SIGCSE: Open Challenges
Will Not Be One Size Fits All
Valerie Barr, Mount Holyoke College
Computing Education in the 21st century will have to better account for the many different educational areas
and approaches that come under that term. It will also
have to evolve to better ensure that those who develop
technology applications in and for the developing world
help to improve conditions, rather than increase inequities.
Having been invited to opine on “The 5 Big Open Questions
in Computing Science Education,” in the context of looking toward the next 50 years of SIGCSE, my first step was to consider
what I thought those questions might be. I address here two
areas that I believe represent big open questions or issues.
1. There are currently many large curricular areas included
under computing science education, but what will the field
be called in the future, and does the name influence what
2. The large economic gap between the developed and
developing world correlates with a large technology gap.
Yet need exists in the developing world for increased
applications of technology and increased access to
technology, in general, and to the internet specifically.
Should this potential be considered when structuring and
changing computing education in both the developed and
WHAT’S IN A NAME?—PART 1
As I began to think about this article, I realized that I tend toward a very computer science (CS) centric perspective on computing education, even though ACM has long been involved
in the development of curricula for computer science as well
as curricula for information systems, information processing,
and software engineering. These curricula have been updated periodically: 1968, 1978, and 1983 [ 6]; 1991 [ 16]; 2001 [ 1];
2008 [ 2]; and 2013 [ 3]. Today we see new fields evolving with
new program titles, such as information science and data science. Given these many fields, all of which involve computing,
computing science education could serve as an umbrella term
that covers all of them. It is also the case that, increasingly,
those with a computer science degree are being asked to carry
out work that lies at the intersection of disciplines and might,
therefore, fall into the category now typically thought of as information science. Perhaps we will begin to see an increasing
number of academic programs change their names to reflect
a focus that is more on computing and applications of computing. In much of the discussion that follows, I have further
shortened the computing science education umbrella term to
computing education which, in my mind, is even broader as it
can encompass the education that is necessary to tackle applications of computing across the widest possible range of areas.
Beyond the name, there is the question of what will drive the
content of computing education. But first it’s interesting to look
at where we have come from.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?—PART 2
Rather than wade into lengthy debate about what starting point
to choose, I settled on 1948, the year the Computer History
Museum cites [ 7] as when a program first ran on a computer—
the Manchester Baby. This also gives us a nice round 70 years
of history to contemplate. I divide this period into three large
time blocks, each of which has helped shaped the content and
development of computing education.
• 1948–1980: computer development up to the introduction
of mass market personal computers (in the developed
• 1981–2003: the personal computer (PC) became ubiquitous
in business and at home (in the developed world).
• 2003–present: social media and e-commerce have grown;
the number and type of individual tech devices have
increased (including the launch of Internet of Things (Io T)
applications); and personal data is increasingly monetized
(both data that identifies the user and data that is not
directly tied to an individual user identity). An equally
important trend has been the increased application of
computing across numerous disciplines and industries.
What have been the concomitant developments in computing education? The first period required a focus on those
aspects of the field that were necessary for us to be able to do
computer science. CS education focused on the development
of the discipline and the actual hardware (hence use of the
term computer science). Curricula included classes on computer organization and assembly language, systems program-