About Computational Thinking: Interview with Dr Magda Kloppers

Name of scholar/expert:

Dr Magda Kloppers

Who am I?

I am a senior lecturer at the Vaal Triangle campus of the North West University in South Africa.  I am a member of Optentia, research entity on the Vaal Triangle campus in the programme:  Inclusion, Capability and Optimal functioning.  My field of scholarship is cognitive education, critical thinking dispositions, creating environments that are conducive for teaching and learning, computational thinking and Mathematics. I am currently involved in a project on High-performance learning as well as the use of videos in African languages to increase performance in Mathematics.

What is Computational Thinking, and how can it enhance better thinking and learning?

This input will focus on Computational Thinking (CT), a universally applicable attitude and skill set everyone should be eager to learn and use, considering the rapid changes and challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) leading to drastic changes in how we live, work and communicate. The 4IR is characterised by a fusion of technologies that ‘blurs the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.In the same way that Critical thinking skills and dispositions need to be taught explicitly, Computational thinking is not different.  Teachers should allow space for the development of computational thinking to teach students to think in a way that will enable them to access and understand the technologies of the future.  Four cornerstones of Computational Thinking can be identified.
Firstly, decomposition
, which invites students to break down complex problems into smaller, more straightforward problems.
The second cornerstone is pattern recognition
, which guides students to make connections between similar problems and experience.
Thirdly, abstraction invites students to identify relevant information while ignoring unrelated or irrelevant details.  Lastly, students use algorithms when they design simple steps to solve problems. These four cornerstones draw upon the concepts fundamental to computer science and the integration of technologies. One way in which CT can be advanced is through play.  A follow-up podcast will focus on the value of play to advance CT.

Figure: Image adopted from Computational Thinkers (Available online: https://www.computationalthinkers.com)

Regarding Computational Thinking, what have you found are the biggest challenges parents, teachers and practitioners face?  What are the best ways to overcome them?

Parents, teachers and practitioners should not confuse Computational Thinking with computer programming or coding, although programming and coding are some of the ways to teach CT.  In essence, CT is conceptualising a set of cognitive and problem-solving skills, and applies to many subject areas, for everyone everywhere and can be taught without a device. It is how humans think, not computers; it is a fundamental skill, not a rote skill; it is about ideas, to be creative and not the artefacts. Parents and teachers should also take the time which students can stay focused into consideration and not burden them with tasks which are beyond the concentration span of the child.  An example of where decomposition can be used is when a learner is requested to describe a scenario of planning a birthday party for girls, or a weekend camp for boys.  The learners can be assisted to break down the situation into smaller steps and guide their thinking by drawing a visual representation.

In Pattern recognition children will be able to identify commonalities between objects or experiences. Pictures of fruit and vegetables can be printed, and learners should be able to tell the differences and commonalities. Learners should be able to group the fruit and the vegetables, tell which ones are round, yellow, green, red etc. or which vegetables grow above and below the ground.  This skill can help learners to solve future problems and to make predictions about the world.

Abstraction helps learners to identify relevant and important information and sort through ideas to identify what information can be used. A story with fallacies can be told to learners, and afterwards, they should have the ability to verbalise the errors and motivate their answers.   Formulating this strategy is a valuable skill for learners to manage the overload of information and to determine what is accurate, valid and relevant.

Algorithms imply the creation of sequential rules to follow to solve a problem. Here you can ask learners to identify the steps they take when they wake up in the morning and get ready for school, or what steps they will take when they make a cup of tea or coffee.  The sequence of the actions are essential, and everything needed to perform the action should be indicated.

What are the most important signs that will indicate to parents, teachers and practitioners the successful functioning/implementation of Computational Thinking?

Daily fun and creative activities can be used to instil CT in learners.  If learners can explain their thought processes sequentially and break complex problems down into smaller steps, it is an indicator that learners have the skill of CT.  When learners can come up with different solutions for the same problem and can select the best solution, it is also an indication of mastery of the problem.

Visit our Tools, Recommended Readings and Research and Other Articles pages for Dr Kloppers’ recommended and applicable literature sources on Metacognititon and Self-regulated learning.

Dr Kloppers may be contacted at Magda.Kloppers@nwu.ac.za.

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