Information Types and Cognitive Principles in Program Comprehension: Towards Adaptable Support for Novice Visual Programmers

Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 1452)


The authors describe work on the GRiP (Graphical Representations in Programming) Project1, which aims to build a support environment for novices learning to program using a visual programming language (VPL). The design of the environment is based on a series of experiments which investigate issues of visual programming language paradigm, and the ways in which novices extract information from a representation in order to make sense of a program. This paper focuses particularly on the multivariate nature of program comprehension, the difficulties associated with attempting to teach skills of this kind, and suggests a solution in the form of a modular support system.


Information Type Program Comprehension Cognitive Load Theory Visual Language Verbal Protocol 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Pennington, N.: Comprehension Strategies in Programming. In: Olson, G.M., Sheppard, S., Soloway, E. (eds.): Empirical Studies of Programmers: Second Workshop. Ablex Publishing Corporation, New Jersey (1987a) 100–113 314, 314, 316, 316, 316, 317, 317Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Corritore, C.L., Wiedenbeck, S.: What Do Novices Learn During Program Comprehension? International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32 (1991) 199–222 314, 317, 317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Soloway, E., Adelson, B., Ehrlich, B.: Knowledge and Processes in the Comprehension of Computer Programs. In: Chi, M.T.H., Glaser, R., Farr, M.J. (eds.): The Nature of Expertise. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale (1988) 129–152 314Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    von Mayrhauser, A., Vans, A.M.: Program Understanding — A Survey. Technical Report, Colorado State University. (1994) 314, 315Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Tilley, S.R., Smith, D.B.: Coming Attractions in Program Understanding. Technical Report CMU/SEI-96-TR-019, Carnegie Mellon University. (1996). 315, 315Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Green, T.R.G., Petre, M.: Usability Analysis of Visual Programming Environments: A Cognitive Dimensions Framework. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing 7 (1996) 131–174 318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gilmore, D.J., Green, T.R.G.: Comprehension and Recall of Miniature Programs. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies 21 (1984) 31–48 319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    van Dijk, T.A., Kintsch, W.: Strategies of Discourse Comprehension. Academic Press, New York. (1983) 317Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Soloway, E., Jackson, S.L., Klein, J., Quintana, C., Reed, J., Spitulnik, J., Stratford, S.J., Studer, S., Jul, S., Eng, J., Scala, N.: Learning Theory in Practice: Case Studies of Learner-Centered Design. In: Bilger, R., Guest, S., Tauber, M.J. (eds.): CHI’ 96 Proceedings: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Common Ground. ACM. (1996). 322Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Brna, P., Cox, R. Adding ‘Intelligence’ to a Learning Environment: A Case of Learner-Centred Design? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Accepted for publication in November/December 1998. 322Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Davis, A.L., Keller, R.M.: Data Flow Program Graphs. IEEE Computer 1 (1982) 526–541 317Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Green, T.R.G.: Cognitive Dimensions of Notations. In: Sutcliffe, A., Macaulay, L. (eds.): People and Computers V. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1989) 318Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Sweller, J., Chandler, P., Tierney, P., Cooper, M.: Cognitive Load as a Factor in the Structuring of Technical Material. Journal of Experimental Psychology General 119 (1990) 176–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cooper, G.: Cognitive Load Theory as an Aid for Instructional Design. Australian Journal of Educational Technology 62 (1990) 108–113Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Good, J.: The ‘Right’ Tool for the Task: An Investigation of External Representations, Program Abstractions and Task Requirements. In: Gray, W.D., Boehm-Davis, D.A. (eds.): Empirical Studies of Programmers: Sixth Workshop. Ablex Publishing Corporation, New Jersey (1996) 77–98 316, 317Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Good, J.: Visual Programming Languages, Programming Paradigms and Program Comprehension. Technical Report, Human Communication Research Centre, The University of Edinburgh. (In Preparation). 316, 317Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Pennington, N.: Stimulus Structures and Mental Representations in Expert Comprehension of Computer Programs. Cognitive Psychology 19 (1987b) 295–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Good, J., Brna, P.: Scaffolding for Recursion: Can Visual Languages Help? In: IEE Colloquium on Thinking with Diagrams. IEE. (1996) 7/1–7/3 315, 321Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Communication Research CentreUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland UK
  2. 2.Computer Based Learning UnitUniversity of LeedsLeedsEngland UK

Personalised recommendations