You know the old adage, “work smarter, not harder.” That’s the motto behind crowdsourcing. According to Merriam Webster, the official definition of crowdsourcing is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” In this e-news, we explore three ways you can extend the power of crowdsourcing to the 21st Century classroom, helping you keep students engaged, shorten lesson plan prep time and connect with industry professionals.Offer students real-world challenges.
Whether students are working on a complex math equation, computer algorithm or writing assignment, they are eager to know how lessons apply in the “real world.” Work real-world challenges into your lesson plans to help students see the link. Start by identifying challenges public companies face that fit your curriculum, then have students work to find a solution that could be submitted to the company. For more complex challenges, ask students to come up with their best solution and comment on each other’s ideas. Award your own prizes for winning ideas such as Music download cards, or continue the problem solving theme with a Rubik’s Cube or Tangle Junior Puzzle.Crowdsourcing websites such as InnoCentive® and challenge.gov are great online tools that can help with these real-world activities. There, companies and governmental agencies post real challenges they are looking to find a solution to. With each challenge, they include an overview and explanation of the end goal, requirements or limitations and a deadline for submission. Individuals – including your students – can submit solutions with the potential to earn rewards for their winning idea.
Here are a couple of examples:

  • Challenge.gov recently offered a “challenge” to submit nutritious school lunch recipes that youth would enjoy eating. Prizes from $1000 – $3000 were awarded for winning ideas.
  • InnoCentive is looking for novel chemical derivatives of bicarbonate. The winning solution will earn $20,000.

Collaborate with colleagues, peers and industry experts.
Harnesses the collective wisdom of credentialed professionals and experts each time you begin a new lesson plan. Doing this will not only make preparing for class easier, but will open your class to a whole new way of learning.

One website that can help is sophia.org. There, you can find free “learning packets” on a variety of topics from visual and performing arts to mathematics and education levels from middle school to post graduate. Sophia relies on credentialed professionals and experts (called “Academic Reviewers”) to ensure the accuracy of the content. The packets are multimedia, including text, images, video, audio and slide shows, you’ll have everything you need to deliver a complete lesson.
You can also use the “packet editor” to upload your own lesson plans, great for sharing with the community or working collaboratively with colleagues. With great perks and a free account, what more could you ask for?

Gain community support.
Connect with industry experts and professionals to schedule field trips and guest speakers or to gain financial support for a unique project. Do this by harnessing the power of the world’s most widely used crowdsourcing tool: the social network.

To get started, check out our e-news on social media in education or try these ideas:

  • Find a financial literacy expert to talk to your class by posting an inquiry to your Facebook™ page. Try something like this: “Looking for a financial expert to speak to my class. Anyone know a friendly local banker?”
  • Ask marketing industry professionals what students need to know about branding using Twitter™ hashtags. These tags help draw attention to your tweet, and often you’ll receive a response within minutes. Try tweeting something like this: “Starting a unit on branding. What is the freshest news in the industry? #branding”
  • Find a sponsor to cover the costs of custom T-shirts for your school or university’s volunteer day by posting a call for sponsorship on LinkedIn™. “Students from school XYZ are donating 100 volunteer hours this month in their community and need your corporate support! Message me to find out how you can get involved.”

Don’t forget to show your gratitude to supporters, too. Post a public “thank you” via social media and send a small thank you gift such as the Color-Me Activity Tote hand decorated by your students or a classic travel mug baring your school’s logo and social media outlets.

Whether you are looking to engage students and the community or just get a little help with your lesson plans, crowdsourcing can be a powerful way to get the job done.

To learn more about crowdsourcing, check out our Blue Paper® Beyond the Team: Crowdsourcing

“Crowdsourcing – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus – Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.

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