Loft is an online community for social innovation projects.

Teaching civic innovation requires learners to work on real-world problems. For example, in Design for America (DFA), university students work on self-selected civic innovation projects in healthcare, environment, education and the economy, such as preventing hospital-acquired infections and reducing water waste in cafeterias. Learning environments for teaching civic innovation like DFA, its policy analysis equivalent, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, and the Peace Corps, are learning movements where groups work together to advance their shared, political, social or artistic ideals as well as to teach their members. Unfortunately, learning movements are extremely difficult to orchestrate because facilitators must coordinate many different projects, each working on a different, messy problem, involving outside community partners and professional mentors. Traditional classroom orchestration techniques that maximize limited teaching resources, such as giving student identical simplified problems; or moving at a lockstep pace so that a topic can be taught simultaneously to all students, break down in these learning environments.

Just as we create instructional labs are to teach science, we can create instructional lofts to teach innovation. Digital lofts dynamically orchestrate learning movements through 3 interrelated feedback loops: (a) a crowd-critique loop, (b) a case development loop, and (c) a learner-driven instructional loop.

In the crowd critique loop, learners complete mini-design activities and receive crowd-sourced feedback from peers and mentors. In the case-development loop, the loft semi-automatically collects good and bad examples of design work (from the crowd-critique loop) and provides these to students to illustrate the design principles they need to learn. In the learner-driven instruction loop, the loft uses crowd-critique ratings and learner self-assessments to identify the critical learning challenges the instruction must address–allowing teachers to focus on actual learning needs rather than the predict needs in the syllabus. loops


Matt Easterday, Northwestern
Liz Gerber, Northwestern
Dan Rees Lewis, Northwestern
Emily Harburg, Northwestern
Gulu Saiyed, Northwestern
Brantley Harris, Freelance
Sergio Salgado, Furnace
Andy Rench, Freelance
Rob Calvey, Design for America
Daniel Ranti, Northwestern