From Computational Thinking to Computational Values

Dr. Hal Abelson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Friday, October 17, 2014
11:00 a.m., 1000 SEO Building


Computer educators are increasingly emphasizing the importance of computational thinking in working with young people. Support for computational thinking entails respect for the computational values that empower people in the digital world. For academics, those values have been central to the flowering of computing as an intellectual endeavor. Today, those values are increasingly threatened by stresses from both within and outside academia: squabbles over who owns academic work, increasingly stringent and overreaching intellectual property laws, and the replacement of open, generative computing platforms by closed applications and walled-garden application markets.

In this talk I’ll describe some things we’ve done at MIT to support computational values, like open publication of all our course materials, our faculty policy on open publication of academic research, and our recently announced initiative for open online instruction based on non-proprietary software platforms. I’ll discuss Creative Commons licensing and Free Software, and the importance of tinkerability for empowering citizens in an information society. And I’ll describe App Inventor for Android, a programming tool motivated by the vision that all of us can experience mobile computing as creators using tools that we can control and reshape, rather than only as consumers of packaged applications.


Harold (Hal) Abelson is Class of 1992 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a Fellow of the IEEE. He holds an A.B. degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from MIT. In 1992, Abelson was designated as one of MIT’s six inaugural MacVicar Faculty Fellows, in recognition of his significant and sustained contributions to teaching and undergraduate education. Abelson was recipient in 1992 of the Bose Award (MIT’s School of Engineering teaching award), winner of the 1995 Taylor L. Booth Education Award given by IEEE Computer Society — cited for his continued contributions to the pedagogy and teaching of introductory computer science — and of the 2012 ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education, and winner of the 2011 ACM Karl Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award.

Abelson has played key roles in fostering MIT institutional educational technology initiatives including MIT OpenCourseWare and DSpace, and he has served as co-chair of the MIT Council on Educational Technology, which oversees MIT’s strategic educational technology activities and investments. He is a leader in the worldwide movement towards openness and democratization of culture and intellectual resources. He is a founding director of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Free Software Foundation, and a former director of the Center for Democracy and Technology ? organizations that are devoted to strengthening the global intellectual commons.

Host: Robert Sloan

View the slides from this talk