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How To : Use Azure BizTalk Services to Integrate with an On-Premises SAP Server

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Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services provides a rich set of integration capabilities enabling organizations to create hybrid solutions such that their customer or partner facing applications are hosted on Azure, while the data related to customers or partners is stored on-premises using LOB applications.

To demonstrate how to integrate applications with an on-premises LOB application using BizTalk Services, let us consider a scenario involving two business partners, Fabrikam and Contoso.

Business Scenario

Contoso sends a purchase order (PO) message to Fabrikam in an X12 Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) format using the PO (X12 850) schema. Fabrikam (that uses an SAP Server to manage partner data), accepts PO from its partners using the ORDERS05 IDOCS.

To enable Contoso to send a PO directly to Fabrikam’s on-premises SAP Server, Fabrikam decides to use Azure’s integration offering, BizTalk Services, to set up a hybrid integration scenario where the integration layer is hosted on and the SAP Server is within the organization’s firewall. Fabrikam uses BizTalk Services in the following ways to enable this hybrid integration scenario:

  1. Fabrikam uses Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services SDK to create a BizTalk Service project. The project includes a XML One-Way Bridge to send messages to a relay endpoint, which in turns sends the message to the on-premise SAP system.
  2. Fabrikam uses the BizTalk Adapter Service component available with BizTalk Services to expose the Send operation on ORDERS05 IDOC as an operation using Service Bus relay endpoint. The XML One-Way Bridge sends messages to this relay endpoint. Fabrikam also creates the schema for Send operation using BizTalk Adapter Service and includes the schema as part of the BizTalk Service project.
    noteNote
    A Send operation on an IDOC is an operation that is exposed by the BizTalk Adapter Pack on any IDOC to send the IDOC to the SAP Server. BizTalk Adapter Service uses BizTalk Adapter Pack to connect to an SAP Server.
  3. Fabrikam uses the Transform component available with BizTalk Services to create a map to transform the PO message in X12 format into the schema required by the SAP Server to invoke the Send operation on the ORDERS05 IDOC.
  4. Fabrikam uses the Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services Portal available with BizTalk Services to create and deploy an EDI agreement under the BizTalk Services subscription that processes the X12 850 PO message. As part of the message processing, the agreement also does the following:
    1. Receives an X12 850 PO message over FTP.
    2. Transforms the X12 PO message into the schema required by the SAP Server using the transform created earlier.
    3. Routes the transformed message to the XML One-Way Bridge that eventually routes the message to a relay endpoint created for sending a PO message to an SAP Server. Fabrikam earlier exposed (as explained in bullet 1 above) the Send operation on ORDERS05 IDOC as a relay endpoint, to enable partners to send PO messages using BizTalk Adapter Service.

Once this is set up, Contoso drops an X12 850 PO message to the FTP location. This message is consumed by the EDI receive pipeline, which processes the message, transforms it to an ORDERS05 IDOC, and routes it to the intermediary XML bridge. The bridge then routes the message to the relay endpoint on Service Bus, which is then sent to the on-premises SAP Server. The following illustration represents the same scenario.

SAP Integraiton scenario

How to Use This Article

 

This tutorial is written around a sample, SAPIntegration, which is available as part of the download (SAPIntegration.zip) from the MSDN Code Gallery. You could either use the SAPIntegration sample and go through this tutorial to understand how the sample was built or just use this tutorial to create your own application.

This tutorial is targeted towards the second approach so that you get to understand how this application was built. Also, to be consistent with the sample, the names of artifacts (e.g. schemas, transforms, etc.) used in this tutorial are same as that in the sample.

The sample available from the MSDN code gallery contains only half the solution, which can be developed at design-time on your computer. The sample cannot include the configuration that you must do on the BizTalk Services Portal on Azure.

For that, you must follow the steps in this tutorial to set up your EDI bridge. Even though Microsoft recommends that you follow the tutorial to best understand the concepts and procedures, if you really wish to use the sample, this is what you should do:

  • Download the SAPIntegration.zip package, extract the SAPIntegration sample and make relevant changes like providing your service namespace, issuer name, issuer key, SAP Server details, etc. After changing the sample, deploy the application to get the endpoint URL at which the XML One-Way Bridge is deployed.
  • Use the BizTalk Services Portal to configure the Receive settings as described at Step 5: Create and Deploy the EDI Receive Pipeline and follow the procedures to route messages from the EDI Receive bridge to the XML One-Way Bridge you already deployed.
  • Drop a test message at the FTP location configured as part of the agreement and verify that the application works as expected.
    • If the message is successfully processed, it will be routed to the SAP Server and you can verify the ORDERS IDOC using the SAP GUI.
    • If the EDI agreement fails to process the message, the failure/error messages are routed to a relay endpoint on Service Bus. To receive such messages, you must set up a relay receiver service that receives any message that comes to that specific relay endpoint. More details on why you need this service and how to use it are available at Step 6: Test the Solution.

