On teaching about computers ...


This wiki is about teaching "computing" - the pedagogy of those who profess to teach "about" computers, particularly in the primary and lower secondary school settings. I'm very much in favour of teaching with computers - I've enthusiastically helped colleagues in a wide variety of subject areas to use computers in their teaching - but it's not that particular way of locating computing in the school curriculum which is the focus here.

My background is that as a teacher of science as well as a teacher of computing. In my 20 or so years as a teacher, I've come to think that there is a need for:
  • A discussion of teaching methods related to cater for students' prior understandings, cultivate active learning, commence with students' prior knowledge and cater for a range of different learning styles; in short, an inductive approach rather than a deductive approach.
  • A discussion of teaching methods which address higher order thinking skills, such things as: summarize, describe, interpret, apply, demonstrate, calculate, analyze, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, or recommend.
  • In summary of the first two points, a focus on the "conceptual" rather than skill based. To compare:when I'm preparing for teaching science, I find myself asking "Is this a situation where I should use strategies such as concept maps, the Suchman enquiry approach, predict-observe-explain or Socratic questioning?" I'd like to find ways to approach the teaching of computing at a deeper and more creative level than always mapping out the best linear path to communicate a list of skills.
  • A "psychology of teaching computing"? There are well-developed treatise such as "the psychology of teaching mathematics" - why not for computing? What do we know about the mental spaces of our students, and how might this influence our teaching?
  • A discussion of expert-novice differences in ways which not only concerns itself with the breadth of skills known by students, but in terms of their conceptual understanding. As a colleague remarked to me once: 10% of my students have good computer good computer skills, eg can effectively use Word, can logically organise their home drive and understand the basics of naming files and folders etc. The other 90% range from very basic computer skills to knowing how to turn it on and open a program. Why is this, and where are we going wrong?

In thinking about the pedagogy of teaching about computers, my principal departure point is making learners' conceptions of computing (ie what's in their head) the object of study, something which has been a focus of reforms to science education in recent decades. It is my contention that the trajectory of science education may provide some insights for those of us who teach computing.

This wiki is about posing the "what if"; about gathering a community of teachers and interested others together to toss around ideas about making the learner's conceptions of computing the focus; and to see whether some new approaches to teaching and learning might emerge. Contributions welcome.

The instigator of this wiki is Dr Paul Chandler, pcha@uniting.com.au, who until recently has taught computing and science at Yarra Valley Grammar in Victoria, Australia. He is now Research Fellow in Multimodal Pedagogy with the University of New England. He'd welcome contact with anyone interested in the pedagogy of computing teaching.