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Curation as a tool for teaching and learning

A digital essay completed by Heather Bailie as part of the assessment requirements of #INF530 Concepts & Practices for a Digital Age.

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  1. Curation -  is it the new search tool (Valenza 2011), the new search (Good 2012), the future of Web 2.0 (Boyd 2010), or the new black (O'Connell 2012)? What is curation anyway, and how can it be used as a tool for student and teacher learning? This essay will investigate what curation is and the different contexts it is used in. Why is it important; who are the curators, what motivates them and what makes a great curator? What processes and tools are used for curation and what digital literacies are required for successful curation? It will conclude with an investigation into ways teachers can use curation both with and for their students and as a tool for their own professional learning and a brief look at some curation tools.

  2. “Making sense of the information flow”

  3. “A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected.” (Siemens, 2007).

    According to Boyd (2010) curators help people to focus their attention on the most relevant and  important information streams. Valenza (2011) tells us to take advantage of the work of others passionate about a topic and use their curated work as a search tool. Fiorelli (2011) describes content curators as “critical knowledge brokers”.


    Librarians, journalists, and teachers have always curated: they evaluate, select, collect, present, and promote material for their users, readers and students; but these days curation is becoming an important activity for a broad range of people and for a variety of reasons and purposes.


    So what is curation? Put simply, curation is locating, evaluating and selecting (usually) online content on a topic, adding value by contextualising and possibly through tagging or commenting or both; and using digital tools to provide access to the curated material. 
  4. Understand collective curation in under 90 seconds
  5. Some say simple aggregation, bringing together information on a single topic into one location, is not curation “Aggregation is algorithmic. Curation is handpicked.” (Lee, 2014) but it is one of Bhargava’s five models of curation, the others being distillation, elevation, mashups and chronology (Bhargava 2011). The five models are explored in depth here:
  6. A curator might be an individual or an organisation. Curators use their skills to create new meaning by combining content and context and their work is valued by those who they assist in making sense of information. (Cobb, 2010; Minocha and Petre, 2012).


    Pope (2011) describes how curating tweets is now an essential part of journalism. Connelly (2011) interviews a journalist who explains that journalism has always been “about being in the middle, between the story and the public”. Curating using digital tools enhances and extends this traditional role by capturing the essential elements of a story and using professional input and the tool to add context. Petrie (2011) notes that new digital curation tools force journalists to be more ethical by linking back to the original source. This facility should be equally welcomed in education settings to promote proper acknowledgement of sources and overcome plagiarism.

  7. Boyd (2010) discusses the shift from broadcast to networked information and considers the role of the curator in this shift. She states “the power is no longer in the hands of those who control the channels of distribution; the power is now in the hands of those who control the limited resource of attention” and notes that curators use their skills to attract attention while consumers go to curators to help them focus their attention at the right moment. She has concerns about the shift to networked information including the potentially misplaced assumption that it is more democratic, and the dangers of homophily. This is echoed by Cobb (2010) who urges individuals to fight homophily by mixing up the curators they follow, not just choosing those with same world-view.

  8. Curation fits well as part of "participatory culture" as described by Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, and Robinson (2009), as technology-enabled individuals can "archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways."  Being able to critically evaluate content and share information in participatory environments is a key aspect of metaliteracy (Mackey and Jacobson 2011). Witek and Gretano, researching metaliteracy through a project where students utilise Facebook newsfeeds for study, found their students shifted from recalling and making sense of information based on what the information says, to doing the same through the lens of who shared it. This highlights the importance of knowing and understanding who a curator is and what they represent in judging the credibility of information received.
  9. “Seek, sense, share”

  10. Kelly (2013) has taken Beth Kanter’s mantra of Seek, Sense, Share (in reference to using social media for professional learning; itself an adaptation of Jarche's Network Learning Model (Jarche 2010)) (Kanter, 2011) and applied it to curation as

      Seek - aggregate and filter relevant content

      Sense - the human component - make sense of and add value to the information by placing it in the appropriate context; justify the inclusion of the information.

