The value of crowdsourcing in academia

“When am I going to use this in real life?”

It’s a question that professors face on a daily basis. Jonathan Cornick, an associate professor of math and computer science at Queensborough Community College, is among those working hard to offer his students an answer.

One unconventional tactic—crowdsourcing—could offer some promising results, Cornick has found.

Writing on the CUNYMath Blog earlier this year, Cornick called on “friends, family, colleagues in other academic disciplines, and even strangers on Twitter,” to share which math concepts and skills are important to them in their work and daily life. The results, he said, have helped him better understand practical uses of mathematics, and spurred broader discussions about how to make courses more engaging for students.

Establishing academic expectations is an issue that’s often discussed among faculty and department leaders. But the rise of social media and other online platforms is opening up these conversations to a broader swath of academia, which Cornick hopes will welcome different perspectives and new insights.

Cornick listed the many responses that came in following his crowdsourcing call. There was the cook who used fractions to scale up measurements on recipes, the diner who used percentages to figure out what to tip for dinner, or the interior designers who used trigonometry to order shutters for a large bay window.

The responses illustrated to Cornick the importance of using real world contexts when teaching mathematical principles, and he said that the collaborative spirit at the heart of crowdsourcing could be used by faculty across departments and disciplines when thinking about student engagement and outcomes.

“We should partner with other disciplines by collaboratively developing learning outcomes and sharing pedagogical techniques to help them to support our students’ mathematical learning throughout their education,” he concluded.

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