Easy Digital Content Curation

One major attraction of social media is that we are using trusted sources to curate interesting content. Friends post funny videos and the like that appear on our Facebook timelines. With millions of new items appearing on the web daily, we could not possibly scan it all, so we rely on the sharing function of social media to find the best content. In fact, content curation is so important that at one time the most popular YouTube channel was by Ray William Johnson, whose videos did nothing other than alert viewers to the best new videos to appear on YouTube over the past week. His was the first channel to reach five million subscribers and three billion views, and he made a very good full-time living from the ad revenue before retiring.

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One major attraction of social media is that we are using trusted sources to curate interesting content. Friends post funny videos and the like that appear on our Facebook timelines. With millions of new items appearing on the web daily, we could not possibly scan it all, so we rely on the sharing function of social media to find the best content. In fact, content curation is so important that at one time the most popular YouTube channel was by Ray William Johnson, whose videos did nothing other than alert viewers to the best new videos to appear on YouTube over the past week. His was the first channel to reach five million subscribers and three billion views, and he made a very good full-time living from the ad revenue before retiring.

Curating digital content for the best items also makes for a good class activity. I assign students in my medical ethics class a topic in the field and have them put together a repository of good learning content on that topic. This is a good research exercise because it requires understanding and applying search skills for finding the best resources, evaluating resources to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, and organizing the resources in a way that makes sense to others, as the result is put into a permanent class repository to help future students. Thus, they must identify logical themes that can serve as categories within a topic. I also require them to summarize the important points of the resource.

If all this sounds like creating an annotated bibliography, it is. Digital content curation is the 21st-century version of the old annotated bibliography, and it builds skills needed to find information today.

I used a wiki to host the repository when I first used the activity in a class, but now there are a variety of free and easy-to-use systems designed for curating digital content. When choosing a hosting tool, it is important to consider its purpose, as some tools are more designed for one use than others. For instance, some tools include the option for users to post comments, and these are good if your purpose is to have students analyze and discuss content. If instead you want students to track stories developing in real time, then tools such as Twitter and Storify are ideal. For instance, a journalism instructor might assign students to follow a story to see how it is portrayed in different media. If you want to focus on the presentation of the repository, then publishing tools such as LucidPress, Scopp.it, and Paper.li would be best because they are designed to create e-magazines.

Besides the abovementioned options, there is a wide range of general-purpose digital content curation tools for instructors to use in their courses:

Pearltrees (http://www.pearltrees.com) allows users to curate a wide variety of content types, from websites to videos, images, PowerPoints, PDFs, and the like. The collections appear in an attractive and easy-to-search tile format on the screen. Users can also combine connections in topics, subtopics, and so on using a drag-and-drop interface, creating what the system calls “branches” of content. Users can comment on their content and share their content with others for comment. Plus, users can search other people's trees and add that content to their own. There is also an educational version that allows instructors to create closed classrooms of trees. Take a look at the tutorial I created on how to use the system: https://youtu.be/Xg2l-xstOrk

Livebinders (http://www.livebinders.com) is a popular site that allows users to organize content as if it were in binders organized with tabs along the top for navigation. The tabs can lead to a second level of tabs, allowing for easy movement through multiple levels of content. This feature can be particularly helpful for hosting a class repository of resources that persists across classes and so branches off and grows over time.

Protopage (http://www.protopage.com) presents content as widgets, which are boxes of links that can include images, videos, and so on. It also includes a search bar at the top with buttons to search engines, YouTube, and popular websites for finding content. The presentation is a bit more appealing than Pearltrees, though the system also has a bit less functionality.

Learnist is an app available at either the Apple app store or Google Play that is designed for creating lessons that can be stored in the system and played on a tablet or cell phone. The swipe-tiles format makes for an engaging way to go through lessons, which can draw together different web pages along with text to lead the viewer through a topic. This is a particularly good site if you want your students to create an educational journey through a topic in a lesson format.

Digital content creation can be an exceptional way to increase engagement and teach 21st-century skills in any course.