The first week involved getting settled into my summer home and work place. State College, Pennsylvania is a scenic little town with friendly people. I do not have a car here but it has been easy to get around by walking and bus. I am staying in the White Course Apartments - nice, furnished graduate housing that is a short walk from where I am working and also convenient to the downtown area. I am sharing the apartment with another young woman also working under Professor Rosson in the DMP program. Her name is Kayre Hylton. She is from Jamaica and just finished her undergrad at Georgia Tech. Check out Kayre's DMP site. It is nice to have someone else in the program to hang out with. On Friday, I met my mentor Professor Mary Beth Rosson. Professor Rosson is an energetic and friendly woman that I know I am going to enjoy working with. I arrived for my internship on the Memorial Day Weekend (I did not realize this when making my plans). I would recommend not arriving for a new position during a holiday weekend because it takes longer to accomplish paperwork, be entered into university systems, and obtain computer access. During week 1, I was introduced to my project and given background information to read. I also began learning Microsoft FrontPage 2003 - a software tool designed for easy creation of websites.
My project goal for week 2 was to create a website for my study using
Microsoft FrontPage 2003. The website needed to be a "real-world" example that we can
tell test-subjects that they have been hired to modify. A primary goal in the study is
to characterize non-programming users' strategies for debugging. Therefore, I also need
to be able to introduce bugs into the website that the test-subjects can notice and
I was experiencing considerable frustration in my task by the end of the week. It seemed like I could not get anything working and, if I got something working, I broke it in the next task. I just did not expect a week long learning curve in a tool like FrontPage for someone with programming experience. However, I had a complete lack of knowledge about web development - HTML, ASP, Servers, and how they all interact - and I was trying to incorporate fairly sophisticated features into the web page. I was originally implementing a bed and breakfast website. For simulation of a realistic site, my mentor and I were hoping to include an available dates look-up. Unfortunately, this feature proved too complicated to implement with FrontPage as it would require some custom ASP programming. I felt the bed and breakfast site did not realistically incorporate features of moderate difficulty, convenient for our end users to enhance and debug. After talking with my mentor, I switched to making a website for a university slide library that lends slides of artworks to faculty for teaching. I chose a slide library because I worked for one and have a good idea of the appropriate features to include in a website. I feel such a site can realistically incorporate several features for non-programming but experienced FrontPage users to enhance and debug.
Although week 2 has been frustrating, I am still happy with what I am experiencing. I have gained experience and knowledge in areas I knew nothing about. Outside of work, I enjoyed going for a run in a beautiful area and seeing a bright red Cardinal bird. I also joined a Dahn movement class (similar to yoga) at the Community Center where I am staying. Dahn is very relaxing and energizing - a good counter to frustration! I have met some nice people and enjoyed going out to a movie Friday night with some of them. Thanks to Wendy (a post doc. in our department) I got to experience Wegman's on Saturday. Wegman's is a fabulous grocery store with whole foods, regular, and international sections as well as a coffee shop, cafe, and nice bakery. On Sunday, Wendy, Kayre, and I hiked Mount Nittany and then got ice cream at the Penn State Cremery.
During week 3, I was still working on the website I will use for the study. The design of the site was finished. Next, I needed to develop enhancement tasks we would have users do and insert bugs for users to find. It was fairly easy to develop a realistic set of enhancement tasks for the site but creating realistic bugs was rather difficult. Much of the difficulty in creating bugs came from my own inability to debug in Front Page. Simple bugs such as broken links or images not displaying were easy. However, I could not debug forms that I inserted into the web pages, so how could I expect my test-subjects to. In FrontPage, forms are very difficult for me to debug because they are created by wizards that generate ASP(Active Server Pages) code. First, I do not know what is going wrong because I follow the steps in the wizard as instructed and it does everything for me. Second, I do not know ASP code and so have no chance of debugging the code itself. Third, I do not know where to look for errors – is it server configuration, the way the pages interact, or an error in the page’s code? The minimal error messages that FrontPage provides do not help at all. My favorite messages so far are, “Front Page error. See the server’s application event log.” (There is no entry in the event log when I check.) and “Error #5: follow link for more details.” (When I follow the link, I get a message like, “This error is not found in the knowledge base at this time. Thank you for letting Microsoft know of an area where we need to provide information.”) What am I supposed to do with error messages like those?! I am also very frustrated because I had a discussion section working for my website; now, it is not working and I have no idea why. I have created new discussion pages and those do not work either. Since the discussion pages are created with a wizard and I am following the same steps as I did when I created the working set, I do not know why the discussion pages won’t work. Is it server configuration? If so, how did it change? The only thing I have changed on the server is permission settings for different users.
I am very frustrated with Front Page. It has taken me two full weeks to learn this program and I still do not have fully functioning forms in my website. I have programming experience – I can only imagine how users with no programming experience feel! I have learned some interesting things about Front Page though. For example, if you are not very careful on how you update your files to the remote server you can overwrite your database with an empty database and lose all your data. Also, I was trying to create a new administrator account for a single sub-website. Instead, FrontPage created a new administrator’s account for the entire computer/server (I am using the computer I am working on as the FrontPage Server as well). It was very interesting when I and the system’s administrator could no longer log in to parts of the FrontPage Server (even though we were administrators) but, the new administrator account I was trying to create for a single site could log in to everything.
I think FrontPage could be used by experienced web programmers to speed up the development process. However, for users with little HTML, ASP, and server experience Front Page leads to considerable frustration. I have lost data and time with FrontPage these last two weeks. If I had owned a business those things would have cost me money as well. I would rather have spent my last two weeks learning ASP so I could create a site I knew was stable and working. Or if I was a small business owner who did not want to invest time in learning programming, I would hire a professional. I feel it would save time, money, and frustration compared to my experiences with FrontPage.
After a frustrating day on Friday, it was nice to go out to dinner at a great Vietnamese and Thai restaurant with my fellow DMP participant Kayre. After dinner, we went to another movie at the student center with the same friends we had gone with the week before. On Saturday, I went downtown because they were supposed to have a farmers’ market. There was no farmers’ market but it was a nice day for a walk so, I went to the library and picked up a new book and looked around a cool card shop. Later that day, Lu and her husband were nice enough to drive Kayre and me to the grocery store so we didn’t have to take the bus - thanks! That evening the community center had an ice cream social so residents staying there during the summer could meet. Mmmm, more Penn State Creamery ice cream! On Sunday, Kayre and I went to the Palmer Art Museum on campus. I was impressed. It was a full fledged museum, which you don’t usually find on campuses. The fascinating collection of ancient coins, an 18th century roman icon painting, and some lovely 16th century European paintings were my favorites.
It is now the end of week 4 and I still don’t have a website created for the study. The problem is that my mentor and I were hoping to create a website that uses the more complex, interactive features of FrontPage. Examples of such features are discussion groups – where users can post and read messages - or forms that gather information from users and send it to a file or database.
I have built a working form that allows search and retrieval of data from a database. However, I cannot get any other forms or discussion groups working. It appears that FrontPage depends upon server settings for how it works. I believe I am having a problem with the server configuration but, I know nothing about servers so I am having little luck locating and fixing the problem. Unfortunately, my mentor and everyone in the lab use Macintosh Computers so they can not give me any help. I looked for FrontPage user groups and other technical support resources on campus only to discover that the university will not install FrontPage Server Extensions on their servers because of security concerns. As a result, no one uses the more complex features of FrontPage.
At this point, I was very frustrated because I had been troubleshooting this problem for three weeks and making no progress, except in increasing my knowledge and dislike of FrontPage and its shortcomings. I was also worried that I would have no experiment because I couldn’t get the web page working. It was time for a new plan. I talked with my mentor and we decided that we are just unable to include the complex features we were hoping to. Therefore, we will focus on the database form features that are working. I will have to be a little more creative in coming up with challenging enhancement tasks and bugs that do not require interactive forms other than the working database form. I am happy that we have a new plan and I am no longer stuck in fruitless troubleshooting -onward with the project!
