PPIG 2003 - 15th Annual Workshop 8 - 10 Apr 2003, Keele University, UK

PPIG 2003 was co-located with EASE this year in the very pleasant surroundings of Keele University. The papers ranged from keynote talks through full technical papers, to ‘work-in-progress’ papers that described an exciting array of current work.

Chris Hundhausen gave the first keynote speech of the workshop. He described his work on ALVIS: an ALgorithm VIsualization Storyboarder, and the empirical studies that underpinned its development.

These empirical studies showed that traditional algorithm visualization software typically ‘requires students to put inordinate amounts of time into… irrelevant activities’, and ‘discourages students and instructors from engaging in meaningful conversations about algorithms’.

ALVIS, in contrast, facilitates rapid construction of low-fidelity, interactive visualizations of algorithms. Because the tool is of low-fidelity, users are less reluctant to change the visualizations during discussion of the algorithm.

In Judith Segal‘s keynote talk, she argued convincingly that the empirical software engineering community should learn from the HCI community and consider more qualitative studies, in an attempt to better model practice. She proposed that such studies should be used to complement, if not supplant the ‘traditional scientific method’ of formal controlled experiments in order to get a more realistic understanding of practice.

All of the technical papers were of a very high standard. In particular, [Sharp et al.]‘s portrayal of the tensions that can arise when adopting a software quality system was particularly interesting.

Also notable were [Good and Brna]‘s proposed measuring schema for assessing programmers’ comprehension of their systems and [Kuittinen and Sajaniemi]‘sdiscussion of variable roles in teaching programming.

Of the work-in-progress papers [Clarke and Becker]‘s was perhaps the most intriguing. It described their studies at Microsoft’s usability laboratory relating experienced programmers’ usage of class APIs with the cognitive dimensions. Specifically, they related the APIs to the cognitive dimensions associated with certain ‘programmer-types’, and thus tried to improve the API for its intended users.

Also notable were [Tucker]‘s description of the problems students have when learning, [Jadud]‘s pedagogical experiences when using language design for Lego Mindstorm robots, and [Petre]‘s elaboration of the insights experienced designers have when addressing difficult design problems.

All in all, PPIG this year was a very worthwhile experience, with interesting talks, interesting people and really good food. In fact, the after-dinner drinks weren’t bad either! Many thanks must go to Marian Petre, and the programme committee for organizing such a successful event.

Jim Buckley
University of Limerick, Ireland.