Steps in the Solution :

 

  • Step 1: Set up Your Computer
  • Step 2: Expose a Relay Endpoint to Invoke Operations on ORDERS05 IDOC
  • Step 3: Transform the X12 850 PO Message to the ORDERS05 Message
  • Step 4: Create and Deploy the XML Bridge
  • Step 5: Create and Deploy the EDI Receive Pipeline
  • Step 6: Test the Solution

Step 1: Set up Your Computer


This topic provides you with instruction and pointers to set up your computer on which you will perform the steps to set up the hybrid integration scenario described in Tutorial: Using Azure BizTalk Services to Integrate with an On-Premises SAP Server. You must do the following to set up your computer:

  • Install Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services SDK. You can download the installer from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=235057. You use this SDK to configure and deploy the XML One-Way Bridge that sits between the EDI agreement and the relay endpoint.
  • Install BizTalk Adapter Service. You use this to expose the Send operation on an IDOC as a relay endpoint on Service Bus.You can download the installer from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=235057. Refer to the BizTalk Services installation guide at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=237092 to install the software prerequisites for BizTalk Services SDK and BizTalk Adapter Service.
  • Install the WCF LOB Adapter SDK. This is required for installing the Adapter Pack on the computer.
  • Install the Adapter Pack. This contains the SAP adapter that is required to establish connectivity to an SAP Server and for exposing SAP artifacts as operations.
  • Install the SAP client libraries. The SAP adapter needs these libraries to connect to an SAP Server. For information on where to install the SAP client libraries from, refer to the Adapter Pack installation guide (BizTalkAdapterPack_InstallationGuide.htm) at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=240161.
  • Download and extract the EDI message schemas (MicrosoftEdiXSDTemplates.zip) available at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=235057. This contains the X12 850 Purchase Order message schema that is required for the business scenario we use for this article.

After you have finished installing and downloading these components, you are ready to start setting up the business scenario.

Step 2: Expose a Relay Endpoint to Invoke Operations on ORDERS05 IDOC

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Updated: November 21, 2013

There are two main steps required to expose an SAP artifact as an operation that can be invoked by sending a message over Service Bus – create an LOB Target and an LOB Relay.

  • An LOB Target defines how an Azure application communicates to the Line-of-Business (LOB) system. The LOB Target controls the LOB system connection URI, the operation to perform, and the connection credentials.
  • An LOB Relay is a WCF service running within an organizations firewall and listens to a relay endpoint on the Service Bus. As the name suggests, the LOB Relay acts as a relay between the Service Bus relay endpoint and the LOB system. It receives the message at the Service Bus relay endpoint and passes it on to the relevant LOB system using the LOB Target configuration.

For more information, see BizTalk Adapter Service Architecture. In this topic, we will create an LOB Target and an LOB Relay to expose the Send operation on the ORDERS05 IDOC.

To create an LOB Target and LOB Relay

  1. Open Visual Studio (as an administrator), create a new BizTalk Service project, and name it SAPIntegration.
  2. You first start with adding a BizTalk Adapter Service server. This is the server where you installed the Runtime component of BizTalk Adapter Service. To add a BizTalk Adapter Service server, from the Server Explorer in Visual Studio, right-click BizTalk Adapter Services, and select Add BizTalk Adapter Service. In the Add BizTalk Adapter Service dialog box, enter the URL of the WCF service that monitors that Service Bus relay service, and then click OK.

    Add Service Bus Connect ServerBecause you have all the components of BizTalk Adapter Service installed on the same computer, the URL for that service will be http://localhost:8080/BAService/ManagementService.svc/.

    noteNote
    If you had installed BizTalk Adapter Service Runtime component on a separate computer, you would have replaced ‘localhost’ in the above URL with the name of that computer.
  3. In this tutorial we are creating an application to integrate with SAP, so we must add an SAP target. Expand the newly added server, expand LOB Types, right-click SAP, and select Add SAP Target.

    Add an SAP TargetThe Add a Target wizard starts. Perform the following steps to create an LOB Target.

    1. Read the information on the Before You Begin page, and then click Next.
    2. On the Connection Parameters page, specify the details for the SAP Server to connect to and the credentials to use for the connection. Click Next.
    3. On the Operations page, expand the ORDERSO5 IDOC category (under \IDOC\ORDERS\). There are several versions of the IDOC available. For this tutorial, we’ll select ORDERS05.V3(700). Expand this IDOC, select Send, and then click the right arrow to add it to the Selected Operations box.

      Add Send operation for IDOCClick Next.

    4. In the Runtime Security page, specify the security mechanism to be used by the LOB Server to authenticate the target resource when a message arrives from a client. For this tutorial, select Fixed Username and specify the credentials to connect to the SAP server.
    5. On the Deployment page, you create an LOB Relay and an LOB Target to provide connectivity to your on-premise LOB applications from the cloud.

      Select the Create new option to create a new relay and provide the following values:

      Name Description
      Namespace Specify the Service Bus namespace on which the LOB relay endpoint is created.
      Issuer name Specify the issuer name for the Service Bus namespace
      Issuer secret Specify the issuer secret for the Service Bus namespace
      Relay path Specify a name for the relay. For this tutorial, enter sapintegration01.
      Target sub-path Enter a sub-path to make this target unique. For this tutorial, enter orders.

      The Target runtime URL read-only property displays the URL where the relay is deployed on Service Bus. This is the path where you could send a message to be inserted into the on-premises SAP Server. In our scenario, this is where the bridge sends the message.

      Click Next.

    6. On the Summary page, review the values you specified in the previous steps, and then click Create.
    7. When the wizard completes, click Finish.

      In Visual Studio Server Explorer, you now have an entry under the SAP node. This represents the relay endpoint created in Service Bus to relay PO messages coming from the cloud to the on-premises SAP system.

To add schemas

  1. After adding the relay endpoint to an SAP system, you must add schemas that to send ORDERS05 PO messages to the SAP server. To add the schemas, right-click the relay endpoint and select Add schemas to SAPIntegration. In the dialog box, do the following:
    • Enter a filename prefix that will be included in the name of each schema file that is generated. For this tutorial, specify this as SAPIntegration_.
    • Enter a folder name that will be added to your solution under which all the schemas will be added. For this tutorial, specify the folder name as LOB Schemas.
    • Enter the credentials to connect to an SAP system.

    Add schemas to the projectClick OK. The schemas are added to the project under an LOB Schemas folder.

To use the LOB Target

  1. Right-click anywhere on the BizTalk Service project design surface, select Properties and update the BizTalk Service URL property to include your BizTalk Services name. This is the name that you provided in Azure Management Portal while provisioning the BizTalk Services.
  2. Set the security property for the relay endpoint.
    1. Right-click the LOB Target in Server Explorer and select Properties.
    2. In the Properties grid, click the ellipsis (…) against the Runtime Security property.
    3. In the Edit Security dialog box, select Fixed Username and specify username and password to connect to the SAP Server.
    4. Click OK.
  3. Drag and drop the LOB Target onto the design surface. Note the Entity Name property of the LOB Target. The default value is Relay-Path_target-sub-path. If using the examples above, it will be sapintegration01_orders.
  4. Open the .config file for the LOB Target, which typically has the naming convention as YourRelayPath_target-sub-path.config. Specify the Service Bus issuer name and issuer secret, as shown below:
      <sharedSecret issuerName="owner" issuerSecret="issuer_secret" />
    
    

    Save changes to the config file.

 

Step 3: Transform the X12 850 PO Message to the ORDERS05 Message


Both the X12 850 schemas and ORDERS05 schemas are pretty complex and require functional expertise in the respective domains to understand and create maps between the two schemas.

While you already generated the schema for ORDERS05 IDOC, you can get the schema for X12 PO message (X12_00401_850.xsd) from the MicrosoftEdiXSDTemplates.zip that you must have downloaded and extracted before. You must add the X12_00401_850.xsd schema as well to the SAPIntegration project.

Creating a transform between the X12 850 PO and ORDERS05 PO requires functional domain knowledge of both the X12 schema and the ORDERS05 schema.

