Crowdsourcing Information in the Classroom

I was facilitating a workshop and one of the participants said Daniel Pink’s Drive was the most powerful and influential book she has read this year. I immediately ordered it on Amazon, and I’m thrilled I did!

Pink explores human motivation and makes the argument that “for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose” (218).

The economy is rapidly changing and jobs are more heuristic – demanding that employees learn, discover, understand, and solve problems on their own. This shift from algorithmic tasks, which follow a predetermined set of directions, to heuristic tasks requires students leave classrooms confident and able to think outside the box, tackle formidable challenges and be creative problem solvers. 

As I reflect the current state of education, I wonder if this generation, which is being labeled the “lost generation,” is developing the skills needed to excel in a country that no longer needs factory workers, but rather innovative thinkers. 

I wanted to experiment with an idea I had while reading Pink’s book. He talks about open sourcing, which he says is the “most powerful new business model of the twenty-first century” (20). He discusses the success of Wikipedia, which made me wonder if a similar approach could be used to engage students in a classroom to collectively compile, or “crowdsource,”  information. 

Crowdsourcing Information Instead of Lecturing

In a continual effort to circumvent the traditional lecture model, I decided to try crowdsourcing information about Shakespearean sonnets.  

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.56.34 AM

Step 1: Challenge Students to Generate Information in Collaborative Groups

I explained that we would be exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets and gave each group “Sonnet 116.” I told them all sonnets share the same structure and similar characteristics. I asked them to discuss the sonnet they were given and make a list of inferences about sonnets in general from examining, analyzing and discussing “Sonnet 116.” 

After 5 minutes of discussion, I invited students to go to the board and begin collectively compiling the information they had generated in their groups.  

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Step 2: Encourage Students to Research Using Their Devices

As the traffic to the board slowed, I invited students to take out their mobile devices to “fill in the blanks” with research. I want students to feel confident finding answers to their questions. For example, who were the sonnets written for? What themes were common in Shakespeare’s sonnets?

I want them to become proficient at finding and evaluating information from a variety of resources. In their groups, they researched, discussed and added more information to the board. 

It was incredible to watch students who had not gone to the board previously become empowered and excited to contribute when they were able to search for information on their mobile devices. 

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Step 3: Collectively Review the Crowdsourced Information

I was amazed by the sheer volume of information generated in a 15 minute window by my students. Learning is definitely a messy process and my board was a reflection of that. It was visually overwhelming, but the quality of information was excellent. 

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The energy in the room reminded me of Pink’s statement that “human beings…have an ‘inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and  exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn’ ” (8). How often are we challenging students to drive learning in the classroom? Are we presenting them with “novel” situations to pique their interest? Are they able to demonstrate mastery?

This activity was simple, yet it dramatically changed the flow of ideas in our classroom. Instead of listening to a lecture and taking notes, students had to analyze, discuss, draw conclusions, research and share their ideas. It was  an easy way to present them with a more heuristic task. 

As our economy becomes increasingly complex, it requires more innovative thinkers to tackle heuristic tasks. Cultivating students who are up to this challenge requires a dramatic shift from the traditional teaching paradigm. It also requires that educators think about how we can effectively tap into our students’ motivation, inherent desire to learn, while capitalizing on their creativity.

 

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19 Responses to Crowdsourcing Information in the Classroom

  1. Kate B. says:

    I really like this inquiry approach and have used it before with students in small groups instead of lecturing, but I like crowd sourcing together on the whiteboard and the addition of researching with mobile devices to fill in the holes–it ties it all together! I also like that this approach can be used for any topic: my 9th grade Honors students will begin reading Shaw’s Pygmalion next week and I start them with inquiry-analysis of poems written about the myth before we start the play. I’ll be adding the whiteboard & mobile devices to this activity this year!
    Great post, Catlin, you got me thinking!

    • Catlin says:

      Thanks, Kate!

      I’m glad this is an idea you can use with your students. I, too, am interested in inquiry. I want students to ask the questions and answer them as much as possible.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment!

      Catlin

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I enjoy seeing the energy and excitement generated from brainstorming and making together. In my work, I got introduced to a small book called “Gamestorming.” I have outlined some of my favorite games in this post. The activities are designed to foster creative thinking and learning in groups.

    http://inspiredtoeducate.net/inspiredtoeducate/?p=537

    While the book is designed for innovation thinking, my wife has used many of the games in her biology classroom.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  3. Having read Pink a couple of years ago I try and do this in my primary classroom. It often means I am butting heads with management because the learning can sometime be tangential to what they have deemed to be necessary.

  4. Catlin thanks for sharing! It’s such an easy, non scary way to have students driving their learning. I love the sharing on the white board – very visual. Love that you got out their mobile devices to learn more. The sharing was immediate and their questions guided where their own learning and the collective learning of the class – true inquiry! You could also keep track of this through twitter possibly, creating a hashtag for students to post with. And then watch the conversation unfold using tagboard. I’m definitely inspired by this. Great shift of teacher – learner relationship!

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  7. Jennfer says:

    Thanks for posting. I also like the idea of starting with a whiteboard, but then documenting it using padlet or blendspace which then creates an archive of this brainstorming and crowdsourcing process. Great reference to the heuristics– fascinating!

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  12. Alexis Jones says:

    This is a great idea! Thank you for sharing. I’ll be using this for sure in a few weeks when my students read Romeo and Juliet.
    Caitin, on a somewhat related note, I’m almost sure I came a resource on Romeo and Juliet for Collaborize Classroom authored by you, however I can’t seem to find it. Is this so or is it my imagination? Let me know if such a resource exits. Thanks for all the great ideas.

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  14. SAGNA Abdou says:

    Wonderful you’re very imaginative but how could we use this in crowded classclassrooms? Thanks for answering.

  15. SAGNA Abdou says:

    I am teaching English in developing country Senegal and here we meet big challenges as far as teaching english is concerned. Classes are crowded and we really lack of materials. Thks for good advice.

    • You’re welcome! If your students have devices (or can share a device per group), they can post their crowdsourced information directly to a Padlet Wall or a class blog. The links below may be helpful to you depending on which strategy you want to use. Having students post to an online location will eliminate physical movement around the room if it’s really crowded.

      Padlet: Create a Virtual Wall

      Crowdsourcing with Blogger

      Take care.

      Catlin

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