Friday, November 29, 2013

How is Computer Science NOT a 21st Century Skill

I had to do this. I really did. I am so tired of schools claiming that they are teaching 21st century skills (what ever that means) but not offering a computer science course. How is that possible?



Garth said...

No comment.

Anonymous said...

If you are referring to the commonly understood "21 Century Skills" (below), then the answer to your question would be, that through teaching a computer sci course, you could foster these skills... but "Computer Science" itself, would not necessarily BE a 21st Century Skill.

Learning Skills

Critical Thinking
Creative Thinking

Literacy Skills

Information Literacy
Media Literacy
Technology Literacy

Life Skills

Social Skills

Garth said...

I changed my mind about no comment.

How are these 21st Century Skills? Looks like the same life skills teachers have been teaching for a hundred years or so. Maybe a little longer. Aristotle was targeting quite a few of these. 21st Century Skills are those skills brought on by changes in the late 20th and beginning 21st century. Many of these skills have evolved because of computers. Because we do not teach computer science many of the listed skills are becoming “black box” to most people. As Arthur C. Clack said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It is just so easy go on our merry way teaching these traditional skills with new methods with absolutely no understanding of the technology behind the methods. Computer Science is about the only 21st Century Skill, everything else is a continuation from the last century. The 21st Century is run on computers. Remove computers and the rest go to a dark hot place in a hurry. Schools need to be generating those 21st Century builders, not just users. Computer Science makes those builders.

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Stephen Downes said...

It's like teaching 20th century skills and not teaching auto mechanics.

Alfred Thompson said...

Stephen that might be true if computer science were only about programming but it is a lot more. I would say like teaching 20th century skills without teaching physics or math.

Sidhee Singh said...

Nice article and yes i do agree with you, computer science is not study to go with now.

Liza Loop said...

I'd like to add to Garth's note about 21st Century Skills.
1. Agreed, the skills listed are timeless and needed now just as in the 'Dark Ages'. Hopefully they will prevent another 'Dark Age'.
2. Agreed, any school that does not offer computer science in this century is failing to provide its students with a critical career avenue. On the other hand, I disagree that every student needs to study 'computer science'.
3. Every student does need to be able to engage in 'scientific thinking' which includes hypothesizing, experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, sampling and evaluating implications/conclusions. This kind of thinking can be learned just as well with a focus in biology, physics, or astronomy, to name a few, as in computing.
4. Every student needs to understand, at a truly gut level, the principle of 'garbage in - garbage out' in order to be inoculated against tyranny perpetrated by those who control mass communication outlets. This may be effected by teaching coding. However, there is a long way between composing a simple program and being a computer scientist. Since so many of our household appliances now have embedded computers for controllers and are programmable we could teach coding in cooking class as well as computer science class.
5. This issue of embedded devices is making the term 'computer science' difficult for the lay person to interpret. Those of us who are either geeks or over 50 (or both) are likely to recognize that 'computer' in 'computer science' means a general purpose machine that may only have special purpose features activated. But John Q. Public is more likely to believe that opening the black box will void his warranty. Our challenge may be to 'demystify' the concept of a computer before we can attract large numbers of people to computer science.
6. In the 21st century 'science' is often seen as antithetical to 'religion' and, in the US at least, religion is increasing in popularity. We may need to do some PR to put down the idea that computer science is somehow un-Godly.

Don't get me wrong. I am solidly in the computer science/coding camp. I'm delighted with the success of the Hour of Code. Therefore, as a problem-solver, I'm turning my attention to the folks we aren't yet reaching. Points 3-6 suggest to me that we need to add something, maybe called 'computer literacy' to the present computer science/coding initiative. This might help us intrigue those students (and perhaps, teachers) we may be missing these past few weeks.

What have we got to lose?