Saturday, I went out to dinner with Kayre and her boyfriend who is visiting for a few days. We went to a 50’s style diner for burgers and shakes. It was fun. There were jukeboxes on the tables, the wait staff was dressed 50’s style, and they gave us Bazooka bubble gum (that comes wrapped with a comic and fortune) for our after-dinner mint. After, we met up with our other friend Wendy for another movie at the student hub. Walking to the movie, I saw fireflies for the first time. They are very cool! Saturday was hot and sunny so we cooled off at the pool. On Sunday, we cooled off by ice skating at the rink on the edge of campus.
I really enjoyed my work this last week! I guess I am a true nerd because my idea of a fun work week is searching through the ACM and IEEE databases! I spent the week reading papers to find out what kind of research has been done in the area of end user debugging of web applications. Work on end user debugging so far concentrates primarily on spread sheets. Other work specific to web applications focuses on building better tools to support end user web development. I found no work that examines end user debugging of web applications. Additionally, my mentor wanted me to research error classification frameworks and how they could be applied to errors in web applications. I did not find a classification framework that could be satisfactorily applied to web application errors. However, I found some analyses of web applications used to develop testing criteria. I am compiling an error classification system for web applications based on those analyses. I reason that, since testing looks for errors, logical categories for testing would effectively represent logical categories of errors.
I like research because it examines an area of amassed knowledge and then builds on that knowledge, expanding it and applying it in new ways. It reminds me of a quote by Isaac Newton that appears on a sculpture on the Colorado State University Campus, “If I have been able to see farther than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”
This weekend, my roommate and I were invited to a picnic dinner organized by some graduate students in the IST department. They cooked some good Indian food. When it got dark the park filled with fireflies. It was really beautiful. This weekend was the fourth of July so of course, my roommate and I went to see the fireworks. We enjoyed hot dogs and funnel cake. I climbed a climbing wall and there was a good band, although the crowd was boring and no one danced. Someone offered us extra tickets they had to the VIP viewing area for the fireworks so we were in an excellent place to see them. The fireworks were outstanding! State College puts on a good display.
My work efforts for week six focused on recruiting participants for my study and beginning to write my research paper. Given the time constraint (4 weeks left in my project), my study will likely be a small pilot study which works out all the details for larger studies in the future. My and my mentor’s goal is to recruit at least six people for the study. I sent out an email asking for participants on the Penn. State web developers’ listserve. I have also hung fliers around campus and down town. I made a contact at State College’s library who offered to forward my study participant request to another listserve catering to FrontPage users. So far, I am pleased to have five very likely participants. I am hoping to schedule them for study sessions for the coming week.
In addition to recruiting, I have begun the introduction and review of related research for my research paper.
On Friday, Kayre and I got a new roommate, Dr. Akbar. Dr. Akbar is a guest professor from New Orleans teaching a two week course on multicultural education at Penn. State. The three of us went out to an Indian restaurant and had a nice time. Kayre and I then went to the weekly movie at the hub as usual. On Saturday, Kayre and I decided to try some State College night life. We had seen a band called “Body and Soul” at the 4th of July festivities and I really liked them. They play my favorite kind of music – Classic Rock – and they play it well. They even played “Magic Man” by Heart, a song I never hear covered by bands. They play every Saturday at a bar down town called the Saloon so we went to see them play. I find most bar bands pretty average but, these guys are excellent. They really put a lot of energy into their music and you can tell they love what they do. I had a great time!
This week I ran my first study session. It was cool to see what I could learn from someone using the web site and scenario I created! The study went well and the participant did a great job of “thinking aloud”. I was surprised to see her catch several usability errors that had proved more subtle in pre-tests of the web site. She was very attuned to the usability of the web site and felt that good artistic design is very important. I am interested to see if other study subjects will have the same focus or if each will have their own priorities for web sites. I have two more participants scheduled for Monday of week 8 and am continuing my recruiting efforts. I am hoping for six people for the study.
