Increasing the bandwidth for computing science education

With an increase in learning online, and youth sharing TikTok dances, one education professor and her colleagues are advocating for more computing and digital literacy in Canadian curriculum.

Secondary Education professor Cathy Adams is no stranger to advocating for increased computing science education, but this time she’s one of 12 experts who wrote a brand new Canada-wide framework for K-12 computing science curriculum development with Canada Learning Code. Adams says that focusing their efforts nationally, as opposed to working with each provincial or territorial government, means that each provincial or territorial ministry can adapt the advice and “lesson crosswalks” to their own curricular contexts.

“Alberta has an excellent high school computing science curriculum… however, it is both optional and comes too late for many students,” says Adams.

“It has long been established that basic computing science principles can be learned in the early grades alongside mathematics and science. Across the globe, it is also recognized that computing literacy and the ability to problem-solve through computational thinking are now essential competencies for current and future generations.”

The goal of getting more computing science learning in classrooms extends beyond just learning how to program in Python or develop mobile apps. It also means students—and teachers—get the chance to develop some skills that Adams thinks are needed in today’s increasingly digital world, a subject she has studied extensively, including as the Faculty of Education’s first Vargo Teaching Chair.

“The idea behind the K-12 computing science framework is not about raising a generation of coders, but about giving future generations the computing and data literacies they need to critically evaluate and thrive in their technology-based world, and to create new futures that are sensitive to a wide range of ethical, cultural and societal concerns that digital technologies mobilize,” says Adams.

The framework highlights five main focus areas of computing science education: Programming, Computing and Networks, Data, Technology and Society, and Design. Each area has its own competency guide that helps educators leverage the real-world knowledge students can develop through learning computing science. For Adams, the Technology and Society focus area and the inclusion of “Applications of AI and Machine Learning” as a pillar in the Data focus area are exciting.

“One of the pillars in the Technology and Society focus area, for example, engages primary students in grappling with their technological surroundings and how computing technologies have changed the ways people live, work and play together,” explains Adams.

“As they begin to develop their understanding of and competency in creating digital technologies via the other focus areas in the framework, students are asked to explore how technology influences society as well as how students themselves can shape and create technologies. In the later grades, the societal effects of computing on various groups—Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, people with disabilities—are analyzed and evaluated. For me, the framework’s strong inclusion of the ethical, cultural, societal and ecological issues concerning today’s technologies marks it as distinctly Canadian.”

Adams and her co-instructor Dr. Mike Carbonaro have been working hard locally to include parts of the framework in the undergraduate program’s EDU 210: Introduction to Education Technology so that pre-service teachers learn the basics of computational thinking and develop some skills and competencies in programming. She also engages EDU 210 students in considering some of the ethical, social and cultural impacts of digital technologies, especially as these may differently affect the media and cognitive ecologies of their students. She also offers the extremely popular EDSE 577: Pedagogy of Technology: Teachers and Students as Cyborgs at the graduate student level. Still, she hopes that she starts seeing the lessons of the framework beyond her own classrooms, especially since fewer than half of all provinces and territories in Canada include computer science skills and competencies in their elementary or middle school curriculum.

“I hope the framework is widely adopted as a curriculum guide for education ministries across Canada as they embark on new curricular initiatives, especially in the early grades. Digital technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives now. It is critical that all Canadians have a working grasp of the science behind it. Only then will we be adequately positioned to use these technologies productively but circumspectly, and to create software responsibly, with due respect for our future well-being as individuals, communities and cultures on this planet.”

Feature image credit: Creative Commons