Why Crowdsourcing is Critical to the Future of Education

Educational institutions have the reputation of being slow-moving behemoths, but this label is undeserved. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the educational sector worldwide is more innovative than it gets credit for.

United States institutions, in particular, are beginning to focus more seriously on innovation. One of the key innovations that can benefit educational institutions, and society in general, is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing allows institutions to draw on the knowledge of their students, staff, and community to find solutions that benefit everyone.

Why crowdsourcing is critical to the future of online education

Online education is exploding in popularity as more Americans look for flexibility in their educational experience. More and more, students need to be able to obtain a quality education without being on a physical campus of a university. This is especially important to those students who are also working full-time, raising a family, or are geographically isolated.

Despite its popularity, the number of online education solutions is limited. As a paper by Weld, et. al., discusses, crowdsourcing is critical to the success of this area of education. As Weld and his team point out, not only is crowdsourcing required to solve the problems of delivering large scale virtual education, but online education is also a mostly unexplored way to create the crowds that can contribute to the solutions. Of course, there’s no one who understands the challenges of receiving an online education like the students themselves, and their ability to contribute solutions to those problems can revolutionize this area of education.

The use of games to educate and correct data

One of the most amazing aspects of current educational technology involves the ability to both teach and crowdsource information at the same time. The Spectral Game was created using open source spectral data, and asks students to match the spectrum data with the appropriate chemical structure. Not only does this allow students to learn the material and receive real-time correction, but it also provides a crowd-sourced check to the open source data.

As Bradley and Lancashire note in their paper, the game not only educates students but allows players to flag a spectrum they believe is incorrectly matched with the structure. In 55,000 plays of the game, the student answers and comments have resulted in the deletion or re-association of certain spectra from the database. The curators can have the data examined regularly in a crowdsourced way, and be alerted to potential issues in their data. Both the students and the scientific community win with crowdsourcing.

Using crowdsourcing to integrate a university and a community

One final way that crowdsourcing is critical to the future of education is in integrating the educational institution with the community in which it exists. Even small campuses don’t exist in a vacuum, and many larger campuses are interwoven with their city. This can lead to tension between students and city residents, or it can be an opportunity for everyone to contribute to a beneficial coexistence.

When a community has a way to help a school decide on what speakers to select, and the students have a way to help make suggestions, everyone benefits. Crowdsourcing can be initiated by the educational institution; everything from asking the community about changes in transportation that affect everyone, to bringing in speakers that benefit the community and the school. When the institution reaches out in this way, it’s much more likely that the community will be open to taking advice and suggestions from students as well. This integration is a way for the community and school to exist as a whole, rather than the school feeling isolated or at odds with the community around it.

Crowdsourcing is critical to the future of education on many levels. In online education, crowdsourcing is vital to solving the problems of distance education, and the online platform generates the crowd that can offer solutions. In science, crowdsourcing can be used to verify complex data. And in a community, crowdsourcing can be used to bring the community and the school into a peaceful coexistence.

To learn more about crowdsourcing and its possible applications in the field of education, download this complimentary white paper.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

Photo: Group of Students from Shutterstock.com

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