What qualifies as a computing innovation?


Many of my students are identifying (in our practice PT) innovations that use computing in order to function or improve upon computing processes but I want to make sure that they will 100% be considered as a computing innovation. Some I have concern with are:
Bluetooth Mouse (it doesn’t store data, but certainly is inputing, processing, and outputting data-although simple)
3D Printer
ATM machine

My students are focusing on the computing processes involved in all of these. I am just worried that their innovations will be considered hardware and not necessarily a computing innovation. Does anyone have input or insight on this?


@richard.siewert in consulting the 2018 Explore Rubric I agree I’d be a bit wary of those choices. Here’s my thoughts as I read the different rows.

In Row 1 the rubric defines a computing innovation as “an innovation that includes a computer or program code as an integral part of its functionality.” A bluetooth mouse feels more like a peripheral device to me and I think it’d be more challenging to make the case that it meets this standard. The other two feel they might meet this bar but I think the student would need to be careful to describe them such that the connections were obvious.

In Row 6 you can find guidance for how students must describe the data consumed, produced, or transformed by the device. My concerns with a 3D printer or ATM are that it’s easy to get stuck thinking about the physical outputs of the device (e.g. money or a print) and the jump to describing the data produced / consumed / transformed by these devices may just be harder for students to make. I do think, however, that you could describe either device in these terms.

In Row 7 you can find guidance for how students should describe data privacy / storage / security concerns associated with the innovation. I think it’s probably easier to come up with concerns for the ATM than for the other two innovations.

More broadly speaking, I hear your concerns about students choosing pieces of hardware and based on the criteria above I think they’re reasonable. To me it feels like choosing interesting hardware might distract students from thinking about the actual computing happening within the device or the way it is consuming / producing / transforming data. I’d also worry about students choosing to describe the sensors used to collect the data rather than what the actual data itself is (something explicitly called out in the scoring notes of Row 6).

In summary I think there’s a bit of risk in choosing hardware as an innovation unless students are thinking carefully about the way the device is consuming or producing data. Beyond that, they should focus on the data itself (e.g. a bitmap photo) rather than the sensors collecting it (e.g. a camera).


Thanks GT! This was really useful.

I am grading the Unit 4 Rapid Research projects and one of my students did her project on “use of big data in advertisement recommendations”. I’ve included her complete responses for purpose and function.
I think I need to give her feedback on how Big Data is not the computing innovation, but Big Data analytics is the innovation. Would love to hear other thoughts about this.


Innovation Purpose
When it comes to efficient advertising online, big data can be a useful tool for advertisers because it gives them the ability to target certain audiences and create personalized recommendations for individuals by using previously collected data [2]. This is necessary because advertisers usually waste large sums of money on unproductive advertising and this is useful because it saves the company money and increases the profitability of the advertisement [1]. This is also useful because patterns in the data can give the company a better idea on how to improve their business or product.

Innovation Function
Advertisers purchase data in two ways: either from a specialist firm on the web or third parties that monitor the website [4]. Most companies make use of the data by using predictive analysis which targets frequent customers by using their previous buying data to create ads [2]. They identify these users by using things like cookies and web beacons. This data collects and can actually trace what sites a user has visited, their income, their postal code, and information about their home [3]. This gives the advertisers the ability to group customers depending on their decisions and income and send out ads to those specific customers. This can significantly increase their chances of spending money again therefore increasing the profits of the company. An example of an algorithm that collects this data can be found at https://www.cs.rutgers.edu/~muthu/theorytalkpubl.pdf. This data is not publically available and is usually stored with the specialist firm or third party company.


I’ve also had a couple students write about gene therapy. I think gene therapy is a science innovation that uses genetic sequencing which is a computing innovation (as this Code.org video demonstrated). Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this as well.


I think you make a great point about this @p00057079! Have you taken a look at the "Explore Survival Guide"? I think that does a great job breaking down the admittedly very fuzzy line of “computing innovation”. The answer key is in the curriculum materials too.

