A Program Visualization Tool

Short description

The long-term goal of this project is to create a visualization tool for computer programs. Something like Jeliot (http://www.cs.joensuu.fi/jeliot/index.php), but obviously better :)

During the Summer of Code program, the goal is to write, in Python, a functional program visualization tool that can visualize Python code.

With the visualization tool, one can write a program and see the execution visualized to help understanding how the program works. This is especially useful to assist students learning how to program.

Why this project?

Teaching is very close to my heart and I'm constantly looking for ways to improve the learning experience in different situations. Visualizing computer programs is a good aid for many people when they learn how to write software.

Jeliot is seen as representing the cutting edge research of visualization, but this project should be able to build on it and do a bit better. Some differences would be:

With these changes, the project would deliver a good tool for both educators and self-learners, bringing the advantages of visualization in learning programming to the reach of the masses. In addition, the project would try to ease the five major impediments (see [0]) for instructors regarding the use of visualization, using some advice given in [1].

Jeliot is licensed under the GPL, but it's slow-moving and oriented more towards research than real-life usage. Also, Jeliot developers seem to have no plans to support other languages than Java. I have not been able to find other similar tools of reasonable quality as Free Software, so this would be a chance to fill this interesting niche.

What will the project deliver during SoC?

The goals that should be met before the deadline are:

More detailed description of the project

The tool would be built using existing technologies where possible. The execution of the program should be done using the standard Python interpreter, with the option of using other interpreters - like Logo, Ruby or Perl - in the future. The editor used in the tool should also be an embedded component designed for writing code and supporting visualization-facilitating features like syntax and line highlighting (I haven't evaluated alternatives yet, but if none are viable, an existing component can most likely be enhanced to do what's needed).

The UI will be similar to Jeliot's (example) with a code area, visualization area, control panel and output area. The layout and look will be honed during the development.

When the code is executed, the tool will track the line where the execution is at any given moment, highlighting it in the code are. Variable states are shown in the visualization area and changes to them are animated. When an output is produced, it is also moved to the output area with an animation.

The user will have control over the way visualization is done and it's speed, similar to Jeliot. The program can be executed in steps or with a constant speed defined by the user. Lines or modules of code can be tagged in the editor to have them skipped when showing a visualization in the visualization area. At any moment, the visualization can be stopped and continued with same or changed speed.

As longer term goals that are not aimed for during Summer of Code, one could see using themes to make more attractive or depicting visualizations and having a backlog to enable going back in the program execution.

What will I get from this project?

In addition to my profound interest in the subject, I see myself as the right person for this project since I have done some research into visualization software at the university. A presentation I held on this topic for a Computer Science Education course is attached[2]. During my research, I - and others on the course - could think of several improvements to the current systems that I'd now have a chance to realize. This is also an excellent chance for digging deeper into the current research.

For me, this project could also pave a way for my B.Sc paper, which I might do on the tool resulting from this project. And perhaps this could even provide a topic for my M.Sc paper later on.

Of course, I'm also looking to meet my personal goals for Summer of Code as described in my biography.


Please note that one of my main personal goals for participating in Summer of Code is to learn how to write software better. I have no experience in things like unit tests nor do I really know how much time should be given to the design in real world. These are the kind of things I hope to learn with the help of the mentor(s) and thus the schedule will likely be among the first things to review and polish together.

June: Further research on the topic, discussions with the mentor to refine the plans, first design drafts.

Early July: improve the design and document it, decide upon the external code to use, begin writing code.

Late July: Focus on producing more code to implement the key features, start creating visual elements, keep revising the design and other plans if needed, write documentation

Early August: Finish implementing key features and visual elements, confirm that the design has been implemented, finish the documentation content-wise.

Late August: Stabilization period, implement missing pieces of the design if any, freeze the code for Google/mentor review, polish the documentation.

Early September: Wait eagerly for judgement, create one's own Post Mortem.

After results: Open the project for all interested, lead development to new interesting directions :)


[0] Naps, T.L., Roessling, G. et al. Exploring the Role of Visualization and Engagement in Computer Science Education. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin v.35 n.2, (June 2003), 131-152

[1] Naps, T.L., Roessling, G. et al. Evaluating the Educational Impact of Visualization. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, v.35 n.4, (December 2003), 124-136

[2] My presentation on SV and Jeliot: