PPIG 2004 Report

PPIG Workshop: 

By Chris Douce Feedback Instruments, UK.

5-7 April 2004, Institute of Technology, Carlow, Ireland.

The 16th annual workshop of the Psychology of Programming Interest group took place in the southern Irish town of Carlow, the first time the workshop had been held in Ireland. The workshop was well attended and comprised of a mixture of old timers (if you excuse the expression), new faces, and faces that were kindly recalled from earlier workshops (however, there were some people who were missed - you know who you are!)

PPIG 04 comprised of six sessions, where a total of nineteen papers were presented, covering topic areas including computer science education (which was the topic of a talk given by our invited speaker, Sally Fincher), approaches to programming research methodologies and tools (many thanks go our Finnish colleagues who gave an artful performance), and program comprehension.

A Doctoral Student session was held before the formal workshop sessions. This was very well attended, with 18 students in all, who used the time to discuss their work with other doctoral students under the guidance of more experienced researchers. Thanks are extended to those researchers and students who contributed to such a lively session which we hope will be repeated at future workshops.

In the first session of the main workshop Rebecca Mancy presented her work regarding cognitive style which was followed by two papers that examined the tools that educators are using to teach software development (and programming) in the lab. A series of experiments were then reported in a paper by Mark Ratcliffe and Lynda Thomas. Matthew Jadud explored the code compilation patterns that novice programmers exhibit, and the phenomena of repeated compilations without any code changes (I hold my hands up - guilty as charged!).

The later computer science education session saw Des Traynor considering a cognitive model of programming, which was nicely followed by a paper by Jens Kaasboll et. al. that explored the learning of object-oriented programming. Deborah LaBelle (working with Wiedenbeck) examined what factors may determine success during introductory programming courses.

Two presentations examined educational software systems - packages used to visualise the operation of the Bluetooth system, and secondly how distributed applications may communicate using the CORBA system.

Empirical study using a language derived from regular expressions was presented by Anthony Cox, stimulating an interesting regarding the methodology of empirical research.

Christopher Douce presented a number of colourful and tasteful software development metaphors that developers may sometimes use. Sallyann Bryant from the University of Sussex then presented her fascinating on-going field studies exploring the workings of eXtreme teams.

The topics of program comprehension and experimental methodology go hand in hand. It was this combination that made up session six of the workshop. An inter-rater reliability analysis of Good's protocol scheme was presented in a prize winning format by Pauli Byckling, Seppo Nevalainen and Jorma Sajaniemi. Protocol analysis uses text to study cognition. Pamela O'Shea presented a uniquely non-invasive form of software development study using mailing lists.

The final papers were also a resounding success. Connor Hughes and Jim Buckley from the University of Limerick discussed Algorithm animation for concurrent systems, concluding with a work in-progress paper by Catharine Brand. This lead to the final and second invited speaker.

Ben du Boulay from the University of Sussex gave an illuminating presentation where he proceeded to deconstruct all the papers that had been presented, where he suggested an alternative topic categorisation, much to the bemusement of the organisers.

Papers addressing debugging, comprehension, empirical studies, group working, software development (and education) tools and animation were featured. Going hand-in-hand with such diversity, the workshop generated a phrase that I will remember: we work with a collage of metholologies.

Again, a big thanks goes to Enda and his team for organising what was a hugely successful event. The refreshments were pretty good as well!