Crowdsourcing, Annotating, Creating (Oh My)

I learn-play on the web.  We all know this to be true.  Sometimes I try to make sense of my activities in digital space in terms of what I’ve read, seen, and heard.  Then, because sometimes I feel like I’ve been put on this earth to generate original handouts and pamphlets on a variety of topics, I try to turn my personal meaning making into what looks like handouts and pamphlets.  You know…this is where you say “to each their own.”

This week I tried to make handouts on crowdsourcing, annotation, and creating.  It was both rewarding and a struggle.  Luckily I started with crowdsourcing – lucky, because it was the most rewarding.  First, I discovered that the concept of crowdsourcing was much more complex than I thought it was.  I discovered Lori Byrd Phillips’ description of Open Authority – a spectrum of crowdsourcing, community sourcing, and participatory interpretation that  I’d been lumping all together as crowdsourcing.  I also discovered one should never say Wikipedia is an example of successful crowdsourcing in front of a Wikipedian (you better say community sourcing…read below for more details).  Suffice to say, there was enough information on crowdsourcing out there to make a one page handout easy to write.

Then “annotating.”  Digital annotating is hot right now, but maybe it’s so new that I couldn’t find as much published on it as I did on crowdsourcing…Correction – I found blog posts, but much of it was pointed towards specific digital annotation platforms and written by  or the MIT Annotation Studio staff….Furthermore, I couldn’t find a lot of peer reviewed literature around the act of annotation.  Maybe I wasn’t using the right search terms.  Regardless, it was more challenging than crowdsourcing.

Finally, “creating.”  That one almost did me in.  The idea was to write a one page takeaway on the idea of digital makes/daily creates/creative makes/digital creates (yes, I searched all these terms).  I know DS106.  I went there.  I know Collaborative Curiosity.   I went there. I went to but couldn’t find what I was looking for in a fast enough fashion (if anyone has any pull there, please suggest a category filter for different common connected learning activities like “creative makes” so you do not have to read every case study in its entirity – thanks).  However, I could not find much on the web describing the practice BEYOND the spaces in which it is practiced.

I’m starting to doubt my powers of web searching.  Either that, or there are many things to be described, researched, and written up (This is a note to self and others).

Anyhow, here’s what I developed for my takeaways.  Please feel free to comment, critique, offer suggestions for examples or resources.  Thanks. Next up, gaming and photo safaris.  I’ve done enough pre-research to know that photo safaris are going to be difficult.  I am not looking forward to it, to be honest, but I’ll get it done.



A combination of the terms “crowd” and “outsourcing,” crowdsourcing originated in the business fields as the practice of obtaining solutions, ideas, or content by soliciting a loosely-defined, large group of people rather than small groups of known or “expert” sources. In digital participatory cultures, activities identified as “crowdsourcing” often vary in nature along a spectrum of contributory, collaborative, and co-creative activities that are better defined in terms of “open authority.”  


Lori Byrd Phillips’ work on open authority takes into account the different ways in which learners can engage in collective participation. Crowdsourcing is the most passive form of engagement and includes activities such as voting or transcribing.  Community sourcing is more collaborative and involves more commitment from participants.  Community sourcing activities might include community blogging, ongoing dialogue, or resource sharing. For example, Wikipedia is more accurately identified as a “community sourced” than “crowdsourced” project.  However, the richest forms of open authority may be considered participatory interpretation, or projects in which experts and community members collaborate through every stage from conceptualization to implementation to conclusion.  


There are many ways to incorporate crowdsourcing, community sourcing, and participatory interpretation into your classroom.  Here are some examples that other instructors have found useful.

  • Crowdsourced Notetaking. Consider inviting students to take notes together within Google Docs or similar collaborative writing platforms.  Research suggests the final notes will be more complete and accurate than those students take on their own. Furthermore, if collective notes are open for the instructor to review, they provide insights into student understanding that can guide the instructor’s next move.
  • Community Sourcing Resources. Consider inviting students to search for, curate, and contribute web-based documents or materials to a community collection or database. Diigo or other social bookmarking platforms provide convenient spaces to store, organize, and critique contributions.  Alternatively, students can contribute resources (in the form of annotated bibliography entries, for example) through an online form (e.g. Google Forms) that populates a spreadsheet that is shared with the class.
  • Participatory Syllabus.  Consider inviting students to help you design the course syllabus by placing it in a wiki for which all students have authorship.  Some structure is helpful (sharing a blank slate typically results in blank stares), but a “choose your own adventure” approach, with the opportunities for students and instructors to revisit and rewrite along the way, can lead to a more collaborative approach to deciding what is important to learn.


Lori Byrd Philips: The Temple and the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums
Lori Byrd Philips: Why you’ll never hear me call Wikipedia “crowdsourcing”
Holly Clark: How to use crowdsourcing in the classroom.
Catlyn Tucker: Crowdsourcing in the Classroom
Jon Becker: Hacking the Syllabus


Annotation is metadata, typically a comment or symbol juxtaposed with but identifiably separate from the primary material, which can consist of text, image, video, or audio recording. As in analogue contexts, digital annotations allow readers to engage or connect with content, as well as with other people who have annotated the same piece. However, digital annotation platforms allow many individuals to annotate the same document synchronously and asynchronously, improving capacity for social interaction and learning.


