Monday, June 11, 2012

Collection or Curation?

Over the last couple of weeks, members of my Digital Learning Network have been having discussions about what Content Curation really means. I think a lot about this, as I discuss it often with teachers and have even done webinars around what it means.

The conversations I’ve had recently, are starting to shift my understanding of true curation and how it differs very much from just collecting.

Collecting is what kids do when asked to find resources for a particular topic. Usually, it represents the first 3 or 4 hits on a Google search, without meaning, discernment, or connections.

Curating is different. It’s the Critical Thinker’s collection, and involves several nuances (see Figure 1) that separate it as an independent and classroom-worthy task.

Figure 1: The Collecting to Curating Continuum

When I talk about this with teachers, I ask them to think of the last time they went to a museum. A museum, the Louvre perhaps, has a vast collection of artifacts. You do not see them all. Someone, an artifact curator, has chosen specific items for an exhibit based on a topic, theme, time period, etc. When you actually go to view the exhibit, there is often a docent there to guide you through it. The docent tells you important information and helps you make connections between the things that were chosen for the exhibit. The cool thing is, if you go on a different day, you may get a different docent. Thus, you get a different version of the story, with distinctively different information that help you to learn even more.

Last year, in a discussion with Heidi Hayes Jacobs about content curation and content docents, she asked if I had investigated the etymology behind the words. I hadn’t, but thought it was very interesting that the etymology of the word docent was, in part, “to teach.” So curator, as a word, now has an extension etymology because of the origins of docents: that which is brought together so that teaching (and learning!) can occur. I don’t think I’m stretching too far.

Based on the discussion, and represented in the visual, curation is about more than purposeful collections. There are several factors involved. The more factors that are considered, the more sure we can be that curation is occurring, rather than just collecting.

Obviously, there has to be some thought put into what is included in the collection, in the content exhibit, if you will. That discernment leads to a rationale for the inclusion, an important component of the critical thinking involved. The inclusion has to have purpose, be contextualized and interpreted by the student or docent, as connections are explained. There also must be attribution. One of the biggest ideas that modern students have to understand is that it is okay to be a “content DJ,” remixing and cherry picking and creating new content from a blend of the old--but you have to give credit. If someone else created it, part of the Modern Learner’s 21st Century responsibilities are to give credit where credit is due, and in the appropriate way depending on the content or the creator.

Beyond those considerations, we have to go back to thinking about the exhibit. The presentation. The conversations. The New Meanings that arise from the curated content and the docents’ stories around it. If we are really going to call a collection of something curation, then we have to be considerate of what the components of curation are.

Take everyone’s favorite web darling right now, Pinterest.  Pinterest is considered to be a “Visual Curation” tool--if one was to categorize it. But does it fulfill all of the considerations for what “curating content” means? Users save interesting content around a particular topic, but what’s the rationale, what’s the interpretation and contextualization, what’s the new meaning and the new conversations? In essence, what’s the story? Pinterest, though a pretty cool web tool, is still more along the lines of collecting versus true curating.

Why am I delving so deeply into this? Because it’s an important 21st Century Skill. The College and Career Readiness Capacities in the Common Core ask students to “comprehend as well as critique” and to “use technology and digital medias strategically and capably.” True curation covers that and much more. It opens up opportunities to attend to different audiences, multiple tasks, deep content knowledge, and critical thinking.

But students have to be taught.

Assigning a task and demonstrating what this looks like for them are two different things. Helping students understand the essence and value of curating content is an essential teachable moment. What are in your plans this week, this month, to engage students in this level of curated collections? What opportunities lie in your professional practice to create moments for content docents to tell their stories around curated content?

We can transform education by being cognizant of what modern students need to know and be able to do in their world. It is perfectly appropriate for us to take a “guide on the side” mentality in our professional practice and understand that students should be exploring, collecting, discerning, deleting, creating, prioritizing, contextualizing, interpreting, presenting, maintaining, conversing, and storytelling around their learning.

Dare I say that it is a major way, perhaps the only way, that real learning will happen? Please share your curation examples or wonderments or questions below in the comment box. I’d love to have to “REMIX” my own image by the end of the week! (With your comments and dialogue!)

Special thanks to members of my Digital Learning Network and their thought-provoking conversation: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@langwitches), @digitalmaverick, and Mary Hamilton (@newsmary). I sincerely appreciate the conversation, and the impetus for clarifying my curation position!

-Mike Fisher
On Twitter: @fisher1000


  1. Curation is absolutely a 21st century skill! With the Internet, relevance is now driven by where information comes from, who is publishing it, and when it was published. The concept of authority, expert and topic is changing. Students who learn to analyze and challenge their thinking about what they create and discover on the web will the innovators of tomorrow. Transformative uses of content to reflect on and encourage participation of others should be what we are all exploring and a way to spend meaningful time teaching and learning on the Web.

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