Curate or be curated

(This is an edited version of the presentation I gave at the TeachMeet held at Overnewton College on 21 June.)

Today I want to take you through the journey of my latest assessment task completed for my masters, in particular I want us to think about the value of an authentic audience and the impact this can have on a student. Those of you who were at the last teachmeet know about the Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) I’ve started, our host Imogen McLennan is another of the cohort but somehow I managed not to know that at the time! Since that teachmeet I’ve completed the second and most significant assessment task for the subject.We were asked to write an essay on a topic of our own choosing, coming from an area of interest from the modules and readings of the subject, and present it digitally, that is published online and taking advantage of the affordances of online tools.

  1. Choose a topic that allows you to pursue investigation of a topic or field of interest
  2. Draw from the content of the subject and your extended reading in the subject, as well from the personal and participatory experiences in this subject
  3. Develop knowledge and insight in your topic of choice to support your personal professional interests or professional workplace inquiries.
  4. Demonstrate how a connection of a range of media forms can empower reader engagement through more than simple text, in order to engage with a remix of high quality content, knowledge, and media to create a energizing academic essay.

That said, the assessment was to be based on the content – there are no marks for the prettiest website or most exciting whiz bang effects. Choosing a topic was tricky. The word limit was 1800 +/- 10%. This was not going to be a thesis even though my early topic thoughts easily could have run to thousands of words.

And there was my problem – all these topics are so big…I had to drill down to something that was actually manageable within the constraints of the task.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by verbeeldingskr8

Flicking through the various topics we’d covered I got to curation and had my lightbulb moment!

I realised that as a teacher-librarian I’d been curating information through the informed selection of resources for the collection since pre-digital times, although back then I would have called it “collection development” or simply “selection”. Fast forward to the development of the world wide web and the information explosion of Web 2.0, and in an attempt to continue to use my selection skills to resource the curriculum I have switched my focus to the selection and sharing of online resources through a variety of curation platforms (although I didn’t know it was called curation until I saw Joyce Valenza speak at SLAV in 2012).

I refined the top to “Curation as a tool for teaching and learning”. This was part of my successful proposal:

Moving beyond the library and the role of the teacher-librarian the essay will explore curation as a means of making sense of the information flow and how it is thus an important activity for all learners. It will explore curation in the context of information literacy, digital literacy, information fluency and open, social and participatory media, and examine activities such as peer critiquing, user-generated content, collective aggregation and community formation (Conole). (Read the full proposal here.)

So that was the hard part sorted – choosing a topic.

Then came lots of reading and researching – Evernote truly is my best friend! It quickly became clear that the whole experience was one great big curation exercise:

  • Finding the resources
  • Sifting and sorting to locate the best and most relevant parts, reading, absorbing, comparing, contrasting. Finding and making sense of various viewpoints.
  • Placing them in context and adding value through my interpretation and applying the lense of other concepts and ideas discussed and explored elsewhere in the subject.
  • Presenting it as a coherent whole, in the form of an academic, digital essay.

Right from the start I knew I wanted to use a curation platform to present the essay. I dabbled a bit with Scoop.it but quickly realised that Storify served the purpose much better, and even though it forced me to be more linear than I thought I wanted to be, in the end it actually made sense.

The essay came together on Storify really quite easily and I was able to publish it a whole 24 hours before the deadline!

I shared the link on the subject forum and on Twitter with the subject hashtag #inf530. Like other students (I assume) I was keen to see what my classmates had produced and I checked out their essays as they posted links. Later that night Mel Cashen tweeted that a friend of hers (who I have no connection to) had shared my essay on Facebook – interesting! I guessed that person must know another student from the course. By Monday night there were 50 or so views of the essay which seemed perfectly reasonable. What came next was totally unexpected.

Tuesday morning I found this tweet in my notifications:



Robin Good! – I quoted him in the essay, he’s like the guru of content curation!

And he’s curated me!

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by hbailie

It’s a great example of what a good curator does – critique the information. He goes on to make a couple of criticisms and gives me a score of 7/10 – I’ll take that!