When students annotate, they are making active connections between the content and themselves.  When students read others’ annotations, it offers them the insight of accessing a different perspective, understanding others as audience, and opportunities to work towards a collaborative interpretation of the material. There are many digital annotations platforms available for educational use, each with a different feature profile. is one example of a free, open source option that supports multimodal, public and private group annotation of web documents, but here is a recent list (2016) of digital platforms for group annotation, put together by New York University Office of Educational Technology.


There are many ways to incorporate digital annotation into your classroom, in part because there are so many reasons to annotate documents. The following are adapted highlights from Jeremy Dean’s blog post, Back to school with annotation: Ten ways to annotate with students. Digital annotation affords the opportunities for students to:

  • Develop an “inline Wikipedia.” Some texts are filled with challenging vocabulary and references; shared annotation space offers an opportunity for students to crowdsource the research necessary to understand the material. The presence of a peer audience-in-need increases the authenticity of the task and makes finding accurate information more meaningful.
  • Ask questions.  Having students highlight passages or drop question marks in the margins can be enough to guide instructors towards understanding what they need to discuss in more detail.  Students can also be invited to attempt to answer each other’s questions.  
  • Engage in meta analysis. Students can annotate as part of an analysis of structure of the piece, e.g. the author’s use of language, argument, images, hypertext, or similar.  As such, it can be the first step in guiding students through reflection and assessment of their own writing.
  • Create multimedia projects. Some digital annotation platforms allow for the incorporation of images, animated gifs or video into other types of annotations to add another layer argument or expression  to the annotated text beneath it.


Matthew Brown: I’ll have mine annotated, please: Helping students make connections with texts.  
MIT Annotation Studio: Case Studies
Annotations at Harvard:  Annotations in Pedagogy


The definition of “creating” in the context of digitally participatory cultures is straightforward. Like everywhere else, to create on the web means to bring something into existence.  According to Henry Jenkins and colleagues in their landmark Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, one of the most striking characteristics of the read-write web is its low barriers to artistic expression and support for creating and sharing creations with others. However, creation in this information-saturated world becomes more about remixing and repurposing than spawning completely original and isolated thoughts.  As Steve Jobs observed, creativity is the act of making connections across contexts, concepts, space, or times in ways that are unexpected but impactful.


Connected learning is one of several emerging digital pedagogies that forefronts personalized, holistic approaches to education for the purpose of driving educational inclusiveness, student engagement, and deeper, more meaningful learning. One of the six fundamental design principles of connected learning is “production-centered,” reminding educators to design learning experiences that allow students to learn through the act of making something concrete and meaningful.  The affordances of the digital world makes creating and disseminating professional or near-professional quality products easier for learners of all skill levels. Connected learning experiences tend to incorporate digital makes (e.g. creative makes, daily creates, or daily makes) into curricula to help students sharpen digital literacies, foster creativity, and form connections across contexts, concepts, space, and time.


Digital makes are short (designed to last 15-20 minutes), frequent assignments (daily or weekly) that help get students outside the traditional academic box to have fun with multimodal expression while also enhancing technical skills and engaging with course concepts.  Often digital makes are aggregated and posted on the web for others to consider, be inspired by, and comment on. Here are two riffs on the digital make.

  • The Daily Create. DS106, a digital storytelling course at the University of Mary Washington, offers the daily create as “a space for regular practice of spontaneous creativity.” These daily tasks ask students to answer an imagination stirring question through the use of a digital tool (Example: Post or design a soundtrack for a woodland nymph dancing through the woods). Anyone can suggest an idea for a daily create through a form on the website.  Other examples can be found here.
  • The Creative Make.  Graduate students enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research are asked to find or create images and videos to help them reflect on some of the more abstract concepts of the course (e.g. What does community look like to you?). The students embed the image or video into a blog post and briefly explain their choice. These assignments are aggregated and posted on the course website to inspire and inform group discussion through the week.

Additional Resources

Ito, et al. (2012).  Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design


One Comment Add yours

  1. Mike Forder says:

    Thank you for providing some clarity on the verbiage that is often loosely thrown around. Your suggestion on crowd sourced note taking is something that I have built as a large class strategy. Going off the basic concept that you have outlined there are two modifications that can be made. First, the notes can serve as both a crowdsourced document and a backchannel. Notes can be written in one color while questions can be written in another. Alternatively, comments can be used if available such as in Google Docs. In a room with multiple projection screens this can occupy one screen to provide a real-time synthesis of both the posted presentation and the instructor’s lecture. A second modification is to use the notes as a summation of learning. The instructor can present the notes on the screen, read through them, and orally raise questions while filling in the gaps as needed. This could also be done as a flipped activity where the crowd sourced notes are done before class and the session begins with a note review/Q&A.

    Liked by 1 person

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