Monthly Archives: May 2014

Reusable Computational Thinking

My aim, documented in this post, has been to find an open educational resource to support the activity defined in “Mines’ a mocha“.  Inspired by the ocTEL week 3 webinar, I searched in PhET but this was not helpful.

A simple look in OpenLearn threw up an “Introduction to computational thinking” which is exactly the right sounding topic.

A look in iTunesU proved much more complex, from having to log in (I think!) to interpreting search results.  There appeared to be something relevant from MIT’s Open Courseware programme – more on this below.

Finally, a quick (Google) search of YouTube throws up a bunch of video on computational thinking.   Key issue is which to try based on simple info of duration, author/uploader, and description.  Some results also include an indication of channel subscribers and number of comments as an indication of popularity but I did not find this generally helpful.

Open Learn Resource Review

Interestingly the OpenLearn resource is “an adapted extract from the Open University course M269 Algorithms, data structures and computability” and in turn i“Much of the material in this unit is organised around video clips from a presentation that (Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and Head of Microsoft Research International) gave in 2009 entitled ‘Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing’”

There is an indication of the aim (and implied audience) from the original OER given “the presentation builds on Wing’s influential 2006 ‘Computational Thinking’ paper in which she set out to ‘spread the joy, awe, and power of computer science, aiming to make computational thinking commonplace’ (Wing, 2006, p. 35)”

This is clearly an example of one OER building on another OER in the spirit of the Creative Commons “CC BY” licence which “lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work“.

Ability to Reuse

Checked out the OpenLearn FAQ with questions on

All this seems to support reuse within our HE programs provided we are not charging for straight access to resource, but instead charge for a learning experience – as per this week’s webinar discussion.

What to Reuse

Learning outcomes for the OpenLearn resource seem to match what we are trying to develop, though level may be higher!

The resource has a nice definition of an algorithm – would we want to highlight this or reuse it in our own resource?  Given the structure of the web content, would be hard to do the former – unless we could use annotation tool such as Diigo – or ScoopIt?

Discussion of real world-mathematical model relationship is too detailed/ off topic but has nice drawing to match things up – a graphical MCQ/objective test question

… but leads on to discussion of abstraction – for which there is an entry in the glossary, but which is perhaps too technical for KS3!

Would need to watch video to decide if that was good resource to reuse.

How to Reuse

On first inspection, parts of this resource would be better to be reused as background material.  Main criteria for selection would be appropriateness to learners and learning outcomes.

iTunes / MIT Open Courseware Review

The licencing is clear and up front – CC BY-NC-SA but version 3 compared to OU version 4

The intended audience and aims are clear given the course is “… aimed at students with little or no programming experience. It aims to provide students with an understanding of the role computation can play in solving problems” which could be taken to be same as the OpenLearn rsource.

However, OCW “also aims to help students, regardless of their major, to feel justifiably confident of their ability to write small programs that allow them to accomplish useful goals. The class will use the Python™ programming language.”   This suggests a much more technical course.

And wow – the course is a blast from the past, despite being recorded in 2011.  Chalk and talk with very few notes being written on board.  And starting point is the programming language and tools.  It is only 30+minutes in that the first concept of sequences or “straight line” programmes are introduced.  A reference back to “last time” to recipes suggests that this is wrong lecture to start with!

Went back to first lecture where first notes are “declarative & imperative”!  We get to “algorithm” 15 mins in, defined in terms of “how to perform a computation”, with additional concepts of “convergence” or halting.  The reference to recipes in lecture 2 is clearly to the metaphorical rather than edible type!

I know people who have sat through exactly these types of introductory” lecture – that put people with no programming experience off programming altogether. Questions of what and how to reuse are “nothing” and “don’t”.

Just as importantly as the content itself, while iTunesU gives you links to access the content, e.g., iTunes is still required to play it.  This may act as a barrier to people who do not have iTunes (and an appleID?).  Mashing up the content then becomes more difficult.

