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User driven modelling: Visualisation and systematic interaction for end-user programming with tree-based structures

Hale, Peter


Peter Hale


This thesis addresses certain problems encountered by teams of engineers when modelling complex structures and processes subject to cost and other resource constraints. The cost of a structure or process may be ‘read off’ its specifying model, but the language in which the model is expressed (e.g. CAD) and the language in which resources may be modelled (e.g. spreadsheets) are not naturally compatible. This thesis demonstrates that a number of intermediate steps may be introduced which enable both meaningful translation from one conceptual view to another as well as meaningful collaboration between team members. The work adopts a diagrammatic modelling approach as a natural one in an engineering context when seeking to establish a shared understanding of problems.

Thus, the research question to be answered in this thesis is: ‘To what extent is it possible to improve user-driven software development through interaction with diagrams and without requiring users to learn particular computer languages?’ The goal of the research is to improve collaborative software development through interaction with diagrams, thereby minimising the need for end-users to code directly. To achieve this aim a combination of the paradigms of End-User Programming, Process and Product Modelling and Decision Support, and Semantic Web are exploited and a methodology of User Driven Modelling and Programming (UDM/P) is developed, implemented, and tested as a means of demonstrating the efficacy of diagrammatic modelling.

In greater detail, the research seeks to show that diagrammatic modelling eases problems of maintenance, extensibility, ease of use, and sharing of information. The methodology presented here to achieve this involves a three step translation from a visualised ontology, through a modelling tool, to output to interactive visualisations. An analysis of users groups them into categories of system creator, model builder, and model user. This categorisation corresponds well with the three-step translation process where users develop the ontology, modelling tool, and visualisations for their problem.

This research establishes and exemplifies a novel paradigm of collaborative end-user programming by domain experts. The end-user programmers can use a visual interface where the visualisation of the software exactly matches the structure of the software itself, making translation between user and computer, and vice versa, much more direct and practical. The visualisation is based on an ontology that provides a representation of the software as a tree. The solution is based on translation from a source tree to a result tree, and visualisation of both. The result tree shows a structured representation of the model with a full visualisation of all parts that leads to the computed result.

In conclusion, it is claimed that this direct representation of the structure enables an understanding of the program as an ontology and model that is then visualised, resulting in a more transparent shared understanding by all users. It is further argued that our diagrammatic modelling paradigm consequently eases problems of maintenance, extensibility, ease of use, and sharing of information. This method is applicable to any problem that lends itself to representation as a tree. This is considered a limitation of the method to be addressed in a future project.


Hale, P. User driven modelling: Visualisation and systematic interaction for end-user programming with tree-based structures. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords visual programming, visualisation, translation, transformation, meta programming, cost modelling, modelling, decision support, design, manufacture, user-driven modelling, semantic web, ontologies, end-user programming
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Additional Information Additional Information : A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of the West of England, Bristol for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy This research programme was carried out partly in collaboration with Airbus and Rolls-Royce aerospace I would like to thank Tony Solomonides and Ian Beeson for their supervision, help and support for this thesis. Prior to this I have also had support from Professor James Scanlan and Dr John Lanham. I am further indebted to my examiners, Professor Atta Badii, Dr Peter Strachan and Professor Alan Winfield, for many incisive questions and insightful comments. Since the viva I have had additional critical help and support from Dr Stewart Green and Dr Jin Sa. Faculty of Environment and Technology, University of the West of England, Bristol October 2011


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