As a mature age “over-achiever” I’d given my best and would never be happy to hand up second class work but knowing that a guru is reading it makes you even more aware of what you’ve done. I’ll confess, I went and changed something in response to one of the criticisms (even though the “good “girl” in me thought that might be wrong – classmate Simon reassured me that it was the nature of digital, to be continually evolving! (And actually a bit later I edited it again to add in creative commons licensing.)

But that’s when things went silly. Other people, none of whom I knew, re-tweeted Robin’s tweet or tweeted about my essay themselves. When I checked my essay that morning there had been 500 views, by the evening over 2000. A day or so later 3500. Wow! More views than this blog has had in it’s whole existence. I wrote about “Going viral” on my CSU Reflection blog and had some lovely feedback.

So what does it all mean…

This whole thing was a totally new experience for me and I’m still figuring out what I think, some of the time it just makes me laugh. Less connected friends and family cannot believe it’s possible. My husband is totally amazed – he’s had refereed scientific papers published in print journals that would not have been seen by more than a few dozen people.

Over the following weeks I’ve continued to have interactions with people who’ve read my work, including others who I quoted or referenced. It makes me feel like the hard slog was so worthwhile, that I wasn’t just ticking another box along the way. I go and re-read and think I could have done better, and I want to do better – publishing to a global audience means that I’m not happy with “good enough”. This authentic experience has been incredibly rewarding, validating and motivating and it makes me think that if that is what I make of my experiences, surely the same applies to our students too.

Many of the digital essays written for #INF530 Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age (mine included) have been gathered into a Flipboard by Simon Keily – they make for very interesting and thought-provoking reading.


The essay has now had over 19,000 views and has been assessed at a credit standard. Here it is:



Heartbleed. Retrieved from http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/04/09/heartbleed-reveals-a-big-hole-in-australias-cybersecurity-strategy/

As I’ve sat here today trying to get into my scholarly book review my mind has been meandering over a few topics of interest (sadly, not all related to the task at hand)…

1. Why do I find it so difficult to sound even vaguely intelligent when I summarise the main points of my book? Why do I struggle to put into words what I’m thinking in my head? Trying desperately not to simply copy I find I’m using the same tired words over and over. I know that using lots of quotes is not encouraged for a task like this but I’m conflicted about the value of badly-worded summation compared to a well-selected quote.

2. Pondering on the way technology has altered the brain thus allowing us to create new technologies and ways of doing I’m reminded of John Elliott on The Agony of Modern Manners last week when in response to a question about using the internet he said it was “secretary’s work” so he didn’t use it! I wonder how it is possible that any modern (ok a bit of a stretch regarding Mr Elliott who also has never cleaned a bathroom because it is “menial work”) businessman could possibly be keeping up without some form of online engagement. It reminds me too of a conversation I had with a mature teacher a couple of weeks ago. She knows that our early years teachers will soon have a bank of iPads available to use and has been sent into a spin because someone has told her she’ll have to use them. She hasn’t the first idea about what is possible with an iPad, hasn’t even touched one before. She can’t understand why we’d want preps and grade ones to use iPads when they can’t even write yet. I try to explain that the possibilities offered by the iPad don’t depend on being able to write, that that is one of their virtues but it falls on deaf ears. She’s looking for an easy answer but seems unwilling to make any personal changes or commitment to do so. She even says something along the lines of “we went to teacher’s college to learn how to teach, not to use technology”. I’m gobsmacked that someone only a few years older than me seemingly gave up on learning in her 20’s and don’t really know how to help. I can see that she’s scared and almost want to tell her not to bother, she’ll be retiring soon… but I don’t. I know that working with the middle ground, with teachers who CAN see the possibilities but just need some support to get there will reap the most rewards. Perhaps some of their successes will inspire her to try. I hope so.

