Innovation in Education Through Crowdsourcing

By Meghna Tare

Keith Sawyer, author of the book “Group Genius” wrote: “All inventions emerge from a long sequence of small sparks. Collaboration brings small sparks together to generate breakthrough innovation.”

Crowdsourcing, a term first coined in 2006, basically means groups of people coming together to solve a common problem. By enabling people with similar interests to collaborate, crowdsourcing initiatives offer an opportunity to help others, learn something and gain recognition.

With crowdsourcing, ideas are generated from multiple contributors, including experts. With these practices, community-based projects become exercises in collective problem-solving. The principle of crowdsourcing is that more heads are better than one. By canvassing a large crowd of people for ideas, skills or participation, the quality of content and idea generation is superior.

Working together is vital in any successful endeavor, and sharing ideas is especially important in education. UNESCO tapped into online crowdsourcing to help achieve Education for All. The project on crowdsourcing girls’ education in Ethiopia and Tanzania launched in July 2011 took a community-based approach to lowering drop-out rates in secondary schools in those countries.

Funded by the Packard Foundation, within the framework of UNESCO’s global partnership for girls’ and women’s education, it encouraged girls and their communities to propose solutions to obstacles preventing girls from completing secondary education. The process introduced a fresh approach to designing education policies

One of the groups that benefits tremendously from crowdsourcing in education is the faculty. Teachers and professors can share lesson plans with each other and find new and innovative ways to share material with students. They can brainstorm together to create a database of resources and best practices that benefit their institution – and then share that information with other schools as well. They can give feedback and offer assistance in further developing curriculum. Finally, faculty can use peer evaluations to help with grading practices and to receive feedback on their teaching styles

Crowdsourcing is also an important method to improve the way education is conducted by teachers and received by students. With crowdsourcing projects, colleges and universities can use collective brainpower and energy to complete what they can’t do on their own, going beyond their budgets and time constraints.

From transcribing ancient documents and increasing class participation to collecting data for research and documenting campus crime, these college crowdsourcing projects are downright awe-inspiring.

  • Columbia University used crowdsourcing of ideas to dramatically enhance the student experience. By allowing students to suggest ideas in the “What to Fix Colombia” community, the school received feedback and implemented changes that made a significant difference in how students operate at school. Some of the low-hanging fruit ideas included small things like revised gate hours and a new mailbox notification system.
  • Through the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were able to conduct CrowdForge, a writing experiment in which authors came together to each write a small part of an informational article. The experiment was done to break down complex tasks into smaller and simple independent tasks. With some authors creating an outline, others gathering facts and others doing the writing, a group of people who had never met created a cohesive Encyclopedia article.
  • San Francisco State University associate professor of biology Gretchen LeBuh created the Great Sunflower Project with leftover grant money in 2008. Hoping to grow this honeybee study project started in Napa Valley, she emailed gardening groups across the country and offered to send sunflower seeds to volunteers who would catalog how often honeybees came to visit the plants. An army of volunteers she hoped would reach 5,000 has now grown to 80,000, creating a honeybee census that takes her project way beyond just a local survey.
  • Carleton University is using crowdsourcing tools, including text messages, voicemail, and the Internet to capture the local history of the Pontiac region of West Quebec through the people of the Pontiac. Through HeritageCrowd, the project is creating a database to create online historical exhibits, using information from the people who actually live in the area. They’ve found that people love to “play a role in how people define their own local history,” contributing to academic work as a community.
  • Students from the University of Southern California came together to save summer school for LAUSD, after the district first scaled back. USC students came together to collect, organize and share free online educational resources that could be used for instruction. Through the crowdsourcing of resource tagging, these students created an organized and easy to access collection of educational resources for students, teachers, and families to use.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” Sharing ideas through crowdsourcing gives everyone a chance to gain from the process – faculty, students, and the schools themselves.

Image credit: Pexels

Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington where she has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, GRI reporting, and carbon management. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, has done various radio shows on sustainability, is an active blogger, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management. You can connect with her on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/meghnatare/ or follow her on twitter @meghnatare

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