Explore PT Innovation choices



I notice that the specific choice of computing innovation is a monumental part of the Explore PT, as picking an “invalid” innovation can be as dire as to result in a 1/8 score regardless of the quality of their answers.

This sounds fine initially but as I read the “student survival guide” I get a little nervous because the criteria used to decide whether or not something is a computing innovation is overwhelmingly vague! For example, this chart claims that Email is a bad choice for the computing innovation: https://cdo-curriculum.s3.amazonaws.com/media/uploads/image_lPkwa9A.png . Why? Email seems like an excellent choice. It absolutely involves software, it’s certainly an innovation, it’s definitely computational, and it’s not hardware. Furthermore, it has clear benefits and consequences both to society and in terms of data privacy and security. If a student had asked me if this would be a valid option, I’d have responded with a very optimistic “yes”, so seeing this chart makes me weary.

Is there a reliable guideline somewhere that clearly defines what is and is not a valid computing innovation?


@flavkupe - I totally agree with you. I also feel that email is a good choice for a topic and it seems to fit squarely in the definition.

I would look at the definition of “computing innovation” as defined by CollegeBoard (page 41 here).
I would also look at the sample submissions and scoring commentary here about half way down the page. This should give you a good idea of topics that students are submitting and how they are being scored.

  • Mitch


I don’t understand this list because of the above comments too. I also have 4 sections that now want to use all the checked choices on this list. Do I try to stop them all from using Snapchat, Pandora or Instagram? It’s ultimately their choice. It’s their AP exam. Thoughts?


It’s not explicitly prohibited that students use examples that are already out there, but I discourage my students for a couple reasons:

  1. In the spirit of the task, they should explore something they’re personally interested in and would like to research, as opposed to just picking from a list of examples. However, acknowledging we’re in a world of high-stakes standardized testing and “personal interest” may not be taking a front seat in this argument…
  2. When you write about a topic that’s already well-known in the Explore PT world (or cliche), it’s harder to come up with original ideas/arguments and harder to not seem like you’re plagiarizing. Especially if you have students who tend to cut and paste from articles without doing sufficient analysis, these students who work on the same topics run a higher risk of being flagged for plagiarism. Okay, I don’t actually know how likely this is, but it’s what I’ve told my students to dissuade them from using cliche topics.


Hey everyone…I’m wondering if these 3 topics would be considered reasonable for students to use as their computing innovation.

  1. VPN Technology
  2. Artistic Drawing Software
  3. Lattice-based cryptography

I’d love thoughts as I am not quite sure if these would be proper examples to use. Help is appreciated.



Hi @vanessaduplessie ,

These are some interesting ones! I am not an expert on all of these (or any of these) topics, but then again, neither are the AP graders! I would suggest re-visiting the Explore Survival Guide where it talks about choosing a “good” computing innovation. They have 3 criteria: Can you identify data that the innovation inputs and what it outputs with that data? Can you find a group that the innovation impacts in a negative way? And last, are there sources out there you can use?

I would add a third criteria which piggy-backs off of criteria 1 - does it use a computer algorithm to transform this data? For example I had a student who wanted to do a microscope in a practice explore task we did. The argument was that the microscope took in light and then magnified it. But the way it magnified the light was with a lens (not an algorithm). I would also check out example J in the Explore Prep unit which demonstrates a task that failed to use a computing innovation. That might help give you some ideas for which of these meet the criteria.

Finally, I would suggest that the line between “good” and “bad” computing innovation is a very gray one. BUT there are clearly innovations that fall in the “good” side of that gray line. I recommended that students error on that side.

Hope that helps!