This weekend was the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, Arts Fest for short. It is a very big affair in State College with 1000 artisans participating. The art work is top quality and I enjoyed looking at the many booths of beautiful things. There was also a sand sculpture with a sea theme. My favorite thing was the Italian street painting where people created beautiful drawings in chalk pastel on the street. There was an oval, Raphael Madonna and Child and a scene from the Sistine Ceiling that were exceptional. There were also music performances. I am not a real fan of folk music but, the folk band Eddie from Ohio is really talented and great to hear live.
This week has been very eventful. I have run four user studies. I like seeing how each user approaches their tasks and debugging the website. With each study, I am thinking of new questions to ask to gain information such as:
This week I finished up a summary of previous research related to my topic for my final paper. It was a great way to crystallize the purpose of my study. I discovered that debugging can be made much easier for spread sheets and visual and event based languages by using interactive visualizations for testing and locating errors. Why not see if we can improve debugging techniques to the point they can be used by end users in other areas as well – for instance web applications? Therefore, we are looking at what strategies end users employ debugging web applications so that we can see where to support them in their efforts.
Since I have been working hard I figured it was time for a vacation so, I planned an adventure in Philadelphia and New York City! I rented a car and drove to Philadelphia on Friday. I spent the afternoon walking around Philadelphia and seeing historic sites important to the founding of the U.S. I had a wonderful dinner at the City Tavern, a Colonial America style Tavern. I also had a $9.00 drink! I didn’t think a drink could cost that much (unless it was a nice glass of wine) but, it was very good – I have no regrets! I also enjoyed a chocolate mouse cake that Martha Washington used to make. I stayed the night in a hotel. In the morning, I took a cab to 30th Street Station to catch a train to New York City. After a pleasant hour and 20 minute train ride, I emerged from Penn Station into Midtown Manhattan. Manhattan is incredible! I loved visiting there! Tall buildings line straight, wide streets filled with quickly walking people speaking every language. I saw Macy’s and a few other stores. I got a great view from the Empire State Building. I could see the Statue of Liberty tiny in the distance and the top of the Chrysler building really does shine! Next, I went to Times Square. Times Square is a sea of motion where every building seems to be required to have at least one big-screen T.V. on it – talk about razzle dazzle! I then walked down Madison Avenue to Rockefeller Center and saw St. Patrick’s church. I walked past Radio City Music Hall and a few T.V. studios. I walked back to the train station via Broadway and saw all the advertisements for Broadway shows. At the train station, I relaxed at a European style café before the train ride back to Philadelphia. The next morning in Philadelphia, I went to the Rodin museum. He has some incredible work – I am now a fan. I also drove back to the historic district and saw the 2nd National Bank which is now a gallery of portraits of founding fathers (and a few founding mothers too). I had lunch at the City Tavern on the way out of town. I like the sweet potato pecan biscuits that they serve that were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson.
It is hard to believe it is week 9 – one more week left! This week I have been reviewing the screen recordings of my user studies to obtain data from them. I am looking for things such as how many times the user viewed the site in a browser, which may provide a measure of testing. I am also looking at techniques users applied when debugging and how many bugs users introduced into the site when working with it. This data will be added to the notes I took during the study sessions and to information gathered from study participants through a post session questionnaire. I am hoping the data will yield interesting and useful results.
On Friday Kayre and I went to dinner with Sarah and Bill, friends we made while in State College. After dinner, we all went to a swing dance which was fun. On Sunday, I treated myself to coffee and a little shopping.
This is my final week. I have had a wonderful time in State College, Pennsylvania and a wonderful time working with my mentor and all the nice people I met in the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab of Penn State. I have learned a lot about planning and conducting experiments. I have learned how to collect data and interpret the results. I went from having a vague idea of what I was supposed to do, to learning enough about end user debugging of web pages to have interesting questions and other ideas for experiments start popping into my head. I would like to thank my mentor and the people of the HCI lab for all their help, advice, and friendship. Now, I am looking forward to returning home to Ft. Collins and starting graduate school.