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UI Problems with JES

Observation notes:

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Many students had difficulty getting JES going at the beginning of the semester, as recorded in the multiple SOS postings to the coweb.


Having to save and load is tedious and sometimes confuses students - they forget to load and then can't figure out why their program won't work. But, there were much fewer complaints about this than I expected; students did seem to get used to it.
Sometimes students compile or run something at the command prompt, when it is at the very bottom of the window, and then when the new prompt shows up it is also at the very bottom of the window, so they can't tell that anything actually happened.


Errors reported by JES are often not very helpful for guiding students to figure out how to fix the program.
The line numbers reported as the problem are often incorrect.
"An attempt was made to call a function with a parameter of an invalid type." - should distinguish which parameter is invalid and also what type it's supposed to be.
Spacing errors - I don't know if this is feasible, but it would help to give students information on where the error is and how to fix it, e.g. "please add two spaces in front of line 22."
"A local or global name could not be found" - at least identify which name couldn't be found. As is this error was essentially meaningless to the students I observed.


Sometimes the copy-paste function doesn't work in JES, which was very irritating to students and required them to retype whole sections of code.
Also, some students opened up Notepad in another window in order to compare two pieces of code or edit two programs at the same time. No one commented that this was problematic, but it might be interesting to see if this could be effectively supported in JES.
I may have missed this, but is there a way to set your default directory (the place to start when picking a file)? If not, there should be one, since it is annoying to travel through the whole file structure every time one wants to pick a file.
One other thing to think about - might be nice to have an optional feature that assists users in seeing which lines they have changed since the last save/load(?), perhaps by coloring or highlighting the changed lines. It seems that this could be useful in some cases when I observed students losing track of what they had changed and therefore being unable to backtrack when the new changes didn't work as hoped.


I don't know if students would use it, but it might be interesting to try making a library of functions more obvious, e.g. by it's own button or menu option. Students often seemed to experiment with trying to remember the name of a function (e.g. trying different names and running the program to see if it works yet) rather than looking up the name and parameters of functions.


Students complained about having to get the indentation right, if there is some way we could simplify this process (e.g. automatic tabbing like in emacs) that might be helpful. Maybe an optional spacing coloring feature would be helpful - e.g. alternate the coloring of the spaces preceding each line with gray and white like a checkerboard to assist students in noticing how many spaces precede each line. Also, changing the editor to monospaced font as we discussed in one of our meetings would probably help with spacing issues.
Students don't like the fact that sometimes after saving a program when they open it up again it is double-spaced.

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