Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Science or Technology or ...

I can't seem to get off thinking about the nature, and the future, of Computing in schools, so here is yet another post on the subject... {I'll try to get back to more general educational computing themes soon.}

Danger, Will Robinson!
Originally uploaded by drp
We spent a good bit of yesterday morning wrestling with the Technologies outcomes for A Curriculum for Excellence and comparing them with the Science outcomes. It took us a long time and I'm not sure we're much closer to drafting a response. Once again, at least part of the problem was exploring the boundaries between ICT and Computing. We were trying to ensure that the ICT requirements, stuff that every pupil needs to know/do was covered but we were keen to see a good foundation for Computing Science courses too.

What prompted this post however, was a response to my Difficult teenager post by Rob Hill: Computing vs ICT. He says, "...I am not certain that Computing can ever be a science in that it does not have a body of fundamental knowledge independent of other sciences. It is a very important technology, perhaps the most important at the present time and thus deserves academic study."

I'll post my reply to him here as well because I'm still thinking it through and I'd be interested to see other people's views:
…I think it depends on how you define “science”. If you take a very strict interpretation of the definition you venture above, you wouldn’t be left with much! See for example the recent xkcd cartoon:

I would argue that all sciences have bodies of knowledge that overlap to a greater or lesser degree. As a new science (and I’m still going to claim its a science… so there!) Computing has yet to establish it’s identity and stake a claim to a clearly defined body of knowledge - hence my teenager analogy. However, Computing is not unique in arguing about what’s in and out… it’s just older sciences have more consensus about what’s in! (For example I heard a great programme on the multiverse where the experts admitted that many physicists think what they are doing is philosophy rather than physics.)

I suspect there is however a growing body of science knowledge that we can legitimately claim as our own. Some of it may have grown out of other sciences but Computing has stamped its identity on it and pushed it further in a particular direction that it may have gone otherwise.

… I think I need to think more on this though. Thank you for pushing me to think it through a bit more carefully.
Final thought is a poster I blogged about a while ago but got no response at the time. The poster said, "[Insert subject here] is the unequalled agent of mental discipline and the embodiment of constructive and inventive thinking." Anyone want to have a go now at guessing what subject is being described?

So, any comments? Computing - a science or a technology. Discuss. :-)

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Nisheeth Pandya said...

Good one..

Barry Hudson said...

I would probably say that the trouble with the definition is a good thing, it means that computing is becoming more and more a part of all the other sciences. I still like one persons definition (whom i cant remember the name of) they said "the more I study CS (computing science) the more I am convinced it is the Science of Art and the Art of Science" What a nice lil sound bite shame it dosnt help. Just as most if not all science relys on mathematics for it's progress I'm quite pleased to have computing as part engineering part physics part maths and part art. We just need to finish the definiton before ACE or its succesors wipe computing out of secondary education in favour of delivering MS Office training programs.