Thursday, November 5, 2015

Upping the Intellectual Stakes with Curation

Curation. The word has a cool vibe. It makes me think of museums and art galleries, places where professionals select, collect, and archive particular objects worthy of saving. Curation isn’t simply about squirreling away massive amounts of stuff. Curators don’t willy nilly hoard just anything; they select with intention, with a particular set of standards about what pieces should be included or excluded in their collections.

This is exactly what I did in high school with comic books. I used set of standards, admittedly subjective, to pick certain titles: Iron Fist, The New X-men, and Deathlok, titles I thought were artistically superior with super cool story lines. My standards for curating images and quotes for my Tumblr feed are equally subjective: Are they witty or clever? Are they aesthetically pleasing? Might they find use value in my classrooms? 

It's cool how the word “curation” makes my hobbies sound so smart. A specific word choice elevates something that I enjoy doing into an intellectual process. That'is probably why I enjoy experimenting with curating students’ ideas. This semester, I am using Padlet to curate students’ thinking. 

Padlet is free online virtual bulletin board where students can "pin" various Internet sources (images, GIFS, Soundcloud files, web pages, short pieces of texts) on a a shared digital document. I set up my free Padlet account and invite students to upload particular items that help with concept attainment. 

Side note:I'm not a shill for Padlet, but if any folks from Padlet wanna give me a free upgrade, I'll take it . . . 

One of the benefits of curating students’ work is it serves as a formative assessment. I can quickly see if students have learned what I wanted them to learn. Below is a board I used to assess whether students got the difference between “agency” and “social construction”. After a reading and discussion, I asked folks to use their SMART phones to upload at least one image, YouTube clip or quote that best illustrates “agency” and at least one other that illustrates “social construction”. 


Not only could I see at a glance whether students got it, their collected digital list becomes an inspiration board, a resource folks can study or use for if they need a brush up on the concepts. The board became everyone’s :intellectual property, giving everyone more depictions of the concepts than they had come up themselves.

The board below collects the preliminary thesis statements students fr om another class composed for a particular writing project. I asked everyone to post their possible thesis, and "cultural artifacts" (video, image, movie clip) they could use in their writing project. 


I made notes on several boards about audience, guiding students along their projects. I “wordsmithed” many of their “scratch thesis statements”, demonstrating how a few edits could improve upon their initial ideas. What I like about “wordsmithing” this that these demonstrations use students’ own writing, drafts that aren’t the artificial, manufactured draft statements we’d have found in a textbook. The sample "scratch thesis statements"  I’ve found in standard text books are carefully crafted to have a single, generic, identifiable problem. Using students own words and the types of writing problems they have to solve makes the revision process much more effective. 

Because I can easily display students’ ideas, everyone in the class gets to “feel the burn” of making their their thinking and writing public. I’ve found this aspect of publicly displaying students adds a a level of engagement with the material as students’ often feel more pressure to do well in front of their peers as opposed to simply having me be their primary audience. Students benefit from seeing each other's thinking processes, learning from each other. And writing projects begin to feel more like a communal activity - we're all in this together. 

So here’s to further experimenting with curation for me to experiment with next semester. The software  I use isn’t as important as the intellectual “get” the online services offers. If there’s not intellectual purpose, no goal outside of experiencing the bells and whistles of new technology, then I’d rather not invest the energy to figure out how to use technology. But since curation of this kind serves an intellectual rather than cosmetic goal, I’m happy to continue experimenting with curation, hopefully helping students to consider how they might save, document, and store their own thinking.