Computational thinking: wider uses?

A recent BCS Thought Leadership debate asked its participants what computational thinking is, where it came from, how it affects people's lives, and whether it should be encouraged as a discipline.

A recent BCS Thought Leadership debate asked its participants what computational thinking is, where it came from, how it affects people's lives, and whether it should be encouraged as a discipline.

"Computational thinking should be seen as being a common language for solving problems, one which helps iron out the problems from abstraction determining what it is that can be computed," said one attendee. Others felt that it was a form of intellectual property, a way of thinking that aids the "user" in solving problems and tapping into their constructive imagination.

"Computational thinking has an obligation to find solutions and should be used to deal with those systems which generate too much data, complete with false positives and negatives. This helps us to better understand the constraints of a problem," said one participant.

Others wondered if computational thinking might be understood as a form of modelling, and, if so, whether the focus was on numerical modelling or symbolic modelling.

Jeannette Wing's seminal article on computational thinking was mentioned, which states, "Computational thinking represents a universally applicable attitude and skill-set that everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use."

Some were doubtful as to whether computational thinking is a practice restricted to computer science. Specifically, does it differ from the study of algorithms and data structures?

Computational thinking takes a wider view than mathematical thinking, as it includes data and applies syntax manipulation in order to produce a quantifiable result.

Many felt that IT is taken for granted by the general public, which means that computational thinking is not appreciated as much as it should be.

IT is now more of a social phenomena than what some would term "straightforward maths". Attendees felt that it is time for the IT community to convince others that computer science is a subject in its own right, and not just a facilitator for other subjects.

Computer science suffers from a poor relationship with the "proper" sciences, the debate heard. However, computer science and computational thinking have changed science forever, with computer modelling being a widely used tool within all disciplines.

More on computational thinking >>

Jeannette Wing's article in PDF >>

BCS site >>

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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