Only then one can identify which field in the X12 schema maps to which field in the ORDERS05 schema. In this tutorial, we do not get into such details and instead use an existing transform (AzureTransformations.trfm) between these two schemas. This transform is available as part of the SAPIntegration project that you can download from the MSDN Code Gallery.

To include the transform in the BizTalk Service project, right-click the project name, click Add, click Existing Items, and then navigate to the location where you downloaded the SAPIntegration sample from the MSDN Code Gallery. Select the AzureTransformations.trfm and then click Add.

Step 4: Create and Deploy the XML Bridge


In this topic, you create an XML One-Way Bridge that will act as a connector between the EDI Receive bridge and the relay endpoint for the ORDERS05 IDOC in SAP. After configuring the bridge, you connect it to the SAP relay endpoint, and then deploy the solution.

To configure the XML Bridge

  1. In the SAPIntegration project, from the Solution Explorer, double-click the MessageFlowItinerary.bcs file to open the bridge configuration surface.
  2. Right-click anywhere on the BizTalk Service project design surface, select Properties, and update the BizTalk Service URL property to include your BizTalk Services name. This is the name that you provided in Azure Management Portal while provisioning the BizTalk Services.
  3. From the Toolbox, drag and drop the XML One-Way Bridge component to the bridge design surface.
  4. Right-click the XML One-Way Bridge, select Properties, and change the value for Entity Name and Relative Address properties to B2BConnector. As a result, the complete endpoint URL where the bridge is deployed, which is shown in the Runtime Address property, will resemble https://<mybiztalkservicename>.biztalk.windows.net/default/B2BConnector. This is where the EDI Receive bridge sends the ORDERS05 PO message.
  5. Double-click the XML One-Way Bridge to open the Bridge Configuration design surface. Because this bridge only routes the message from the EDI Receive bridge to the relay endpoint, there’s not much configuration required for each stage in the bridge stage other than specifying the message types of the message that this bridge routes. To specify the message type, on the XML One-Way Bridge design surface, within the Message Types box, click the add icon [ Add icon ] to open the Message Type Picker dialog box.
  6. In the Message Type Picker dialog box, from the Available message types box, select the schema for the request message and then click the right arrow icon [ Arrow Icon ], and then click OK. For this tutorial, select the Send schema (http://Microsoft.LobServices.Sap/2007/03/Idoc/3/ORDERS05//700/Send). The selected schema should now be listed under the Request Message Type box.
  7. Save the bridge configuration.

To connect the bridge to the relay endpoint

  1. In the SAPIntegration project, from the Toolbox, select the Connection component, and connect the XML One-Way Bridge component with the SAP relay endpoint you already added in Step 2: Expose a Relay Endpoint to Invoke Operations on ORDERS05 IDOC.
  2. Set the filter condition on the connection. The routing condition for this scenario is to route all messages to the LOB Target. To do so, select the connecting line, and from the Properties grid, click the ellipsis (…) against the Filter Condition property, and then select Match All. This ensures that all messages that come to the bridge are routed to the relay endpoint.
  3. Set the Route Action property on the connection. Before you set the route action, we must understand why it is required. The message sent from the EDI receive bridge to the relay endpoint must have the Action SOAP header set on it. This header defines what operation must be performed on the SAP system. The message that comes from the EDI receive pipeline does not have this header set. Hence, in this intermediary XML bridge, you set the route action on the message before it is sent the relay endpoint. As part of the route action, you add the required header on the message. Perform the following steps to set the route action.
    1. Find out the value that will be set for the Action SOAP header message. To do so, right-click the SAP relay endpoint from the Server explorer, and from the Properties grid, expand Operations, and copy the value. For this tutorial, the value is http://Microsoft.LobServices.Sap/2007/03/Idoc/3/ORDERS05//700/Send.

      Value for SOAP action

    2. Go back to the bridge configuration surface, select the connection between the bridge and the SAP relay, and from the Properties grid, click the ellipsis (…) against the Route Action property. In the Route Actions dialog box, click Add to open the Add Route Action dialog box. In the Add Route Action dialog box, do the following:
      • Under Property (Read From) section, select Expression and specify the value that you copied earlier.
        ImportantImportant
        Make sure you specify the value for Expression within single quotes.
      • Under Destination (Write-To) section, set the Type to SOAP and the Identifier to Action.

