Be sure to see this recent ACM TOCHI paper:

Can direct manipulation lower the barriers to computer programming and promote 
transfer of training?: An experimental study

By Hundhausen, Farley, and Brown

Novices face many barriers when learning to program a computer, including the 
need to learn both a new syntax and a model of computation. By constraining 
syntax and providing concrete visual representations on which to operate, 
direct manipulation programming environments can potentially lower these 
barriers. However, what if the ultimate learning goal of the novice is to be 
able to program in conventional textual languages, as is the case for 
introductory computer science students? Can direct manipulation programming 
environments lower the initial barriers to programming, and, at the same time, 
facilitate positive transfer to textual programming? To address this question, 
we designed a new direct manipulation programming interface for novices, and 
conducted an experimental study to compare the programming processes and 
outcomes promoted by the direct manipulation interface against those promoted 
by a textual programming interface. We found that the direct manipulation 
interface promoted significantly better initial programming outcomes, positive 
transfer to the textual interface, and significant differences in programming 
processes. Our results show that direct manipulation interfaces can provide 
novices with a "way in" to traditional textual programming.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan Stowell [] 
Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:41 AM
To: PPIG Listserve
Cc: Thomas Green
Subject: Visual and text languages


I'm fairly new to the PP literature. Thomas's self-promotion led me to 
his interesting 1996 paper on visual programming languages. "Overall, we 
believe that in many respects VPLs offer substantial gains over 
conventional textual languages, but at present their HCI aspects are 
still under-developed. Improvements in secondary notation, in editing, 
and in searching will greatly raise their overall usability."

As someone who does a lot of work in textual languages - in particular, 
livecoding - I'd be interested to know what the state of the literature 
is on VPLs, especially in comparison against text languages. I haven't 
been able to find a recent survey, any recommendations?

(Also, as someone who has had RSI, I wonder about the accessibility of 
VPLs via purely keyboard control...)


On 01/03/2011 17:32, Thomas Green wrote:
> Er, a spot of self-promotion here ..... the various types of comparison
> I did in the past led to a framework which attempts to make some sense
> of the underlying trade-offs, the cognitive dimensions framework,
> developed by me and lots of other people. Stefano, if you simply want to
> know whether your new tool works, then you probably just need to do an
> experiment and stop; but if you want to know why it works (or doesn't),
> you might take a look at that framework. There's a resources page here:
> CDs analysis is quite quick, though very vague. It's actually quite
> possible that it would reveal problems you've overlooked .....
> Thomas
> --
> The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an
> exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland
> (SC 038302).

Dan Stowell
Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Centre for Digital Music
Queen Mary, University of London
Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

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