Technical Reports at the Centre for Research in Computing

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[1] Jon G. Hall and Lucia Rapanotti. The triangulation calculus. Technical Report 2000/01, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
The Duration Calculus is an important tool in the tool bag of the real-time systems engineer. The distinguishing and powerful feature of the Duration Calculus is interpretations are given with respect to (open) intervals of the real-line. This allows propertiesof intervals to be specified and reasoned about.In an attempt to understand the relationship between the logic underlying the Duration Calculus and the domain over which it works, we have produced the Triangulation Calculus which (we claim) does for plane triangles what the Duration Calculus does forintervals.The paper is very closely structured along the lines of [CRH93]. Readers familiar with that paper will recognize this, and have no problem making the translation.

[2] Pete Thomas and Carina Paine. How students learn to program: observations of study time behaviour. Technical Report 2000/02, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
A software system known as The Obervatory has been developed to record the actions taken by students when attempting practical programming activities in the LearningWorks Smalltalk environment. This report describes the software tools that have been developed for the analysis of data related to time recorded within the Observatory system.

[3] Pete Thomas and Carina Paine. How students learn to program: Observations of practical work based on tasks completed. Technical Report 2000/03, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
Students on a distance education course in introductory object oriented programming are asked to engage in a number of practical, computer-based activities. Each practical activity consists of a significant number of small tasks packaged together into sessions. This paper analyses students' attempts at the tasks in terms of the number of tasks attempted and the time taken to complete the activities with a view to identifying patterns of behaviour. The observed student behaviour is then compared with the behaviour recommended by the course designers. The results reveal both expected and unexpected behaviours and provide some useful feedback on the design of practical activities. In addition, since students perform their practical activities at home on their own PCs, a software recorder gathered the basic information for analysis by another item of software known as the Tasks Completed Tool. The amount of data collected is too large for manual analysis making an automatic analysis tool essential. The paper describes the analysis tool and illustrates how it has been used to identify student behaviours.

[4] Carina Paine. Data collection techniques used to study programming - and aesop. Technical Report 2000/04, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
All empirical studies of programmers require suitable methodologies and techniques. Different methods of data collection are appropriate in different circumstances. Surprisingly, the initial research in the study of programming focused on experiments, when observational methods would seem more appropriate for a new discipline [1]. Recently there has been a shift to observational methods due to their ability to capture more complex aspects of programming. "I don't think that programming is too complex a behaviour to be studied, but it may be too complex to be studied in a laboratory" [2].AESOP, An Electronic Student Observatory Project, is a collection of computer-based data collection tools. Our educational environment is one in which students study independently at a distance, off-line, using software developed for the Open University course M206, Computing: An Object-oriented approach. The aim of the project is to discover how students learn to program, by observing students unobtrusively, electronically, and automatically, and to record these observations in a manner that is useful for both instruction and research. This documents reviews the differences between experimental and non-experimental methods, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the various data gathering techniques in the empirical study of programming, including new computer aided techniques. The data collection techniques used for AESOP are also described, and the reasons for our choice of techniques is explained.

[5] Lucia Rapanotti and Jon G. Hall. Lyceum: The system and its architecture. Technical Report 2000/05, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
Lyceum is an audio and visual conferencing system for the Internet. Using Lyceum participants can exchange audio messages and share visual applications in real-time. The system is under development at the Open University to be deployed on distance learning courses. This document describes the system andits architecture.

[6] Adrian Hilton and Jon G. Hall. On applying software development practice to fpgas in safety-critical systems. Technical Report 2000/06, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
New standards for developing safety-critical systems requirethe developer to demonstrate the safety and correctness of the programmable logic in such systems. In this paper we adapt software development best practice to developing high-integrity FPGA programs.

[7] Pete Thomas and Carina Paine. The coach: Overview. Technical Report 2000/07, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
This report describes a software teaching tool which we have named 'The Coach' whose aim is to provide additional help to students on the Open University's introductory computing course M206, Computing: An Object-Oriented Approach. The Coach provides additional help to students as they work through the practical programming activities of the course particularly in the area of error reporting and error diagnostics. The Coach uses data gathered by another software tool, ‘The Recorder', which records the sequence of actions that a student performs when attempting the various tasks specified in the practical activities. A recording contains information about the actions that the student took prior to an error, the error message that the system provided, and the actions the student took following the error report. The Coach uses the recorded information to provide improved error reports, information about the context in which the error was generated (synthesised from the recording) and links to appropriate additional information.

[8] Kit Logan. Observational studies of student errors in a distance learning environment using a remote recording and replay tool. Technical Report 2000/09, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
AESOP is 'An Electronic Student Observatory Project' at the Open University, Milton Keynes consisting of a set of tools written in Smalltalk allowing student's activities and progress through an on-line distance education course to be remotely recorded, replayed and analysed. The following paper outlines some initial findings from observations made on a cross-sectional group of 368 volunteers taking the course in 2000. Students observed to be using low resolution 640 x 480 screens were noted as taking significantly longer to complete on-line course work (p=0.018). No differences were observed between age groups taking part in the study, but some gender differences were found with females reporting being less comfortable at using computers and that males used a greater variety of central processing units. Some evidence indicates that female students were also more likely to be using lower specifications machines than males. Differences noted between genders in RAM and screen size specification of the machines used by the students were found to be just outside significance level.

[9] Kit Logan and Carina Paine. Computing general demographic questionnaire. Technical Report 2000/10, 2000. [ bib | .pdf ]
The following report describes the construction of the Computing General Demographic Questionnaire. A short, web based, questionnaire developed as a support tool for studies carried out with AESOP (An Electronic Student Observatory Project), that can be used an independent assessment tool. The questionnaire gathers general demographic information, users' knowledge and experience of distance education and computers, the hardware specification of the users' machines and also measures users' levels of comfort with various computing related tasks. Uses of the questionnaire are also discussed.

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