        Set Route Action

      • Click OK in the Add Route Action dialog box to add the route action. Click OK in the Route Actions dialog box and then click Save to save changes to an Enterprise Application Integration project.
  4. Save the project. The final bridge configuration resembles the following:

    Completed bridge configuration

To deploy the solution

  1. In Visual Studio, right click the SAPIntegration solution, and then click Build Solution.
  2. Once the build succeeds, right click the SAPIntegration solution, and then click Deploy Solution.
  3. In the deployment window, the Deployment Endpoint is a read-only property and the value is derived from the BizTalk Service URL/Namespace set in the message flow surface. However, you must provide the ACS Namespace for BizTalk Services, Issuer Name, and Shared Secret.
  4. Click Deploy. The Visual Studio Output pane displays the deployment progress and result. The URL where the bridge is deployed is also displayed in the Output pane. For this tutorial, the bridge is deployed at http://<mybiztalkservicename>.biztalk.windows.net/default/B2BConnector.

 

 

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Anticipating More from Cortana – A Look At : The Future of The Windows Phone

Microsoft Research – April 17, 2014 

 

Most of us can only dream of having the perfect personal assistant, one who is always there when needed, anticipating our every request and unobtrusively organizing our lives. Cortana, the new digital personal assistant powered by Bing that comes with Windows Phone 8.1, brings users closer to that dream.

Image

 

For Larry Heck, a distinguished engineer in Microsoft Research, this first release offers a taste of what he has in mind. Over time, Heck wants Cortana to interact in an increasingly anticipatory, natural manner.

Cortana already offers some of this behavior. Rather than just performing voice-activated commands, Cortana continually learns about its user and becomes increasingly personalized, with the goal of proactively carrying out the right tasks at the right time. If its user asks about outside temperatures every afternoon before leaving the office, Cortana will learn to offer that information without being asked.

Furthermore, if given permission to access phone data, Cortana can read calendars, contacts, and email to improve its knowledge of context and connections. Heck, who plays classical trumpet in a local orchestra, might receive a calendar update about a change in rehearsal time. Cortana would let him know about the change and alert him if the new time conflicts with another appointment.

Research Depth and Breadth an Advantage

While many people would categorize such logical associations and humanlike behaviors under the term ”artificial intelligence” (AI), Heck points to the diversity of research areas that have contributed to Cortana’s underlying technologies. He views Cortana as a specific expression of Microsoft Research’s work on different areas of personal-assistant technology.

“The base technologies for a virtual personal assistant include speech recognition, semantic/natural language processing, dialogue modeling between human and machines, and spoken-language generation,” he says. “Each area has in it a number of research problems that Microsoft Research has addressed over the years. In fact, we’ve pioneered efforts in each of those areas.”

The Cortana user interface
The Cortana user interface.

Cortana’s design philosophy is therefore entrenched in state-of-the-art machine-learning and data-mining algorithms. Furthermore both developers and researchers are able to use Microsoft’s broad assets across commercial and enterprise products, including strong ties to Bing web search and Microsoft speech algorithms and data.

If Heck has set the bar high for Cortana’s future, it’s because of the deep, varied expertise within Microsoft Research.

“Microsoft Research has a long and broad history in AI,” he says. “There are leading scientists and pioneers in the AI field who work here. The underlying vision for this work and where it can go was derived from Eric Horvitz’s work on conversational interactions and understanding, which go as far back as the early ’90s. Speech and natural language processing are research areas of long standing, and so is machine learning. Plus, Microsoft Research is a leader in deep-learning and deep-neural-network research.”

From Foundational Technology to Overall Experience

In 2009, Heck started what was then called the conversational-understanding (CU) personal-assistant effort at Microsoft.

“I was in the Bing research-and-development team reporting to Satya Nadella,” Heck says, “working on a technology vision for virtual personal assistants. Steve Ballmer had recently tapped Zig Serafin to unify Microsoft’s various speech efforts across the company, and Zig reached out to me to join the team as chief scientist. In this role and working with Zig, we began to detail out a plan to build what is now called Cortana.”

Researchers who made contributions to Cortana
Researchers who worked on the Cortana product (from left): top row, Malcolm Slaney, Lisa Stifelman, and Larry Heck; bottom row, Gokhan Tur, Dilek Hakkani-Tür, and Andreas Stolcke.

