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Teach Digital Curation with Depth

Teach Digital Curation with Depth

This blog post originally appeared on the International Society for Technology in Education's (ISTE) EdTekHub on May 23, 2017.


By: Kate Harris, Learning Lab Coordinator, Pittsburgh, PA

"It gets so much harder when you get down to the last few choices. I want to include them all."

The student speaking had narrowed down 26 images of historical documents and artifacts related to the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to six that reflected her point of view, and now she had to eliminate one more.

"I want to show that I think using the atomic bombs was a bad idea because of how dramatically it changed warfare. I like the peace sculpture [a bronze memorial of a young girl holding an origami crane], but I like Einstein and Oppenheimer too."

When pressed to meet the five-resource limit her teacher had set, the student decided on the image of the scientists. According to her, "it shows that these weapons are created by humans and will hurt humans. That science isn't perfect and has flaws."

In a short time, she had analyzed several authentic sources, determining their point of view and synthesizing them with her own opinions. She then began to work on presenting her ideas to her classmates as an online collection, rather like a small museum exhibit. This is digital curation done right: students working with authentic materials in a meaningful way; finding, analyzing, and organizing to make new meaning out of the myriad materials available online.

Remember the mixtape

Did you ever make a mixtape (or a digital playlist, if you're young enough)? The greatest mixtapes weren't those that just included a scattered array of tunes or repeated the same radio hits. They were the ones that challenged the listener with something new — a surprising artist, or an unexpected cover of a favorite song. The mixtape's ultimate purpose was to deliver a message: declaring love, telling a story, or capturing a time and place. Like any great mixtape, curation is intentional and purposeful. The items chosen are thoughtful representations, and they are selected to communicate an idea.

Why use curation in the classroom?

With so much information now available, it's imperative that students develop the skills to effectively find and evaluate sources of information, categorize what they have found and create new meaning from those materials by adding personal insights or findings. More than a means of sifting the useful from the irrelevant, student curation is about adding to the conversation with original thought and determining how various resources connect.

Student curation addresses several academic and life skills. According to Understanding by Design developers Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, "Students reveal their understanding most effectively when they are provided with complex, authentic opportunities to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess."

Curation draws on the range of skills described and encourages students to produce and present their own digital content. Curation addresses the ISTE Knowledge Constructor standard, which expects students to "curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions."


To read more, please visit the ISTE's EdTekHub here for examples of student work and case studies of how teachers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania implemented the Smithsonian Learning Lab in their classroom.


Collection, by Saul Steinberg

Image: Collection (detail), by Saul Steinberg
Smithsonian American Art Museum