      Share - use social media and/or a curation platform to deliver the messages to others.


    Similar to Siemens (2007) Connectivist approach, Kanter writes from a networked learning perspective. Her exposition of the mantra owes much to Jarche’s definition of networked learning “an individual, disciplined process by which we make sense of information, observations and ideas.” Jarche (2010). Jarche also talks about the growing importance of informal learning in the connected workplace as well as the importance of sense-making skills, both individually and in networks, as new digital literacy skills. Skilled content curation employs most of the digital literacy skills, attributes and behaviours Hague and Peyton (2010) have illustrated, demonstrating the value of curation for informal and formal learning (p. 19. 

  11. Whether in formal or informal circumstances, curation fits with Connected Learning Principles (n.d.) being interest-powered, peer-supported, openly networked and socially connected.
  12. Cobb (2010) sees in curation two opportunities for individual lifelong learning - find great curators to follow and become a great curator. He says finding curators with similar interests (but not necessarily opinion) and established credibility allows an individual to attend to the most relevant information pre-filtered and contextualised. Becoming a curator allows development of expertise in a field and potentially open up channels of engagement with other experts. To not be a lifelong learner is no longer an option in today’s information society with its instant, free flowing and infinite information (Wesch, 2009). Teachers owe it to themselves and their students to explore the opportunities curation creates. Swanson (2013) encourages all teachers to curate their resources, using meaningful tags, as a means of taking control of information overload.


    Tolisano (2013) describes how she uses Twitter as a curation tool for personal and shared professional learning. She says effective curation requires higher order thinking skills and assumes “responsibility towards your network who rely on you to filter information on a specific topic”. (Tolisano, 2011). Valenza (2011) says “the best [curators] model for our learners a new type of citizenship--a desire on the part of experts, specialists, and individuals who feel passionate about a topic, to share their knowledge and updates by forming knowledge-sharing communities.”
  13. From read, write, and react, to create, curate, and contemplate

  14. The digital literacy skills required for successful curation form part of what Wesch (2009) wants learners to become: knowledge-able. Participating in curation activities can facilitate students in developing and demonstrating search strategies, evaluation skills, critical thinking, problem solving, participating in networked conversation, and using information ethically. (O’Connell, 2011). True curation, as opposed to simple collection, develops in students the ability to comprehend, critique, think critically and use digital media strategically. (Fisher, 2012) Fisher’s continuum is shown here:
  15. Flintoff, Mellow and Clark (2014) describe how Scoop.it’s functionality, allowing visitor comments and ‘re-scoops’, leads to participatory and collaborative learning where the construction of knowledge leverages input from within and beyond a cohort. They detail the use of Scoop.it for professional development by university staff who have collaborated in the collection of professional reading material. This has become a productive team activity reducing the amount of reading required by individuals. Flintoff, Mellow and Clark also give examples of Scoop.it being used as an activity for tertiary level students where their teachers have favourably noted the critical thinking and analysis skills demonstrated. Hamilton (2012) has had similar positive experience using Scoop.it with secondary students where, by following each individual’s Scoop.it topic she was able to provide timely feedback and suggest further content as they researched a topic.(p. 25)  She explores the model of "embedded librarian" and shows how free and low-cost technologies can be used to support and enhance participatory learning experiences and foster students' information literacy skills.


    Storify harnesses curation’s role in telling a story by providing a linear platform and the opportunity to link related content with the curator’s own text. (Mihailides and Cohen, 2013). Making a story out of linked multimedia content requires media literacy skills of analysis, evaluation and creation. They assert that pedagogical use of curation tools like Storify has the potential to shift the “educational framework from read, write and react, to create, curate, and contemplate.” Their Framework approaching Curation as a core Digital and Media Literacy Competence is shown here:

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