A Taxonomy of IT Content for Education

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Supporting educators to deliver high quality computer science education has always been an integral part of our mission. In 2018, we started creating more learning resources for formal education institutions. The UK government recently announced future investments to support IT teachers. Schools in England offered the National Computing Curriculum established in 2014. (In the US, a more common term for prescribed educational content is “standards”.)

The Computer English curriculum requires all learners to learn the subject between the ages of 5 and 16, and it consists of just 25 statements outlining learner expectations. To accompany this curriculum, we have begun to develop a framework to help us describe the subject of computing, and in particular the common threads that run through it.

A 2012 report by the Royal Society presented the scope of computing by dividing it into three areas: information technology, computing and digital literacy. Although this helps to describe computer science as a discipline, in our view this model creates artificial divisions between aspects of the subject depending on whether they are perceived as more or less technical. Our more holistic view of computing recognizes that the concepts and skills within the subject are much more interconnected.

Principles of our taxonomy

When we set out to develop our framework, the goal was to provide a way to examine and describe the subject of computing as a set of interconnected subjects; the framework does not define standards or programs. There are, of course, many ways to organize the material, implemented through exam specifications, textbooks, learning outlines and various progression guides. For our framework, we looked at examples from each of them, from England and beyond, and decided on some organizing principles:

  • Our framework should describe all of IT, incorporating computing, information technology and digital literacy
  • The framework should be applicable across primary and secondary education, meaning it should be useful for categorizing the knowledge encountered by all learners, from five-year-olds to the oldest secondary students.
  • Although inspired by the English National Curriculum, the framework should be independent of any particular examination specification and able to adapt to new curricula
  • The framework should represent computer science as a discipline that combines a wide range of concepts and skills

Taxonomy development

Following these principles, we have identified ten content themes, or strands, that run through a learner’s journey in computer science education. We call this framework representing the knowledge and skills that make up the subject our IT taxonomy. As the Foundation is part of the consortium that created the National Center for Computing Education in England, our taxonomy has become the cornerstone of the Centre’s work, providing a common language for describing computing in English schools.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation's Computing Content Taxonomy, consisting of 11 strands: Effective Tool Use, Safety and Security, Design and Development, Impact of Technology, Computer Systems, Networks, Media Creation, Algorithms and Data Structures, Programming , data and information, artificial intelligence.
The 11 content streams we have identified for the subject of IT.

Computing is, of course, an ever-evolving field and as such our taxonomy is evolving with it. Since 2018, we’ve iterated our taxonomy to incorporate new things we’ve learned, for example regarding the rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI) technology in recent years. AI is now an important field of study and represented as its own strand in our current taxonomy, bringing the number of strands to eleven:

  • Effective use of tools
  • Safety and Security
  • Design and development
  • Impact of technology
  • Informatic Systems
  • Networks
  • media creation
  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Programming
  • Data and information
  • Artificial intelligence

Given the interconnected nature of IT, we take a best-fit approach to content categorization, choosing the most appropriate stream(s) for each idea. In developing our IT taxonomy, we determined that four of the strands (the horizontal strands in the diagram) were best taught intertwined with the others, in context rather than as separate topics. A good example is the ‘Safety and Security’ component, which aims to help learners take advantage of the benefits of digital technology without putting themselves and others at risk. While it is possible to teach this strand as a separate set of lessons, revisiting it throughout the learner’s journey provides regular reinforcement as well as grounding in the context of other strands.

In the strands, we have also identified progressive learning outcomes for each stage of learning. These learning outcomes illustrate the types of knowledge and understanding that learners might develop in each area of ​​computing. They are not prescriptive and rather aim to illustrate the broad applications of the discipline.

Coming soon: The Ledger of IT Content

On October 24, we will publish The Ledger of IT Content. Framed by our taxonomy, The Ledger of IT Content presents our work so far by describing the diversity of concepts and skills that make up computer science. It also includes the illustrative learning outcomes that we have identified.

Cover of the Big Book of Computing Content.

This will be the second special edition of Hello World, our free magazine for computer science educators. New big book complements our first special edition, The great book of computer pedagogyin which we set out 12 key principles for teaching the subject.

The Ledger of IT Content will be available in print and as free pdf download; if you subscribe now, you will receive the PDF in your inbox on the day of publication.

Share your thoughts on our taxonomy

We hope that our taxonomy and the new big book enable you to reflect on the breadth of computing and resonate with your teaching. Please share your thoughts, in the comments below or by tagging us on social media, if you would like to help us develop the taxonomy further.

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Sherry J. Basler