The study and design of algorithm animations
Hamilton-Taylor, Ashley George
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Algorithm Animations (AAs) portray the high-level dynamic operation of an algorithm. The computer science education community held great expectations that AA would assist students in understanding algorithms. However, many studies of the instructional effectiveness of AAs have produced inconclusive results. We investigated a number of issues pertinent to AA effectiveness: the study of AA user needs, user-centered design and the role of perception in AA. Existing algorithm animation systems typically have been designed without formal study of related teaching practices. We conducted an observational study of instructors teaching data structure and algorithm topics, focusing on activities involving the use of diagrams and algorithms. The results of this study were used to inform the user-centered design of SKA, the Support Kit for Animation. SKA combines interactive data structure diagram manipulation with flexible pseudocode execution, simple algorithm animation authoring support, a visual data structure library, and an animation engine designed for perceptual pacing and timing. The role of perception in AAs had not been formally considered in the past. We collaborated on a number of empirical studies to investigate this role, and the design of software to be used to conduct these studies. We found that some animation techniques can assist user perception and mapping in AA in some contexts, which will inform future AA design and studies.