Heck and Serafin established the vision, mission, and long-range plan for Microsoft’s digital-personal-assistant technology, based on scaling conversations to the breadth of the web, and they built a team with the expertise to create the initial prototypes for Cortana. As the effort got off the ground, Heck’s team hired and trained several Ph.D.-level engineers for the product team to develop the work.

“Because the combination of search and speech skills is unique,” Heck says, “we needed to make sure that Microsoft had the right people with the right combination of skills to deliver, and we hired the best to do it.”

After the team was in place, Heck and his colleagues joined Microsoft Research to continue to think long-term, working on next-generation personal-assistant technology.

Some of the key researchers in these early efforts included Microsoft Research senior researchers Dilek Hakkani-Tür and Gokhan Tur, and principal researcher Andreas Stolcke. Other early members of Heck’s team included principal research software developer Madhu Chinthakunta, and principal user-experience designer Lisa Stifelman.

“We started out working on the low-level, foundational technology,” Heck recalls. “Then, near the end of the project, our team was doing high-level, all-encompassing usability studies that provided guidance to the product group. It was kind of like climbing up to the crow’s nest of a ship to look over the entire experience.

“Research manager Geoff Zweig led usability studies in Microsoft Research. He brought people in, had them try out the prototype, and just let them go at it. Then we would learn from that. Microsoft Research was in a good position to study usability, because we understood the base technology as well as the long-term vision and how things should work.”

The Long-Term View

Heck has been integral to Cortana since its inception, but even before coming to Microsoft in 2009, he already had contributed to early research on CU personal assistants. While at SRI International in the 1990s, his tenure included some of the earliest work on deep-learning and deep-neural-network technology.

Heck was also part of an SRI team whose efforts laid the groundwork for the CALO AI project funded by the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The project aimed to build a new generation of cognitive assistants that could learn from experience and reason intelligently under ambiguous circumstances. Later roles at Nuance Communications and Yahoo! added expertise in research areas vital to contributing to making Cortana robust.

The Cortana notebook menu
The notebook menu for Cortana.

Not surprisingly, Heck’s perspectives extend to a distant horizon.

“I believe the personal-assistant technology that’s out there right now is comparable to the early days of search,” he says, “in the sense that we still need to grow the breadth of domains that digital personal assistants can cover. In the mid-’90s, before search, there was the Yahoo! directory. It organized information, it was popular, but as the web grew, the directory model became unwieldy. That’s where search came in, and now you can search for anything that’s on the web.”

He sees personal-assistant technology traveling along a similar trajectory. Current implementations target the most common functions, such as reminders and calendars, but as technology matures, the personal assistant has to extend to other domains so that users can get any information and conduct any transaction anytime and anywhere.

“Microsoft has intentionally built Cortana to scale out to all the different domains,” Heck says. “Having a long-term vision means we have a long-term architecture. The goal is to support all types of human interaction—whether it’s speech, text, or gestures—across domains of information and function and make it as easy as a natural conversation.”

How Microsoft’s Research Team is making Testing and the use of Pex & Moles Fun and Interesting

Try it out on the web

Go to www.pex4fun.com, and click Learn to start tutorials.

Main Publication to cite

Nikolai Tillmann, Jonathan De Halleux, Tao Xie, Sumit Gulwani, and Judith Bishop, Teaching and Learning Programming and Software Engineering via Interactive Gaming, in Proc. 35th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2013), Software Engineering Education (SEE), May 2013

 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have recently gained high popularity among various universities and even in global societies. A critical factor for their success in teaching and learning effectiveness is assignment grading. Traditional ways of assignment grading are not scalable and do not give timely or interactive feedback to students.

 

To address these issues, we present an interactive-gaming-based teaching and learning platform called Pex4Fun. Pex4Fun is a browser-based teaching and learning environment targeting teachers and students for introductory to advanced programming or software engineering courses. At the core of the platform is an automated grading engine based on symbolic execution.

 

In Pex4Fun, teachers can create virtual classrooms, customize existing courses, and publish new learning material including learning games. Pex4Fun was released to the public in June 2010 and since then the number of attempts made by users to solve games has reached over one million.

 

Our work on Pex4Fun illustrates that a sophisticated software engineering technique – automated test generation – can be successfully used to underpin automatic grading in an online programming system that can scale to hundreds of thousands of users.

 

 

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