Here is the reading for the Jeannette Wing lecture: Wing06
*You can add your response to the Wing reading by posting a comment here.
You can find the readings on the Readings page by clicking on Readings on the bar on the right-hand side of the top bar on the blog. As soon as I have the link for the Summerfield reading, I’ll add that as well. If anyone can post it before I can, please let me know and I’ll copy your link and add it to the readings page.
Reading Jeannette Wing’s article “Computational Thinking” made me reflect on the “Breakthroughs” discussion we had in our last workshop — nearly every breakthrough mentioned involved technology, and especially computer technology, in some way. The growing ubiquity of computing devices means that understanding their power and limitations, and knowing how to put them to use, are becoming essential skills that can make a profound difference in our ability to be effective in the world. Professor Wing makes this point passionately and evangelistically, and I was excited by her ideas. However, she speaks in such broad, sweeping terms that I was left at the end feeling I still don’t have a real concrete notion of what “computational thinking” means. The places that resonated most with me were the most basic and concrete. At the end of her opening paragraph she asks the questions:
“What can humans do better than computers? and What can computers do better than humans?”
These seem to best capture the practical notion of computational thinking, although I might add simply “What can computers do?” to this list. We sometimes have a notion that computers are simply souped-up calculators bolted to typewriters, good for doing “mechanical tasks” like arithmetic and “bookkeeping tasks” like allowing us to write and save papers. But as much as the hardware keeps improving, so does the software — and this means that people are learning to make computers do tasks that fall more and more outside what we might think of as mechanical. I very much liked her list of “everyday examples” on p34, which begins:
“When your daughter goes to school in the morning, she puts in her backpack the things she needs for the day; that’s prefetching and caching.”
This examination of common daily activities in computational terms was very helpful in helping me see how tasks that we think of in the human domain might be actually be accessible to the computer domain.
I think the notion of computational thinking is going to be (is!) extremely important, but I’m not quite sure what to do about it. How does this affect our vision of general education? I’d love to see more detailed examples — how does one actually include, teach and promote computational thinking in a psychology class, an algebra class, or an english class?
Reading Feynman write about computers reminded me of the meaning in the name–they were machines that computed. They still are, but that’s rarely what I think about doing while I sit at my computer, but it was a brief reminder that I brought with me into Wing’s piece, and one that helped me conceptually. Still, I had many of the same reactions that Jonas and Maria had–I was left without a strong sense of what I had just read. Reading her piece while on a subway ride in which someone was preaching about why to help the homeless, I returned to her writing with that subway evangelist’s rhythm in my ear, and I could hear it in Wing’s writing. So she’s stylizing her writing to generate an enthusiastic following–but was it a blind following?
Like Maria, I had to re-read many times, and still struggle to understand what computational thinking is, despite Wing’s efforts to tell her reader exactly what it is. Perhaps re-reading is computational thinking. Something like
10 read article
20 go to 10
30 understand article
only as my short 1st-grade inspired program shows, I’d be stuck in a reading loop without ever getting to understand the article. Something was missing for me.
Like Jonas said, Wing’s examples were the most helpful part for me as well, but I wondered what to do with the computational thinking I used when I looked for a box of books that I misplaced shortly after I received it today; I retraced my steps, but I couldn’t figure out what I would do with that skill in a classroom. That next step, the one that says “Prefetching and caching allow us to do X when reading, or prepare us for the Y-stage of writing, or help us keep track of our Zs when calculating the surface area of a sphere” just wasn’t there. Was my computational thinking off? Did I miss the cue that should have made me compute the next step of the thinking process?
I also noticed how technology-heavy our breakthroughs were during our last session–I had purposely thought of a breakthrough that wasn’t technology-oriented in addition to others that were while I walked from group to group and heard the breakthroughs everyone discussed. Did I sort, evaluate, anticipate, redirect, and do other computational thinking to get me to come up with the breakthrough of how much more multi-ethnic and post-colonial the literary canon will become in the next ten years? Sure. How do I teach those skills? How do students learn them? What assignments elicit them?
This was an intense read for me. It is apparent that an understanding of the powers and limitations of computers is essential and I am fascinated by the idea of investigating human thinking in a computational way, I’m just not sure that I fully understanding it yet.
I too found the practical examples most helpful in understanding the application of computational thinking in to daily tasks. I am looking forward to gaining more insight as to how this way of thinking can be utilized in developing the 1st year experience. I honestly read the article twice and decided that I might need the lecture to more fully understand it.
My first reaction to Jeannette Wing’s article was how she produced a useful buzzword–catchy, savvy, smart–to help bridge the gap between computer science and other disciplines. I agree with other comments that she’s not very specific in defining what the strategies of computational thinking are. Although the article is broad and general in content, she seems to be addressing a targeted audience of peers, it’s especially true when she states we’ve achieved ‘ubiquitous computing’, now ‘computational thinking’ is next. The article seems determined to provoke the computer science community to break out of some sort of insularity to connect with the greater community of education, society. For me, the Wing reading is trying to show how the theories behind the practice of computer science are useful and are not restricted to any disciplinary boundaries, rather these theories can innovate new ways of analysis, problem-solving, etc. Interestingly, the examples she gives (school girl with backpack, etc) remind me of examples of logic in math or philosophy classes. In relation to our seminar, the reading had me thinking whether we should better stress the interconnectedness of courses in Gen Ed. More importantly, I think Wing’s catchy phrase ‘computational thinking’ is not all that different from the Gen Ed objective of ‘critical thinking’. The tech-slant of the phrase ‘computational thinking’ makes it sound way sexier than critical thinking, and it implies there is a concrete series of steps to follow.