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Understanding Content Curation

July 7, 2012

 Come to my session at ISTE 2016: “Personalize Learning With Student Curation” 6/28 4:00 – 5:00 CCC 113, Table 2


There are many buzzwords and phrases prevalent in education today.  “21st Century Learning”, “Blended Learning”, “Personalized Learning”, “Flipped Classroom” – just to name a few. The one that has recently caught my attention and curiosity is “content curation.”

I manage a grant project in my district designed to assure students acquire “21st century skills” A current strategy for this is using backwards design, formative assessments of 21st century skills, and “blended-learning.” New for next school year: teachers are being asked to “curate resources” to accompany the backwards-planned, inquiry-based units of instruction.  I had my own ideas on what curating meant at the time I was asked to design professional development for teachers in the project – but realized very quickly that this term has taken on a life of its own, in uses by not just educators, but marketers.  A quick Google search on “content curation” turns up 1,240,000 results. Remove terms like “marketing”, “business”, “influence”, “customer”, and “startup” and the results are pared down to about 45,400 hits. Within this subset of information about curating content, definitions of curating seem to have no boundaries – collecting – aggregating – curating –what exactly is the difference?  Or is there a difference?

This curiosity led to further questions:  Why curate?  What is the value of curating for teachers? Really –what is the benefit of curating in terms of the learning goals – enduring understandings and 21st century skills for our students?

Collecting vs. Curating Content

I set out to read as much as possible of what others have written on the subject, (see my Scoop-It on Curating Learning Resources) to help with my understanding.  My goal was to come up with a framework to define curating in the educational sense, in order to answer the question of what is the value-added of curating, vs. collecting information.  Below is the graphic organizer I used to develop my thoughts.

Creative Commons License
Defining Curating in Education by Nancy White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Thinking Level

The first thing I realized is that in order to have value-added benefits to curating information, the collector needs to move beyond just classifying the objects under a certain theme to deeper thinking through synthesis and evaluation of the collected items.   How are they connected? What does the act of collecting add to understanding of the question at hand?




As I sifted through many so-called examples of curated items, I noticed that a lot of these resources seemed to be pretty loosely connected and lacked evidence of any real depth of understanding on the part of the collector. There seemed to be randomness to many of the collections that didn’t inspire deeper thinking.  To contrast, think of an inspiring museum display that you’ve visited.   Museum Curators go through an inquiry process to interpret a collection of artifacts, and then purposefully select, arrange and annotate them to tell that story. The key phrase here is inquiry process.  My conclusion is that to do justice to using the term “curating” for educational resources, inquiry must be a part of the process. Part of this process is deciding what goes “in” to the collection – meaning many, many items are evaluated and set aside.



In considering how resources are organized that have been curated, vs. simply collected, determining that collections are linked together thematically was an easy starting point.  I started wondering what the value-added aspect is with curating. I believe when we curate, organization moves beyond thematic to contextual – as we start to build knowledge and understanding with each new resource that we curate. Themes have a common unifying element – but don’t necessarily explain the “why.” Theme supports a central idea – Context allows the learner to determine why that idea (or in this case, resource) is important. So, as collecting progresses into curating, context becomes essential to determine what to keep, and what to discard.



In considering the advantage of collecting vs. curating, it seems that collecting serves primarily the needs or interests of the collector. With curating, a larger goal is to benefit not only the collector, but other potential learners as well. It is meant to be shared. And, both the process and the product of curating help the curator as well as those who view the curated collection to understand and to learn.



One element that seems to be understood about curating is that it is done for a broader audience. This necessitates that the curated items be organized, annotated, and published. This is an important part of the learning process that comes with the educational benefits of curating as compared to collecting.


One of the teachers in our grant project asked if her curated resources could just be part of her Moodle course, or if there is some different aspect to curating that required her to publish the resources elsewhere.  Actually it was this question that sent me on this learning journey.  My conclusion is that through publishing the curated resources, you add value to the collection as a whole by allowing others to share in that knowledge, comment on it, add to it, and participate in the learning that it generates. It gets back to my belief that learning is a social endeavor.  Participatory learning leads to increased understanding.  This led me to my next big understanding as a result of this inquiry.


