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Debugging strategies and tactics in a multi-representational software environment

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 22:18 authored by Pablo Romero, Benedict du Boulay, Richard Cox, Rudi Lutz, Sallyann Bryant
This paper investigates the interplay between high level debugging strategies and low level tactics in the context of a multi-representation software development environment (SDE). It investigates three questions. 1. How do programmers integrate debugging strategies and tactics when working with SDEs? 2. What is the relationship between verbal ability, level of graphical literacy and debugging (task) performance. 3. How do modality and perspective influence debugging strategy and deployment of tactics? The paper extends the work of Katz and Anderson [1988. Debugging: an analysis of bug location strategies. Human-Computer Interaction 3, 359399] and others in terms of identifying high level debugging strategies, in this case when working with SDEs. It also describes how programmers of different backgrounds and degrees of experience make differential use of the multiple sources of information typically available in a software debugging environment. Individual difference measures considered among the participants were their programming experience and their knowledge of external representation formalisms. The debugging environment enabled the participants, computer science students, to view the execution of a program in steps and provided them with concurrently displayed, adjacent, multiple and linked programming representations. These representations comprised the program code, two visualisations of the program and its output. The two visualisations of the program were available, in either a largely textual format or a largely graphical format so as to track interactions between experience and low level mode-specific tactics, for example. The results suggest that (i) additionally to deploying debugging strategies similar to those reported in the literature, participants also employed a strategy specific to SDEs, following execution, (ii) verbal ability was not correlated with debugging performance, (iii) knowledge of external representation formalisms was as important as programming experience to succeed in the debugging task, and (iv) participants with greater experience of both programming and external representation formalisms, unlike the less experienced, were able to modify their debugging strategies and tactics effectively when working under different format conditions (i.e. when working with either largely graphical or largely textual visualisations) in order to maintain their high debugging accuracy level.


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  • Published


International Journal of Human-Computer Studies







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  • Informatics Publications

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