Thursday, 1 May 2014

What is curation?

CC-BY-2.0: Sally Wilson/Flickr

Curation is more than just collecting links

Here's a quote from an article in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education by Paul Mihailidis and James Cohen (2013):

"Curation is an act of problem solving. Curating information to tell a story creates a sense of responsibility for the curator. Storytelling advances the core media literacy principles of analysis, evaluation and creation. By curating, students can compose a story using content acquired on their search with heightened awareness of purpose and audience (Hobbs 2010). All media online is searchable by any user of the web, but the task of the curator is to organize the information into a story in order to share with others in a coherent, nuanced and clear manner. Guided by the teacher, students can access content, analyze and evaluate the messages, create presentations, reflect on findings, and work together in collaborative environments (Hobbs 2010)." [my italics]

In my view, when we talk about curation, there's a danger of getting too bogged down in discussion of specific tools - Storify, Flickr, Pinterest, Evernote, Feedly etc. ad infinitum.... I think it's important, when curating resources, websites, articles, pictures, videos, blogs, tweets, people (?) etc., to ask yourself:

  • Who am I curating for?
  • What is the purpose of curating these resources?
  • What I want the audience to do with them (or are they just for my personal use)?
  • Do I need to check and refresh the resources regularly or is it just for one learning event or period of time?
  • Can the task of curation be 'outsourced' to students/colleagues? In other words, can it be more meaningful as a collaborative exercise.
The above quote resonates with me because it reminds us that curation has a purpose - problem-solving, storytelling etc. Too often, a collection of links will be thrown into an online space with no direction or commentary...


  1. Wise words Jim and loads to think about for all of us. Thank you for starting this conversation. Do you have a specific story you could share from your practice? Would be lovely ;)

    Speak soon,

  2. I wonder about collaborative curation. I'm all for crowd-sourcing the process, or making curation a social endeavour (I gain a lot from (and hopefully contribute to) the Diigo groups of which I'm a member), but I'm not sure about 'collaborative?' Would it be fair to say that entails an additional layer of agreed principles or shared values ... which might indeed ensure the resources gathered are better targeted, more appropriate to the needs of the group and be more effectively 'organised.' of course. I guess that's what curation is, but might that prove exclusive, either of certain resources, or certain individuals?

  3. Seems that my first comment didn't post, sorry, I'll try again...

    Thanks for this great post Jim, with which I am in total agreement. It is easy to forget that the tools that you describe here are just tools, and that without the requisite skills and understanding of what it takes to be a good curator they are useless. We have the same issue with facilitators. Sometimes people rely on these tools as crutches, when really they should be working on the underlying support to enable them to stand on their own two feet. :-)

  4. Hi Ian, good point. I really meant it more in the cooperative sense of people working together informally to curate resources which are of mutual benefit. Perhaps as you say 'collaboration' implies a more formal, organised process. Asking students to curate a wiki, for example, as part of an assessed group project might be an example of this, as there'd be expectations of levels of participation, netiquette etc to consider..

    Chrissi - in the past I've asked students to create and curate a glossary of terms relevant to their subject. The idea was to provide definitions and examples and add them to a page in the VLE. Thinking about doing it now I'd probably try a more 'interesting' tool than the VLE. It had no marks allocated and participation was quite mixed - some students really embraced the idea while others seemed to completely ignore it. I guess the idea here is that students will learn more deeply by going through processes of locating and evaluating information for themselves. I think curation can be powerful in that sense...

    Thanks Sam - I was wondering where it was! Would be interested to know what you think it takes to be a good curator.

  5. Hi Jim,
    Like Sam, I too had a few commenting woes and my post seems to have been 'pre'-truncated! The initial part where I found myself musing over the same points you raised and agreeing that the questions are ones we should be posing got lost, making my post seem rather curt. Many apologies.
    I'm in full agreement with students curating in the way you describe in your gracious reply.