From Computational Thinking to Computational Participation in K-12 Education: Yasmin Kafai in CACM
Yasmin Kafai has been a friend and mentor to me for years — she introduced me to my PhD advisor, Elliot Soloway. Her book with Quinn Burke, Connected Code, updates thinking about the role of computing and programming in schools. They emphasize an idea they call Computational Participation as a contrast with computational thinking. I asked Yasmin to do a CACM Viewpoint on the idea, and it’s published this month. Yasmin has shared the paper on Academia.edu.
In the 1980s many schools featured Basic, Logo, or Pascal programming computer labs. Students typically received weekly introductory programming instruction. These exercises were often of limited complexity, disconnected from classroom work, and lacking in relevance. They did not deliver on promises. By the mid-1990s most schools had turned away from programming. Pre-assembled multimedia packages burned onto glossy CD-ROMs took over. Toiling over syntax typos and debugging problems were no longer classroom activities.
Computer science is making a comeback in schools. We should not repeat earlier mistakes, but leverage what we have learned. Why are students interested in programming? Under what circumstances do they do it, and how? Computational thinking and programming are social, creative practices. They offer a context for making applications of significance for others, communities in which design sharing and collaboration with others are paramount. Computational thinking should be reframed as computational participation.