There doesn’t seem to be a universal definition of what curricular innovation is all about, even if it’s one of the hottest buzzwords in education. Curricular innovation is often associated with student-centered experiences, learner empowerment, creation over consumption (or regurgitation), and preparing kids for the unknown. Of course in some circles this raises the question, how do we measure learning within an innovative curriculum? (This assumes that we can quantify learning in the first place, which I would contend is highly doutbful.)
I would like to propose a way around this question, a way which will not only satisfy the need to assess, but also push the boundaries of curricular innovation, create a more reflective and generative mindset in students, and change the way we think about what students “make”—be it ideas, projects, services, events, or anything they do. In short, a way to ensure innovation.
There is a number that the business world uses to measure true customer loyalty, it’s called a Net Promoter Score*. Business leaders have figured out that it’s not just loyalty to a brand that grows a business. After all, customers can be loyal out of inertia. When a customer is truly loyal, they will tell their friends and family about a brand and encourage others to purchase its products or services. You may have come across the question somewhere “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or a colleague?” Your score puts you in either the promoter (9-10), passive (7-8), or detractor category (0-6). All the scores are then put together and out comes a solution’s Net Promoter Score.
All you need to do is imagine what would happen if you asked a typical Apple customer what kind of laptop you should buy.
Truly loyal customers will recommend your product or service, which is a real testament to the value of what you’re selling because the truly loyal customer is willing to put her good name on the line to make an endorsement.
Let’s put this to the side for a moment.
Putting myself out there: impact is the only thing that matters in our lives. Impact is the dynamic, never ending process that takes place when we interact with the world, others, and ourselves. The level and quality of impact we have is the result of our actions, which are the consequences of our thinking. Without going too far down this philosophical path (I’d get lost anyway), impact is why we do anything and everything we do. I write to influence, that has (I hope!) impact. You help animals in distress, that has impact. We design a playground together for the community, that has impact. We burn fossil fuels, that has impact. Impact is also the way we demonstrate our creativity, communication skills, ability to apply math, purple prose, and so on. Learning is when we can transfer our skills onto new endeavors or reiterations of endeavors to have (more) significant impact.
Kindness always has impact.
What if, instead of chasing our tails trying to measure learning, we focused on the only thing that matters, impact? What if we used Net Promoter Score to measure the value and (indirectly) impact of students’ projects, products, and solutions on users? This would create the terrain for truly authentic products because these would no longer be assessed in isolation; they would be constructed specifically to have impact. Like the age-old question If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?, too many projects (and I’m thinking of poorly-implemented Genius Hour here) exist only in themselves and fade away at the end of the semester, which takes away any purpose to the project in the first place**. If we started to measure impact in terms of NPS and asked whether the user would recommend a solution (product or service), we would externalize the outcome and target an authentic audience that must decide whether it would stake its name by recommending this particular solution. This takes us beyond “oh this is nice and this is what I like about it…” to “I would recommend this solution because…” This takes our thinking deeper. This is how the world works outside the classroom. This is how we need to re-imagine why we do things in schools. This prepares students for the uncertainties of the world through constant reflection on thinking, actions, learning, and planning for improvements—in essence, for innovation. This ends summative assessment as we know it and makes everything formative, and since learning should be generative, this allows us to appreciate the intangible complexities of the learning process.
Only in education is performance directly measured through exams. In every other job, hobby, or action, performance is measured through levels of impact.
Let’s imagine what this would look like. A group of students decide that they want to solve a local problem, recycling old batteries. They find what they believe to be a solution to the problem and implement it. The reality is that there is little point to this project (in itself) unless there is—hopefully long-lasting—impact on the environment. We could measure impact by counting the number of batteries recycled, comparing it to a baseline, and this would be fairly effective and straightforward. Yet the real measure of innovation is derived by the NPS. Would people recommend this particular solution to recycling batteries? No matter the NPS, there would always be a way to raise the score by improving something along the user’s experience of recycling batteries, and this improvement in the experience could increase the quantity of recycled batteries by generating more enthusiasm for, and longevity of, this particular solution. Thus more impact. This is where reflection and reiteration take place. This is innovation.
Another quick example: book recommendations. I could be the most stylistically beautiful writer in the the world, but if I have nothing to say, who would recommend my book? Yet we are constantly assessing student learning on false constructs like the proper use of transition phrases, punctuation, or whether there is a thesis statement†. These are means not ends! The end is the reader’s experience and the impact writing has on others.
This is where the learning becomes transferrable and generative because the students, guided by the NPS of their solution, will change the way they think, always seeking to improve, never finished until the product cycle is over. This is growth mindset.
Let’s use NPS to understand how to deepen the only thing that matters, impact! This is how we will foster innovation in curriculum and learning, and take action to make a difference in the world, not just for the sake of this unit’s summative task.
One final example, would you recommend this article? Isn’t that the only measure that really matters?
*This idea was inspired by my good friend Erik S, who is the head of a fund of funds.
** Of course, we can act for ourselves and no one has to find out about it, but we can also measure impact on ourselves, which is really what reflection is all about.
† Thesis statements are a pet peeve of mine because we should pose thesis questions, not write thesis statements. Thesis questions are where inquiry, investigation, and discovery begin! If I already know your position by the end of the introduction, why should I read the rest of your article? Take me, as a reader, on the same journey of curiosity you went on!