Abstract — Many universities are considering how to include “Computational Thinking” into their required curriculum. I think this is a worthy goal. MIT is struggling with it; Carnegie Mellon has a Center for Computational Thinking; Google has a resource for educators. You can google for other instances. Of course, I googled on my laptop and used my computer’s word processing program as I was writing this abstract — these are not examples of computational thinking.
However, many — if not all — definitions of Computational Thinking (CT) are so vague that they are worthless. Some descriptions include sorting and searching algorithms. These remind me of a “Computer Science for Poets” class. Some descriptions include “algorithmic thinking”, “decomposition into independent components”, “abstraction”, “pattern recognition”, and blah-blah-blah. Is there any discipline that doesn’t include these things? Some of my colleagues at MIT are offended that a “new way of thinking” would appropriate their traditional tools-of-the-trade.
I will give some examples of what I think computational thinking is. I don’t try to define it. I don’t think CT is coding or computer languages or apps, although these are some of the tools a computational thinker might use.
I will also describe my efforts to teach computational thinking in the context of academic disciplines — in my case, materials science, physics, and math. I believe that CT can — and probably should — appear in a wide range of disciplines from arts to zoology. It certainly would be better if computational thinking (however we define it) would be taught in the classroom in the context of a discipline.
About the speaker — W. Craig Carter is the POSCO Professor of Materials Science at MIT and teaches a class at EPFL on Problem Solving for Materials Scientists. He is a Macvicar fellow and has received less than five awards for teaching excellence. He has also received MIT’s Big Screw for the professor who makes students’ lives the most miserable — he is obviously a masochist and a sadist. Much of his work involves computation and mathematics. Most of his recreational time involves computation and math too. When he is not doing computation and math, mostly he feels ashamed and guilty.