YouTube Review

First video on computational thinking is way to general – and takes 3 plus minutes out of 3 and half to get to a definition of computational thinking as “critical thinking + the power of computing”.  Not memorable (I had to go back and check!) or particularly useful.

Second search on YouTube (adding terms for the basic concepts of sequence, selection and iteration) pulled up more promising videos, but information on them is patchy, granularity is small, and for the context, you need to start to watch them.

One of the results my search for the basic concepts actually throws up is a short video from Durham College (who/where?) that places the concepts I am looking for in the context of:

  • a C# programming course, where …
  • students have read 4 chapters of a book, and
  • attended one lab session
  • and are now ready for an overview of control structures

I am not sure this is my intended audience.

What to Reuse

The video introduces notions we are after with clear, if mathematical, examples.  Looking to see how to reference a particular point in a You tube video we can see:

How to Reuse

There is no clear indication of licensing for this video as the share tab is just a way to generate the URL or web address to use.

However, the material is of reasonable quality that might make interesting background for more mathematically minded students.

The ability to reference a particular part of the video direct in a browser is a distinct advantage over iTunesU where content access and/or download requires iTunes


The use of more instructional design or structured descriptions for the resources makes it easier to assess if they are going to be appropriate at the start. This then favours a more structured source than an open search.

Conversely, the ability to mash up, remix or build upon content is easier using openly accessible content that can be references by web address or URL, as opposed to resources which are accessed in closed systems or are not designed for remashing.

As for the difference in type of resources, e.g. text vs video vs interactive elements vs quiz etc, this is something to be discussed elsewhere.

Mine’s a Mocha

This is a online learning activity designed to introduce some basic concepts of computing such as algorithms and selection through an everyday task.  Making coffee will be used as the principle example.


Early secondary/middle school teachers (UK Key stage 3, US Middle School or early Junior High, covering children aged 11-13) who are currently teaching general ICT and are moving into a more computing/programming oriented curriculum.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Understand the application of computing terminology to everyday tasks
  2. Identify the need for generalisation or abstraction in programming


Access to an online learning space and a tutor

Access to audience appropriate definitions of key terms such as:

  • Algorithm
  • Sequence
  • Selection
  • Iteration
  • Abstraction?

Explicit definitions could be provided by the tutor, or they could provide links to existing ones.


  1. Briefing: Synchronous/podcast  tutor briefing to introduce task and provide access to resources.
  2. Individual work: Students work off-line to
    1. create their own written instructions for making coffee.  Apart from being text based, there are no restrictions on format, vocabulary used etc
    2. Identify where sequence, selection and iteration occur within their algorithm
  3. Sharing: All students share their coffee instructions and in round robin format compare and feedback on differences between their own and one other submission
  4. Pair work: Working in pairs, students agree a single algorithm which demonstrates sequencing, selection and iteration, and mark up their instructions to show where they occur.
    It will be necessary to agree an appropriate level of abstraction for operations in order to create an agreed algorithm.  For example, are there separate steps for fill kettle (or even turning tap on and off), switch on etc, or a single one for boil water.Resulting single algorithm to be posted back to collaborative working space
  5. Round up:  tutor lead discussion to point out commonalities or interesting differences.  Discussion should be directed to include consideration of:
    1. Parameterisation based on known preferences, e.g. coffee for me or Jo, or type of coffee required, e.g. black, sweet, decaff
    2. Generalisation to multiple cups of coffee, or to other hot beverages, e.g. tea, hot chocolate, soup
  6. Looking forward: encourage student to:
    1. review definitions of terminology and/or share other ones they have found
    2. share ideas of more age appropriate example tasks that might be used in a classroom context

Areas for development

Would need to put more thought into:

  • timings, e.g. task 1 could be 5 mins brief, 5 mins Q&A max if synchronous, but not sure about rest.  Would depend on context of use for the activity
  • source of definitions to use
  • online platform for collaboration/discussion
  • collation of results for task 4


… to my TEL blogging space. Started to supported participation in ALT’s ocTEL spring 2014 course and a place to dump thoughts, it may persist.

But at present there is minimal focus on (graphic/affective) design for the blog itself.