Proceedings: GI 1996

Exploring human visualization of computer algorithms

Sarah Douglas, Christopher Hundhausen, Donna McKeown

Proceedings of Graphics Interface '96: Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 22 - 24 May 1996, 9-16

DOI 10.20380/GI1996.02

  • BibTeX

     title = {Exploring human visualization of computer algorithms},
     author = {Sarah Douglas and Christopher Hundhausen and Donna McKeown},
     booktitle = {Proceedings of the Graphics Interface 1996 Conference, May 22-24, 1996, Toronto, Ontario, Canada},
     year = {1996},
     month = {May},
     isbn = {0-9695338-5-3},
     publisher = {Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society},
     url = {},
     pages = {9--16}


Many educators have used Algorithm Visualization (AV) to teach students of computer science about how computer algorithms work. Our study sheds light on two important questions: (a) How do people conceptualize algorithm animations in the first place; and (b) To what extent do such visualizations accord with AV software. In the first half of this study, pairs of graduate students in computer science were asked to construct animations for a simple sort (bubble sort) using ordinary art materials. In the second half, they implemented a bubble sort visualization using an interactive AV program called LENS [1], which allows one to construct and view an animation of any C program. The way in which pairs visualized the same sort differed tremendously from each other and did not accord completely with the animation language provided by LENS. This paper analyzes those differences by a detailed examination of the semantics of the human visualizations, the algorithm code, and the LENS AV language.