Computing as a Requirement

This conversation is driving me crazy.  The post itself is fine, and raises an issue that CS teachers have been talking about both at the secondary and college level for a long time.  It’s the conflation, once again, of technology/computer literacy (i.e. using Excel and Powerpoint) with learning to program/learn computational thinking/computer science. In the first few comments alone, there is the yes, please make computer science a requirement so that all my students can use Word. No, no, no. To counter those who think learning programming or CS leaves out or doesn’t address the issue of learning Office or other applications, I have two responses.  One, those other applications are used in a context, not taught separately.  My students have used a variety of applications to present projects.  And I know they use them in other classes.  Two, I’ve found that students who learn programming are fearless about trying to use anything presented to them on the computer.  They will figure out Word because of that, and because they know a bit of how it works underneath.

And then there’s the later comments that say, okay, so we require CS.  What’s a student going to do with one semester of CS?  She can’t compete with those with full CS degrees.  No, but when she sits on a committee where they’re discussing the implementation of a new student information system or launching a new web site, she will be informed about how those things actually work and can ask appropriate questions and make informed decisions.  Or she will know how to get the computer to work for her, even if she’s not the one who writes the program to do so.

It doesn’t help, of course, that not even the CS people agree about how to approach this issue.  But that happens in every discipline.  Require one or three Writing courses? Writing across the curriculum or no? Technical writing or business writing?  There is no one right answer, but there are certainly lots of possibilities.

4 Replies to “Computing as a Requirement”

  1. I wish that my son’s elementary school did something with all their technology besides use it as extremely expensive blackboards and attention-getting toys.

    If they taught the kids the basics of CS, I’d be less frustrated about the PTA’s latest plan to buy 30 iPads.

    Instead, they buy tech for tech’s sake and to have the latest and greatest, when most (all?) of the kids in the school have access to that stuff at home AND it will all be out-of-date when they get out.

    Meanwhile, we only have half-day kindergarten; the kids have 20 minutes for lunch; recess is 15 minutes (but you can buy more with good behavior); and they still use four billion tons of paper hand-outs.

    On the plus side, my son knows how to create an attractive and informative power point and is learning to NOT read from the slides!

  2. I agree. In today’s society computers are more predominate than ever. I believe they should be added to the curriculum just like reading writing and arithmetic. It is more likely that a future employer will want someone who knows how to use Word or Power Point than someone who could tell you the year that the Alamo fell.

  3. I do agree to an extent with Geeky Mom that being taught programming will show people how the inner workings of an application work. However, I do think that if you try to teach programming to people who are very unfamiliar with computers you will just lose them. There needs to be a computer course that covers all of the basics of how to use a computer, some of the basic programs that are commonly used like Microsoft Office for example, how to do do basic diagnostics and hardware replacement and some basic programming. This way people can get a general understanding in one class that starts at the basics and works it way up to programming. Students who go through this would be more well rounded than just teaching programming.

  4. I have not had any issues with teaching students to program whether or not they know the ins and outs of other applications. I get them in high school, and it’s part of our curriculum to teach them computing skills beginning in kindergarten. Increasingly, that’s the case at many schools. In my experience, you can expect students to know the basics of using word processing, spreadsheets, saving files, and search engines by 6th grade. Beginning to learn some programming at that point makes sense.

    All I need them to know to get started is how to open the development environment and how to type. Hardware replacement has its place, and I do have my students take a computer apart. But really, when was the last time most people replaced a hard drive themselves? Like when was the last time anyone change their own oil? Yes, it’s nice to know how to do it, but unless you’re going to become a mechanic, it’s not a necessary skill. For the record, I’ve changed a hard drive out using just a YouTube video and a set of instructions. It’s not rocket science.

    What I see happening is the replacement of teaching computational thinking and logical thinking of the sort one gets from learning to program with learning to use Word and Excel. Learning Word and Excel is *not* the same thing as learning to program. Doing it well might take time and energy, but most people just figure it out because they have to. It’s the thought process that matters to me. In order to program, you have to know how to solve a complex problem. To use Word, not so much.

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