PPIG WIP 2011 Report

PPIG Workshop: 

By Mark Zarb

The seventh PPIG WIP was hosted by Dr Chris Roast, from the Culture, Communications and Computing Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University, and Jag Gill from the GIST Foundation between 18 and 19 April 2011.

The PPIG work-in-progress workshop is a forum in which researchers at all levels can present and discuss their current work, results, findings and developments. It is an informal forum which provides constructive criticism and suggestions to allow researchers to take their work forward. Despite the name, PPIG is not only interested in the psychology of programming, but also in psychological aspects of related activities, as can be seen in some of the presentations and workshops that took place during this conference.

The presentations were divided into four sessions spanning across the two days: Constraints, Novice Learning, Continuing Learning Constraints, and Solution Design.

The novice learning session started off with a presentation on how dancing robots could be used to teach programming concepts to students at any level by Chris Martin, followed by a presentation on flow (being in "the zone"), and its future applications of programming by Mark Zarb. Charles Boisvert ended the session by talking about the development process for novice programmers, and showcased a tutoring system he had spent years devising.

After a coffee break, the delegates had the option of attending one of two workshops – an introduction to video prototyping (by Liliana Rodriguez), or a discussion about coaching (by Marc Johnson). Following this, a collection of pizzas were taken to the GIST Lab, allowing people to mingle whilst the next activities were set up.

An excellent workshop was devised by Chris Martin with his Arduino (Wikipedia) robots, where the aim was to introduce programming concepts with Arduino by getting the delegates to make these robots perform in a dance-off competition. Following this, Alex McLean demonstrated his Acid House Coding system, which provided music to end the night.

The second day started with Chris Bates talking about the importance of facework in pair-programming sessions. Following this, John Rooksby gave a very visual presentation on coding dojos; forums which have pair programmers working in front of an audience. Rebecca Yates spoke about how experts understand unfamiliar code and about her case study on 'onboarding' (when one developer shows another around the code).

Finally, Marc Johnson gave a brief recap of the previous day's discussion on coaching, and proceeded to explain the idea of coaching in detail, discussing advantages and experiences he had had with being both a coach, and being coached.

The final session was on Solution Design. Liliana Rodriguez returned to talk about her workshop and video-prototyping, as well as give examples of how video prototypes can help define a product.

Chris Martin returned to talk about a new, unique module at the University of Dundee called 'Physical Computing', where first year undergraduates had to use Arduino components as part of their assessed coursework. Finally, Tim Duckett spoke about iterative development and user feedback, pointing out that end users never behave in a formally specified way.

PPIG WIP 2011 was closed with a keynote speech by Dr Alan Blackwell, who spoke about the history of computing, including development of the GUI in programming, and therefore, interest in metaphors, which leads to the psychology of programming.

The following is a list of prizes that were awarded at the closing of PPIG 2011 by Maria Kutar:

  1. Inadvertent contribution to the Cognitive Dimensions, providing an example of where error-proneness can be useful - Alex McLean
  2. The PPIG late-breaking content award for setting herself the challenge of not only running a workshop but also using the content produced to illustrate her work - Liliana Rodriguez.
  3. PPIG newcomers award for presenting his work so early into his PhD, for being completely unfazed by the mismatch between the 20/20 style and his work on flow, and for the most irreverent pronunciation of his chief source - Mark Zarb.
  4. The most unexpected word - in a discussion on meta-approaches to learning, contributing the word 'enamelling' - John Rooksby.
  5. For not only being the first person to stick to the 20/20 format but also providing some partial data - Rebecca Yates.
  6. The PPIG minimalist for the least number of words in a presentation - Marc Johnson.

Luke Church has taken some fabulous photographs during the Work in Progress workshop. These can be viewed by visiting his photography website

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