In software projects, people often continue working on programs that others created. This is especially the case in agile development. Therefore, developers often need to understand unfamiliar code in order to expand, change, fix or review it. Navigating through code and searching for relevant information requires a lot of developer time. This paper introduces an approach to use eye tracking to record and transfer developers' attention during software maintenance. We visualize the recorded data with heatmaps and display switches between Java classes by coloring filenames. These attention representations aim to help developers finding and navigating to relevant code sections faster.
We conducted an eye tracking experiment to investigate whether these attention visualizations help developers during software maintenance. The results show that both representations helped some of the participants for orientation and code finding purposes. The heatmaps slightly decreased the cognitive load as well. However, most participants, especially the more experienced ones, rated the attention visualizations as barely helpful or not helpful. Instead, the representations increased their visual effort, reduced the code's clarity and made the overall understanding of the program's functionality, as well as finding relevant areas, more difficult. By testing this specific implementation of the approach of attention transfer, we gained important lessons learned and provide several improvement suggestions.
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