Specifying Rewrite Strategies for Interactive Exercises

Bastiaan Heeren, Johan Jeuring, Alex Gerdes

Strategies specify how a wide range of exercises can be solved incrementally, such as bringing a logic proposition to disjunctive normal form, reducing a matrix, or calculating with fractions. In this paper we introduce a language for specifying strategies for solving exercises. This language makes it easier to automatically calculate feedback, for example when a user makes an erroneous step in a calculation. We can automatically generate worked-out examples, track the progress of a student by inspecting submitted intermediate answers, and report back suggestions in case the student deviates from the strategy. Thus it becomes less labor-intensive and less ad-hoc to specify new exercise domains and exercises within that domain.

A strategy describes valid sequences of rewrite rules, which turns tracking intermediate steps into a parsing problem. This is a promising view at interactive exercises because it allows us to take advantage of many years of experience in parsing sentences of context-free languages, and transfer this knowledge and technology to the domain of stepwise solving exercises. In this paper we work out the similarities between parsing and solving exercises incrementally, we discuss generating feedback on strategies, and the implementation of a strategy recognizer.

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