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Comprehending object and process models: an empirical study

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3 Author(s)
Agarwal, R. ; Dept. of Decision & Inf. Technol., Maryland Univ., College Park, MD, USA ; De, P. ; Sinha, A.P.

We report the results of an empirical study comparing user comprehension of object oriented (OO) and process oriented (PO) models. The fundamental difference is that while OO models tend to focus on structure, PO models tend to emphasize behaviour or processes. Proponents of the OO modeling approach argue that it lends itself naturally to the way humans think. However, evidence from research in cognitive psychology and human factors suggests that human problem solving is innately procedural. Given these conflicting viewpoints, we investigate empirically if OO models are in fact easier to understand than PO models. But, as suggested by the theory of cognitive fit, model comprehension may be influenced by task-specific characteristics. We therefore compare OO and PO models based on whether the comprehension activity involves: 1) only structural aspects, 2) only behavioral aspects, or 3) a combination of structural and behavioral aspects. We measure comprehension through subjects' responses to questions designed along these three dimensions. Results show that for most of the simple questions, no significant difference was observed insofar as model comprehension is concerned. For most of the complex questions, however, the PO model was found to be easier to understand than the OO model. In addition to describing the process and the outcomes of the experiments, we present the experimental method employed as a viable approach for conducting research into various phenomena related to the efficacy of alternative systems analysis and design methods. We also identify areas where future research is necessary, along with a recommendation of appropriate research methods for empirical examination

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Software Engineering, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:25 ,  Issue: 4 )