Summer Seed Ideas: Curation, Participation, and Student PLEs

Planning Ahead for Fall
Planning Ahead for Fall CC image via

I’ve developed a growing interest in the concept of curation ever since reading Brian Solis’s post, “The Curation Economy and the 3C’s of Information Commerce“,  in late April. Consequently, I purchased the e-book edition of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators (a current read) and have been bookmarking articles about curation.

What is curation?  Curation Nation author Steven Rosenbaum asserts curation is:

“…about something different from disintermediation.  In fact, it’s about re-mediation.  It’s about adding quality back into the equation and putting a human filter between you and the overwhelming world of content abundance that is swirling around us every day.  Curation replaces noise with clarity.”

Brian Solis says that in social media,

“…a curator is the keeper of their interest graphs. By discovering, organizing, and sharing relevant content from around the Web, curators invest in the integrity and vibrancy of their nicheworks and the relationships that define them. Information becomes currency and the ability to repackage something of interest as a compelling, consumable and also sharable social object is an art…Rather than creating original content, curators discover relevant content and share it within their networks of relevance with added perspective. The stream of an interest graph is rich with context and narrative allowing anyone connected to learn and interact based on the subject matter that captivates them.  The art of curation also extends to traditional social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and through status updates any social network of choice. Curated content also serves as social objects that spark conversations and reactions, while also breathing new life and extending the reach of the original content – wherever it may reside.” outlines the possibilities for curation in the classroom:

Curation is expression, action and passion…Not only is curation a collaborative process allowing educators to share resources and explore Education 2.0 ideas, but it is also a tool that students can embrace to engage with other students and teachers. No, internet is not only a distraction that kills the focus of pupils, it is also a place offering tons of interesting new tools.  Curation also brings the possibility to build around a specific topic or subject of research an interactive discussion between the teacher and his or her students. Suddenly the room is open, without being an organic process without any structure. Curation offers a context on the biggest learning playground the world has ever known.

One of my play projects this summer is to explore tools for curation to:

1.  Develop a sense of which curation tools might work well for my high school students and which tools might interface with other existing content creation tools and information sharing mediums students use in their personal learning environments.  How can curation tools scaffold students’ information literacy skills and their ability to share resources with others in their learning networks?

2.  Discover curation tools that work best for me as I curate topics of professional and personal interest.

3.  Think about the role of curation in participatory learning environments–how might the use of curation tools enhance students’ ability to take more ownership of lines of inquiry for exploration?

4.  Investigate how curation intersects with my efforts to cultivate student information fluency, participatory literacy, and digital writing.

My first curation tool I’ve tried this summer is, a beta tool that encourages users to “create your topic-centric media by collecting gems among relevant social media streams. Publish it to people sharing the same interest.”

I jumped right into by following several topics of interest (see screenshot below) and creating two of my own:  Curation for Learning and Embedded Librarianship.  Once you have created a topic, you can use curation sources suggested by; you also have the option to install a bookmarklet to your browser to “scoop” and add any information source of your choosing.  Once you’ve created a topic, the result is a sleek, visually pleasing aggregation of information sources that has a magazine style publication feel.  You can easily manipulate the layout, and visitors can comment on specific information sources in your “scoop.”   Another feature that appeals to me on a personal level is the ability to post a source you’ve scooped in the curation process to your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or LinkedIn account; with the Facebook option, you can even choose which Facebook page you want to post your scoop, so if you manage multiple pages like I do in addition to your personal page, you can share content easily.

In thinking about how my students might use, I like the idea that they could share sources they’re curating not only to their “scoop” portal, but they could easily share on their Facebook pages, or post to their Tumblr blog and perhaps share a brief reflective post about why they chose that source and their thought process in evaluating its credibility/authority.  I’m also thinking about how these tools could help them not only curate topics for personal research, but also to become curators for The Unquiet Library and to actively curate topics that we would incorporate into our virtual collection and web presence.

I also like that you can grab the RSS feed for scoops/topics you are following and seamlessly pull that feed into your favorite feed aggregator, like iGoogle, Google Reader, or Netvibes.

In thinking about curation, conversations about authority, credibility, relevance of the source for the information seeking task, and the inclusion of diverse information sources are essential in scaffolding students’ curation skills as they not only develop their own information filters for personal use but also as they share these curated information portals with others.  Curation also honors Dr. Michael Wesch’s call to help students move from being “knowledgeable to knowledge-able” (be sure to see his TEDx talk on this concept).

My next curation tool I’ll be playing with in the upcoming weeks will be Storify.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on curation and how we can support our students’ growth as curators.

Comparing Symbaloo and Netvibes as Information Dashboards and PLEs

A year ago, Susan Lester and I used Netvibes with our students as their platform for creating information dashboards as part of their personal learning environment to support their inquiry into issues veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing.  Students loved the ability to personalize their Netvibes portals (themes, templates, layouts) as well as the pre-existing widgets available in Netvibes; they also liked that they could pretty much embed any kind of content in a way that the content really lived on their pages.  Students liked the visual appeal of Netvibes and that for each widget, content was dynamic and visually interesting.

