Archive for July 12, 2021

Considering the Danish Informatics Curriculum: Comparing National Computer Science Curricula

Michael Caspersen invited me to review a chapter on the Danish Informatics curriculum (see a link here). He asked me to compare it to existing school CS curriculum with which I’m familiar. That was an interesting idea — how does anyone relate curricula across diverse contexts, even between nations? I gave it a shot. I most likely missed, in that there are many curricula that I don’t know or don’t know well enough. I welcome comments on other CS curricula.

The Danish Informatics curriculum is unique for its focus on four competence areas:

  • Digital empowerment which describes the ability to review and critique digital artifacts to ask where the strict demands of a computational system may not serve well the messy world in which humans live.
  • Digital design and design processes which describes the ways in which designers come to understand the problem domain for which we design digital artifacts.
  • Computational thinking and modeling which describes how data and algorithms are used to construct digital solutions and artifacts.
  • Technological knowledge and skills which describes the tools (e.g., programming languages) and infrastructures (e.g., computer systems, networking) used to construct digital solutions and artifacts.

I am not familiar with any curriculum that encompasses all four competencies. I’m most familiar with elementary and high school curricula in the United States. Each US state has control over its own school system (i.e., there is no national curriculum) though many are influenced by recommendations from the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) (see link here) and the K12 CS Framework (link here).

In the United States, most computing curricula focus on technological knowledge and skills and computational thinking and modeling. The former is important because the economic argument for computing education in schools is the most salient in the United States. The latter most often appears as a focus on learning computing skills without programming, e.g., like in the CS Unplugged activities from Tim Bell at the University of Canterbury (link).

Modeling is surprising rare in most state curricula. Calls for modeling and simulation are common in US mathematics and science education frameworks like the Next Generation Science Standards (link), but these have influenced few state curricula around computing education. Efforts to integrate computing to serve the needs of mathematics and science education are growing, but only a handful of states actively promote computing education to support mandatory education. For example, Indiana has include computing learning objectives in their state’s science education standards, in order to develop more integrated approaches.

I don’t know of any state curricula that include digital empowerment nor digital design and design processes. These are critically important. Caspersen’s arguments for the Danish Informatics curriculum build on quotes from Henry Kissinger and Peter Naur, but could also build on the work of C.P. Snow and Alan Perlis (the first ACM Turing Award laureate). In 1961, Snow and Perlis both argued for mandatory computing (though at the University level). Perlis argued that computing gave us new ways to understand the world. He would have recognized the digital design and design processes competency area. Snow warned that everyone should learn computing in order to understand how computing is influencing our world. He wrote: “A handful of people, having no relation to the will of society, having no communication with the rest of society, will be taking decisions in secret which are going to affect our lives in the deepest sense.” He would recognize the concerns of Kissinger and Naur, and the importance of digital empowerment.

The Danish Informatics curriculum is unique in its breadth and for considering the social aspects of computing artifacts and design. It encompasses important needs for citizens of the 21st Century.

July 12, 2021 at 7:00 am 6 comments


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