What is content curation? Why does it matter to teachers?

The term “curate” has become a buzzword in education. I’ve seen it referenced in TEDx Talks and tossed around in Twitter chats. A few years ago, the term “curation” would have conjured up images of art galleries but now I associate it with conversations about the future of education.

And yet . . .

I’m really drawn toward an archaic definition of the term. It originally had a much more earthy, even gritty, connotations. Some linguists tie it back to the Medieval Latin word curare, which meant “to cure an illness.” It had a connotation of providing loving attention and management. The word “curator” goes back to the word curatus, which meant, “spiritual guide,”or “one responsible for the care of souls.”

Over time, this word morphed into an intense care and love for a particular subject, knowledge, or set of artistic works. A curator is one who collects and manages information with a passion and love for the subject. Which is a wonderful endeavor. But I’ve noticed that some of the best curators are able to tap into that original sense of being “one responsible for the care of souls.” As teachers, this is what we do. We help students grow in wisdom. We’re curators.

This is something often overlooked in the conversations about education and curation. I hear people talk about the need for students to be curators of content in an age of information overload. I’ve heard people say things like, “the teacher is no longer the source of information now that students can curate it themselves.” This is typically accompanied by the term “guide on the side” to describe a teacher’s role.

While I see some validity in this sentiment, I think it proves that now more than ever, teachers need to be curators. They need to be geeking out on their subjects. They need to help students figure out where to go. Yes, they might be “on the side,” but they are still guides, helping students navigate the terrain for the first time ever. And that’s precisely what a curator does.

What does curation typically look like?

Content curation begins with an intense love of the content. Think of gallery curators. They get giddy over the seemingly random (and yet almost impossible to replicate) approach of Jackson Pollock. However, they can engage in a two-hour discussion the relationship between kitsch art and postmodern philosophy.

Curators have a holistic, connected knowledge combined with thoughtful commentary. While there is an overlap with criticism, curators are more likely to geek out on the subject in a way that is explanatory instead of evaluative. This is often combined with a desire to make a work accessible to the public. So, while they are gatekeepers, critics are the ones shutting the gates while curators are often the ones who open the gates and convince people to come inside.

If all of that seems too abstract, here are a few things that are a part of the curation process:

  1. Searching for Content: The best curators are the ones who can find content that not everyone notices. This is what makes Maria Popova of Brain Pickings so amazing. She has this way of finding content that people are missing, looking in places we’ve overlooked.
  2. Consuming Content: The best curators are able to collect and consume great content. It’s not mindless consumption. It is mindful and relaxed but also sharp and analytical, either. One of the things I’ve noticed about great curators is that they scribble notes all over the margins of books and yet they feel the complete freedom to skim and skip when necessary.
  3. Organizing / Managing Content: Curation often involves placing content into categories or themes. The best curators are able to find connections between seemingly opposite artists, ideas, or disciplines in ways that make you think, “Man, I never considered that.”
  4. Adding Commentary: Curators rarely write long, in-depth explanations of the content. There’s typically a certain clarity and brevity in the commentary they add. When done well, a curator almost seems invisible, moving along the snippets of content. And yet, over time, you begin to appreciate the subtle personality and voice of a curator.
  5. Displaying the Content: Content curation has the end goal of getting great content into the hands of a larger audience. It is deliberately others-centered, even when the curator is introspective. Sometimes, the goal is to provide a set of practical information into the hands of readers. Others are more about offering something intriguing, even if it’s not inherently practical.

Favorite Education Curators

The education blogging community doesn’t have a strong curation element. Most of us are writing reflective, persuasive or practical blog posts. However, a few bloggers have nailed curation.
  • Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day: I’m not sure there is a curator who is more prolific than Larry. He does a great job of finding relevant content, organizing it by theme, and adding just the right information to tie it all together.
  • Hack Education: Audrey Watters covers everything from technology to policy to social movements. She’s constantly tapping into so many different sectors with a critical eye and tying it all together with sharp and witty observations. Some of my favorite posts she’s written included excerpts from books and articles that I hadn’t even considered reading before.
  • Autodizactic: Zac Chase is a curator in his approach to Instagram, Twitter and blogging. He’ll often underline a passage and write a note on the side. Although his posts are often reflective rather than explanatory, read through it a bit and you’ll see some amazing curating going on.
  • Dangerously Irrelevant: Scot McLeod has slowly shifted his blog into more of a curation blog, offering explanatory notes and then finding snippets of interesting thoughts on education from all over the Internet.

Favorite General Curators

These are my favorite curation blogs connected to art, literature, creativity, and productivity. I don’t follow music, food, or fashion curators, but there are some great ones out there as well. So, here are my favorite curation sites:

  • Farnam Street: Shane Farnam has a description on his blog, “I want to go to bed each night smarter than when I woke up. I also want to live a meaningful life and become a better person.”
  • Brain Pickings: Maria Popova is amazing. If you want a glimpse into her process and her personality, you should check out her interviews on the Tim Ferris Show.
  • Fast Company: Although they are technically a magazine with full articles, they do a wonderful job of curating a diverse range of topics within creativity.
  • Open Culture: I love the way they find seemingly random free items from our culture.
  • Mental Floss: Like Fast Company, Mental Floss is actually a magazine. However, they often curate information in a way that makes it deliberately popular. They use catchy titles and listicals in an approach that is the complete opposite of Brain Pickings.

Other Curation Platforms

While all of my examples are curation blogs (I am drawn toward blogs as platforms), I have seen some great examples of content curation happening on Pinterest and EduClipper. Both tools are created with visual curation in mind. For a glimpse at a multi-disciplinary education Pinterest board, check out Angela Watson’s curation style.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

2 responses

  1. Thank you for this discussion! I truly appreciate your comment that curators are gatekeepers encouraging others to explore a topic while critics are gate-closers. I am currently pursuing a Masters in Library and Information Science as a late-life career changer and from what I have seen of the field so far, librarians are truly content curators, at least that is what I hope to be.

  2. […] What is Content Curation? Getting Started with Content Curation in the Classroom Curation with your Students? Sharing the Good Stuff If you have found good stuff, and spent a good deal of time in doing that, and don’t share with others, what good is that? Do you have a way to share the resources that you are collecting with others? How are other educators around you sharing their resources? […]

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