A portrait taken of Chris Proctor sitting in his north campus office.

(Photo/Dylan Buyskes)

Office Hours Faculty Profile

Computational thinking: What is it?

Chris Proctor reevaluates what computer literacy means for today’s students


Digital technologies are embedded in just about every aspect of our lives. Yet their impact on young learners is often too narrowly interpreted, according to Chris Proctor, assistant professor of learning sciences and a researcher in the fields of computer science education, curriculum and instruction, and new literacies.

Proctor, who came to UB in 2020 after earning his PhD in learning sciences and technology design from Stanford University, seeks a broader, more inclusive understanding of computational literacy for K-12 students. This means not only researching the “pathways and challenges in developing students’ computational skills and concepts,” he wrote in a recent article published in Educational Researcher. It’s also about being “inclusive of students’ identities and their communities.”

“If we have a pluralistic country—with all kinds of different people and different cultures and different local communities—we ought to have all kinds of different computational practices and communities of practice that reflect this,” Proctor said in an interview. His research includes looking at how interactive storytelling, for instance, can support young people in equitably achieving computational literacy. This kind of academic preparation goes far beyond mastering specific software or being generally comfortable with computer equipment, he explains. Rather, it’s about “making meaning together using texts. The kind of text we’re working with is computers and computer code and computer programs, instead of books and newspapers and other forms of printed text.”

Proctor, who taught both middle school computer science and high school English before pursuing his PhD, enjoys bringing his pedagogical insights to his doctoral students in the Department of Learning and Instruction. As a classroom teacher, Proctor saw himself as a scholar-practitioner; this self-perception continues today. “From the first year of teaching, I was building software tools and using them in my classroom,” he said. “So I was engaging in design-based research before I even knew exactly what that was.

“I think praxis describes this process really well. It’s the argument that a division between doing the work and studying the work is not helpful. On the other hand, the practical without theorizing is probably not going to be very effective, especially in teaching.”

In the photo:

ON THE TOP SHELF: Three woodcut pieces of art, made by Proctor’s close friends, are displayed. “I’m really drawn to woodcuts,” said Proctor, whose collection includes a mid-20th-century woodcut from Japan. “In the 19th century, the Japanese woodcut tradition was that many different artisans would be involved—perhaps 40 or 60 people, each with their specialty. In the 20th century, it changed to the much more Western idea of the individual artist.” 

ON THE MIDDLE SHELF: Tea represents collaboration and hospitality, two characteristics important to Proctor. He keeps an extensive collection—and a teapot—ready for the next opportunity to sit with, meet and host his students or other faculty and staff comfortably, creating a welcoming environment.

ON THE BOTTOM SHELF: This hammer, inherited from his late father, symbolizes his dad’s passion for woodworking and making. Proctor learned woodworking and how to use tools from his dad, who often gifted hammers to loved ones, including his godson. When Proctor’s father reached the end of his life, his godson wrote a moving letter expressing that the hammer had been a source of empowerment for him. Proctor’s brother continued the tradition when he married. He gifted all of his groomsmen, including Proctor, with hammers in honor of their father.


Proctor’s Research Areas
  • Computer Science Education
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Information Science
  • Access and Equity
  • Assessment
  • Digital Media and Learning
  • Design Experiments
  • Literacy
  • Educational Technology
  • Race, Inequality and Education
  • Learning Design
  • Linguistic, Discourse and Sociocultural Context