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Introduction to computational thinking
Introduction to computational thinking

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Introduction to computational thinking


One can major [i.e. graduate] in computer science and do anything. One can major in English or mathematics and go on to a multitude of different careers. Ditto computer science. One can major in computer science and go on to a career in medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering, and even the arts.

Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (United States) and Head of Microsoft Research International

Sounds great that ‘One can major [i.e. graduate] in computer science and do anything’, doesn’t it? Then again, isn’t this miles away from the view of computing as a training ground for programmers and system builders? The good news is that one doesn’t necessarily need to exclude the other! The grand vision behind this quote is that learning to program, build large systems, and so on, allows you to develop something which is much more valuable than any of these on their own, namely the ability to think like a computer scientist. Over the past decade or so, Jeannette Wing has been popularising this view under the banner of computational thinking.

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Figure 1 Abstraction, a recurring theme in this course, illustrated by four representations of a cow by Theo van Doesburg, 1917, 1918

Much of the material in this course is organised around video clips from a presentation that Wing gave in 2009 entitled ‘Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing’ (Wing, 2009). The presentation builds on Wing’s influential 2006 ‘Computational Thinking’ paper in which she set out to ‘spread the joy, awe, and power of computer science, aiming to make computational thinking commonplace’ (Wing, 2006, p. 35).

In this course you will learn more about what computational thinking is and why it is such a desirable skill – arguably the skill for the twenty-first century.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course M269 Algorithms, data structures and computability [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .