Evaluation of a tool for Java structural specification checking

Dil, Anton and Osunde, Joseph (2018). Evaluation of a tool for Java structural specification checking. In: ICETC '18 Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Education Technology and Computers, ACM pp. 99–104.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3290511.3290528


Although a number of tools for evaluating Java code functionality and style exist, little work has been done in a distance learning context on automated marking of Java programs with respect to structural specifications. Such automated checks support human markers in assessing students’ work and evaluating their own marking; online automated marking; students checking code before submitting it for marking; and question setters evaluating the completeness of questions set. This project developed and evaluated a prototype tool that performs an automated check of a Java program’s correctness with respect to a structural specification. Questionnaires and interviews were used to gather feedback on the usefulness of the tool as a marking aid to humans, and on its potential usefulness to students for self-assessment when working on their assignments. Markers were asked to compare the usefulness of structural specification testing as compared to other kinds of support, including syntax error assistance, style checking and functionality testing. Initial results suggest that most markers using the structural specification checking tool found it to be useful, and some reported that it increased their accuracy in marking. Reasons for not using the tool included lack of time and the simplicity of the assignment it was trialled on. Some reservations were expressed about reliance on tools for assessment, both for markers and for students. The need for advice on incorporating tools in marking workflow is suggested.

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