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25 Great Ways Colleges Are Using Crowdsourcing

Despite what some academics may wish for themselves, the whole of knowledge cannot be possessed by one person alone, or even a small group. It's within the minds of the world that knowledge exists, and until now, we haven't really found a great way to harness this knowledge and put it to good use. With crowdsourcing projects, colleges and universities can use collective brainpower and energy to complete what they can't do on their own, going beyond their budgets and time constraints. From transcribing ancient documents to documenting campus crime, these college crowdsourcing projects are downright awe-inspiring.

  1. Tiramisu

    Anyone who has ever ridden a bus knows the agony of waiting and waiting for it to get there. Sure, there are posted schedules, but buses often don't run like clockwork, leaving passengers to wait and wonder when they're going to get picked up. Carnegie Mellon University has created an iPhone application that solves this problem, telling transit riders where their bus is, as well as how full it is. Where does the information come from? The people on that very bus. And the great part is that the existing riders don't have to do anything at all — their signals from the app will indicate location, and the number of signals indicates fullness. This project is a great feat of hands-off crowdsourcing for the common good.

  2. Volunteer Smithsonian weather observers

    Crowdsourcing may seem to be a new phenomenon, but the innovators at the Smithsonian have been doing it since 1847. The Smithsonian's first Secretary, Joseph Henry, started the Meteorological Project, which enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteer weather observers. These observers were in Canada, Latin America, Mexico, and even the Caribbean, submitting reports to be analyzed and published in a two-volume report and large weather map. This project went on to become the National Weather Service.

  3. Predicting world events

    Can the crowd tell the future? Wake Forest University is part of a project that is working to find out. Through crowdsourcing predictions, the Aggregative Contingent Estimation System is working to predict the future of world events. With everyday citizens signing on, the group can forecast the price of gas and even Iran's nuclear capabilities, combining "individual judgments from a lot of people who all know a little to provide a tremendous amount of information."

  4. The Great Sunflower Project

    San Francisco State University associate professor of biology Gretchen LeBuh created the Great Sunflower Project with leftover grant money in 2008. Hoping to grow this honeybee study project started in Napa Valley, she reached out, emailing gardening groups across the country and offering to send sunflower seeds to volunteers who would catalog how often honeybees came to visit the plants. An army of volunteers she hoped would reach 5,000 has now grown to 80,000, creating a honeybee census that takes her project way beyond just a local survey.

  5. Crowdsourcing heritage

    Shawn Graham of Carleton University is using crowdsourcing tools, including text messages, voicemail, and the Internet to capture the local history of the Pontiac region of West Quebec through the people of the Pontiac. Through HeritageCrowd, the project is creating a database to create online historical exhibits, using information from the people who actually live in the area. They've found that people love to "play a role in how people define their own local history," contributing to academic work as a community.

  6. College marketing

    How would you like to hear about colleges from students just like you? On Unigo, you can. Students fill out profiles with majors, hometowns, race, sex, politics, even old high schools, and then share their opinion on particular college campuses. You can even even see how many people from your high school are interested in a college, and contact review authors with questions to find out more if you'd like. The wisdom of crowds is way better a tour guide with an approved spiel.

  7. What's this fish?

    PhD candidate Devin Bloom at the University of Scarborough is using the power of Facebook to find the identity of thousands of fish. He traveled with a team to Guyana's Cuyuni River to complete the first ichthyological survey, with a goal of identifying fish species and abundance in the river. They collected more than 5,000 fish, but with a limited amount of time to complete the project before leaving the specimens behind, it was clear they would have a lot of trouble identifying them all in time. The group began uploading photos of the fish to Facebook, hoping that their friends could help-and they did. Through their network, nearly all 5,000 were identified in less than 24 hours.

  8. Ancient Lives

    Want to help unearth ancient lost texts? Despite what the movies may tell you, you don't have to travel to Egypt and outsmart any mummies. You can just go online and contribute to the Ancient Lives project. An effort of Oxford University, the project has called on the public to help transcribe ancient fragments found on papyrus scrolls, bringing the ancient documents to life in the 21st century.

  9. Takeashine

    Underprivileged, but well-performing students often have high hopes of going to college, but have trouble actually affording the cost of a higher education. Along with StartSomeGood, Takeashine helps these students get donations for college through crowdfunding. But beyond financial contributions, Takeashine also allows students to get a clear financial picture of what college will cost, with a model for Individual Estimated Family Contribution that shows the difference between estimated and actual college costs.

  10. Articles for journalists

    What would you tell journalists to read, if only you could? The Australian University La Trobe has asked people to do just that, collecting 100+ articles that crowdsourcing resources have deemed to be important for any journalist to read. Video clips, articles, and more make up the collection that has sparked discussion, as well as highlighted several important pieces in journalism history.

  11. Metadata Games

    Good metadata can tell researchers and search engines what they're looking at in a photograph before they are even looking at. But so many photographs go untagged, due to the overflow of archival material that exists in so many educational collections and a lack of staff to tag them. Designers at Dartmouth College have started an experiment that makes crowdsourcing photo tags fun, creating a game that makes the process an interesting and sometimes collaborative challenge. With this game interface, players will think up descriptive tags, and in a two player game, try to match what their partner has written, creating useful and searchable metadata.

