Crowdsourcing and Higher Education

Universities have important problems to solve. As of 2008, the US Census reported more than 4,000 educational institutions in the U.S. and all of those establishments face similar problems to those of large corporations. And, as more and more companies work to find new solutions using crowdsourced information, why can’t universities do so as well?

There are, of course, already campuses that have launched crowdsourcing programs on their campuses for various purposes. In 2009, Indiana University decided to supplement its costly tech-support help desk by allowing computer users to answer each other’s questions instead. Users then rated each other’s answers and those with the most helpful advice bubbled up to the top. Last fall, Cal State Fullerton looked to its community of staff and students to suggest
strategic initiatives for the institution’s future simply through the medium of email.

Ideascale has partnered with the University of Vermont’s Office of Sustainability in seeking out ideas for their Clean Energy Fund. Because students often have incredibly relevant insight into the campuses that they walk every day and a high level of investment for seeing it improve, asking for their advice on specific initiatives leads to new opportunities for interaction and improvement. The Office of Sustainability investigated more than 60 ideas submitted to create a greener campus.

And learning doesn’t stop at the boundaries of campus any more either. Information on all sorts of subjects and disciplines is now available online. According to ComScore, the average YouTube browser, views more than 180 online videos each month and many of these are how-to videos about how to lose weight, learn a language, build a shelf, and many more technical videos as well. This wealth of knowledge comes from the crowd and can be transplanted into the classroom (or beyond). Two years ago, YouTube launched YouTube EDU where a number of colleges and universities now have channels. Visitors can find more than 125,000 videos covering more than 63,000 hours of uploaded video with varying levels of academic material that other users can access, comment on, and share.

How else can education utilize the rich information available from the crowd? Could the crowd ever replace an institution as a source for skills and knowledge?

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