New Publications in November

Even though I'm no longer working at the university, November was an excellent month publication wise. Two conference papers written in the Spring were published at Koli Calling 2013 whereas a long journal paper process finally ended in a published paper in ACM Transactions in Computing Education. The journal paper is titled "A Review of Generic Program Visualization Systems for Introductory Programming Education" (ACM, pdf) and was written with Juha Sorva and Lauri Malmi:

This article is a survey of program visualization systems intended for teaching beginners about the runtime behavior of computer programs. Our focus is on generic systems that are capable of illustrating many kinds of programs and behaviors. We inclusively describe such systems from the last three decades and review findings from their empirical evaluations. A comparable review on the topic does not previously exist; ours is intended to serve as a reference for the creators, evaluators, and users of educational program visualization systems. Moreover, we revisit the issue of learner engagement which has been identified as a potentially key factor in the success of educational software visualization and summarize what little is known about engagement in the context of the generic program visualization systems for beginners that we have reviewed; a proposed refinement of the frameworks previously used by computing education researchers to rank types of learner engagement is a side product of this effort. Overall, our review illustrates that program visualization systems for beginners are often short-lived research prototypes that support the user-controlled viewing of program animations; a recent trend is to support more engaging modes of user interaction. The results of evaluations largely support the use of program visualization in introductory programming education, but research to date is insufficient for drawing more nuanced conclusions with respect to learner engagement. On the basis of our review, we identify interesting questions to answer for future research in relation to themes such as engagement, the authenticity of learning tasks, cognitive load, and the integration of program visualization into introductory programming pedagogy.

First of the conference papers is "How to study programming on mobile touch devices: interactive Python code exercises" (ACM) written with Petri Ihantola and Juha Helminen:

Scaffolded learning tasks where programs are constructed from predefined code fragments by dragging and dropping them (i.e. Parsons problems) are well suited to mobile touch devices, but quite limited in their applicability. They do not adequately cater for different approaches to constructing a program. After studying solutions to automatically assessed programming exercises, we found out that many different solutions are composed of a relatively small set of mutually similar code lines. Thus, they can be constructed by using the drag-and-drop approach if only it was possible to edit some small parts of the predefined fragments. Based on this, we have designed and implemented a new exercise type for mobile devices that builds on Parsons problems and falls somewhere between their strict scaffolding and full-blown coding exercises. In these exercises, we can gradually fade the scaffolding and allow programs to be constructed more freely so as not to restrict thinking and limit creativity too much while still making sure we are able to deploy them to small-screen mobile devices. In addition to the new concept and the related implementation, we discuss other possibilities of how programming could be practiced on mobile devices.

Second Koli paper was written by the same trio and is titled "Recording and analyzing in-browser programming sessions" (ACM):

In this paper, we report on the analysis of a novel type of automatically recorded detailed programming session data collected on a university-level web programming course. We present a method and an implementation of collecting rich data on how students learning to program edit and execute code and explore its use in examining learners' behavior. The data collection instrument is an in-browser Python programming environment that integrates an editor, an execution environment, and an interactive Python console and is used to deliver programming assignments with automatic feedback. Most importantly, the environment records learners' interaction within it. We have implemented tools for viewing these traces and demonstrate their potential in learning about the programming processes of learners and of benefiting computing education research and the teaching of programming.

As soon as these become available in the ACM Author-Izer service, you'll be able to download the PDFs from my publications page.

New Publication List with bib-publication-list

I finally got tired of updating my old HTML publication list by hand. I wanted something that would be automatically generated from my BibTeX file, without me having to remember to run any scripts or copy files. So, I wrote bib-publication-list. With it, I can just include the BibTeX into my HTML page and tell the script to turn it into a sortable and searchable table. Besides loading the required JavaScript files, all that is needed is to add a table where the data should be added and include the BibTeX:

        title = {A comprehensive taxonomy of algorithm animation languages},
        journal = {Journal of Visual Languages \& Computing},
        volume = {20},
        number = {1},
        pages = {1--22},
        year = {2010},
        issn = {1045-926X},
        doi = {DOI: 10.1016/j.jvlc.2009.09.001},
        author = {Ville Karavirta and Ari Korhonen and Lauri Malmi and Thomas Naps}

Alternatively, the bibtex can be loaded from a file. I prefer including it in the HTML, though. This way, browsers without JavaScript enabled get at least to see the bibtex instead of a blank page.

Finally, the bib-publication-list needs to know the input data element and the output table. So, one line of JavaScript:

bibtexify("#bibtex", "pubTable");

The result looks like the figure below (or my new publication list).

The source code for the library is available on GitHub. The code uses some great libraries: jQuery, DataTables, Protovis, and JavaScript BibTeX Parser.

Let me know what you think. Especially comment if you have problems with it, I haven't tested it on all browsers (yet).

A Comprehensive Taxonomy of Algorithm Animation Languages

The article "A comprehensive taxonomy of algorithm animation languages" was finally published in the Journal of Visual Languages & Computing in volume 21, issue 1 (doi). I'd like to thank my co-authors Lauri Malmi, Ari Korhonen, and Thomas Naps for their hard work in writing this article. The abstract of the article:

In this paper, we present a taxonomy of algorithm animation languages that augments Price's well-known taxonomy of software visualization. Whereas Price's taxonomy is directed to classifying features and characteristics of visualization systems, the new taxonomy focuses on evaluating current animation languages. The taxonomy can be used by algorithm visualization system designers as a tool to compare visualization system languages with each other as well as for designing and implementing new systems and language features. In addition, the taxonomy provides guidelines to the features that are needed for transferring animations between systems. This is an ongoing project that elaborates upon the work reported on in a briefer version of the taxonomy.

The main categories of the presented taxonomy are Visualization, Dynamics, User Interaction, and MetaLanguage:

  • The category Visualization describes the features of the language used to create static visualizations for describing one state in the animation. In essence, it considers the variety of supported object types, that is, the building blocks used in the animation as well as ways to position and style the objects.
  • The category Dynamics describes the level and versatility of animation effects available in the language and how the final animation can be customized through the language. These are the ways the visualizations can be changed when moving from state to state.
  • The category User Interaction describes the type and level of interaction provided for the end-user of animations that can be specified using the language.
  • The category MetaLanguage describes the support of features that are not directly related to algorithm animation but instead are useful in the animation creation process. These are features that are not directly visible to the end user.

The figure below shows the two highest levels of the taxonomy. The paper also includes an evaluation of many of the existing AA languages. So, go read it and let me know what you think!

My article "Seamless Merging of Hypertext and Algorithm Animation" in TOCE

My article "Seamless Merging of Hypertext and Algorithm Animation" was finally published in ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE) in volume 9, issue 2 (in ACM digital library). The abstract of the article:

Online learning material that students use by themselves is one of the typical usages of algorithm animation (AA). Thus, the integration of algorithm animations into hypertext is seen as an important topic today to promote the usage of algorithm animation in teaching. This article presents an algorithm animation viewer implemented purely using HTML and JavaScript. The viewer is capable of viewing animations in Xaal (eXtensible Algorithm Animation Language), a language designed to allow easy transformation of AAs between various formats. This solution is extremely suited for use in hypertext learning material due to the advanced interaction possibilities between learning material (HTML) and the animation.

I'll try to post some demos of the viewer soon. Below is a picture explaining the main parts of the viewer.

JSXaal viewer
JSXaal viewer