GUEST POST: The Importance of Content Curation, and Tips for Teachers and Students
By: Saga Briggs
Saga has taught and tutored writing at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. Her educational interests include psychology, creativity, and system reform. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and lives in Portland, Oregon, USA.
Portions of this post were originally published on InformED here. In this post, Saga discusses the importance of content curation and then provides 22 tips for teachers to help them teach content curation (and develop their own good habits).
At St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, Dr. Corinne Weisgerber is teaching a class on social and interactive media. In addition to building a Personal Learning Network of online mentors and experts they can use to supplement their Google searches, her students are required to “curate” the information they gather for projects the same way a museum curator would curate an art exhibit.
“I told them they would need to comb through the resources received through their PLN to discover the significant and relevant, bundle those ideas together, contextualise them for their audience, repackage them and share them through a social media platform,” says Weisgerber. “In essence, I tasked students with creating the ultimate resource on a particular topic and to share it with the world.”
Weisgerber also mentioned that the project has been, without a doubt, one of her most rewarding to grade. In terms of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, curation covers it all, from lower to higher order thinking skills: labeling, naming, listing, organising, applying, judging, evaluating, analysing, synthesising—the list goes on.
But Weisgerber is ahead of the curve. Most of us are just starting to realise the importance of integrating curation techniques into our curricula. The truth is, as digital literacy becomes more and more critical to academic and career success, teaching content curation will no longer be a choice but a necessity.
What we call “information overload“—when the volume of potentially useful and relevant information available exceeds processing capacity and becomes a hindrance rather than a help—has only gotten worse in the near past. In fact, 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years. To put things in perspective, between the dawn of civilisation through 2003, about 5 exabytes of information was created. Now, that much information is created every 2 days.
“If we are not prepared for it, we can be force-fed by a very small amount of data (a unique video seen a billion times…) and even by false information, and let a vast amount of valuable data be wasted,” says Scoop.it Co-Founder Marc Rougier. “Students of all ages must be trained to search, select, qualify (and therefore disqualify), then enrich with their own thought, and then use and share information.”
Imagine receiving a graduate degree in “resource curation.” In our age of digital content and information overload, I challenge you to name a more practical credential. Because content curation offers a clear path through the clutter of the digital world, it can help specialists become influencers and thought leaders in nearly any niche or industry. We must make students aware of the importance of information management, both in their daily lives and in their educational careers, simply because they won’t succeed without it.
Where Do We Begin?
There are many definitions and uses of curation today, but a few common denominators should be considered before attempting to zero in on the goals of your own lesson.
Purpose: Curating traditionally involves organising and maintaining a collection of artwork or artifacts in a purposeful manner. The typical museum curator does more than group objects together at a whim; she selects and arranges them for accessibility, aesthetic quality, and historical or cultural context. There is always an element of intention in the curation process.
Sharing: Today’s definition of curation also includes an element of sharing. The concept of social bookmarking, typically done through tools such as Diigo and Delicious, now falls within the category of curation as well.
Creation: Creativity does not necessitate total originality; it can also be based on remixing and creating existing content. Consider remixes and mashups of songs or remakes of old movies. If these materials can be recycled and turned into art, then all digital material ought to reserve the same right.
Contribution: “If curating content is easy, you’re doing it wrong,” says blogger and creative strategist Joshua Merritt. “Just linking to something without any semblance of thought, or an attempt to make a cohesive point, or adding your own commentary or expanding on is, isn’t curating. It’s content spamming, particularly when done en masse.” Curation needs to involve a unique contribution to a subject, something an audience will find valuable.
How Do We Teach Content Curation Effectively?
Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of what curation means and how it should be used, you can begin to teach others about it. But how, exactly? What specific habits should be cultivated in your students (and yourself) to make them effective curators of information?
Recognise the resource you already have. “Students are curators, but they don’t know it’s what they’re doing,” says educational technologist Naomi Harm. “They’re sharing things out, but they don’t realise what an educational impact they’re truly making. We as educators need to set the stage for students to be more self-directed in how they curate this knowledge to extend their learning experiences.” By tapping into kids’ natural proclivity to curate, teachers can help them personalise their own learning.
Focus on goals. What are your goals around content curation? If you can’t answer this question, don’t bother continuing with your lesson plan. And, if your students can’t answer it either, don’t bother expecting quality assignments from them.
