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Communications of the ACM


What Does It Mean for a Computing Curriculum to Succeed?

'public class factorial' notes

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates, Evgeny Karandaev

Computing education is suddenly everywhere. Numerous U.S. states and many countries around the world are creating requirements and implementing programs to bring computing to their students. Tech innovators have jumped in, too, sometimes to "disrupt" the educational system. Opinion pieces create parental anxiety that their children are not being trained properly for the future; products claim to mollify these anxieties (while perhaps simultaneously amplifying them). Academics, looking to address the Broader Impact criteria of funding agencies, are eager to burnish their credentials by giving guest lectures at local schools. In certain neighborhoods, toystores feel compelled to stock a few products that claim to enhance "computational thinking."3

Unfortunately, a lot of current discussion about curricula is caught up in channels (including in-school versus after-school courses), media (such as blended versus online learning), and content (for example, Java versus Python). As computer scientists, we should recognize this phenomenon: a focus on implementation before specification. Instead, in sober moments, we should step back and ask what the end goals are for this flurry of activity. Is a little exposure good for everyone? How many Hours of Code will prepare a child for a digital future? If a few requirements are good, are more requirements better? In short: What does it mean for computing education to succeed?


Dimitris Kalles

Dear colleagues,

Here, at the Hellenic Open University, we are finding out that by having designed all our study programs (the computing-related ones, too) for at-a-distance delivery, we are managing to add scale to the rigor and equity elements, which need to be there for a start.

You will likely find out that this is shared by most open universities, which are mainly based on the distance learning approach.

Of course, that shifts the question of success to other important issues, such as: Can you also manage gender neutrality? Can you appeal to younger/mature students alike? Can you also scale industrial placements as part of the degrees?

Thank you for raising the issue of curriculum success at such a global level.

Dr Dimitris Kalles
Associate Professor
School of Science and Technology
Hellenic Open University

Shriram Krishnamurthi

Dear Dr. Kalles thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Indeed, Open Universities have been leaders in various educational efforts, often getting neither the attention nor the credit they deserve. We did not discuss them in our article because our primary focus is on schools (K-12, in US terminology) rather than universities.

It is very interesting to see these same criteria applied to and expanded at the post-secondary level. The questions you ask are highly pertinent. We certainly believe gender issues are very much covered by our "Equity" point (but equity goes much further: e.g., can you support students with impairments/disabilities?). Other questions (like job placement in the discipline) are much more relevant at the university level than for schools.

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