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A Survey of Automated Programming Hint Generation -- The HINTS Framework

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Automated tutoring systems offer the flexibility and scalability necessary to facilitate the provision of high quality and universally accessible programming education. In order to realise the full potential of these systems, recent work has proposed a diverse range of techniques for automatically generating hints to assist students with programming exercises. This paper integrates these apparently disparate approaches into a coherent whole. Specifically, it emphasises that all hint techniques can be understood as a series of simpler components with similar properties. Using this insight, it presents a simple framework for describing such techniques, the Hint Iteration by Narrow-down and Transformation Steps (HINTS) framework, and it surveys recent work in the context of this framework. It discusses important implications of the survey and framework, including the need to further develop evaluation methods and the importance of considering hint technique components when designing, communicating and evaluating hint systems. Ultimately, this paper is designed to facilitate future opportunities for the development, extension and comparison of automated programming hint techniques in order to maximise their educational potential.


Neural Program Synthesis with a Differentiable Fixer

arXiv.org Machine Learning

We present a new program synthesis approach that combines an encoder-decoder based synthesis architecture with a differentiable program fixer. Our approach is inspired from the fact that human developers seldom get their program correct on the first attempt, and perform iterative testing-based program fixing to get to the desired program functionality. Similarly, our approach first learns a distribution over programs conditioned on an encoding of a set of input-output examples, and then iteratively performs fix operations using the differentiable fixer. The fixer takes as input the original examples and the current program's outputs on example inputs, and generates a new distribution over the programs with the goal of reducing the discrepancies between the current program outputs and the desired example outputs. We train our architecture end-to-end on the RobustFill domain, and show that the addition of the fixer module leads to a significant improvement on synthesis accuracy compared to using beam search.


Software Verification and Graph Similarity for Automated Evaluation of Students' Assignments

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

In this paper we promote introducing software verification and control flow graph similarity measurement in automated evaluation of students' programs. We present a new grading framework that merges results obtained by combination of these two approaches with results obtained by automated testing, leading to improved quality and precision of automated grading. These two approaches are also useful in providing a comprehensible feedback that can help students to improve the quality of their programs We also present our corresponding tools that are publicly available and open source. The tools are based on LLVM low-level intermediate code representation, so they could be applied to a number of programming languages. Experimental evaluation of the proposed grading framework is performed on a corpus of university students' programs written in programming language C. Results of the experiments show that automatically generated grades are highly correlated with manually determined grades suggesting that the presented tools can find real-world applications in studying and grading.


Dynamic Neural Program Embedding for Program Repair

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Neural program embeddings have shown much promise recently for a variety of program analysis tasks, including program synthesis, program repair, fault localization, etc. However, most existing program embeddings are based on syntactic features of programs, such as raw token sequences or abstract syntax trees. Unlike images and text, a program has an unambiguous semantic meaning that can be difficult to capture by only considering its syntax (i.e. syntactically similar pro- grams can exhibit vastly different run-time behavior), which makes syntax-based program embeddings fundamentally limited. This paper proposes a novel semantic program embedding that is learned from program execution traces. Our key insight is that program states expressed as sequential tuples of live variable values not only captures program semantics more precisely, but also offer a more natural fit for Recurrent Neural Networks to model. We evaluate different syntactic and semantic program embeddings on predicting the types of errors that students make in their submissions to an introductory programming class and two exercises on the CodeHunt education platform. Evaluation results show that our new semantic program embedding significantly outperforms the syntactic program embeddings based on token sequences and abstract syntax trees. In addition, we augment a search-based program repair system with the predictions obtained from our se- mantic embedding, and show that search efficiency is also significantly improved.


Efficient Differentiable Programming in a Functional Array-Processing Language

arXiv.org Machine Learning

We present a system for the automatic differentiation of a higher-order functional array-processing language. The core functional language underlying this system simultaneously supports both source-to-source automatic differentiation and global optimizations such as loop transformations. Thanks to this feature, we demonstrate how for some real-world machine learning and computer vision benchmarks, the system outperforms the state-of-the-art automatic differentiation tools.