Fig.1. Web 2.0 is visualised in many ways, Engestrom (2007) Mycorrhizae thinks in term of fungi.
Is this what curation online looks like? Part of a complex web or organism? An aspect of a new ecosystem?
Fig.2. Think of these labels as: curation, blogging, e-learning, moderating, social networks …
Writers, thinkers and bloggers are constantly taking common terms, the meanings of which we feel we understand, and giving them fresh, broader or nuanced meanings.
My understanding of curation is embedded in museums – I overheard the curator of the current Superhuman exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation Museum being interviewed by Aleks Krotovski on Tuesday. When I took a picture using my iPad a member of the museum staff politely told me that ‘the curator asked that people did not take pictures’ (and that the curator was in part to blame as he hadn’t wanted the signage saying ‘don’t take pictures’ too prominent) – curator as stage manager and executive producer of a collection of themed objects. The term ‘object’ itself embracing stills, artefacts, video-clips and activities. You curate stuff in a space and set parameters so that an audience of visitors can get their head around what, in effect, has come the curator’s mind.
In the bizarre ways that these things happen I recall, age six at most, creating a fossil museum with ammonites found in the low rocky cliffs of Beadnell, Northumberland.
I was a curator, I brought together a themed collection of rocks, set them out in a room and invited people in – no doubt in the back of my mind imagining the glass cabinets and displays in the Hancock Museum, Newcastle.
Ian McGreggor of the British Museum with his History of the World in 100 objects is a curator – far more so than an amateur’s eclectic collection of e–stuff. Or am I being a 20th century snob? Craving for academic elitism that is fast vanishing down the plug–hole as the digtal ocean and equally digital–cloud washes and blows over everything?
I search that externalised part of my own mind, an extensive blog 13 years in the writing, for what I’ve said or stumbled upon before regarding ‘curation’ and find three entries, one prompted by my intention to attend this session in Bath and feeding off a visit to the De le Warr, Bexhill and the rest from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ in which he lists curation as something universities will need to do. On Chapter 12 he has this list on publishing as:Publishing
I wonder if this following quote gives a sense of Martin Weller‘s comprehension of the term ‘curation’ as used in a Web 2.0 context:
‘If Boyer’s four main scholarly functions were research, application, integration and teaching, then I would propose that those of the digital scholar are engagement, experimentation, reflection and sharing’. Weller (2011).
On a quest to become ‘digital scholars’ or ‘thought leaders’ we should, to change one word –engage, experiment, reflect and curate’? The word, used in this, come to think of it, ought also to include ‘moderate’, even to ‘chair’ or ‘host’.
In 2002 Gilly Salmon, then a lecturer at the Open University Business School, tried to coin the terms e–tivity and e–moderator.
Perhaps then, as these things go, the digital community have not picked up on these terms – instead they have hijacked ‘curation’. We are going through a rich phase of redefining and inventing words and understandably they result in carnage and debate. Academics are guilty I feel of sometimes wanting to be the first to coin a word or use a new phrase or word in a new way because citation will mean that they are then quoted for every more. This happens in academic publishing and study, unfortunately ‘curation’ can leave you wondering about the source. Is ‘jumbling together’ the content of others from multiple sources even more questionable than turning to self–monitored wikis such as wikipedia?
Weller also says:
‘If the intention is to encourage engagement then low-quality routes may be more fruitful than seeking to produce professional broadcast material’. Weller (2011)
‘Low quality individual items because of their obvious ease of production, can be seen as an invitation to participate’. Weller (2011)
Is curation a dirty word? Is curated content reliable? What does it mean in the corporate world?
At a self–managed meeting of the curious courtesy of Wee–Learning in the vault of a pub called ‘The Cock’ in Bristol last Thursday (18th October 2012) Sam Burrough , who represents the online learning of thousands of learners in the financial sector in Bristol, UK – put ‘curation’ in the context of when it continual professional development and personal development planning – his drive is to get internal learners to seek out pertinent courses and content for themselves rather than waiting for and relying on a course list. As well as self–development reading and curating content themselves will make them more connected in and out of the company as well as gaining a better understanding of the technology. – so looking for relative content to solve their problems that they can share or make available to others.
Sam introduced Beth Kanter, Robin Good and Howard Rheingold.
Indeed those who use term may prefer ‘curation’ to describe what they do over ‘sharing’ just as professional bloggers like Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Beast) simply describe themselves as journalists. Amateur aggregation of content from other sources with no comment or original content of your own is surely the equivalent of cutting out articles from newspapers and magazines and putting them in a scrapbook? But I can’t see the phrase ‘to e–scrapbook’ catching on.
Earlier in his book Weller (2011:Chapter 2) lists university functions as:
· Change can be quick
· No assumptions are unassailable
· Form and function are different
· Boundaries are blurred.
· We can’t wrap libraries and such like in cotton wool if their time is over.
