Terminology

One problematic area of computing in education is terminology. Computing, Computer Science, Computing Science, IT, and ICT — how can we make sense of it all? Thankfully one report did tackle the issue: the Royal Society report into computing at schools. For ease of reference I’m repeating their summary of terminology here (see p17, section 2.2):

Computer Science should be interpreted as referring to the scientific discipline of Computer Science, covering principles such as algorithms, data structures, programming, systems architecture, design, problem solving etc.

Information Technology should be understood to mean the assembly, deployment, and configuration of digital systems to meet user needs for particular purposes.

Often we use the phrase Computer Science and Information Technology to indicate the union of the two, as this report reflects issues in both areas. We avoid using the term ‘ICT’, except when referring to existing curricula or qualifications that are labelled as such.

Digital literacy should be understood to mean the basic skill or ability to use a computer confidently, safely and effectively, including: the ability to use office software such as word processors, email and presentation software, the ability to create and edit images, audio and video, and the ability to use a web browser and internet search engines. These are the skills that teachers of other subjects at secondary school should be able to assume that their pupils have, as an analogue of being able to read and write.

Inevitably there will be topics that test the extent to which the three areas above can be effectively disaggregated – there will always be some blurring at the boundaries. Nevertheless, we maintain that it is useful to make these distinctions as an aid to effective communication between stakeholders.

As the report itself points out:

The Computing community is necessarily a ‘broad church’, and it has proved impossible to define terms to everyone’s satisfaction.

But it seems like a sensible standard to try to follow, especially when the distinction between CS and IT becomes important. Where the distinction is not as important, “computing” will often suffice.

One response to “Terminology

  1. johnstirlingstout

    Ironic that the AQA GCSE is called Computer Science, but the A-level is Computing (Ofqual/JCQ/… pressure I gather).

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