Deep Reinforcement Learning for Syntactic Error Repair in Student Programs
Novice programmers often struggle with the formal syntax of programming languages. In the traditional classroom setting, they can make progress with the help of real time feedback from their instructors which is often impossible to get in the massive open online course (MOOC) setting. Syntactic error repair techniques have huge potential to assist them at scale. Towards this, we design a novel programming language correction framework amenable to reinforcement learning. The framework allows an agent to mimic human actions for text navigation and editing. We demonstrate that the agent can be trained through self-exploration directly from the raw input, that is, program text itself, without either supervision or any prior knowledge of the formal syntax of the programming language. We evaluate our technique on a publicly available dataset containing 6975 erroneous C programs with typographic errors, written by students during an introductory programming course. Our technique fixes 1699 (24.4%) programs completely and 1310 (18.8%) program partially, outperforming DeepFix, a state-of-the-art syntactic error repair technique, which uses a fully supervised neural machine translation approach.