Learning by Doing: Crowdsourcing for Mutual Benefit

Paul Vetch, King's College London, UK

Galleries, libraries, museums and archives have been quick to realise the potential of crowdsourcing in the past few years, and the resourcefulness of the GLAM sector has resulted in many imaginative and successful projects. Many institutions have benefited from the participation and contribution of the general public. But crowdsourcing as a concept continues to be predicated on the existence of a body of worthy end users who are willing to dedicate their time and mental faculties to a given cause or activity. A frequent trend now, where there is the perception that an activity might not be sufficiently compelling in its own right, is to reframe a crowdsourced activity as a ‘game’. The ludic is recruited to redress a potentially ‘unattractive’ activity, effecting what Coleridge termed a “willing suspension of disbelief” in an end user. Under the numbing guise of gamification, human effort is effectively being inveigled from a body of users who are assumed to have disposable time to spend in an aimless digital pursuit and the basic capability to act as mechanical turks, but who are adjudged unwilling to engage with the ‘real’ task should it be presented to them in raw form.

I will explore a model for implementing more intellectually rewarding crowdsourcing, using semantic web technology to build tools which could (for instance) help crowdsourcers to create detailed, accurately described metadata and transcripts, leveraging all of the structured data within a collection to suggest terms and vocabulary. Rather than trivialising these activities however, these tools would privilege the end user experience, continuously providing volunteers with opportunities to independently develop their own understanding and knowledge of the materials they are working with – enhancing their knowledge, and making them inherently better crowdsourcers by enabling them to ‘learn by doing’.

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