As a society, we have developed quite the appetite for information that is received by way of “crowdsourcing,” which can be loosely defined by sites like Google as the practice of obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the internet.

The rise of this strategy should not come as a surprise as it allows individuals to receive near instant feedback from a variety of sources on just about any topic. For some things, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

For example, last week I used a local community Facebook group to help me find a plumber to fix a leaky pipe in my home. I used another group to help me figure out if my dog’s recent loss of appetite was something I should be worried about or not.

This strategy is not new to me in my professional life either. I regularly crowdsource answers to questions I face as a New Hampshire high school principal from my email list of fellow high school principals in the state. I get great ideas from tweets that I put out asking for various answers to educational questions that I pose.

For all the benefits of the strategy, there is one significant drawback that has become an increasing problem for those who use it: How do you filter out the good information from the junk? If we are to continue using this strategy in our field, we must, as a profession, figure out how to raise the bar for educators on crowdsourcing resources.

This recent EdSurge article explored this topic in more detail for the popular crowdsourcing website Teachers Pay Teachers. According to the article, “the company estimates more than two-thirds of U.S. educators have used the site, and downloads have surpassed one billion worldwide.”

The article goes on to state, “To operate at such massive scale, Teachers Pay Teachers acts like a typical online marketplace—think eBay or Etsy—where third-party sellers set their own prices and market their own materials, with the company taking a cut of each sale. A lucky few have made millions.” The problem that the company and other similar operations have found is that there is a lack of quality control checking done by them or other outside sources.

The result is that for many who use the site, the burden is placed on the teacher, which can mean some unintended consequences for schools and for students when the teacher isn’t able to accurately determine the quality of what they purchased before putting it into practice.

According to the article, one tip that could help teachers (and others) make judgment calls when crowdsourcing for their classroom is to think critically. Jennifer Gallagher, an assistant professor at East Carolina University, suggests, “I think a lot of teachers are evaluating resources by how easy it is to use, how cute and how fun it is. There isn’t necessarily a level, at least what we’re seeing, of criticality about: How meaningful is this and how much does it help me meet my pedagogical goal?”

The burden of proof is ultimately on the teacher who plans to use the material in their classroom. As a school leader, encourage your teachers to make these decisions in groups, teams, or professional learning communities. This will ultimately reduce the likelihood that poor material is used in the classroom with students.

Other suggestions for crowdsourcing websites would be to find ways to incorporate artificial intelligence into their content screening. I unpacked the power of this tool for educators in this 2019 MultiBriefs Exclusive. Teachers Pay Teachers has started to use this strategy to identify and remove racist lessons.

The EdSurge article noted, “The site now uses AI to identify lessons that include certain keywords, especially ones relating to social studies and historical events, and subjects them to manual review.” Yet another strategy could be to increase the power and use of peer reviews for content that is posted to the website. Perhaps lessons could pass from a pilot or review phase into a “tried and true” category based on feedback and positive reviews from a variety of users in different settings.

It is not likely that we will see crowdsourcing as a research strategy dwindle. With the rise of access to information and the opportunity that it presents itself for companies and individuals to profit from the experience, it is going to be here to stay for quite some time. As a profession, we can either embrace it and raise the quality of the content it produces, or we can let it continue to be the wild west of our schools. The choice is ours to make.