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Why you should teach students the skill of digital curation

Curation is a skill that students may gravitate towards naturally. For research and reading, though, digital curation is a skill that needs to be taught.
Why you should teach students the skill of digital curation
Why you should teach students the skill of digital curation

Did you ever make a mixtape or CD when you were younger? Our learners may never understand the joy of designing paper inserts for the recipient (just me?). They do understand, though, how to choose and share their favorite songs on Spotify playlists. They may not know it, but they’re practicing the skill of digital curation.

What is digital curation?

Curating is:

  1. Gathering materials around a given topic (think museums, subscription boxes like StitchFix, year-end top-ten lists)
  2. Analyzing each item’s worth for your collection
  3. Sharing your collection with a group 

Curation is a skill that students may gravitate towards naturally, like building Spotify playlists or amassing sneaker collections. But when the information they need to juggle comes from their teachers, at school or remotely, it can be too much to read—much less curate for understanding. Digital curation is a skill that needs to be taught.

Why teach digital curation?

The ISTE and Common Core State Standards provide a framework for teaching digital curation. ISTE advocates that students learn to curate information from digital resources using various tools and methods. They should then create collections of artifacts paired with their subjective connections or conclusions. Curation takes learners beyond collecting artifacts (such as newspaper articles, art or campaign literature) to sorting, aggregating and curating. 

Learners are completing more projects and assessments online than ever, either in person or remotely. Hāpara Teacher Dashboard enables teachers to give immediate feedback on how learners are sorting and aggregating their work. It’s an excellent opportunity to provide targeted instruction on naming conventions, as well as organizing and labeling files. When we teach students to locate, filter and catalog the information they’re viewing and hearing, they’ll flex their critical-thinking skills and become more successful problem solvers. 

Learners can practice digital curation in any subject area. Each class comes with a tidal wave of information—much of it online. It needs to be sorted through and organized before any further learning can occur. When you factor in the amount of digital spaces students must visit to access that information, it can be overwhelming to keep track of for both students and teachers. That’s why Hāpara Workspace makes so much sense. All the information learners need is stored in one spot, gathered on “cards” that the teacher can adjust as needed. Hāpara integrates with all of the major edtech apps so that learners can manage workflow and resources in one place.

What digital curation isn’t

High school sophomore Kelsey is writing a research project. She’s arguing that the school she attends should not enforce a dress code. She begins her research with a Google search: “Why are dress codes bad?” The search results contain articles from school newspapers and a few editorials from local publications. It also lists stories from all over the country about dress code violations. Unfortunately, none of these articles help her. She needs background on why her school adopted the policy, how the administrators measure its effectiveness and why students are against it. She also needs articles from reliable sources. They should contain interviews with administrators or psychologists to supplement the information she gathers about her school. 

Curating information for a research project is not as simple as performing a Google search. It’s an active literacy skill that requires learners to examine and evaluate articles, interview transcripts, videos or other artifacts. Then they need to be saved, assessed and grouped later. It doesn’t mean adding all of the links you can find to a document, without any gatekeeping. Digital curation means you subtract sites that are not appropriate for your project’s goal.

Model digital curation

To understand the difference between accumulation and curation, learners need to explore an example. If you’re using Hāpara Workspace, you already have a collection to examine. For Kelsey’s research project, perhaps you used a Workspace with columns for a calendar, resources, drafts and feedback. You may have also included cards with resources that learners could access asynchronously. It’s easy to differentiate resources for individuals or groups of learners whose topics have specific needs. Hāpara integrates seamlessly with Google Workspace for Education. You can exchange drafts and keep track of progress right from the Teacher Dashboard.

Part one: Information accumulation

When teaching students a skill as complex as digital curation, it’s important to focus on one skill at a time. That way deep learning occurs. The first skill centers on collecting high-quality information. Learners need instruction on advanced search techniques, using keywords rather than entire sentences and using databases. For a topic like a school’s dress code, there is a lot of information available. Kelsey can weed out the results that don’t align with her topic’s purpose. This evaluation is a higher-level thinking task that takes trial and error to master. What better place to do so than in the classroom (virtually or in-person) with guidance from you?

Part two: Information analysis

This is the step where learners critically evaluate which sources best suit their project’s goal. Kelsey found many articles telling the story of students punished for dress code violations. Her project requires her to take a stance, though. First-person narratives won’t be enough backup to prove that dress codes aren’t effective. Luckily, she found articles and studies that analyze the benefits and drawbacks of the school’s mandate. She also conducted interviews with administrators at her school. Now she has a good pool of information to create a compelling argument. 

As Kelsey selects pieces to consult as she’s writing, she’ll begin to group them by topic. She’ll also add notes and opinions about each, adding citations on the document or using a sticky note app. This resource analysis is a higher-level thinking task that needs to be taught. Not all learners can visualize how to separate and categorize their information. Using Google Drawings to create a mind map is a way to sketch out information.  If a student is more of a linear thinker, they can use Google Docs.

Part three: Creating

In this step, learners take the sources they’ve chosen to use and begin the process of creation. This is where different bits of information on a topic come together to fulfill the student’s purpose. If Kelsey were to simply present her findings as a list of articles, we wouldn’t know why she disagrees with her school’s dress code. The project needs her analysis to stand on its own to be evaluated and assessed by others.

It’s best to let learners decide how best to present their research projects. A paper is one way, but consider allowing choice. A video, slide presentation, museum walk or speech are all acceptable if students have assembled information, categorized it with discretion and presented it in the form of a persuasive argument supported by facts. We must empower our learners to show their learning in a way that feels natural to them. 

The value of a curated collection is lost if it is not shared with others. Let each student share their topic and then express and defend their position. Mastering the art of digital curation is an ongoing process for our students. It’s not only an academic skill. It’s a life skill. Let’s give them the tools to practice.

To learn more about how Hāpara can help your learners practice important skills like this, download our brief guide.

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