Students as Content Curators

It’s great for teachers to curate learning resources for students, but isn’t it the students that we want to do this deeper thinking and reach these enduring understandings? So wouldn’t it be more powerful for students to be the curators? The act of true content curation allows students to construct knowledge. As teachers, we can build the scaffolding, present the problem or ask the essential question, design the learning scenario, give them the tools, and then turn over the learning to the students. Perhaps this act is a first step in assuring that students take ownership of their learning. And, a bonus with this is that students are practicing a very important skill for the 21st century –information literacy.



July 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Excellent article Nancy. You really did a wonderful job in dissecting the key value-creation traits of curation and their relevance to the future of education.

I also agree with you, that students, besides teachers, are in for a huge opportunity, as learning by curating a topic (possibly in a collaborative fashion) really requires you to immerse yourself in the topic and to learn to research, verify, question, analyze and understand the relationships between the different information items involved. It’s more enjoyable and rewarding, and one can learn a lot more from it than by reading a textbook and a few lectures.

    July 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Robin, I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful critique of my post and sharing it with your network. I will continue to develop my ideas around how the concept of curating content intersects in different professions and disciplines, and the importance of letting students participate in this process.

July 9, 2012 at 6:26 am


Excellent article. I’ve already clipped it to Evernote so that I can come back to it.

I’ve blogged on the aspect of curation as well, but from a different perspective. While teachers can benefit greatly from learning curation skills, many schools already have someone on staff who is in a position to teach these skills to both teachers and students – but it requires that we view their role differently than we currently do.

Check out my post: Why School Libraries are more important than ever. at


    July 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Kevin, As a librarian myself, I can’t agree with you more! Our profession has been trying for years to undo the old stereotypes about the primary role of librarians being “the keeper of books” – or as you point out – curators of information. Our most important role in the age of technology is to help students (and teachers!) to develop information literacy skills so they can become competent finders, evaluators, and users of information — mastering the art of curation.

      August 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Jul22Christine Schaefer I find this to be so true: We are drowning in a flood of mseninglaes drivel, with no professionals to place it into context for us. But as an editor, I’m sure I’m biased in defense of my profession. Of course, I see that anyone can choose opinion pieces and news stories on blogs or Web sites judiciously and follow purveyors they deem trustworthy and reliable. But what I miss as newspapers decline is the loss of one more public square where large numbers of people in the same community might read the same thing and then be inspired or provoked to talk about it. Now when I mention a compelling editorial from, say, the Washington Post, neighbors and co-workers give me blank looks. We no longer share the same frame of reference, it seems. I wonder if niche journalism online, while it can be high-quality and low-cost, is further eroding a larger sense of community. Are we going to become a society of millions of little cliques? On an unrelated note, Rick, I enjoyed and learned a lot in your training sessions at my workplace earlier this week. Despite my heated comment at one point, I have great respect for your work. Yet I stand my ground on my point about the power of marketing to do great societal harm if not constrained by the expressed ethics (and more important, moral judgment) of an organization’s senior leadership.

July 9, 2012 at 7:13 am

Your post published in perfect timing to be used as a resource for a session I’m preparing on curation tools. I’m so glad it was shared on LinkedIn so that I didn’t miss it! I particularly like what you had to say about value. What I love about the process of curation is that it generates learning constructively in the creation and socially through the exchange with an audience.

    July 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you for your comment! The process of curating content about curating has been quite eye-opening – especially the response I’ve seen to my post. This is so iintertwined with the process of inquiry – and as others are now sharing with me via their own curated collections (mostly on Scoop-It) that intersect with my topic, my knowledge and understanding just continues to grow. Excited to share this with my teachers tomorrow.

