Thursday, August 19, 2010

Contextualized Computing Taken to the Next Level

Something that is clear to me about The Nature of Computing perhaps needs to be tossed out there for wider consideration. Maybe you (being direct here for a minute) haven't thought about it the way I'm about to propose. After all, modern learning theories are all about how people perceive the world differently from one another! I'm talking about that Big Question: "what IS computing?"

If you are like me, sometimes you hear this topic come up and want to sneak out of the room quietly. Stay with me for a minute ok?

As I was writing my last post about the arguments for and against contextualized courses, I was thinking wouldn't it be great if all computing classes from CS1 up through the most advanced theoretical coursework were contextualized? Grounded in exciting real world use?

Then I started thinking about that question concerning "what computing IS". (don't touch that browser button just yet!)

I started mentally playing with the words "contextualize" "interdisciplinary" "integrated", all words I have used in recent posts - words used by different people in different...contexts (sorry, couldn't help that).

What do "contextualize" "interdisciplinary" "integrated" all have in common?

They have to do with making connections. Making connections between content and ... something. Something concrete, something "real", something (by my extension) interesting. Something beyond the abstract interestingness that many computer scientists and computing educators see in the raw content for its own sake.

Making connections throughout the curriculum. I like the sound of that as a catch phrase. That would be a productive way to think about making computing interesting to many more students (parents, legislators?). We know that computing underlies (or overlays!) so much in the world around us. Well, by making connections to it, we can  walk the talk in and outside of class.  Students, the public in general, don't have to take our word for it. From Day 1 it is just there. And it does NOT mean watering down our content or lowering our standards. That is a straw man argument. Really.

Consider: the redesign of a computing curriculum such that every class incorporates making connections to an outside world context.

Consider: that making connections is viewed as integral as any other aspect of the course.

What if a course that does not make significant real world  connections is considered a poorly designed course both from computing and pedagogical perspectives?

Take the above three suggestions as non negotiable givens. Suddenly everything looks different doesn't it? Radical idea?

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