Susan and I loved that students could organize their Netvibes portals in a way that made sense to them and that a page could contain a diverse range of information streams:  a webpage, an embedded document, a RSS feed, a database widget, the link tool that made a webpage “live” within the Netvibes page.  Not only could students organize information, but they could also publish content they were creating through tools like Google Docs and VoiceThread as well as original works, such as artwork and videos.  We also liked that students could easily publish their Netvibes pages and share public links to these pages with anyone.   In addition, we liked that students could share tabs through social media or email.

What we found problematic with Netvibes, particularly toward the end of our unit in late April and early May, was that Netvibes did not play happily in our network environment in which student rights are restricted in Internet Explorer, the only browser  accessible to students; consequently, these restrictions impacted students’ ability (or lack thereof) to manage add-ons needed for Netvibes to load properly.  I think if students had access to manage these add-ons, Netvibes would cooperate more consistently for them, but for now, those policies are not going to change.  In addition, I did not find the tech support from Netvibes very helpful or responsive in a timely manner when the few times I contacted them for assistance.

Consequently, I needed to start thinking about other options for an information dashboard.  While I haven’t yet discovered another free tool that will do all that Netvibes does and in the manner Netvibes does it, I decided to revisit Symbaloo, which I first discovered about a year or so ago through my colleague and friend Wendy Drexler. While an information dashboard/portal is not a formal requirement of this year’s digital research project (more coming soon about that here on the blog) on veterans’ issues, I decided today that students still needed some kind of information dashboard to manage all of their information streams for the upcoming project.  I had already ruled out iGoogle because we had problems with it last semester (again–the limitations on students’ ability to manage add-ons).  Preliminary testing I did of Symbaloo under a “test” student login indicated it would function in a stable, normal manner in our network environment for students, so I settled on Symbaloo as my tool of choice for this spring.

I decided to create a base information dashboard (which I called Media 21 Tools) for this project with the key information sources/streams that would be daily “go to” tools and to then publish that “webmix”  as a public webmix the students could easily search, discover, and then add as a webmix to their own Symbaloo accounts. The idea of having one site to log into daily and then a pre-constructed  dashboard of all the learning tools and spaces available to us seemed appealing to the 7th period students today.   What I do like about Symbaloo is that if I make any updates to this webmix, students receive the updates as well!  I only wish that students could edit the webmix in their own accounts (and if they can, I haven’t discovered how yet), but that is really a minor wrinkle for us at this point; I also wish I could publish the webmix with a public URL accessible to non-Symbaloo users.  A real winning aspect of Symbaloo is that students can easily post an information source from Academic Search Complete and Gale Opposing Viewpoints into their Symbaloo webmixes; since these are two primary databases we’ll be using for our research, the ease of posting content/bookmarks/permalinks to specific sources the students find in these databases is a huge selling point for me (and I think for the students, too).

Many students in the first class that tried Symbaloo today commented that they liked the clean, visual interface of Symbaloo and the ease of adding content; they also liked that they could customize the “tiles” they were adding and that their webmixes loaded quickly.  I encouraged students to use their accounts as an information dashboard for “professional” or school interests as well as personal passions.  We also discussed that as they begin to work in inquiry circles next week and to collaborate on their digital research projects, they can create, publish, and share their topic webmixes with their peers so that they can collaborate and discover information sources through this form of networking/information sharing–I find this possibility exciting for the students, and they seemed impressed by this concept as well.

I do wish students could mix and match RSS feeds with hyperlinked tiles in Symbaloo; I also wish they could embed the content in this space the way you can in Netvibes although SymbalooEDU is going to Skype with me next week to see if we can make that happen since students being able to post content they’ve created is important to me.  However, my main priority is for students to have a tool they can use to organize their information streams and to create their own topic webmixes, and from what I’ve seen so far, Symbaloo definitely will meet those needs.

As we begin venturing into our research the next two weeks and students begin developing their Symbaloo webmixes, I’ll continue to collect feedback from students on how this learning tool is working for them and how they are using it for themselves as well as within their groups–I’m excited to see what will happen.  I may also informally introduce Symbaloo to some of last year’s Media 21 students and get their feedback on how they think Symbaloo compares to Netvibes and what their preferences are as students.   In the meantime, I’ve created a working LibGuides portal on Symbaloo for our students; please feel free to browse the resources in this guide.  I also encourage you to check out the videos and blog posts at SymbalooEDU to see how other educators are using this tool to support student learning.

Correction:  March 21, 2011:  You CAN publish a Symbaloo mix (and share via email, Facebook, or Twitter)!  Take a peek at the one I’ve created for my Media 21 peeps to have at their fingertips when they log into Symbaloo at the beginning of class each day now.