What We Care About Now, What We’ll Care About in the Future
Trends and Reflections
WHAT WE WILL CARE ABOUT IN THE FUTURE
Computer science education will likely be important for the next 50
years, and SIGCSE will likely grow and support this important endeavor. We will always need computer scientists. We will also need
many kinds of computationalists, and they will need different kinds
of education. Computing education will likely continue to fork, just
as computing does. SIGCSE will likely be best known in the future for supporting the broader goals of computing education.
SIGCSE members are involved in all aspects of computing
education, in concert with the mission statement of SIGCSE.
We have members involved in computing education in schools,
for professional development of teachers, for computationalists
in a wide variety of disciplines, as well as for our those studying
computing at college. We care about all of computing education.
The world has a growing appetite for computing education, but
that appetite is finicky. Computationalists are picky. Not everyone
likes tomatoes or mushrooms. Not all computationalists want discrete data structures or machine language. Computing education is
so important that everyone wants some of it. Computing education
is so important that even small parts of it are valuable and useful.
I can’t predict what the next big “Computational X” will be, but
based on past experience, I know that it’s already here. Someone will
come along and realize that just some parts of the computing that we
have today will be useful to someone else tomorrow. They will care
about just a segment of the CS education described in Curriculum
68 and CS 2013. Just one part of what we do will become the heart of
a new computational practice. That one part will be important and
the seed of great innovation and value. William Gibson said it well,
“The future is already here— it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
SIGCSE members will be helping computationalists to learn
those parts. Our mission is to teach people about the computing
that they care about. SIGCSE members will make important con-
tribution in the increasingly-computational world. We help peo-
ple to understand their world and to build new things in it.
1. Aivaloglou, E., & Hermans, F. How Kids Code and How We Know: An Exploratory
Study on the Scratch Repository. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2016
ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research, (Melbourne, VIC,
2. Atchison, W. F., et al. Curriculum 68: Recommendations for academic programs in
computer science: a report of the ACM curriculum committee on computer science.
Commun. ACM, 11, 3 (1968)), 151–197. doi: 10.1145/362929.362976.
3. Sahami, M., & Roach, S. (2014). Computer science curricula 2013 released. Commun.
ACM, 57, 6 (2014), 5–5. doi: 10.1145/2610445.
4. SIGCSE Mission; https://sigcse.org/sigcse/about/profile. Accessed 2018 September 9.
5. Weintrop, D., & Wilensky, U. (2017). Comparing Block-Based and Text-Based
Programming in High School Computer Science Classrooms. ACM Trans. Comput.
Educ., 18, 1 (2017), 1–25. doi: 10.1145/3089799.
University of Michigan
Computer Science & Engineering Division
2260 Hayward Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
DOI: 10.1145/3276304 ©2018 ACM 2153-2184/18/12
2 are taking the pieces they find to be useful
from computer science and programming. They do not need
to be computer scientists to find and make value in computing.
The new computationalists care about computing, but not necessarily all of computer science.
EXAMPLE: SCRATCH AS COMPUTING THAT
COMPUTATIONALISTS CARE ABOUT
SIGCSE members of 50 years ago likely would not have imagined 25 million programmers, many of them schoolchildren,
using a programming language that does not involve typing.
Scratch is amazing on many levels. It’s a real programming
language that people use in dozens of countries to do programming that they find personally meaningful and useful.
Scratch is also a website with 25 million users sharing almost
30 million projects.
Scratch is one of a family of blocks-based programming languages that have been developed for use by computationalists,
not just computer scientists. Scratch programs are created by
dragging into place blocks that look a bit like jigsaw puzzle
pieces. These blocks are the primitives of the language, and the
Scratch library includes blocks to control program flow, change
graphical elements, and manipulate data.
The empirical results on blocks-based programs are impressive. Learners can build something personally useful and
interesting faster in blocks-based programming languages than
typical text-based languages. They learn more and faster with
blocks-based languages [ 5]. If they ever switch to text-based
languages, the knowledge of programming elements, like control flow and variables, transfers from blocks to text—the students remember and successfully use ideas like repetition.
Scratch computationalists are building programs that they
want to build. Many Scratch projects just tell stories, with
moving characters, sound, and text. Other Scratch projects
are games. There is a wide variety of Scratch projects—each of
which is meaningful and useful to someone.
Empirical studies of Scratch projects suggest that there is
not a whole lot of computer science there. There is actually
little use of iterative control structures in Scratch programs.
Scratch programmers rarely use Booleans. Some studies say
that Scratch projects “smell” in the software engineering sense,
e.g., too many literals and lots of duplicated code [ 1]. Computer
scientists may not all value Scratch.
The important part of Scratch is that computationalists find
value in it, i.e., that they can make something that they care
about in Scratch. What we see in Scratch is the same process
we see among the computationalists in computational photography, journalism, and science. They don’t need all of computer
science. They can find value and make something useful with
just some parts of computing. Scratch projects smell wonderful
to Scratch computationalists.
2 A term that Charles Isbell first introduced me to.