Demonstrate relevant and non-relevant sources of information. A fundamental part of digital literacy, understanding the difference between facts that further an argument and facts that don’t is essential to practicing good content curation.
Encourage real-world problem solving. Knowledge becomes meaningful only when students understand how to apply it to the world around them. By asking thought-provoking questions, teachers can guide students toward using the content they curate to make a difference in the world. For example, students can collect information about a particular subject, then use it to raise awareness about a problem or injustice.
Introduce global collaboration. Digital content curation also opens the door for global collaboration between students and classrooms. Students from across the world can work together to create wikis, blogs, websites, Pinterest boards, and more.
Give credit where credit is due. Discuss when to quote a passage, when to mention a name, and when to call it your own.
Quality, not quantity. Quality is the number one downfall of ineffective content curators. A trillion feeds and handles and tools compete for audience attention every second. Always put quality first. Make sure you read (and digest) every piece of content you curate. If you retweet based solely on a title, you risk your standing and reputation.
Make a habit of sharing your opinion. If you are curating content from a wide variety of other experts and sources, inject your own commentary. Agree and extend on content that represents your own thinking, and challenge content that could be taken further. What value can you add?
Dig far and wide. As a consumer of information, you already have more content coming your way in a day than you can even begin to process. Look for unique perspectives. Scour for sources that aren’t just the same opinions from the top publication in your industry.
Pull together multiple viewpoints from a handful of experts. Obviously, the more viewpoints you include, the more credible your resource. But also, highly effective curated content is more than just retweeting—it’s about also creating new articles that pull together content from a variety of sources. The resulting article may often be better than the original, because it brings a breadth and depth to the topic that a single article might not have.
Understand what happens when you link to your sources. When you post a link within your blog to a blog post on another site, there are means by which they get automatically notified. If they pay attention and visit your site, they may end up deciding to promote your post to their followers or respond to your blog, driving further attention your way.
Treat curating like you are creating original art. Merritt makes the argument that This American Life, the nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Ira Glass, is a vehicle for curated content, since each episode is typically worth more together than each story within it would be if taken alone. “If two different people curate and distribute the same content, what makes the experience of your followers more valuable?” Merritt asks. “The answer doesn’t have to lie in a single piece of content, but it must lie in the story arch of the greater body of work.”
Use curated collections to create your own online (or offline) content. Let collections inspire you. Just as the same ingredients may be treated slightly differently by different cooks, resulting in a meal that tastes different, so too can you give your own version of someone else’s collection a unique spin.
Use visual guides. Content curation starts by choosing the right type of content to use across channels. The best curated content is lasting, with regard to both subject matter and presentation. Instructional guides, resource lists, industry definitions, and most non-journalistic writing are timeless content. But most visual representations do not fade with time, so vivid images also have important roles in content curation.
Make sense of your data. Making sense of your data can be as simple as choosing how you annotate the links your share, the presentation, or what you’ve left out. It can be writing a blog post using the links or summarising the key points in a presentation. But however you create meaning, it has to support your instructional and/or learning goals.
Develop an organisation strategy. Once you’ve found all the information you need, the next challenge is to organise it in an effective and meaningful way. Consider ways to enhance your content through the structure and presentation you choose.
Know what’s timely and trending. Keeping up to date with current trends doesn’t require a lot of time, but it does require being regular. Check your Twitter feed or favorite news page every morning, even just for ten minutes.
Recognise a catchy title. Not everyone will be as thorough as you when reviewing content. A lot of people will click on a link solely because of a compelling title. “As you sharpen your curating skills, you’ll begin to figure out what separates great titles from good titles,” writes Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at DNN. “If you come across a great article that has just a good title, consider changing the title text when you curate. Doing so means your audience is more inclined to read that article and experience its greatness.”
Use aggregation and social media tools to organise your information. See our list of useful curation tools later in this article, and find the one (or ones) that suit you best.
Share appropriately. One platform’s treasure is another platform’s trash. Some resources are best kept far away from your Facebook feed, where they may not be appreciated, and shared on Twitter, where you have a more specialised audience.
Know your audience. One important trait that separates amateur curators from professionals is the ability to gauge one’s audience and understand what they want to see and how they want to see it.
Update your curations. Don’t be afraid to edit and adjust your curated product as you discover more information about your subject. The beauty of digital curation is that tweaking your work has never been so easy.