A Helpful Primer: Sound Smart When Talking About Computer Science

VP K12 Computer Science Products, EMC School

Do you get confused by the lingo that computer geeks are using these days? Here’s the first in a series of posts to help you get up to speed on computer science terminology.

Computer science is very broad, and is defined as the study of computers and their applications. Programming and computer science cannot be used interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Computer Science includes programming and also includes lots of other concepts such as computational thinking, artificial intelligence, computer systems and networks, security, database systems, human computer interaction, vision and graphics, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics and theory of computing. 

Computer literacy describes the general use of computers, such as searching the internet and creating documents and presentations.

Educational technology refers to the use of digital tools in the classroom, for example a teacher using an iPad app to teach math concepts to students.

Text-Based Coding

JavaScript, a text-based programming language
JavaScript, a text-based programming language

Coding and programming can be used interchangeably. They are most commonly used when referring to text-based programming languages. Text-based coding requires literacy, so these languages tend to be difficult for younger kids to learn. Schools mostly offer text-based coding instruction in high school, sometimes in middle school. Most programming languages are written in English.

Examples of text-based programming languages:  

  • JavaScript (not the same as Java)
  • C# (pronounced see sharp)
  • C++ (pronounced see plus plus)
  • GML (GameMaker Language)
  • Python

Block-Based Coding

Scratch, a block-based programming language
Scratch, a block-based programming language

Block-based coding is often a precursor to learning text-based coding. It may or may not require literacy, so some schools use these tools at the elementary grade levels. Some block-based coding tools utilize symbols or colors rather than characters.

Examples of block-based coding:

  • App Inventor for Android
  • Scratch

AR and VR

Augmented reality and virtual reality are similar but different. Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, so the user sees a composite view.

Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

Augmented reality superimposes images and information on the real world
Augmented reality superimposes images and information on the real world
Virtual reality immerses the user in an experience using a headset or similar device
Virtual reality immerses the user in an experience using a headset or similar device

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JavaScript image by Wikimedia Commons user Lucas Werkmeister, licensed under Creative Commons
Scratch image by Wikimedia Commons user scratch.mit.edu, licensed under Creative Commons
Augmented reality image by flickr user sndrv, licensed under Creative Commons
Virtual reality image by flickr user Marco Verch, licensed under Creative Commons


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