Computing vs ICT

There has been a longstanding debate about what Computing should encompass in Scottish Schools.  However I do like David Muir’s analogy of the stroppy teenager of a subject.  But 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.

Computing derives from two different but related needs, number crunching or heavy duty arithmetic and data processing, exploring and processing non numeric data to turn it into information.  These overlap.  Is a spreadsheet data processing or arithmetic…a bit of both?

It can be tackled at various levels of complexity; there is the simple model of a computer as a blackbox with simplified explanation of how it works; there is the logic of computer systems and there are algorithms of the structure of a computer and there are the physical bits that carry out the processes; there is programming and problem solving and several other aspects of the computer which offer a wide range of possible courses to students of all abilities and inclinations.

What it should not be is the teaching of the four basic computer packages, word processing etc.  Every student should be exposed to the uses which they can make of a computer in the course of lifelong learning and work, but it does not need a specialist computer teacher for that kind of course.  There are a range of other specialists in a school such as Business Studies teachers and librarians who are better equipped to teacher theses subjects.


9 thoughts on “Computing vs ICT

  1. A very pertinent post; I too like David Muir’s analogy. I think part of the problem is the confusion about ICT as a tool (the whole applications business) and the philosophy (and often, I think, maths?) that underpins how it all works.

  2. Hello there

    Thanks for the comments… 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.

  3. Hi Rob,
    Industry and universities alike bemoan the lack of any programming element to IT in schools. Could that not be the basis of a ‘scientific’ approach to IT?

    (love the XKCD cartoon quoted above!)

  4. Ian

    A friend of mine was visiting a small town school in India recently and discovered that 14 / 15 year olds were learning C++ and were very scornful of Visual Basic which they had done two or three years before.

    Personally I am more concerned that youngsters learn rigorous methods of analysing the programming problem rather than the language itself. And here in Scotland that is not happening even if they do learn a little Visual Basic or such like.

    So my answer is Yes!:)

  5. I came across this discussion by accident, and was so shocked by the suggestion that computing doesnt have ‘a clearly defined body of knowledge’ I had to comment.

    Ever heard of the Turing machine and the halting problem, or Shannon’s information theory, or the theories of computability and complexity regarding the fundamental limits of what computing can do? These are the foundations of computing and would be familiar to anyone who has done a computer science degree.

    People who use Word, Excel and other applications don’t need to know too anything about these theories, but people that develop these applications and technologies generally do.

    So computing is very definately a science, bound by laws and concepts like any of the other sciences. I don’t think it should be confused with IT/ICT, which is about using applications rather than developing them, which is not a science, but a skill.

  6. Well, I am in England, but I would shudder to think that anyone anywhere is teaching computing with the view that it does not have a ‘clearly defined body of knowledge’. While scottish schools may not be focussing on those theories in secondary teaching of ICT, that does not have to be so. If we are going to build better ICT systems for tomorrow, we need to build on and exploit computing as a science today, so why not be teaching the theoretical underpinnings at the earliest opportunity.

    Of course, the situation is much worse in England, as we do not even have a computing in secondary education, just ICT, which is a major failing in my opinion.

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