EXPLORING THE FIELD OF COMPUTATIONAL THINKING AS A 21ST CENTURY SKILL
Computational Thinking (CT) has increasingly gained attention in the educational field in the past decade, following a short paper by J. Wing (2006), who used this expression to indicate “thinking as a computer scientist” (i.e., using an analytic and algorithmic approach to formulate, analyse and solve problems). In her article, Wing claimed that CT is “a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability” (Wing, 2006). Ten years after this seminal work, over 300 papers on this topic have been published in the academic literature and about 200 in the grey literature, highlighting, inter alia, the added value of CT to foster thinking and problem solving skills.
Despite the widespread interest in developing CT at all levels of education (and especially in K-12), and the increasingly large number of public and private initiatives, the successful integration of CT in school curricula is still facing open issues and challenges, such as: How can we define CT as a key skill for the current century? What are its characterizing features? What are its relation to programming/computer science, on the one side, and to digital literacy, on the other? Should CT be included in compulsory education? How should skills in this field be assessed? How should teachers be prepared to integrate it into their teaching practice?
In order to contribute to answer such questions, the authors of this paper are carrying out the study “An analysis of educational approaches to developing Computational Thinking (CompuThink)”, designed and funded by the Joint Research Centre – Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (JRC-IPTS) of the European Commission. The study aims to provide a comprehensive overview of recent findings produced by research studies, grassroots initiatives and policy actions for developing CT as a 21st century competence among primary and secondary students, as well as to highlight major implications for policy and practice.
A preliminary picture emerges from most recent developments: an evolution of CT definition and characterization (yet preserving its initial nature); many successful activities to introduce CT to younger and older students; a wealth of commitment, initiatives and ideas. In this paper we present and discuss a classification and characterization of the comprehensive corpus of documents collected, and the the first findings of the CompuThink study that inform the successful development of Computational Thinking approaches in primary and secondary education.