Mount professors discuss link between crowdsourcing and authentic research

March 27, 2017

Assistant professor of biology, Evan Merkhofer, and associate professor of biology, Suparna Bhalla (at lectern).


Mount Saint Mary College assistant professor of biology, Evan Merkhofer, and associate professor of biology, Suparna Bhalla, recently discussed how crowdsourcing provides authentic research opportunities to a large number of students when factors such as time or lack of resources would otherwise make it difficult.

During their talk, “Crowdsourcing as a Tool for Undergraduate Research in the Classroom,” which was part of the college’s Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) series, Bhalla and Merkhofer explained how undergraduate research is a key component to students’ education and how the concept of crowdsourcing has played a big role in enhancing the research experience.

“By definition, crowdsourcing is the practice of engaging a whole crowd toward a common goal,” said Bhalla. “And often in research, this is going to be for solving some big problems which, when done on an individual scale, would take an extremely long time.”

Through Classroom Based Undergraduate Research (CURE) programs, students are provided with the opportunity to participate in authentic research while gaining valuable skills and increasing scientific understanding. Bhalla and Merkhofer focused on the two CURE programs implemented at the Mount. These programs are the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP), which involves upper level science majors, and the Science Education Alliance - Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program, which is geared towards first-year students.

Each course involves research work that, according to Bhalla, is “far too large for one person or one group to conduct, so outsourcing this work becomes a good collective way to do these projects.”

The research done for each course is being replicated by hundreds of students around the world.

“When all the data is pooled together, it is analyzed and published,” Merkhofer explained, pointing out that a recent publication had contributions from more than 940 undergraduate students from across 63 institutions. “This gives undergraduate students the opportunity to get involved in true research but it is also giving them the opportunity to publish their work.”