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Crowdsourcing Information in the English Classroom

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Jan 7, 2016 7:50:48 PM

Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are native concepts to teenagers today.  They use the waze app to crowdsource information about how late they are likely to be to first period. They create their own flavor of Lays potato chips without batting an eye. They back the next Kickstarter idea and share Go Fund Me pages for causes they believe in.

So, why not bring crowdsourcing into our classrooms to increase engagement?

How crowdsourcing would look in the classroom:

  • Simple.  Have students use devices to find information and report back to the group.  In my classroom, most students have phones so I would have them look up information on their own phones, pairing up students without phones or internet access.  I see a lot of our teacher friends have classroom devices, which would help with access.
  • Note: This process is a little messy, but great for teachable moments. In this digital world, I don't think students can hear enough guided, educated discussion about skilled, academic use of the information online.

Topics to crowdsource: 

  • background information about an author
  • interpretations of a poem
  • meanings of unfamiliar words
  • examples of grammatical concepts
  • additions to a universal theme
  • random (appropriate) questions that pop up during lessons

Why to crowdsource: 

  • Having students look up academic information with general supervision teaches students about credible sources.
  • Crowdsourcing information keeps students active in the learning process instead of always passively accepting  information from the teacher.
  • In cases of analysis and interpretation, students can get a glimpse into the lenses used by literary scholars and the variety of well-argued points on a single text.
  • Looking up vocabulary or other similar facts helps to share the burden in a way that teaches efficiency and not cheating (like letting one student look up everything and then text everyone else).
  • Finding examples of difficult grammatical constructions helps to round out student understanding with a wider breadth of examples, compared to what you would have time for as a single teacher.
  • For years, students would ask me appropriate and interesting questions for which I would not know the answer off the top of my head.  I would look it up later and report back, but often the moment was lost.  With crowdsourcing, I can quickly ask a student or group of students to find the answer without taking up too much time.  This way, we can stay in the moment and encourage inquisitive thinking during class.

A note about fear: As a fellow teacher, I know that many teachers reading this will immediately worry about how many students will be on twitter instead of searching for Shakespearean puns or checking instagram instead of reading up on the deeper meaning behind "The Nymph's Reply."  I worry about that too.  But, it is also my humble opinion that we cannot let that hold us back from harnessing the power of the internet and smart phones in our classroom.  Here's what I think we can do about it:

  • Keep it moving.  Don't give unlimited time to find information before reporting back. This can limit distraction.
  • Discuss with students the importance of focus even in the presence of temptation. This will be a lifelong battle.
  • Let it go. No matter what pedagogy we are using, some students in almost every room are distracted.  Some students are checking twitter in the bathroom.  Some are playing a phone game with the student across the room. Some are checking instagram on their apple watch.  Of course, we should continue the effort to engage students, but trying to get 100% compliance away from their devices is a losing battle that we don't have time to fight.

What do you think? Do you use crowdsourcing in your classroom? We'd love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Topics: Classroom Management, Classroom Tech, crowdsourcing, internet, phones, tech, tips

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