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Input, Process and Output

Computers, no matter how they are programmed, work through input, process and output. All computers accept inputs. An input is data that is entered into or received by a computer.
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Computers work with inputs, processes, and outputs. An input is data entered into or received by a computer, such as a keypress, mouse click, or sensor reading. Inputs can give instructions to a computer or provide data to process, but inputs don’t need to be initiated by people. For example, a temperature sensor could gather and input data into a computer, or a message could be wirelessly received by a computer from another device. A process determines what a computer does with an input, but the same input can be processed in different ways.
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For example, pressing the A key on your keyboard will display the letter A when using word processing software, or it could be a directional control for moving a character in gaming software. A program contains the set of instructions that define the process. The output is how the computer presents the results of the process, such as text on a screen, printed materials, or sound from a speaker. Young learners don’t need to know how the computer processes the data but should be aware of something happening between entering the input into the computer and producing the outputs. The process might be Make It Bigger, Double It, Turn On, or Turn Off.
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As your pupils develop the understanding of how computers work, you can reflect on the inputs, processes, and outputs of everyday digital devices. Think about your day. How many times have you used a computer? What were the inputs, processes, and outputs of those devices? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Over the past forty years, developments in technology have meant that computers have become much more portable and affordable than ever before. As a result, the prevalence of computers in our everyday lives has grown exponentially.

What Computers Do

Computers can be programmed to solve problems or complete tasks that make people’s lives easier. General purpose computers include desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones. These devices can be programmed to perform many varied tasks. Among other things, you can use these computers to communicate with friends online, create picture collages, or play games.

Other computers are dedicated to doing one specific job. These devices have been programmed to complete particular tasks, such as satellite navigation devices, traffic light control systems, or weather forecasting devices. Although these computers complete the tasks they have been built for extremely well, the drawback is that they lack versatility as they cannot be used to complete a range of different tasks.

Input, Process and Output

Computers, no matter how they are programmed, work through input, process and output.

Input

All computers accept inputs. An input is data that is entered into or received by a computer. This could include a user pressing a key on a keyboard, clicking a mouse to select something on screen or tapping a touch pad. Some inputs indicate to the computer what we want it to do, while others provide data for the computer to process. Inputs don’t always have to be initiated by human beings. For example, a temperature sensor could gather and input data into a computer or a message could be received by a computer from another device.

Process

The process determines what the computer does with the input. The same input can be processed in different ways. For example, in word processing software, when you press the letter A on a keyboard, the computer may process the input and display it as a letter A on the screen. In gaming software, pressing the letter A may be a directional control, moving a character in the game to a different place on screen. A program contains the set of instructions that define the process.

Output

The output is how the computer presents the results of the process. Outputs can be returned to the user in many ways such as text on a screen, printed materials, or as sound from a speaker.

Understanding Input, Process and Output

Younger learners do not need to know how the computer actually processes the data, but should be aware that something has happened once the input has been entered into the computer before the output is produced.

An animation of an input-process-output machine. A football goes into the machine through a funnel labelled as input. The process on the machine's screen says "Make it bigger!". A larger football comes out of the output funnel.

An animation of an input-process-output machine. A star goes into the machine through a funnel labelled as input. The process on the machine's screen says "Double it!". Two stars identical to the original come out of the output funnel.

An animation of an input-process-output machine. A thermometer shows a high temperature. Blobs representing this data pass into the machine through the input funnel. The screen on the machine displays "Process: Turn on". Blobs representing data come out of the output funnel and cause a fan to turn on. The temperature drops, and blobs from this thermometer enter the input funnel. The screen on the machine displays "Process: Turn off". Blobs representing data come out of the output funnel and cause the fan to turn off again.

However, as you support children in becoming more proficient in understanding how computers work, you will discuss what the term ‘process’ actually means.

It might be helpful to think of some of the digital devices you use in your day-to-day life and consider the input, process, and outputs in relation to them.

Digital Camera

  • Input: pressing the button on the top
  • Process: it captures and stores a picture
  • Output: the image is shown on the screen

Word Processor

  • Input: pressing a button on the keyboard
  • Process: checking which letter has been pressed and adding the letter to the document in its memory
  • Output: showing the correct letter on the screen

Discussion Points

  1. Think about your day. How many times have you used a computer? Describe some of these times.
  2. Look at some of the examples you listed in the question above: – What was the input? – What was the process?
    – What was the output?
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