“Content curation” is hip terminology in the marketing world. Businesses routinely develop and refine perceptions of their brand on social media through the information they choose to share with specific audiences.
Curating content is an essential skill to share with students. With broad and easy access to information, seeing and practicing content curation can help students deal with the often-overwhelming amount of information available at their fingertips.
In a recent Idea Channel Video, host Mike Rugnetta makes a compelling case that the algorithms Google uses to sift through and create connections between a vast amount of Web-based information represent a kind of knowing.
Rugnetta cites Larry Sanger’s observation that the Internet means that people can find information more easily than ever before, but access to information is not equivalent to knowledge. In order to create knowledge, he argues that a person must know how to sift through the vast available information and judge the value of, organize, and connect that information. Because the algorithms used by Google do, to some extent, engage in these behaviors, Rugnetta believes that the search engine demonstrates a limited type of knowledge.
This unique argument highlights one of the important reasons that educators need to teach students the skill of content curation. Google, to some extent, does engage in rudimentary content filtering, but what most educators seek for their students are complex ways of knowing and understanding, which can be illustrated through more intentional filtering and organizing.
Beth Kanter, identified as one of Business Insider’s “voices of innovation in social media,” defines content curation as a sorting process that results in the organization of filtered content in a specific and meaningful way. She writes that “mindful consumption of information is at the heart of content curation practice.”
It is this mindfulness — and the resulting filtering and organization — that explains why content curation is an essential tool for students. The sheer magnitude of available information leaves many unable to organize their own thoughts and ideas against the whole of the Internet. As a result, the work they create in the cacophony of unfiltered content represents exactly what Sanger mentioned: information without knowledge. Content curation can help students turn that information into knowledge.
In developing a skill set that forces them to judge and organize their resources, students reduce information overload. Additionally, the process of organizing their resources forces them to establish connections between their sources and identify areas of synthesis. The entire process encourages critical thinking and allows them to engage their sources at a higher, often rhetorical, level. It is a difficult task, but the central focus of many education standards regarding nonfiction information.
Modeling this process for students is particularly important. Watching a teacher search for a topic, filter information and evaluate sources lets them see how the process works. Students can then follow these models to form their own content curation techniques.
Older students’ comfort with social media can be used to illustrate how they are already engaged in the process of personal content curation through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram accounts. They can apply the same process of judgment, filtering, and connection techniques to more academic endeavors like database usage, academic research, and essay writing.
Twitter, Facebook, or the more education-focused Edmodo provide opportunities to consistently share content with students, but because they are streaming-focused, using them for content curation becomes untenable. There are a variety of other websites that can act as curation tools, including TagBoard, Flipboard, or Storify.
Pinterest is a particularly powerful tool to use as a model for content curation. Teachers can use different boards to collect images with a common theme that link to websites and articles. By sorting and organizing information into various Pinterest boards, educators can show students how establishing and developing connections can prevent information overload.
Because Pinterest allows searching and repinning, students can also see how filtered content differs from broadly available information and reflect on the influence individual viewpoints might have on how information is collected and organized. It also becomes a great place to organize information that may be beneficial for portions of the student population, but can’t be shared in class due to time constraints.
Pinterest is free, making it accessible for classroom use. However, as with any other website, it is important to establish and maintain student privacy and to protect their digital footprint. Pinterest has private, semi-private, and group board settings that can contribute to these protections.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.