Principles of Computing

Open Learning Initiative


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This course covers elementary principles of computing, including iteration, recursion, and binary representation of data. Additional topics on cellular automata, encryption, and the limits of computation are also introduced. The goal of this course is to introduce some of the techniques used in computer science to solve complex problems, with or without a computer. This course does not include a programming component, although the principles that are taught can be used in a programming context.

Important information

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What you'll learn on the course

Computer Science
Principles of computing
Recursive Thinking
Representation of Data
Iterative Processes
Data and Instructions in Binary
Cellular Automata
Encryption Methods

Course programme

The main goal of this course is to teach the fundamental principles used in computer science to a general audience so that they understand how computer scientists use these principles to solve complex problems to improve their daily lives. This OLI course does not include programming although it can be used to supplement an introductory course in programming. In that situation, this course will show students that there is much more to computer science than learning to write code.

The first three topics are traditionally some of the harder topics to comprehend for students who tend to shy away from technical courses, especially in computing.

The last three topics were chosen because they illustrate some deeper discoveries in computing that will show how computational thinking affects our lives. For example, principles in cellular automata can be used to create simple simulations that illustrate complex behavior (e.g. forest fire simulations). Encryption methods showcase how number theory is used to create an encryption method that is very hard to crack, so it can be used to support commerce today on the Internet.

The Limits of Computability module illustrates to students that not every problem is computable by computers…some require far more time than our lifespans, and some just can’t be solved regardless of the power of the computer, the amount of memory it has, or the amount of time we give the computer to solve the problem.