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    Teaching Formal Methods: Lessons To Learn

    2nd Irish Workshop on Formal Methods

    Cork, Ireland. 2nd - 3rd July 1998


    P. Gibson & D. Méry


    Formal methods should be taught as part of any degree in computing science or software engineering. We believe that discrete mathematics is the foundation upon which software development can be lifted up to the heights of a true engineering discipline.

    The transfer of formal methods to industry cannot be expected to occur without first transferring, from academia to industry, graduates who are well grounded in such mathematical techniques.

    These graduates must bring a positive, yet realistic, view on the application of formal methods. Our goal is to produce software engineers who will go out into industry understanding the principles of specification, design and implementation.

    As these graduates develop their engineering skills, in an industrial setting, they should have the means, and the motivation, to integrate formality and rigour into any environment in which they are found. In this way, the formal methods should start to 'sell themselves'.

    This paper reports on our first attempt to teach a formal methods course as part of a degree in software engineering. Rather than concentrating on one particular method, we worked on a set of small case studies, using the mathematics in a flexible and intuitive manner, where the students could appreciate the need for formality.

    Each case study was intended to illustrate, in turn, the need for some fundamental formalism. An unexpected result was that we also identified weaknesses in our understanding of formal methods: students' naive questioning helped us to identify how the methods, and the teaching of these methods, could be improved. In brief, it was not just the students who were learning!


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