Computing as a subject has the grandest of aspirations, as the Programme of Study shows;
“…a high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”
What does this mean in practice? How do we equip pupils to change the world? In Naace we take it to mean that we show them how to use what they have learned in the study of Computing to solve problems and make things for others. So a key outcome from the Study of Computing is that pupils can make, test and refine a digital artefact for a specific purpose and with a specific audience in mind. How might this change the world? There are grand ways and simple ways. Facebook, a digital artefact, has profoundly changed social relationships. But even building a simple financial model which allows people to compare spending decisions to achieve value for money changes the world in a small way. So the essence of the assessment of Computing should be a consideration of the fitness for purpose of a digital artefact.
Computing is described in three strands in the Programme of Study; Computer Science, Information Technology, and Digital Literacy.
The Computer Science Strand is about using computational thinking to solve problems and make things for a purpose. It generally, but not always, involves writing programs. The digital artefact produced will function in one of three broad domains. It will be one of an app or application, which is downloaded and installed to be used, a website, used via a URL, or a device, such as a sat nav. The programming language used will be appropriate for its domain, for example programming for a website will involve HTML.
You can also use computational thinking to solve many worthwhile problems by creating a sequence of instructions for the context of the problem, which are not programming instructions. For example, a branching story in episodes can be thought of in this way, where one episode is a single instance in a sequence of episodes, and providing a choice of routes allows a user to make a selection.
The Digital Literacy Strand is in two parts. One of these is about the safe and responsible use of technology. The other is about solving problems and making useful things by the use of digital tools, such as spreadsheets, video editing applications and so on. This part of the strand matches the old subject of ICT very well, and it cannot be stressed enough that you should not throw away all the good things pupils can do in this strand. The current emphasis on programming, and especially on coding, which is only the last step in a long problem solving process, is actually a substantial overemphasis, and it is essential that schools maintain a broad, balanced Computing curriculum, as they should do for the curriculum as a whole. At the same time, computational thinking is essential to working in this strand as well as in the Computer Science strand, because it is a powerful problem solving process. Furthermore, some key tools are extensible by programming. One good example is Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) which can be used to extend the functionality of the Microsoft Office suite, especially Excel.
The Information Technology Strand is in two parts. One of these is that pupils should know how it all works; how information of all kinds becomes accessible to and manipulable by technology. The core idea is that of digitisation and its consequences. This is about creating a deep understanding of the material you are going to work with; information. Just as a person working with wood needs to have a deep understanding of how hardness and grain will affect the way wood can be shaped, so students of computing need to understand how texts, sounds and images become accessible to technology so that they can be shaped. The second part is that pupils need to know how to use technology to work in the other two strands; they need a full range of competences, just as a woodworker needs competences with drills, saws and planes.
So the Information Technology Strand equips students to make things as outlined in the Computer Science and The Digital Literacy strand.
Although these strands are defined separately, it is important to understand that when children are actually doing Computing, they will be working on a task or activity which brings together aspects of all three strands at the same time. So for example, when making a game by writing an interactive program, they will need to be competent with the language used, and the game will need to look good and be rewarding to play. And if they are using other people’s images and sounds, or even storylines, they should ensure that they have permission to do so, and have acknowledged their sources.
This description of the Computing Curriculum is expanded in full detail in the eGuides series, free to members. The blue series is related specifically to Computing. The core publications here are the Essential Guide to Programming, which also covers computational thinking, and thus references the Computer Science strand, the Essential Guide to Information Technology, and the Essential Guide to Digital Literacy. These guides are currently free to members on request. Other topics covered are Graphics, Databases, Modelling, and Spreadsheets, each of which has their own Essential Guide.
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