Crowdsourcing with Caution

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a tech director at a small school who had implemented a great Maker space.  He spoke of the wisdom of crowd sourcing and that he saw it as the way our kids will learn in the future.  He pointed to his success in installing a dishwasher after watching youtube videos – instead of calling a trained professional. I can think of many times I’ve referred to youtube to teach myself how to do something – I taught myself java this way.  However, I started to think about it, and I began to worry a bit. It’s similar to the “wikipedia” problem. Since the wikipedia arrived on the scene, I’ve been educating students that the wikipedia is a great source, but that has to be taken with caution. A good starting place for research or general information, you have to be careful to verify what you find especially if you are going to use the information in your research. You need to verify, verify, verify!  We all know that since anyone regardless of expertise can add to the pool of information online, you can’t always trust everything you find. I worry about crowd sourcing in much the same way.  Here’s a recent example.

A couple of days ago while preparing dinner I had the evening news on tv. The report that ran was that it was the 25th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s invention – “the internet.”  I started screaming at the set.  Yes, it was the 25th anniversary, but not that of the internet, indeed, the internet is a lot older. His invention was something else that has been transformative not only to our society but to the world, and the national broadcasters didn’t get it right. A browser search the next day and there was a number of hits all touting the 25th anniversary of the internet. If I followed the crowd sourced model, history would be in the process of being rewritten.  Seriously, I understand the common usage of the terms, and that folks now use them interchangeably. I’ll admit I’m guilty of it too, but hopefully never in an academic situation. I always tell my students to use the internet to look things up, or to post something online, but I always explain the subtle differences to them about the Internet and the World Wide Web and the mark-up language, HTML, that started the transformation.  I guess over time, this difference will be lost, but I worry what other crowd sourced changes we will see. For history is replete with crowd sourced mistakes that have cost lives and even, I dare say, civilizations. 

Let’s be sure to embrace the pros of crowdsourcing and proceed with caution. How about a “Crowcau” movement? Oh, and by the way I checked it before proposing it, nothing comes up in our language for crowcau 🙂


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