  12. This is Your Brain on the Internet

    What happens when a group takes over the tasks typically done by an individual? Duke professor Cathy Davidson's class, "This is Your Brain on the Internet," set out to answer that very question. Using collaborative learning and peer review, class sessions were led by two different students each time, giving them the responsibility of choosing assignments and evaluating work. Students made decisions on final projects as a group, and even set up a wiki and WordPress site to work on collaboratively. Professor Davidson's hope was that student effort would soar, noting, "every study of peer review among students shows that students perform at a higher level, and with more care, when they know they are being evaluated by their peers than when they know only the teacher and the TA will be grading."

  1. Where is that billboard?

    Although seemingly a necessary evil of modern life, billboards plague city travelways as eyesores and distractions. Regulations exist to keep billboard locations under control, but in LA, keeping up with them all has proven to be difficult. Elisabeth Sedano, a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Southern California has developed The Billboard Map to help keep a complete database of all existing billboards in the LA area. Using the power of the public, this project is able to collect information on billboards so that the city can better regulate their use.

  2. Tech support

    The ubiquity of computer-savvy students on campus, paired with a need for colleges to save money have come together at Indiana University at Bloomington, allowing computer users to answer each other's questions. With more than 150,000 24 hour tech support help desk inquiries at an average cost of $9.39-$11.41 each, the University devoted a lot of cash to IT help, and even then, some users were left waiting during peak times. Instead, they've opened a website where both students and professors can share their IT problems and share solutions together, creating a Wikipedia-like support center for common problems suffered by college technology users.

  3. KML datasets

    With an already incredible amount of datasets available through the Environmental Monitoring and Modelling Research Group, Dr. Mark Mulligan of King's College London has taken the collection further, opening the collection up to crowdsourcing projects as well. These projects are a series of GEOWIKI databases. Using Google Earth tools, volunteers can add data to the databases, adding information such as the locations of dams visible in Google Earth imagery, projects that would be an immense undertaking for just one person or a small group, but are reachable with the help of many.

  4. Transcribing Jeremy Bentham

    University College London started out with about 40,000 untranscribed pages of work from influential philosopher Jeremy Benthan. Although it's not hard to understand the value of transcribing these pages, it is difficult to provide the manpower to actually do so. But with the Transcribe Bentham project and website, anyone online can pitch in to help. Starting out with 4,500 photographed pages of handwritten prose, scholars, philosophers, and people interested in helping can help digitally preserve part of the history of philosophy.

  5. Global Voices

    Crowdsourcing can make a difference not just in the university community, but in the communities they serve. Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology uses crowdsourcing to get global contributions of knowledge for delivering safe, effective medical care to women and children. With the power of thousands of maternal medical professionals, Global Voices plans to use innovative methods to overcome barriers to maternal health.

  6. Crime on campus

    Not everyone would like to admit it, but college crime does exist on college campuses, even if you don't hear about every single incident. But with UCrime, finding incident reports on a college campus is as easy as looking at a map. Using crime data, as well as crowdsourced reports, reviews, and responses, users can find information on just about any campus crime-which is useful for both current and future students.

  7. Tracking slave origins

    With the help of crowdsourcing, Emory University is now able to build a database of slave origins. Starting with names, port of departure, and gender, nearly 10,000 liberated Africans exist in the database. With the help of scholars and those well-versed in African languages, Emory hopes to fill in the missing pieces.

  8. CrowdForge

    Through the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were able to conduct CrowdForge, a writing experiment in which authors came together to each write a small part of an informational article. The experiment was done to break down complex tasks into smaller and more simple independent tasks that can be done by several people. With some authors creating an outline, others gathering facts, and others actually writing the article, a cohesive Encyclopedia article was written by people who had never met.

  9. Civil War Diaries transcription

    At the University of Iowa Libraries, there's a great digital collection of Civil War Diaries, but they're all handwritten, of course (no one had blogs in the 19th century!) With the help of crowdsourced volunteers, the library has been able to digitally transcribe more than 6,000 diaries from the era, bringing history alive (and searchable) for everyone to see online.

  10. Play2Improve

    College students make up a huge demographic of the computer games market, and clearly, they make a great choice for brainstorming marketing ideas. Play2Improve thinks so, at least, and they're using 200 students at Abertay University to create marketing ideas for the business. Students at the university can use the project to gain real world experience, while Play2Improve receives insight from a valuable market segment.

  11. Scitable

    Scitable brings social networking and crowdsourcing to research papers. On the site, students, researchers, and educators alike can come together to share resources and journals. Writers using the crowd can discuss problems, share solutions, and find information with the wisdom of the crowd.

  12. Preservation of US War Papers

    At the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, pieces of US history are being transcribed and digitized. 45,000 documents exist from the records of what's now known as the Department of Defense, and they're being transcribed by volunteers. Without them, the project may not have been financially feasible, leaving the papers of the War Department in the dark.

  13. The SOS Classroom

    Students from USC came together to save summer school for LAUSD, after the district first scaled back, and then eventually completely eliminated the program. Recognizing that many students need the additional instruction to perform at grade level, USC students came together to collect, organize, and share free online educational resources that could be used for instruction. Through the crowdsourcing of resource tagging, these students created an organized and easy to access collection of educational resources for students, teachers, and families to use.

August 1st, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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