· Global networks, unpredictable environments, rapid response.
Robin Good (2012) likens Google to Macdonalds, whereas the curator runs a bespoke restaurant. He talks about curation as ‘sense making’ not just links. That curation helps people to learn better and faster from people they know or respect.
Rowlands in a 2008 study talks of ‘skimming and skipping’ about instead of deep reading. Easily distracted, or persuasively detracted’. Of what value is e–curation where an algorithm packaged as Stumbleupon, ScoopIt or Evenote assembles vicariously content gleaned from noisy self–publishing amateurs, professional online newspapers and academic studies mashing them up in one place and giving them the look of a professional edited paper?
Is ‘e–curation’ nothing more that semi–automatic ‘skittish bouncing behaviour’ Wijekumar et al. (2006).
You see, curation supposes authority, supposes in the sense of managing a collection for a museum that a panel of scholars or authorities has appointed this ‘curator’ as they have some kind of scholarly or professional track record of expertise to warrant tenure and the title. In our Web 2.0 world just as anyone can publish, so too can anyone ‘curate’. We are back with hiw Weller (2011) describes Web 2.0 as the ‘mass democratisation of expression’.
My teenager children (16 year old girl, 14 year old boy) share images on Tumblr and Instagram – a tumbling riot of choice images grabbed and reblogged into a visual expression of who they aspire to be, or who they are or the people they want to attract. Is this ‘curation’ or self–expression, or even a quest for identity and understanding who they are through others? There is no boundary between what they do, curation and publishing – indeed, where either one galavanises huge interest they become champion curators surely? This isn’t even a museum of the person, for the person, but a visual stream of consciousness by a person created by the people for the people. Perhaps this is the answer – blurring the boundaries between blog, gallery, library and museum we each become the curators of the external expression of the contents of our minds forming in total a waterfall of information and ideas. As a reader, visitor or learner you are the fish swimming in this river, dipping in and out and through it. The space is an interplay between what others contribute and what you elect to tangle with.
Curation is more than aggregating stuff, there is a sense of purpose, a theme, even if it is a current in this digital river, this torrent, this deluge of information – the content is gathered, and presented in a certain way.
The curator is making choices that they think will impart value to the content pulled in. Someone has made choices on the visitor’s behalf. The collection is assembled for a purpose, to change minds, to open heads, to instigate a journey, to act as a catalyst for learning and and the creation of understanding. Some curators will trawl for their catch like deep-sea fishermen, others will be more akin to specialist shop keepers stocking their shelves with gems and taking the time to meet and know their customers.
Whilst blogging implies creating content or self-publishing, curation is aggregating content by one person for others – going out with a broom to sweep autumn leaves into a pile then picking out the russet red ones. It isn’t publishing either, these leaves are literally individual pages, not entire books, they are, in the parlance ‘bite–sized’ pieces of information.
At what point does it cease to be curation?
The London Underground Lost Property Office is not a curated space – this stuff has been pushed into the space, not pulled. Push or pull are key words when it comes to curation, especially where the curation is prompted by the desire to respond to a problem – such as engaging people to take responsibility for their own learning by providing them with a space with blurred boundaries that will contain, more often than not, objects that satisfy and pique their cursioty in order that they then go on to construct their own understanding.
They wax lyrical and test their knowledge and understanding in a way that varies from after-dinner speaking and chat, to Oxford Dons in the Senior Common Room over a glass of sherry. The French would call them intellectual or even philosophers. A spin–off of the TV show is a new Radio series called ‘The Museum of Curiosity’.
Online, comments left by people become objects in this curated space – these are ‘items’.
They have a permanence, not only that, whether or not attributed, they can be shared, duplicated and re–versioned. Whilst you curate them in spaces you control, what happens once the item has been shared on? It may no longer be in such an attractive space at all? You may not even be credited as the author, which puts into question copyright, plagiarism and proper referencing.
Sam Burroughs (2012) likes the idea that you ’learn for myself’, and how it started with blogs then moved onto tools such as Delicious, the Digo +tag, organise with key words and RSS feeds. There are various RSS aggregators. Sam has come across 250 curation tools. How do you know which are the best? You give them a whirl or ask others what they think. Some to try include:
What tools for curating content can you recommend?
But can an algorithm curate? At what point is is less a pile of autumn leaves and more of a compost heap of meaningful ideas that ferment and enrich the plants around it?
Curation is a form of stage management, even direction, a conscious decision to put some things in and leave others out, to appeal to a visitor or imagined personas with certain needs and expectations. If this journey works, if the story draws them in, then by default they will be changed and therefore have learnt something.
This particular blog, one of several developing over the last week, feed by discussions online, blog posts, articles and face-to-face presentations and meetings, is written with special thanks to Thomas Garrod who is doing a very good job of cajoling me to get my head around this – though I should say that it is our joint heads – as there several of us are struggling with the term ‘curation’ and question its validity.