Teaching Formal Languages with Visualizations and Auto-Graded Exercises

Conference Paper

The material taught in a Formal Languages and Automata (FLA) course is mathematical in nature and requires students to practice proofs and algorithms to understand the content. Traditional FLA textbooks are heavy on prose, and homework typically consists of solving many paper exercises. Instructors often make use of Finite State Machine simulators like the JFLAP package. JFLAP allows students to interactively build models and apply different algorithms to these models, providing both a more interactive and a more visual approach. However, course materials have still traditionally relied largely on prose and hand-graded exercises, limiting both the interaction and the amount of practice. In this paper, we propose an eTextbook with integrated tools (simulators and auto-graded exercises) that allow for greater interactivity and levels of engagement. To evaluate the pedagogical effectiveness of our approach, we conducted performance evaluations across different offerings of an FLA course. Results indicate that students using the integrated eTextbook performed better than did a control group using a traditional textbook approach. Students gave positive feedback regarding the usefulness of the auto-graded exercises for practicing different FLA concepts.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Mohammed, M; Shaffer, CA; Rodger, SH

Published Date

  • March 3, 2021

Published In

  • Sigcse 2021 Proceedings of the 52nd Acm Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education

Start / End Page

  • 569 - 575

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781450380621

Citation Source

  • Scopus