In the 21st Century world of abundant free educational content, teachers are challenged to shed the role of “content area expert” and adopt the role of “content curator”. Part of the shifting role of teachers from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” means spending less time lecturing at students and more time supporting them to successfully access and think critically about content.
Content curation is nothing new to teachers– whether it’s maintaining a great classroom library, hurriedly photocopying a great article you found, or organizing PDFs and YouTube videos in your online course, a big part of the job is creating an organized path through the best materials you know of. The objective here is to build up an enduring library of high quality web links, videos, articles, and online activities that “fit together” and are easy to consume as a collection.
Content curation has become a valuable skill across the web— with the explosion of information available online, curation is the act of sifting through everything with a discerning eye, highlighting the very best available, and making it easy to find. Often, you can add value to existing content you find simply by organizing it in a way that makes sense to you. Whether your topic is The 10 Best Cat Videos on the Internet, The Top 10 Bizarre Historic Illnesses, or NPR’s Slightly Obsessive Guide to the Running Gags on Arrested Development, you make it easier for others to find answers to their questions.
This post explores the idea ‘teacher as curator’– making attractive and readable collections of high quality materials online so students can spend more time engaged with content instead of fruitlessly web surfing. In your case, you will be actively sifting the web with an eye towards how these materials support your learning competencies, assessments, and overall course outcomes.
It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it
On some level, curating content is an activity, an attitude, divorced from whichever tool you use to do it. People have been curating content online since the earliest days of the Internet. Current Cites is an electronic journal dating back to 1990(!) curating content to help librarians stay abreast of advancements in technology. Online networking hub Craigslist was once just Craig’s list— just a page with links to things Craig Newmark found useful. Before we talk about tools, let’s talk about the mental process of curating content.
The first step of curating good content is finding it. Often, you will start Googling a topic with a specific question you want to answer or problem you want to solve. As you discover high-quality content online, you are engaging in a valuable mental task of sorting the “good” links out from the “bad”. Of course, what’s good and bad to you is highly subjective– which is exactly what sets your content collection apart from a list of search results.
As you create collections of content, try to organize them around specific questions or problems that your students/readers might commonly encounter. Your collection might be a one-stop-shop for all the best articles about a particular historical event, a piece of literature, technological skill, a math challenge — you get the picture. Ideally, you want your collection to be the best possible place on the Internet for a student to get good information on a particular topic.
Once you have found some great content on the web, you need to capture it quickly and organize it into your collections easily. Finally, you want to publish it in an attractive format for your intended audience to browse through. This is where digital content curation tools really shine, and where the differences between tools become more important.
Simple, Attractive Content Curation
This promotional video from Scoop.it emphasizes the simplicity of their tool as a curation device. In it, you can see how quickly you can capture an interesting website into one of your collections and share it.
This is what separates a “content curation tool” from any other webapp– the ease and speed with which you can capture and organize content. Let’s discuss the feature set you’re looking for.
What To Look For in a Content Curation Tool
Capture Where You Read
As somebody once said, “the best [content curation tool] is the one you have with you”. To capture great web content whenever you find it, you want a tool that is always with you when you’re reading. Most content creation tools like Flipboard, Scoop.it, Diigo, Evernote, Learnist, and others offer a browser extension, a bookmarklet, and a mobile app to make it easy to clip articles and organize them as you read.
Clipping is Easy
As you explore these tools, look carefully at the tools that help you get content into it. You want as effortless a process as possible on the devices you use most. Also, make sure it can handle all the types of content you want to share. If you share a lot of PDFs, videos, images, music, text– make sure these types of content can be shared into your tool of choice.
Reading is Beautiful
Modern curation apps like Flipboard and Pinterest are designed to be beautiful places to consume content– transforming your links into magazine-style articles with gorgeous photos and trendy typefaces. This can add a visual flair to your collections and make reading them more appealing for your audience. You want the ability to post your collections to a public URL so your students can come read.
Organize into Collections, Tag for Topics
You can also add tags for your content to make them easier to search through. For years, I have been using Diigo.com to capture useful web links, organize them into collections by topic area, and publish them online. This list, on Flipped Classroom and Lecture Capture, is an example of what you can create. These are the same tools that blogs offer (categories, tags) to help you make your posts more searchable and easily organized. This goes to underscore the fact that you can successfully curate content with even the simplest of blogs — you don’t need a tool that’s just for curation if you don’t want.
You Own Your Content
Whenever you start a relationship with a web tool, find out how you can get your data out of it. Cloud tools vary in the way they handle this problem– some would like to lock you in to their tool by refusing to let you download your data. Some simply haven’t built out the technology to allow you to export your data in a format that you can use to import it somewhere else. Blogs are actually great for this– they all use a standard import/export format that means you can take your data from Blogger to WordPress to Tumblr to Ghost and it’ll all just work. This is not always the case with newer or niche tools, so find out what’s possible on your tool of choice. Think 5-10 years down the road when you’ve created and refined several great collections — you want to be able to take them with you if your favorite tool ever goes bankrupt, gets acquired, or just ceases to be as new and shiny as it once was.
Popular Content Creation Tools
As you experiment with curating web content, check out these popular modern tools:
Flipboard— a “digital magazine” for reading content, this tool also lets you clip articles to your own collections and share them. (Beware, they seem not to allow exporting your content!)
Pinterest— a growing network of visual ‘pinboards’ where you can clip content into attractive collections. (And you can export your pins here).
Learnist— like a ‘Pinterest for Education’, this tool has all the pinning features you love but focuses on educational content.
Evernote— a popular tool for clipping and sharing content of all kinds. (You can export your data in HTML format).
Storify— Pull in photos, tweets, and videos from other social media sites to tell a story. This is a powerful tool for journalists and documentarians who want to capture a moment in time using the words and pictures of people who were there. (Storify lets you export HTML).
Paper.Li— Combs through your Twitter and Facebook feed for links and formats them as a newspaper. (Requires a Pro account to export).
A blog from WordPress or Blogger— Where these other tools encourage you to work a certain way, blogs are flexible enough to support various ways of working.
But which tool is ‘The Best’?
The best tool is the one you are most comfortable using, the one that produces attractive, readable collections for your students, and that you can continue to build on if you choose a new tool. I take an “all of the above” approach, trying out different tools and then doing my best to match the strengths of the tool with the job I’m using it for. If your users demand a beautiful reading experience, check out Flipboard, Learnist, or Pinterest. If you are mostly organizing social media posts into stories, try Storify or Paper.li. If you want a tool that will do a little of everything, get started with WordPress.com, Blogger.com, or even Evernote.
I urge you to read the sources below to get a clearer sense of who you are as a content curator and which tools will work best for you, then share your experience in the comments or on social media!
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