Computational ThinkingThe other day in the comment section of one of my own posts I was reaching for a suitable word or phrase to represent my concept of “computer literacy” and to avoid the association between that particular phrase and introductory classes on basic spreadsheets and word processors. I wanted a phrase that covered a whole lot more and implied a true facility with computational devices.
John Udell has recorded a podcast [aaargh ] of a conversation with Jeanette Wing, who is the head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon, on this very concept. She has coined the phrase “Computational Thinking” that covers what I had in mind - plus some. You can read her article on this (PDF warning) or (if you must) catch the mp3 at IT Conversations.
Ms Wing has a wide ranging definition for Computational Thinking but one aspect I particularly liked – “A way that humans, not computers think. Computational thinking is a way humans solve problems; it is not trying to get humans to think like computers. Computers are dull and boring; humans are clever and imaginative. We humans make computers exciting…”
The differences between the PDF and MP3 referred to above are near perfect examples of what I was trying to get over in my rant on the subject. The three pages of the PDF convey far more than the podcast and the text is truly thought provoking. Despite the obvious enthusiasm of both Jeanette Wing and John Udell for the concept, the podcast falls rather flat and tended to get caught up on the single aspect of undergraduate courses when there is rather more to "computational thinking" than that.
By contrast, I listened to Chris Spurgeon on "The best Geo Hacks of the last 2000 years" which is entertaining and interesting despite that fact that listeners have to imagine his "slides". It's a great listen but if you wanted to follow up on any of the "hacks" you would have to look for alternate sources.Perhaps what I should have been saying was that podcasts can make you aware of some new technology or technical issue BUT they are a very poor media for communicating the detail.