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Crowdsourcing: Harnessing the "Power of the Crowd" in Our Educational Landscapes

Written by Mike Murawski
April 22, 2012

“Crowdsourcing poses a tantalizing question: What if the solutions to our greatest problems weren’t waiting to be conceived, but already existed somewhere, just waiting to be found, in the warp and weave of this vibrant human network?”  -Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business

How many times have you been facilitating a learning experience with a group of students (or fellow educators), and the best ideas or questions come from someone in the group?  This is a pretty regular occurrence for me, as students continuously bring new noticings, insights, and wonderings to the process of experiencing a work of art when I am teaching in the museum.  But I wonder how many times we neglect to solicit the ideas, thoughts, and questions of learners (even teachers).  Are the "solutions to our greatest problems" simply waiting to be found in the crowds of people that enter our learning environments every day?  What are some ways we might tap into the "power of the crowd" to drive forward our work as educators?

So what is crowdsourcing anyway?

There are several definitions of "crowdsourcing" out there, but the popularity of the term seems to have originated in an article written by Jeff Howe in Wired Magazine back in 2006 called "The Rise of Crowdsourcing."  The use of the term -- and the concept -- has exploded since then, with cultural and corporate phenomenons such as American Idol, Wikipedia, Flickr, Amazon, and even the New York Times using crowdsourcing strategies to create, organize, share, filter, judge, or sell their content and products.  Check out 4 great examples of the most recent social crowdsourcing projects.  At the core of most crowdsourcing is an open call to a diverse, heterogeneous group for their involvement in a task, inviting them to bring their experiences, what they already know (the 'wisdom of the crowd'), and their likes & dislikes to the process. Customers, consumers, and audiences now become potential partners or creators -- part of building something new.  With the internet and social media making it easy to gather a 'crowd' of millions online at no cost, the strategy of crowdsourcing has become largely based on technology.  Here is a succinct video from Jeff Howe that helps define crowdsourcing... (see video after link below)

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high school students crowdsourcing in the museum