3. Reports of the Heartbleed security threat, which potentially affects anyone who has used the internet in the last two years, are a little worrying (hmmm, maybe John Elliott isn’t so silly). I’ve been considering doing something with my passwords for a while. Yes, they are mostly different – a couple of site-specific identifying letters added to the same memorable word in most cases – but they are all made up of real words with numbers which apparently isn’t good enough. Just last Saturday a software-engineer friend was telling us that even pass-phrases aren’t strong enough, that the best passwords are gibberish. So with today’s news I’ve made a start and changed my IFTTT (the only website I’ve actually been contacted by) Twitter and Google passwords to randomly generated ones from Lastpass but gee, if you have a few devices (two iPads, and iPhone and a desktop PC) it ain’t that quick or easy to do. Great time-waster when you’re supposed to be studying though!

Cross-posted from Learn, do, teach…


I’m an entrepreneurial learner

Part of my Masters studies is writing a reflective blog. For this first subject Concepts and practices for a digital age we are required to publish four official posts over the course of the semester but are free to post other reflections as and when we wish. This is my first official post, cross-posted from Learn, do, teach… The directions were:

Using your readings and interaction with the subject to date, develop a statement about your current knowledge and understanding of concepts and practices in a digital age within the context of your work or professional circumstances. What is the context of your learning? What are your personal aims in this subject? What challenges are you hoping to meet for yourself?

As you might imagine I’m a little nervous about my first assessable writing in a long time – what do you think?

The Global One Room Schoolhouse: John Seely Brown (Highlights from JSB’s Keynote at DML2012). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/fiGabUBQEnM

I didn’t know it till this week but it seems I’m an entrepreneurial learner. I look for new ways to do things, seek new resources, re-evaluate, re-assess, tweak, try, and reflect. I’m not happy doing the same thing in the same way unless I know there isn’t a better way (and that’s rare). So John Seely Brown’s words right at the start of the video struck me straightaway. That’s it! That’s my passion! I want other teachers to be entrepreneurial learners too.

I want to find new and better ways to inspire and motivate teachers to have a go in the networked learning environment, to become “connected educators” – what Tom Whitby defines as “teachers who are comfortable with collaborative learning, social media, and sharing their ideas online.” I share his concern of a “huge gulf now developing between connected and unconnected educators.” (Digital trends shifting the role of teachers)

I want to be able to use the right language to convey my passion, to be able to articulate in pedagogical terms why it is important to keep up and to back up what I say with compelling examples from research. I read widely and find myself nodding my head in agreement or protesting “no” at an outrageous assertion but lack the skills to articulate why I respond that way. I need to “level up” my academic prowess. This is key in my motivation for study and I’m already being rewarded by the range of information being shared formally through the module and the new eye with which I’m viewing information shared informally.

Teachers I work with get bogged down in real and imagined barriers relating to workload, red tape and previous bad experiences, using them as excuses not to try. I love seeing the lightbulb go on when someone realises that a particular tool can actually make them more efficient (seen recently with a new Evernote convert) but often teachers lack motivation or are scared of breaking something or admitting they don’t know. I want teachers to find the same joy I do in play. As Seely Brown says “a key aspect of play is…permission to fail. Fail, fail, fail, then get it right”.

I want teachers to see that the technology itself is irrelevant. Just yesterday a primary teacher bemoaned the fact that her students struggled with using a mouse because they were so used to touch devices. Does it really matter? I can see a day in the not too distant future when the computer mouse will be viewed like the fountain pen, a quaint relic. We already have voice and gesture recognition and eye control is being developed. The mouse should be seen for what it is – an input device, nothing more, nothing less. This tweet from Marc Prensky sums it up beautifully:


I want teachers to see the need to transform learning tasks, that simply digitising an existing task and teaching it in the same old way will not develop 21st century skills.  Future work skills 2020 articulates skills that will be required in the workplace of the future but traditional teaching methods will not serve these needs. Consider Ruben R. Puentedura‘s SAMR model:

Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D. http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/
Retrieved from http://jennyluca.wikispaces.com/TPACK+and+SAMR 13 March, 2014

SAMR can be applied equally by teachers thinking about how they teach and how they themselves learn. I want to be an agent of redefinition.

Finally, I need to become a better teacher-librarian by sharpening up my own search and research skills. Already I am enjoying the challenges this poses.