Bridging the Digital Divide with the Computational Thinking Initiative

Bridging the digital divide is about more than providing students with technology… [it] requires helping people develop digital literacies, including creating connections between issues and finding solutions.

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide generally refers to the gap between populations who do not have access to technology, specifically computers and the Internet, and those who do have access to technology. The digital divide is created by intersecting issues of education, poverty, and race, as well as geographic barriers and other factors.

This divide exists in educational systems as well as for individuals. It is visible in the the setup of schools and classrooms, as well as in the availability of technology, particularly broadband access. If a school cannot focus on technology because of other factors, including affordability of resources, then students at that school are more likely to be impacted by the digital divide.

Computational thinking is a set of skills that allows a person to use computation to explore problems and develop solutions. While computational thinking often involves programming, computational thinking skills move beyond coding into the realm of critical thinking and reflective judgment. Computational thinking can be applied throughout the curriculum, and computational thinkers can use their skills to explore any question that might spark their interest.

Bridging the digital divide is about more than providing students with technology. It’s not enough to give a person a laptop; they also need broadband access to use the Internet.

But a computer with an Internet connection does not close the divide either. Bridging the digital divide requires helping people develop digital literacies, including creating connections between issues and finding solutions. This includes giving students access to ways to learn and practice computational thinking.

As jobs continue to require technological skills, students need to be trained in necessary computational thinking in order to address future opportunities and tasks. Jobs exist for computational thinkers beyond being able to code. These roles focus on being able to analyze and address issues.

Computational thinking, like critical thinking, is a requirement in the workforce. Yet how can we develop this skill in a classroom that lacks the funding for, say, a complete Makerspace or a set of student laptops?

Enter the Computational Thinking Initiative (CTI). As part of the Initiative, through a generous grant from Wolfram Research, the Computational Thinking Initiative offers free Wolfram Language access to students and instructors participating in CTI programs.

Wolfram Programming Lab

CTI participants can use the Wolfram Programming Lab, using either the desktop or the cloud version. In the Wolfram Programming Lab, students can write their own code to create games, explore subjects, and answer questions.

In a classroom exploring CTI, students are given agency to explore content on their own, with guidance from their teacher. This places educators in a facilitator role, engages learners, and gives students responsibility over their learning.

AI League

Students can also bring their learning into an AI League: a virtual or in-person club that meets regularly to follow a curriculum of activities that is either pre-developed or league-created. In an AI League, students can work on real projects, including ones that are based on material they’re learning in the classroom or engaging with in their daily lives.

When hosting an AI League, make sure to provide computers for students who can not bring their own.

Computational Adventures

Computational Adventures are another way to engage students in computational thinking. These step-by-step explorations give learners a space to explore problems and ideas while creating visualizations to help them think through the concept. The thinking, not the visual, is the purpose of the activity.

The adventures have been mapped to CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards and you may find ways to align them with other educational standards.

Encouraging Computational Thinking Development

When helping students learn computational thinking, it is important to pay attention to each student as an individual. Take time to talk to students one on one and ask questions about what they are thinking. When a student has an idea, consider it seriously and find a way to address it.

Remember: this is computational thinking, not computational knowing. If a student is confused, don’t expect that you have to know the answer. The reality is that the digital divide also affects educators and other professionals. So there is no need to rush through a lesson; students and teachers will develop computational thinking skills in the process of finding a solution.

If you have used computational thinking to help bridge the digital divide in your classroom, please consider sharing your experiences by writing a post for Tech-Based Teaching. I would love to add your voice to the conversation!

Alyson Gamble is a doctoral student in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, MA. As the editor of Tech-Based Teaching, she enjoys helping give educators an opportunity to discuss technology in the classroom.

Tech-Based Teaching: Computational Thinking in the Classroom

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