gain drops below threshold. When reading multiple texts, or time-sharing across similar tasks this strategy is quite adaptive. However during exploratory learning of a multi-function device it leads to maladaptive thematic vagabonding.*

Highlights of the discussion papers included Richard Bornat and Saaed Dehnadi, (Middlesex) 'Separating the sheep from the goats', in which we were presented with the results of their research which indicates that they have devised a test which is able to pick out, from a group with no previous programming experience, the population that can program, before their programming course begins. We look forward to hearing more about this at future workshops.

The second day began with an invited talk from Prof Bob Newman (Associate Dean Faculty of Engineering and Computing, Coventry University). In his discussion on 'Coders vs Programmers' we thought that we had reached the Holy Grail of a definition of a PPIG programmer when he told us that 'Programmers are creative problem solvers, interested in doing clever difficult things'. Alas, he completed the sentence with the words 'even if they do them badly', and so our search continues.

Sarah Mount (Coventry), in her paper 'The usability of compiler output for learner programmers' observed that the problem with teaching programming is neither the staff nor the students, rather it is the University's lack of commitment to funding an army of highly trained ninja parrots who could take tutorials. Two speakers (Ruba ab Husna (Coventry) and Richard Bartlett (Mapperley Games)) discussed IT in schools. This was a welcome focus, given that PPIG is more accustomed to discussion of issues in Higher education.

The obligatory Cognitive Dimensions session provided an introduction to the topic for the new PPIGers who were then well placed to receive Luke Church's (Cambridge) papers which used cats and dogs to illustrate his Cognitive Dimensions analysis of security issues, and contained a unique blend of usability and security.

The final papers from David King (Open) and Sarah Mount (Coventry) were open discussion papers, inviting comments on research in progress. These were well received and sparked interesting debate. The primary aim of the SmallPig workshops is to provide a forum in which people are able to discuss research in progress and so it is encouraging to see that this is happening in practice.

Finally, a huge thank you must go to Andree Woodcock, (School of Art and Design, Coventry University) and her team for organising such an enjoyable and successful workshop.

Maria Kutar
* with thanks to Prof. Payne for this summary