I would move toward a specific technology that does online advertising. Perhaps Google AdWords would be a suggestion that would be better than Big Data Analytics. I see it similar to Bitcoin being the innovation that would work, but blockchain might be harder to do for the task. Those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear others’ though!


One of my students used blockchain and I thought it was a good idea! But I though bitcoin would be a difficult.

I see the Explore Survival Guide in the curriculum, but don’t see an answer key.

My thoughts are that definitely good choices are:
self-diriving car
smart watch
music recommendation app
facial recognition software
google classes
a video streaming service
a phone app (a specific app)

definitely bad:
fiber-optic cable
tcp protocol
bluetooth speakers
digital clock
backup camera on a car
laptop computer
wireless phone charging
police body cameras

Not sure:
a system for digitizing and sharing medical fields
Email (one of my students chose this for the rapid research project)
3D printer (if software is named alongside it?)

LMK what you think.
Thanks Kaitie!



The key for the Survival Guide can be found in the links section of the lesson plan for Lesson 2.

happy computing,


Thanks! I see it now. I was a bit confused because in the past, the answer keys were in a blue box in code.org for only those with teacher access. Now I see that I don’t need to be logged in, and the keys are still available on curriculum.code.org/csp under heads up. Is this a recent change?


Hey @p00057079 thanks for bringing up this issue. You’re right that we forgot to put the key in the blue box on Code.org so I’ll be adding that in. That said, we’re still going to maintain the direct link from the lesson in the curriculum as well. Our main reasoning is:

  1. This resource is broadly useful to the CSP community and with teachers feeling time crunch to do the PTs we’d rather not make them wait for our verification process to get access to important resources.
  2. There’s little harm in a student having the Key. The activities in there are designed to be a little bit ambiguous and prompt discussion, not assess learning. Honestly reading the commentary in the key could probably only help your students better understand the task.

That link should be up in the blue box in the next couple days.

To your earlier question about your student’s responses I think those look quite good. Again I’d check the Explore PT Survival guide for advice on narrowing down topics since I agree “Big Data” is quite broad and encompasses much more than just targeted advertising.

Hope that helps!


Thanks so much! It may be useful to folks to have the Survival Guide link shown in the lesson plan for the first Rapid Research Project (U4L02) because I saw as I graded my students’ projects, a few of them did not properly choose a computing innovation. Next time, I will probably go through the Survival Guide before I assign this project.


I stumbled upon the Explore PT Survival Guide late in my “project work days” (5th work day out of 6). One of my students had chosen “Email” as her computing innovation, but we noticed that it is listed as “probably a bad choice.” I know that there is still plenty of time for her to revise her choice of topic, but I encouraged her to find a related topic so that her research won’t “go to waste.”

If approached properly to focus on a computational aspect, could “Email” potentially be a good choice? Or is it really not an innovation?

Thank you for any advice you have to offer.


If the student is able to give appropriate answers for the free response questions, it could work. Since she has time, I would ask her to narrow down and focus on a specific email app rather than generic email to make it easier to respond to the questions.


Thank you so much for your response! She ended up picking a specific email app. I appreciate the advice!


Yes, I was going to say…the litmus test is about how to answer the data transformation and manipulation written prompts. This is really asking “what’s the computing part of this innovation?” One way to think about it is: what’s the (an) algorithm that email uses? If you can answer that, I think you’re in the clear. The social impact-y responses I think are clearer to see.

CSP Team


I’m hoping that I can also get clarification on a topic for myself/a student. One of my students is interested in Google’s AutoML…which seems like it meets the definition but the “what data does it use” is very dependent on what the specific neural network does. Any thoughts?


@biermanl In terms of data, this one seems to hit the mark! I think the specific neural network is not necessary for the scope of what students need to do to talk about data. Was there a certain point on the rubric that you thought would be tricky to meet?

Based on the basic research I did, it seems like I could write at a high level about how data is transformed through this innovation. I think if you can nail down how it transforms data you can talk about the data it uses based on that.