Exemplifying Computational Thinking Scenarios in the Age of COVID-19: Examining the Pandemic’s Effects in a Project-Based MOOC
The rapid, global spread of COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented rise in enrollments in online learning experiences among learners of all ages. In this paper, we explore the impact of the global pandemic on a massive open online course, Problem Solving Using Computational Thinking, with a particular focus on the topics learners chose for their final projects. The Computational Thinking MOOC was designed using a project-based learning approach and aims to provide learners with an introduction to the “big ideas” of computational thinking using a range of case studies that encompass topics such as airport surveillance, epidemiology, and human trafficking. Beyond observing a sharp increase in enrollment and engagement at the time the pandemic began, we discuss ways in which the course’s project-based pedagogy allowed learners to bring their present experiences and concerns together with the course’s subject matter in order to meet the learning objectives for the course. Many learners chose to address aspects of the pandemic in the course’s final project and applied ideas about computational thinking to peer-graded assignments that conveyed an individualized sense of importance and urgency. We assert that this approach, along with the inclusion of a timely epidemiology case study, enabled learners to more deeply internalize the role that computational thinking can play in their own lives and in society as a whole.