This week we will explore the:
Development of Information and Communication Technologies;
Impact of Integrating Technology Across the Curriculum; and
Rise of Computational Thinking.
Introduction of computing
Computing began in Mathematics faculties in universities in the 60’s and then schools in the 70’s, focusing on algorithms used by computers to solve mathematical problems.
With the introduction of spreadsheets and word processing in the 80’s, computing made its way into Business faculties in universities and then schools, the focus shifting from understanding the programming required to enable computers to solve problems, to understanding how to use the software available on computers to solve problems.
As software was developed for more and more fields, computer use expanded to all faculties in Universities and schools, with specialised disciplines emerging such as Computer Science (from Mathematics), Software Engineering (from Engineering), and Information Systems (from Business).
Information and Communication Technologies
As the focus of computer education in the 80’s shifted towards understanding the use of software applications, the term Information and Communication Technologies or ICT became popularised, and K-12 schools in particular shifted classes from computer science (where programming was taught) towards general computer use courses (where software applications were taught).
Software applications rapidly evolved in the 90’s to become easier and easier to learn, without the need for formal computing classes, and in the late 2000’s, interest in computer education began to collapse as students.
Integrating Technology Across the Curriculum
The ubiquity of computing in all fields of education and industry prompted calls for greater use of computers in education during the 90’s. While the availability of computers was limited, with access provided to these limited numbers by centralising them in computer laboratories, computers began being used in all university and school courses.
In the 2000’s, integration of computer education across the curriculum was promoted, the intent being to support the wider use of computers in all subjects areas.
As with many integration efforts, a lack of responsibility for computer education resulted, coupled with reduced emphasis on specialised computer education courses in the expectation that this would be addressed in all courses.
Combined with student disinterest in the applications being taught, computer education was in crisis in the late 2000’s with plummeting enrollments in universities and schools.
Digital Education Revolution
While investment in computers increased, with Australian Schools in 2010 provided with a 1:1 computer to student ratio for years 9-12, the introduction of tablet computers in 2010 and the rapid dominance of the internet resulted in students purchasing mobile devices for personal use, and by 2020, most universities and many schools have implemented Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) requirements for students to provide their own computers.
Universities and schools have shifted their focus to providing wifi and high speed internet access, with most software applications now being cloud (Internet) based.
The rise of automation in industry, particularly a resurgence of Artificial Intelligence applications in the 2010’s suggesting that every existing industry will face widespread disruption in the next few decades, prompted a call to refocus computer education.
In 2011 the chairman of Google denounced the UK computer education curriculum and the UK government began a complete rewrite to refocus on computer science instead of applications.
2012 Australia began the development of a national Digital Technologies curriculum, also refocusing on computer science, and around the world, countries are introducing computer science focused K12 curriculum. The introduction of a developmental curriculum encompasing up to 13 years of computer education (9 compulsory), represented a significant change to an adhoc curriculum where teachers often had to assume no prior knowledge from students.
Introduction of computer science education into Australian schools as a compulsory subject was politicised, delaying the introduction by a year, but eventually the Digital Technologies curriculum became available and states began implementing the curriculum, with New South Wales being the last state to fully introduce the subject in 2020.
In universities, a presentation by Jeannette Wing in 2006 reframed computer education as the development of Computational Thinking, a set of skills used by computer scientists that everyone would benefit from: the ability to break down, generalise and abstract problems, understand that algorithms, the steps taken to solve problems, and the widespread use of data, dominate our lives but we are largely unaware of how this is occurring. Several universities in the USA now require all students to complete an introductory computer science course regardless of their degree, and most universities globally are increasing the focus on computing, particularly as regards to the impact of artificial intelligence.
Computational Thinking has since become the basis of reforming computer education, and while initially developed by Seymour Papert in the 80's to describe the two way relationships between learners and computers, it has been simplified to encompass a set of learnable skills and this has been incorporated into curriculums globally.
Much of the justification for expanding the computing curriculum has drawn on high profile successes in the technology industry, but these examples are the result of very well supported environments that support risk-taking.
Entrepreneurship education aims to provide similar supportive environments in schools and develop entrepreneurial mindsets that seek opportunities to build on existing success and resources rather than current educational focus on developing capabilities for the future.
While not yet part of the formal K12 curriculum, informal and extracurricular entrepreneurial programs, particularly through competitions, are maturing. In the university sector, the focus has been on work placements, internships, and capstone experiences that prepare students for entry into professions, rather than on preparing them for independent entrepreneurship.
The renewed focus on computer education in schools has created a large market for Educational Technologies that support the teaching of computer science concepts. Ten years ago, Lego was pretty much alone in producing robotics kits to support the learning of programming, today there are hundreds of companies producing robotics kits and other devices for teaching the new computing curriculums.
As schools become used to spending more and more of their budgets on curriculum-based educational technologies, markets will likely develop to support all subjects, not just computer science. The question of educational effectiveness, particularly in value for money, has not yet been demonstrated by research, and there is concern growing that too much is being invested without solid justification.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence have the potential to disrupt many professions, check the professions of some of your friends to see how they may be impacted by automation technologies: