Public Release: 

Nickerson leads on Stevens-Columbia NSF software grant

Stevens professor is PI for improved software design through diagrams

Stevens Institute of Technology

HOBOKEN, N.J. - The National Science Foundation has awarded Stevens Institute of Technology and Columbia University a research grant, titled "Externalizing Thought: Improving the design of software through diagrams."

The project seeks to improve software design: We are increasingly dependent on software-intensive systems, said the members of the research team, and "the better they work, the better we work."

Designs of experts are better than those of novices, but it is not clear why. This project will provide new methods for understanding software design expertise and how it develops.

The methods, which involve analyzing diagrams to reveal the cognitive structures of designers, have been developed in other disciplines that rely on sketches and visualizations to realize and fine-tune design. They have not yet been applied to the design of software-intensive systems. A unique and valuable aspect of the project is that it is embedded in a course in design, an opportunity to study design as it happens and to improve design instruction at the same time. The project will also study expert designers practicing in the field.

The Principal Investigator, Jeffrey Nickerson, is an Associate Professor in the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology. He teaches a course in the design of information systems that will be studied as part of the project. James Corter, Professor of Statistics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, performs research in the area of computational modeling of human learning, including work on visualization in problem solving. Barbara Tversky, Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is a leading authority in the areas of visual-spatial reasoning and collaborative cognition, and has studied the use of diagrams in a wide range of design activities.


About Stevens Institute of Technology

Founded in 1870, Stevens Institute of Technology is one of the leading technological universities in the world dedicated to learning and research. Through its broad-based curricula, nurturing of creative inventiveness, and cross disciplinary research, the Institute is at the forefront of global challenges in engineering, science, and technology management. Partnerships and collaboration between, and among, business, industry, government and other universities contribute to the enriched environment of the Institute. A new model for technology commercialization in academe, known as Technogenesis®, involves external partners in launching business enterprises to create broad opportunities and shared value. Stevens offers baccalaureates, master's and doctoral degrees in engineering, science, computer science and management, in addition to a baccalaureate degree in the humanities and liberal arts, and in business and technology. The university has a total enrollment of 1,850 undergraduate and 2,980 graduate students, and a worldwide online enrollment of 2,250, with a full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty of 140 and more than 200 full-time special faculty. Stevens' graduate programs have attracted international participation from China, India, Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America. Additional information may be obtained from its web page at

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