Digital Side Effects

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Digital Side Effects

We are solidly in the digital age.  Each of us, I would wager, has at least two personal, portable devices at our fingertips throughout the day for work and play.  We have an outgoing president who has engaged technology for everything from the highest tech teleprompters to seeking opinions and advice through social networks and emails.  The president-elect is famous for his tweets.  Federal, state and local organizations have migrated to online solutions for everything from banking, landscaping, and purchasing everything.

Educators have become strident about acceptable use policies for employees, students, community and online safety.  According to Internet Live Stats, as of July 2016, 88.5% of the US population has Internet access.  This means more and more schools are reaping the benefits of having access.  eRate advancements and ConnectEd have enhanced education’s ability to ramp up their integration of technology tools. 

Crowdsourcing (collective mobilization) and collaborative tools have dramatically improved our ability to share, connect with one another to solve problems, garner ideas, and create.  This is a ‘virtual’ crowd, of course.  Groups can form out of shared interests, opinions needs.  Tasking can be accomplished though the context of ‘community’ in meaningful ways.

The Power of the Crowd

Jeff Howe (Crowdsourcing:  Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business 2008) reminds us that in the ‘old days’ gathering crowds was all about geographic proximity.  Now, with the Internet, we can come together, virtually, based on a myriad of ideas or tasks.  In the business world, Howe defines crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”  The terms, ‘large’ and ‘open call’ are significant.  Large is important because when one crowdsources, the word goes out to the global, cyber world in the form of an open call, request for response if you will.

Large, undefined individuals and groups answer an ‘open call’.  There is wisdom in crowds – consider Wikipedia for instance.  The government is using it to get our advice about policy matters.  We can vote for or against others’ ideas.  Obama used this extensively just after his inauguration (New York Times, September 13, 2009).  With our Project Red initiative, we  considered using crowdsourcing to create knowledge about education technology that is well implemented and its effects on states’ budgets.  We did this through and with our seventeen Signature Districts.

The concern, of course, is that the large group that responds to the open call is not always made up of ‘experts’ on the subject.  Look at the 2016 election season.  We’ve never seen such an explosion of fake information across the board.  Most of us aren’t experts in many of the hot issues that flamed that season’s debates. 

Going back in time, for example, Obama’s ‘Citizen’s Briefing Book’, which consisted of policy ideas on which citizens would like him to focus, was quietly published according the New York Times (September 13, 2009).  The results were not quite what anyone expected.  While the US was waging two controversial wars and tremendously challenged by the economy, the top-ranking citizens’ idea in the ‘Briefing Book’ was legalization of marijuana.  It turns out that that was twice as popular as repealing Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy!  Legalization of online poker was two times as popular as national Wi-Fi, topping all the technology idea options!  Cringing now….but have to write it – the ‘Briefing Book’ also demonstrated citizens’ greater popularity for revoking the Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status than for increasing funding for childhood cancer.

The crowdsourcing results driving Trump’s and the republicans’ agenda are repealing the Affordable Care Act and overturning regulations Obama’s administration put in place to protect the environment and protect Main Street over Wall Street.  The last nine years of social media and crowdsourcing demonstrates the power and sophistication of online presence and effects.

Crowdsourced Learning

Crowdsourcing, engaging curriculum and instruction, would seem to have a robust effect on collaborative teaching and learning activities.  If you’ve been using these kinds of tools, you’ve witnessed the impact of whole school student thinking engines to solve problems, create and design. 

Professional learning, sharing, communities and reflection can be more potent when using collaborative crowdsourcing strategies.  The pool of ideas, curated resources and strategies can support administrators’ and teachers’ professional growth enhancing practice that leads to increased learner achievement.

Engaging and really listening to the schools’ extended community can be accomplished through this collective mobilization approach.  Gathering parents/caregivers together for input, feedback or to extend information can be utilized to support the bridge between home and school. This helps a school and district authentically realize the creation of a reciprocal community of mutual care and concern.

These are exciting times as education deeply embraces the many ways technologies can bring us together in support of learners.

I am very interested to know what you know about this topic…and /or how you’ve used crowdsourcing in your work!


Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.

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