The curator’s filters
March 11, 2013 by Catherine Lombardozzi
It’s clear that content curation is increasingly being talked about as an important role for learning professionals (in the context of self-provisioned learning, scaffolding, learing environment design, or creating informal learning space). In my own presentations on the topic, I’ve summarized the curator role as having these responsibilities:
- Seeking material to keep collection fresh
- Filtering material using human judgment to identify what is relevant and valuable
- Categorizing and tagging to make the right material easy to find
- Contextualizing and adding commentary to enrich the impact of the collection
- Highlighting trends and bigger-picture stories to enable sense-making
- Making connections between related (and seemingly unrelated) materials to provide deeper insight
- Generating discussion among people with the same interests to create community and enable knowledge and skill creation.
For this post, I want to focus on the filtering aspect of curation – some important considerations we need to have in play as we evaluate potential resources to add to our curated lists. Harold Rheingold calls this important filtering process “crap detection.”
Information validation. When we are in the role of curator, our expertise is our primary tool for validation potential resources. If we are not experts in what we are curating, a good advisory board or trusted subject matter expert should be recruited to serve that role. Triangulation or saturation are also good practices to put into play here – look to see if multiple sources say similar things, and then pick the best one or two in your opinion (just be careful if they are all citing the same source or only each other as the source).
Currency. Look for dates on the web page; when is the most recent update? If the content cites other articles or books, what is the most recent date on the list of references? If the topic is one that is evolving, then outdated material won’t be your best source.
Source validation. We all know that anyone can put anything up on the internet, but there is something about a professional-looking page with what looks like credible content that sways our inclination to doubt. Depending on your level of concern about validating, there are many strategies that can be used to validate the source of what you are finding. Here are the basics:
About. Check the “about” section for the relevant credentials of the source of the information (and possibly validating that information through other sources). When there isn’t an “about” section, backtracking the URL to the primary web page will give you more indication of the authors. Our sources don’t need to be famous, but it helps to know their backgrounds.
Links. You can also check whether credible referrers are linking to a site by searching “link: to see who links to that page (and what they say about it). If you have people you follow on Delicious or Diigo, you might also check to see if they are tagging the site, and the comments they make.
Investigate the source. Search the people and organizations referenced on the site, and look for news articles, endorsements, or critiques. For example, I learned from my students this week that Wikipedia is overwhelmingly edited by men – which doesn’t make it wrong, but does make it potentially lacking in certain perspectives. Checking “Who is” to find out who registers the domain name may lead you to discover that a web page is sponsored by a group with a clear agenda.
Diversification of inputs. It is often helpful to ensure you are pulling in a diversity of points of view. If you want to privilege a point of view, that is certainly appropriate in many instances, but I think learners will appreciate that you include (and discuss why you and others disagree with) additional points of view. Otherwise, you look like you are hiding something and learners may lose their trust in you as a curator. As you look to find diverse inputs, it’s helpful to have a healthy skepticism about why certain results rise to the top of your search results list; those placements may be bought (sponsored links) or gamed (search engine optimization strategies).
Filtering is an early step in the curation process, but a critical one. Our learners count on us to cut through the noise and find the most useful materials to support their learning. If they find that we have collated material that is inaccurate, out-dated, or relatively useless, they’ll go back to using their own search methodologies for finding materials, and our attempts to support them will be for naught.