Evaluation of the usability of constraint diagrams as a visual modelling language: theoretical and empirical investigations
P0098 | Q0350 | QA76
This research evaluates the constraint diagrams (CD) notation, which is a formal representation for program specification that has some promise to be used by people who are not expert in software design. Multiple methods were adopted in order to provide triangulated evidence of the potential benefits of constraint diagrams compared with other notational systems. Three main approaches were adopted for this research.\ud The first approach was a semantic and task analysis of the CD notation. This was conducted by the application of the Cognitive Dimensions framework, which was used to examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of constraint diagrams and conventional notations in terms of the perceptive facilitation or impediments of these different representations. From this systematic analysis, we found that CD cognitively reduced the cost of exploratory design, modification, incrementation, searching, and transcription activities with regard to the cognitive dimensions: consistency, visibility, abstraction, closeness of mapping, secondary notation, premature commitment, role-expressiveness, progressive evaluation, diffuseness, provisionality, hidden dependency, viscosity, hard mental operations, and error-proneness.\ud The second approach was an empirical evaluation of the comprehension of CD compared to natural language (NL) with computer science students. This experiment took the form of a web-based competition in which 33 participants were given instructions and training on either CD or the equivalent NL specification expressions, and then after each example, they responded to three multiple-choice questions requiring the interpretation of expressions in their particular notation. Although the CD group spent more time on the training and had less confidence, they obtained comparable interpretation scores to the NL group and took less time to answer the questions, although they had no prior experience of CD notation.\ud The third approach was an experiment on the construction of CD. 20 participants were given instructions and training on either CD or the equivalent NL specification expressions, and then after each example, they responded to three questions requiring the construction of expressions in their particular notation. We built an editor to allow the construction of the two notations, which automatically logged their interactions. In general, for constructing program specification, the CD group had more accurate answers, they had spent less time in training, and their returns to the training examples were fewer than those of the NL group.\ud Overall it was found that CD is understandable, usable, intuitive, and expressive with unambiguous semantic notation.