I've been fascinated this evening by the notion of curating, watching videos on the topic by the 'Great Curator' himself, Robert Scoble. Turns out I've been curating for years! It involves reading content on the Internet and then sharing it with others by, for instance, 'liking' it on Facebook or Tweeting it. In the old days if I liked something then I'd share it with friends by copying the URL into an email and sending it to them. Now this process is made easy by applications designed to store and share content.
I've just started using Scoop.it, which allows me to read articles or watch videos on my favourite topic - counselling and mental health - and then share that content with my "community" - of students, colleagues, friends and Twitter followers - by clicking on a 'bookmarklet' on my bookmarks bar. The article is then placed in an on-line feed or 'topic' and presented as a high-quality newsletter, it is automatically posted to Facebook or Twitter depending on my preferences.
So the time I spend on the Internet has become pretty involved. If I read an interesting article I use my bit.ly button to shorten the link before sending it out on Twitter; I use Scoop.it so the article appears as a topic there and automatically posts to my Marsden Therapy Facebook Page. I then use the Evernote Web Clipper to save the article to a folder in my Evernote account.
So, the question that crosses my mind is, 'What's the point?'
The first thing I would say in response (to my own question) is that I find it enjoyable. I enjoy searching the Web for articles, reading them and sharing the best of them with others. Secondly, I feel part of a community - I read articles posted by counsellors and mental health workers all around the world and I respond by sharing content that I have found interesting. Thirdly, I believe my efforts help establish my credibility as a counsellor: someone with passion for my subject who's engaged in the 'conversation' about counselling, psychotherapy and mental health. Several clients have made appointments because of my blogging and Tweeting. I think it raises my profile. Finally I think that social media and curation has a role to play in teaching and learning and that's what I want to talk about next.
I experimented with Facebook a couple of years ago. I invited all my students to join, thinking I would be able to create a "community of learners" on the Web. I soon realised this was a mistake that crossed professional boundaries. I felt uncomfortable reading about the private lives of students and after one week I explained my mistake, apologised and deleted my account. When I rejoined Facebook a year later I restricted my circle of 'friends' to people I knew, people who really were friends. I then started thinking about how else I could communicate with learners. But the key lesson from my first experience of Facebook was that social media needs to be managed properly and boundaries have to be protected. I think I do that pretty well now.
One of the ways I use curation to promote teaching and learning is by using Twitter. I encourage learners to join Twitter and follow my account. I don't follow back and that helps to maintain clear boundaries. I've had a number of students comment on the links I've posted to relevant articles and videos, but generally the take-up rate amongst students has been pretty low. I'm considering other innovative ways to include Twitter in my teaching: I may try holding classes in one of the computer rooms where I can use Twitter to canvass opinion and assess learning.
Facebook seems to be much more popular amongst the students I encounter and now I've found a way of automatically posting articles to my Facebook Page I shall promote that too as a way of engaging learners. My Marsden Therapy Page allows me to share content on the 'walls' of students who have 'liked' my page but without becoming their 'friends' or seeing their personal posts. I'm going to give this a go in September 2012.
Finally, Scoop-it allows me to share content with my students. First of all it creates a smart looking e-newsletter out of the content I have bookmarked. This comes with its own URL that I can copy into emails or advertise on my other Web Sites. Secondly Scoop.it has a widget that I have been able to install on the University Centre's virtual learning environment - in this case it's Moodle - for all my students to see, and ignore, or click on. My real hope is that learners will also begin using social media to curate about counselling and mental health topics - and that will be very satisfying.