Last spring, Dr. Corinne Weisgerber turned her undergrads into Guggenheim-like curators. After building personal learning networks that delivered subject-specific tweets and blog posts, her students chose the most salient content and arranged it online the way a museum curator might an art exhibit. Their goal was to design a learning experience that cut through the noise to bring the Internet’s best content to others.
The project arose from Weisgerber’s own experience curating content for students, which she and her St. Edward’s University colleague Dr. Shannan Butler shared at the second annual SXSWedu conference in March.
Today, they answer questions about why they think the museum curator is the perfect model for today’s educators (and students), and how you can become one too.
At SXSWedu, you introduced the idea of “educator as curator.” Can you explain this metaphor, and what it means for teaching and learning in the Digital Age?
SB: We feel the metaphor of curation seems particularly suitable to our current educational environment. If you think about what a curator at a museum does, it is very similar to what we believe a good educator should be doing. A curator scours the art world, selects the finest works, gathers them together around a unified theme, provides a frame to understand the artists’ messages, and then hosts a conversation around the collection.
Pedagogically, what value is there in this approach?
SB: When you walk into a museum, artifacts aren’t just scattered willy-nilly throughout the space. Rather, it’s clear that someone with a keen eye and sense of history has arranged the objects into relevant themes. One of the pitfalls educators often run into when they initially incorporate social media into their courses is the resulting hodgepodge of links that is difficult to navigate, missing a clear context, redundant, out of date, and sometimes of poor quality. A curator would never allow that to happen. Like a well-designed museum, the space created for students to explore should be easily navigable, engaging, and — above all else — tell a cohesive story.
You have said that curating is not about the technology. What do you mean?
CW: Educators have been curators for hundreds of years before modern technological advances. However, social media has allowed a depth and connectivity of curation never before seen. Still, the process of curating is independent of the current technology. Since technologies are changing every day, a good curator keeps abreast of new opportunities but never becomes a slave to a particular platform.
In what ways do technology facilitate, enhance, or even complicate the curation process?
CW: New technologies have definitely made it easier to produce and disseminate content. These days, it doesn’t take much knowledge of coding or web design to gather web resources, mash them up, add value to them, and then publish them in a new format. The problem is that by allowing everyone to publish content and have a voice, these new technologies are also making it more difficult for any particular voice to stand out. They are also contributing to information overload. That’s why the first two steps in our eight-step process — finding and selecting — are so important. Good curators know how to cut through the clutter.
So, what’s the eight-step process, and what tech tools do you recommend using?
#1: Find the most relevant, interesting content to incorporate into your classes. I [CW] get most content from my personal learning network, the vast network of colleagues and professionals on the social web who I share ideas and resources with every day. I primarily rely on Twitter, Facebook and blogs in this step.
#2: Filter the content and select the best resources. I use Diigo to file the gems away for future use.
#3: Add your own perspective and contextualize the content. Ask, “How does this fit into our discussion of X?”
#4: Arrange the content in a manner that makes a point. This step involves decisions such as which piece to lead with, how to order the chosen pieces, and how to use juxtaposition for maximum effect.
#5: Create the end product. This is where the job of the curator actually becomes visible. There are plenty of technologies designed to help educators curate content, including Scoop.it, Storify, and Storyful. I’ve also curated content using wikis and slides.
#6: Share your work. The act of curation implies an audience. I often post my slideshows on Slideshare, blog about them, and then tweet the link to the blog post — all of which encourages others to engage with the content.
#7: Involve students in a conversation around the curated content. Provide a space (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) for the conversation to take place, participate yourself, and invite students, colleagues and professionals to contribute.
#8: Track and assess the curated content. As educators, we need to know how successful we were at getting our students to engage with the content. The number of shares and quality of comments around our content help us assess engagement.
For more information on how to curate content for the classroom, including instructive details on implementing each step, listen to the full SXSWedu presentation.
See a slideshare presentation on educators as curators from Drs. Weisgerber and Butler below.