Online crowds can be an important tool for teaching the ins and outs of innovation, educators at Carnegie Mellon University and Northwestern University say, even when the quality of the feedback provided by online sources doesn’t always match the quantity.
In a pilot study that invited the crowd into their classrooms, Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern instructors found that input from social media and other crowdsourcing sites helped the students identify human needs for products or services, generate large quantities of ideas, and ease some aspects of testing those ideas.
Finding ways to incorporate online crowds into coursework is critical for teaching the process of innovation, said Steven Dow, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. He and his co-investigator, Elizabeth Gerber, the Breed Junior Professor of Design at Northwestern University, will present their findings April 29 at CHI 2013, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Paris.
“Educating students about innovation practices can be difficult in the classroom, where students typically lack authentic interaction with the real world,” Dow explained. “Social networks and other online crowds can provide input that students can’t get otherwise. Even in project courses, feedback is limited to a handful of individuals, at most.”
At the same time, tapping the power of online communities has itself become part of the innovation process, Gerber said, with many entrepreneurs turning to sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to get initial support.
“The Internet affords access to online communities to which we might not ever have access,” she said. “Future innovators need to know how to find and respectively engage with these communities to get the resources they need.”
Dow and Gerber have received a National Science Foundation grant to study the use of crowd technologies in the classroom. They have created a website, http://crowddriveninnovation.com/, to share ideas and resources regarding the use of crowd-based resources in innovation education.
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