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Card-index course

Introduction to computational thinking

Introduction à la pensée computationnelle

Responsible Faculty: Faculty of Arts

Teacher(s): Michael Piotrowski

Validity: 2017 ->

Course Timetable (Weekly)

Date Location Notice Topics Lecturer(s)
2020/2021 : Monday 14:15-16:00 (Weekly) Anthropole/5183     Michael Piotrowski

Course+Practical work

Spring semester
2 hours per week
28 hours per semester
Teaching language(s): English, French
Public: Yes
Credits: 3


The objective of the course is to provide an introduction to computational thinking to enable students to gain a general understanding of the methodological foundations of computer science and the digital humanities. This objective is motivated by two complementary goals:

  1. To promote the description, interpretation and discussion of the functioning of computer systems and services and thus critical evaluation within the framework of questions studied by the humanities and social sciences. These are the core competencies for critical studies of algorithms, for example.

  2. Promote the application of computational thinking to students' fields of study to enable them to use computational methods in their studies and their research.

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • define the most important concepts of "computational thinking";

  • explain the most important basic concepts (abstraction, idealization, model, algorithm, etc.)

  • identify the main characteristics of model theories;

  • analyze different approaches to formal modeling in the humanities and social sciences;

  • discuss the crossed history between philosophy, linguistics, cybernetics, informatics, and (symbolic) artificial intelligence.

  • use Inform 7 as a modeling framework;

  • use the basic functionality of the Inform 7 programming language and its development tools.

  • develop models of research objects in the social sciences and humanities, formulate them explicitly, and formalize them with Inform 7;

  • compare, criticize and evaluate formal models.


The course begins with the notion of "computational thinking" introduced by Papert (1980) and popularized by Wing (2006). Then, the fundamental notions of abstraction, idealization and modeling, which underlie informatics and the digital humanities as a construction of computational models in the humanities and social sciences, are discussed. In particular, students are introduced to the general model theory of Stachowiak (1973).

In addition to reading and discussing texts (research articles, book excerpts), students engage in the practical construction of computational models using the Inform 7 system. Designed for the creation of *interactive fictions*, Inform 7 offers a playful and accessible, but at the same time highly sophisticated framework in the evolutionary line that includes games (Lebling 1979, etc.) and significant experimental systems for the development of symbolic artificial intelligence such as Winograd (1972).


The course uses a "pass/fail" grading system. Students are expected to actively participate in reading exercises (preparation, discussion), complete individual programming exercises and develop a final project in small groups that consists of programming a simulation in Inform 7 on a theme chosen by the students themselves.


  • Denning, Peter J. et Tedre, Matti. 2019. Computational Thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-53656-1
D'autres textes seront mis à disposition sous forme électronique pendant le cours. Il est à noter qu'en raison du caractère international de la recherche dans ce domaine, de nombreux articles ainsi que la documentation Inform 7 sont rédigés en anglais. Further texts will be made available in electronic form during the course. Note that, due to the international nature of the research in this field, many articles, as well as the Inform 7 documentation, will be in English.

Additional information


Use contextFaculty codeStatusCredits
Master of Arts (MA) in Digital Humanities (2016 ->) ›› Digital Culture, Societies and Humanities: Reinforcement Modules - MA-INTERFAC-CSHN-30Compulsory3.00
Master of arts, Reinforcement programme (2015 ->) ›› Humanités numériques - MA-RENF-HNOptional3.00
Unicentre - CH-1015 Lausanne - Suisse
Tél. +41 21 692 11 11
Canton de Vaud
Swiss University