Teaching Computer Science Is Great, But It’s Not Enough: Calls for Functional Computer Science Literacy

August 14, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The article quoted below by Florence R. Sullivan & Jill Denner calls for us to go beyond “simply giving more students access.” We need to give them “functional computer science literacy.”  By that phrase, they mean that we need to have students consider ethical and social issues.  That’s not what Andy DiSessa meant when he defined computational literacy, who talked more about using computing to understand the world.  But there may be a more mundane, critical form of literacy than either of these definitions.

Computing classes that emphasize coding over traditional technology literacy (e.g., how to use the computer) are not attracting students in the UK.  The BBC said it frankly, “Computing in schools – alarm bells over England’s classes.” In the UK, even where there is access to computing education, but students aren’t flocking to the classes.  It’s not just a matter of “time, funding, and qualified teachers.” Traditional Information and Communications Technologies classes are more attractive to English students than Computing classes, based on number of students taking GCSE’s.

Massachusetts merged their digital literacy standards into their new computer science standards.  That’s likely going to be the most successful path. We can use digital literacy as a context to introduce some CS, to draw students into CS classes. CS may not be the draw. Literacy is.

There is still much work to do, however. In an ongoing, multiyear study on computer science education conducted by Google and Gallup, researchers found that although students, parents, teachers, and school administrators value computer science, it is still not offered in many schools. This is because of a lack of time, funding, and qualified teachers. Only 25 percent of schools nationwide reported offering a computer science class in 2014-15, and while that number rose to 40 percent in 2015-16, we are still years away from providing sufficient computer science education in all schools.

As educational researchers focused on computer science learning, we welcome the push by more districts to teach the discipline to students. But we believe that our nation’s current conception of computer science education does not go far enough. It is not sufficient to simply give more students access. As computer science continues to expand, we advocate for educators to teach functional computer science literacy, just as the field of science education has spent decades refining an approach to teaching socio-scientific reasoning (which integrates learning science content in the context of real-world issues).

Source: Education Week

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