Title page for ETD etd-09132007-233325

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Pyla, Pardha S
Author's Email Address ppyla@vt.edu
URN etd-09132007-233325
Title Connecting the usability and software engineering life cycles through a communication-fostering software development framework and cross-pollinated computer science courses
Degree PhD
Department Computer Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Hartson, H. Rex Committee Chair
Arthur, James D. Committee Member
Hix, Deborah S. Committee Member
Pérez-Quiñones, Manuel A. Committee Member
Smith-Jackson, Tonya L. Committee Member
  • unified framework
  • usability engineering
  • integration
  • life cycle representation
  • Software engineering
  • Ripple
  • influencing factors
Date of Defense 2007-09-10
Availability unrestricted
Interactive software systems have both functional and user interface components. User interface design and development requires specialized usability engineering (UE) knowledge, training, and experience in topics such as psychology, cognition, specialized design guidelines, and task analysis. The design and development of a functional core requires specialized software engineering (SE) knowledge, training, and experience in topics such as algorithms, data structures, software architectures, calling structures, and database management.

Given that the user interface and the functional core are two closely coupled components of an interactive software system, with each constraining the design of the other, there is a need for the SE and UE life cycles to be connected to support communication among roles between the two development life cycles. Additionally, there is a corresponding need for appropriate computer science curricula to train the SE and UE roles about the connections between the two processes.

In this dissertation, we connected the SE and UE life cycles by creating the Ripple project development environment which fosters communication between the SE and UE roles and by creating a graduate-level cross-pollinated SE-UE joint course offering, with student teams spanning the two classes, to educate students about the intricacies of interactive-software development. Using this joint course we simulated different conditions of interactive-software development (i.e. with different types of project constraints and role playing) and assigned different teams to these conditions. As part of semester-long class projects these teams developed prototype systems for a real client using their assigned development condition. Two of the total of eight teams in this study used the Ripple framework.

As part of this experimental course offering, various instruments were employed throughout the semester to assess the effectiveness of a framework like Ripple and to investigate candidate factors that impact the quality of product and process of interactive-software systems. The study highlighted the importance of communication among the SE and UE roles and exemplified the need for the two roles to respect each other and to have the willingness to work with one another. Also, there appears to exist an inherent conflict of interest when the same people play both UE and SE roles as they seem to choose user interface features that are easy to implement and not necessarily easy to use by system’s target users. Regarding pedagogy, students in this study indicated that this joint SE-UE course was more useful in learning about interactive-software development and that it provided a better learning experience than traditional SE-only or UE-only courses.

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