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January 25, 2018

Teaching at Pitt

Crowdsourcing in Learning

Have you heard of crowdsourcing? It is a method of collecting ideas, content or approaches by soliciting contributions from a diverse set of people. When you crowdsource, you can do it in real time (live in a face-to-face class) or you can collect responses with a variety of technologies (such as Twitter, Qualtrics, Wikis, etc.).

In a teaching context, wikis can be especially useful for crowdsourcing. A wiki is a collaborative web space in which authors can create or edit content together. It is an asynchronous communication and collaboration tool that is best used for group-work activities. CourseWeb has wikis, in addition to the widely used discussion boards. Usually, wikis are chronological and they work well for developing content. In other words, wikis are good crowdsourcing tools for learning. Consider the following applications of wiki in real classrooms.

Soliciting unfamiliar concepts for clarification: Students don’t always tell you when they don’t understand the concepts you are teaching in class. Rather than asking them to tell you which concepts they are having trouble with, you can set up a wiki page to solicit questions a couple of days before class. This will allow you to prepare materials and activities that will help them with any challenging content. Students often appreciate this because they can anonymously let you know what they need help understanding. A wiki can be helpful to all students because it is open to everyone, whereas individual questions in e-mail are often between just two people (you and one student). A discussion forum can also solicit unfamiliar concepts, as long as you make it anonymous.

Group projects: For group projects, each group of students can work together on their own wiki to outline, draft and edit their project. You can even track student participation by name by clicking the “Participation Summary” button on the wiki page.

Consider the following example: A psychology instructor asks groups of students to evaluate specific types of toys in helping children develop cognitive and motor skills. The instructor asks groups to evaluate toys of their choice based on the theories they have learned. Group members communicate with each other using email, phone, chat and by even meeting in person. They can write up their evaluation on their own wiki page. The instructor can also designate a manager in each group to keep their project on track and on time. Once the wikis are finished, they can be shared between groups.

Question reservoir: With this activity, you can ask students to design three questions with answers based on their readings and then post them on a class wiki. You can select the best questions and use them in a real quiz. This can motivate students to keep up with the readings and it helps them to develop a thorough understanding of what they read because if they cannot understand the passage, it is difficult to come up with questions. You can think of a question reservoir as a kind of online study group.

Resource reservoir: You can also use a wiki to organize articles, websites, videos, glossaries and other resources for students, who can then add their findings or preferences to your collection. The value of this approach is that it gives students the opportunity and platform to contribute and share resources with each other. You might even consider having other students rate the quality of what they are sharing here based on how helpful it is.

Group brainstorming: You can set up a wiki for brainstorming. Each student can post entries before coming to class. Note that wikis work best for asynchronous tasks.

Question parking lot: If you have ever worried about not having enough time to answer questions in class, consider a question “parking lot.” You can use a wiki to “park” student questions that you do not have time to answer or that are less relevant to the topic you are discussing in class. Direct students to type up their questions on that wiki page, which you can review after class. Make sure you address those questions in the next class. Otherwise, students may lose the motivation to “park” their questions there. You can also encourage other students to view the questions and provide answers. In this way, the use of a wiki contributes to fostering a community of learning in your course. This kind of wiki illustrates a nice example of peer-to-peer assistance between students.

Note-taking: Students take turns posting detailed class notes on the wiki. Other students can add to the notes or correct any mistakes. You can review the notes and make necessary corrections. In fact, you can also put your own version of notes on a separate wiki page for students to view and edit. The purpose of having students take notes collaboratively is to lessen their burden of note-taking during class so that they can digest what you are presenting or discussing at the moment, instead of directing all of their attention to note-taking. In reality, collaboratively edited notes are often very detailed and accurate.


Meiyi Song is a teaching and learning consultant for the University Center for Teaching and Learning.


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