July 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

Very timely, I’m about to start finding, evaluating, organizing web links for the upcoming year of physical science at 8th grade. I’m thinking to continue to use to ‘stack’ and tab stuff and will give kids access for more online learning next academic year.

    July 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    That’s great! I think the social aspect of curating is huge in terms of helping our students make connections between content areas and with people who have similar interests -one that we haven’t really considered much in the field of education. Yet another reason to make sure students have access to the tools that allow them to do this!

July 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Great analysis, Nancy! Guillaume here, one of the founders of (thanks for mentioning us!).

We can testify that education and curation are a fit: we’re seeing lots of educators on the platform.

I love your chart. I was wondering where you would place what I call the “editorial line” of a curator. One things that also sets curation apart from collection in my mind is the amount of expression : does Curation have to be objective? We see a lot of our curators express a particular line (sometimes with an agenda). But maybe it doesn’t apply that much in education which needs to remain neutral?

    July 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Guillaume, Thank you for your response! I’ve been thinking about your question and ran this by some of the teachers in my district today as I shared this information in a workshop about curating resources. I think that in education, the curation of resources is not an “end” in itself – it is a part of a larger inquiry process. Students are expected to apply their learning to solve a problem, or create something new. But I think the editorial line can serve the purpose of providing a place for students to write in their own words what the big ideas are that they have found on the site and how it connects to the problem they are trying to solve or essential question they are tasked with trying to make sense of. In the chart, this would fall under the category of “process” – in which they are synthesizing, interpreting and evaluating the site.

Jean-Sébastien Dubé
July 12, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hi Nancy !
Great article indeed. I have been extremely dubious about the real value of curation as I felt it was mostly a new buzzword for filtering. However the differences you are making between “collecting” and “curating” – especially the move from the “thematic” to the “contextual” – made me pause and think.

I would love to share your article with members of my organisation, but there seem to be a problem with the images and graphs : they don’t appear anymore !

Hopefully, this can be fixed…

JS Dubé

    July 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for your interest, Jean-Sebastien, and for letting me know about the tech problems on my blog. I think these issues are fixed now.

November 7, 2012 at 7:01 am


Fantastic post! I’ve curated a few of your articles to our content curation blog and I love to see that curation is finding a well suited home in the educators toolbox. Thanks!

December 21, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thank you Nancy for advancing my thinking on this important subject. I am approaching the role of curation within a corporate education context.

In an abstract sense, I see our curation role as the team who builds the content containers based on the needs of our audience, and selectively fill them with relevant, current and accurate content. We also have a role in enabling our audiences to make the content and the experience their own and to encourage sharing as a way to increase understanding and enhance institutional knowledge. Further, we create content to fill gaps and editorialize to provide emphasis and context.

February 14, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Hey Nancy,
I actually came across your post today while doing a curation activity about curation for a class I am taking about Social Media Literacies. I love the intersection between this form of media literacy and K-12 education. This has been a recurring theme in my work recently so I wanted to followup with you about applying this with students. Have you or any of the teachers you work with done curation exercises with students? I would love to learn a bit more about that.

Also, I am wondering if you have suggestions related to assessing 21st century skills. I am tentatively planning to examine the intersection of social media, perspective taking and 21st century skills for my dissertation and I am currently collecting related assessments, rubrics, released test items, etc. to help craft my vision. I would love it if you could point me in the direction of anything like this.

Looking forward to exploring your blog soon. Glad I found you…

Amy Rossetti
July 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I teach a graduate course online and I want to teach my students to curate resources on the topics covered in the course. I want them to suggest resources for me to add to content I have already curated for the class and to grow a reference for their classmates and future students. Your article has been a very helpful aid to me as I develop criteria for the resources they suggest. I appreciate that you have shared your thought process rather than just a list of conclusions or tools. Thank you!

    August 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Amy, Thank you so much for your feedback. I am glad you found it helpful. I would love to hear how it goes – I am working on a book about student curation, and am looking for examples to share from different school levels.

August 7, 2014 at 3:05 am

Very good info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
I have book-marked it for later!

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