Crowdsourcing is relatively new term, usually attributed to Wired magazine’s seminal 2006 article on the topic of digital workforce outsourcing. In practice however, crowdsourcing has been going on for decades: it is the gathering of information or resources from a widely dispersed group of people who, working autonomously, contribute to a larger group result. Students tend to be early adopters and proponents of systems that promote mass collaboration, and internet-based technologies are the most recent development in that trend. Here are a few examples of startups which are offering creative solutions to problems in campuses around the world.
Crowdsourcing can be a highly effective way to raise money for tuition, housing, books, and other education-related expenses. Hundreds of crowdfunding startups have been founded over the past five years, some set up specifically for raising educational funds, such as ScholarMatch and the now defunct CrowdfundEDU. Others, like the very popular GoFundMe, are less focused on students and offer a wider range of fundraising objectives to choose from.
Crowd polling is an excellent resource for students working on a large research projects and public presentations. Sites like Poll Everywhere offer real-time crowd voting through SMS texting, allowing students and their teachers to expediently gather information from diverse groups of people for market research, statistical hypothesis testing, and other tasks that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.
Crowd Creation is the most common form of crowdsourcing, according to Wisdom of Crowds author James Suroweiki. The output from crowd creation is an end product, whether intellectual capital or physical form, that has a tangible value to others. Crowd creation sites like Quirky can be valuable resources for student projects, allowing participants to share ideas and “promote creative cross-pollination”.
The sharing of collective wisdom and experience can be profoundly valuable to students. Wikipedia is a classic example of crowd intelligence, with hundreds of thousands of people contributing to what has become the internet’s most trusted resource site. UK-based Loopa provide students with a platform on which they can share textbooks and other learning resources. Other sites like Unigo allow students to rate and comment on their experiences at a particular college or university. Montreal-based E-180 uses the internet to create real-life interaction: users post and browse “requests for knowledge”, and then set face-to-face appointments with like-minded people.
There are many platforms that students can use to find employment of all kinds: some pick up small writing assignments on sites like iWriter, or hire themselves out for specific jobs on Fiverr. For many students these sites are not only a source of supplemental income, but also a great way to make one’s name and work visible to industry professionals while building a client-base.
Over the past few years crowdsourcing has spread to a wide range of industries and functions, but as these examples demonstrate, many of its most promising applications are in the fields of education and professional development.