Saturday, August 20, 2016

Curating resources as a professional learning activity

The number of valuable educational resources available on the web seems to grow by the hour.  There are so many great sources of content that the challenge for today's teacher is simply finding the best resources for their student and their classroom. That is where the concept of content curation comes in to play.

Beth Canter (2011) defines content curation as "the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.  The work  involves  sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information." This definition is almost perfectly complete, only missing one aspect- content creation is hard. And time-consuming.  Wait, that is two things.

I probably need to expand on my additions to Canters' definition.  Content curation is hard when it is done right.  It is easy to throw together a list of links on a related topic.   Curation done right is much more than that.  You need more than just the link, you need information about the resource.  That is why I have become such a big fan of Participate Learning ( and their content collections.  Participate make it incredibly easy to add resources; there are already thousands in their database.  The power comes from your ability to create a new collection around your selected topic. And if you take the time to add a review of the resource, it becomes even more powerful.

Participate has included all the bells and whistles needed to build great resource collections.  Resources can include apps, online videos, websites, or even uploaded files.  This allows users to included everything from iPhone apps to YouTube videos to printed rubrics. This flexibility has led me to begin promoting the development of Participate collections in two different ways as a professional learning activity.

Participate Collections as a Lesson Plan

When I began my teaching career it was right in the middle of the transition between the analog and digital worlds.  My undergrad technology course included instruction on 16mm film projectors and opaque projectors (All you younger educators should look up that second one, it was a beast!) By the time I began my Masters work, the focus had shifted to Microsoft Office and the Internet.  If you were talking internet lessons in the mid-90's that meant Webquests.

Webquests were, and still can be, effective digital lessons.  You could easily design a Participate collection to serve as a guided online lesson.  Start to collection with a simple document that includes the detailed instructions.  This could be done by adding a link to a Google Doc or by uploading a static file.  Next, find a great YouTube video that describes the concept you are looking to teach.  Don't worry about the ads or the other videos that would normally be visible if you send the students directly to YouTube; Participate will show just the video in a window inside the Participate collection. Follow this with an iPhone app that the students will use to complete an activity.  Then maybe a website that the students will review for more information.  Complete the collection with a link to a Google Form you have created to serve as a quiz.  Creating a detailed lesson in this way is a great professional learning activity.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Curating Collections

While I have already discussed the how of creating collections, let me detail how this can serve as professional learning.  When the resources in the collection include a teacher-review that details how the resource was used, it requires a level of teacher thought that certainly qualifies as professional learning.  Combined with thoughtful curating of a diverse collection on the targeted topic itself requires an incredible amount of teacher preparation and is exactly what we want teachers to be doing.  In fact, I'm hearing that soon resources will be able to be aligned to Common Core standards (a feature that is currently available to Participate Learning experts).

Photo courtesy of University of Delaware

Collaborative Professional Learning

One of the unsung features of Participate Learning collections is the ability for teachers to collaborate on resource collections.  You can create a collection and then invite other teachers to your collection.  They can then add resources to the collection.  Additionally, there is a built in chat feature that allows collaborators to communicate inside a collection to discuss and evaluate the proposed resources.

I have begun incorporating the curation of resources into the graduate-level Educational Technology courses I teach as well as working them in to professional development sessions I conduct.  When you require more than just a basic collection of links, the curation of resources presents teachers with a challenge that is definitely worthy of professional learning credit.