Functional Automata - Formal Languages for Computer Science Students
Electronic Proceedings in Theoretical Computer Science
An introductory formal languages course exposes advanced undergraduate and early graduate students to automata theory, grammars, constructive proofs, computability, and decidability. Programming students find these topics to be challenging or, in many cases, overwhelming and on the fringe of Computer Science. The existence of this perception is not completely absurd since students are asked to design and prove correct machines and grammars without being able to experiment nor get immediate
... ack, which is essential in a learning context. This article puts forth the thesis that the theory of computation ought to be taught using tools for actually building computations. It describes the implementation and the classroom use of a library, FSM, designed to provide students with the opportunity to experiment and test their designs using state machines, grammars, and regular expressions. Students are able to perform random testing before proceeding with a formal proof of correctness. That is, students can test their designs much like they do in a programming course. In addition, the library easily allows students to implement the algorithms they develop as part of the constructive proofs they write. Providing students with this ability ought to be a new trend in the formal languages classroom.