For this week’s reading response, I’m going to hyper-focus on Jeannette Wing’s “Computational Thinking.”
This article was published in March 2006 in Communications of the ACM, a journal that focuses on the computing and information technology fields by covering “emerging areas of computer science, new trends in information technology, and practical applications” (http://cacm.acm.org/about-communications).
In this short 3 page article, in what I assume is an attempt to garner student (and parent) interest in the Computer Science degree program (at that time, Wing was the President’s Professor of Computer Science in and head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon), Wing explains the extensive benefits of computational thinking.
Under the title of “Computational Thinking,” and in blue font to stand out, she writes “It represents a universally applicable attitude and skill set everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use.”
As I read that sentence with only a best guess of what computational thinking is, I nodded in agreement.
Although she says repeatedly that computational thinking is for everyone, she still seems to focus on computer science. It ends up sounding more like computational thinking is mostly another, perhaps more managerial, layer for those in computer science and similar fields.
Furthermore, when she lists the post college careers for computer scientists—”medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering, and even the arts”—the use of even makes it seem like she was anticipating it would be a surprise or that it may be considered a stretch.
This isn’t surprising. Based on our readings so far, it sounds like some in the DH field and many in the traditional humanities fields may consider it a stretch to go into the computer science field after receiving, for example, an English or history degree.
Despite her representation of “the arts” as a stretch, some of Wing’s characteristics of computational thinking resonate with some of the discussions our class has had from earlier readings, especially her claim that computational thinking is “a way that humans, not computers, think.”
This goes back to the idea that computers may be able to find answers, but they don’t know the right questions to ask. That’s on us.
Additionally, her claim that computational thinking focuses on “ideas, not artifacts” may tie to the discussion of whether digital humanists need to know how to code.
As Hayles suggests in the UDH reading this week, “not every scholar in the Digital Humanities needs to be an expert programmer, but to produce high quality work, they certainly need to know how to talk to those who are programmers” (58). This suggests that the computational concepts used to solve problems are as important (probably more so in the DH field) as the actual code.
What was most surprising in this reading was her claim that “some parents only see a narrow range of job opportunities for their children who major in computer science.”
Was the field hurting that badly in 2006? I know a lot has changed in the past 10 years, but it was still surprising to read this.
Today it seems like computer science is one of the best degrees for job prospects. Afterall, as exemplified in the Manovich reading this week, software is deeply integrated into our very culture and “‘adding software to culture changes the identity of everything that a culture is made from.” This results in a lot of jobs.
Hayles asks how engagements with digital technologies change the ways humanities scholars think. To follow, are humanities scholars implementing Wing’s description of computational thinking? Is “computational thinking” even in the field’s vocabulary?