Teaching Programming Languages by Experimental and Adversarial Thinking

Justin Pombrio, Shriram Krishnamurthi, Kathi Fisler

Summit on Advances in Programming Languages, 2017


We present a new approach to teaching programming language courses. Its essence is to view programming language learning as a natural science activity, where students probe languages experimentally to understand both the normal and extreme behaviors of their features. This has natural parallels to the ‘‘security mindset’’ of computer security, with languages taking the place of servers and other systems. The approach is modular (with minimal dependencies), incremental (it can be introduced slowly into existing classes), interoperable (it does not need to push out other, existing methods), and complementary (since it introduces a new mode of thinking).


After we published this paper, Matthias Hauswirth kindly pointed out similarities between this work and the PL-detective, a body of work that is very closely related that we did not previously know. Less similar but also related---and entertainingly written up---is smeagol.



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