Computers and Educational Innovation

The invention of the computer was a monumental change to the course of human civilization. It has transformed practically everything we do and think. Every discipline of study, every industry, most aspects of our lives have been changed due to this singular invention. So when people were thinking about how to innovate in schools maybe they thought, “Just bring in some of these computers and it will make all the difference”. Don’t get me wrong. I am an educational technologist and I see many opportunities for computers to make teaching and learning more meaningful. But I am starting to wonder if the people who brought in these computers missed something important. Sure computers are powerful, impactful devices. But more powerful, in fact much more powerful are the ideas and thoughts that led to the computer. Scientists, engineers and inventors engaged in thinking and doing that made the creation of the computer possible. What we need to bring to schools is the thinking behind the computer. That is more important than a cart of devices. We call this thinking computational thinking. It is a set of concepts and approaches that articulate the process of problem solving. The pioneers that invented computers leveraged this thinking during the process of invention. Also computers were conceptualized as problem solving machines. So creating them required formalizing the problem solving process.

Here are the concepts and approaches of CT as articulated by Barefoot Computing

Computers were created to solve incredibly challenging problems. The process of harnessing computers for problem solving made possible a deeper understanding of the problem solving process. It started with calculating ballistic tables for the military and then came the invention of the nuclear bomb during World War II. As the computer developed it was applied to more and more problems representing numerous domains of study. The reach of the computer is so large that it is challenging at this point to catalogue the impact.

We need to give students the cognitive tools they need to solve the global challenges of today. It is the thinking more than the devices that they will need to do this work. And if we purchase devices for them, they will still need the thinking to use the devices effectively.

So if we want to innovate schools with technology we need to focus first on the thinking and the ways we can develop this thinking. This means an emphasis on computational thinking. We also will need to answer some questions: How does computational thinking apply across the curriculum? How can computational thinking provide language to talk about the problem solving processes? Maybe educational technology should start with conversations about computational thinking and its role in teaching and learning.

It is with computational thinking that the students of today will be able to create the next “computer” revolution of tomorrow. This is the innovation that schools need to prepare students for the future.

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Greg Benedis-Grab

Greg Benedis-Grab

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exploring the intersection of coding, education and disciplinary knowledge