Using a fine-grained comparative evaluation technique to understand and design software visualization tools

Mulholland, Paul (1997). Using a fine-grained comparative evaluation technique to understand and design software visualization tools. In: ESP '97: Papers presented at the Seventh Workshop on Empirical Studies of Programmers (Wiedenbeck, Susan and Scholtz, Jean eds.), Association for Computing Machinery, New York, pp. 91–108.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/266399.266407

Abstract

Software Visualization can be defined as the use of graphical and textual formalisms to describe the execution of computer programs. A large amount of Software Visualization technology has been developed to support computer science education, using a range of interface techniques. Far less effort has been devoted to evaluating the technology. As a result, it is unclear how effective Software Visualization tools are, either for students or professional programmers. Even more worrying, it is doubtful whether lessons are being learnt in successive designs of Software Visualization tools, or whether the application of new technologies (e.g. 3D animation and the internet) has become the primary goal, rather than the true goal of making computer programs easier to understand. To counter this problem the study reported here used protocol analysis to develop a fine-grained account of user behaviour, identifying (i) information access from the display, (ii) the use of comprehension strategies, and (iii) misunderstandings of the visualization and execution. The results were able to motivate future deigns which in turn could be compared and improved. The approach is compared to other evaluation techniques which aim to inform design. Finally, the generalizability of the approach is considered.

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