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.
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.
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.