Computational Thinking Through the ‘Digital Humanities Stack’

Computational Thinking Revisited

Computational thinking was originally framed as an educational and largely entrepreneurial skill set. Jeannette M. Wing defines it as “an approach to solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental for computers.”[1] Wing intended this set of thinking through computers to permeate educational facilities, from basic school to university, fostering a new generation able to work within computer environments.[2] There is however a tension in her understanding of computing as “the automation of our abstractions” – a fundamental component of computational thinking since Aho and Ullmann’s Foundations of Computer Science (1992) – and her call to “define the right abstraction.”[3] This critical distance from what the machine can do to what the machine should do has been a central issue in critiques of computational thinking during the last decade.[4] If the user automates her abstractions based on what the machine can do, does she not lose sight of what the machine ought to be doing for the benefit of a wider ecology of relations? If goal orientation is involutional, the critique goes, we stand to lose much of what machines could be doing.

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