Learnability, Usability, and Educational Effectiveness in an Authoring Tool for Computer Program Code Animation

Mark Dixon


Learning Computer Programming, Animation, Direct Manipulation User-Interfaces


Programming is critical to computer-science education, but difficult to learn and teach. Over 500 animation software tools exist to address this. Educators and students perceive animations positively, yet educational effectiveness studies yield varying results (from improved understanding to 'no significant difference'). Usability may be a confounding factor.

An instance of such software animates interactions between code and variables in memory. Previous studies have detected improved student understanding. However, this potential will be lost if animation creation is impractical. The software’s uptake has been limited. Staff suggest that usage is naturally infrequent, and describe difficulty remembering how to use the editor software after periods of non-use. In response to this, changes were made to the interface.

This paper describes observations of users’ interactions with animation editing software, where no instructions were given. It addresses difficulties with creating and adapting animations, and evaluating animations’ educational effectiveness (where usability issues may act as confounding factors).

Surprisingly, a relatively simple task proved difficult. Usability seemed quite good, but instinctive learnability seemed poor. It suggests that humans may adjust to a non-instinctive interface (redefining what is instinctive), and that developers can easily become familiar with a non-intuitive design, which is poorly received by others.

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