Digital Culture – Students and Teachers as Curators

Beth Glasspole

Digital Culture, Games and Education
Assignment 1: Digital Culture and Education: Building Links
Due Date: Tuesday 22 April 2014

Gold Coast
Instructor: Professor Christopher Bigum

Digital Culture – Students and Teachers as Curators

The transcendence of knowledge and information from early human interaction, to modern day global sharing, has been a phenomenon of great significance in the history of education. Once it were the elders of the community that decided on the bearing and necessity of information to pass to their young. Now the young have at their disposal, endless amounts of information and data, all of which are a few taps and clicks of a keyboard away. Interestingly, time has not changed the fact that humans are organic creatures that continue to grow and develop themselves, throughout their lives. The conundrum of today’s education system is that many of the structural shifts are made by governmental bodies and not by those who deliver and receive the curriculum in its current form. However, education can happen despite the system itself, not because of it.

This paper has been the result of my reflective journey from creating content-based programs that incorporate various technological platforms to amalgamating them into programs that allow students and teachers to curate the learning experience together. That is, for students to tell the story of their learning, to answer questions of interest and convey what they have generated via various forms of media such as tablet applications, Learning Management Systems (LSMs), such as iTunes U, and student-produced movies and tutorials; documenting the learning along the way. Learning in a public forum: a curator’s story. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the idea of gathering, organising and sharing as a way to incorporate technology and to redefine student collaboration. I hope to outline the process by which teachers might embark on a shift in pedagogy from traditional teaching methods, where the teacher is seen as the instructor, to a more student-centred environment where participants are involved in the redefinition of tasks. Allowing for all parties to curate their learning collectively and share their newfound knowledge with others.

Curating a digital culture

To write about one aspect of digital culture is not an easy one and to choose one aspect to excite imagination and curiosity, within the current constraints of schooling, is just as challenging. It’s about caring for the ideas and interest of our students. The goal of this paper is to provoke thought on how teachers might take a simple idea of asking students to track their thoughts, according to what sparks their curiosity, not the system’s. As Head of St Hilda’s@Home, I am responsible for the development of online learning via the platform iTunes U, for our Junior School. The role is in its infancy and I am eager to find out more about how we can use technology to find the answers to more specific problems that involve thinking. It is important for me not to begin with the technology but to begin with a problem and decide on what form of technology is most suitable for the task. For example, do not make specific software or applications the centre of the discovery but look at problem and find the answer through the most suitable platform. To engineer teachers out of old roles and allow students to experience learning, not just mindless regurgitation. In addition, ensure that technology is not used for technology’s sake.

As an author of a number of iTunes U courses, much success has been found from developing structured learning opportunities for students. However, the same hurdle is faced, time and time again. How can the learning tasks be more meaningful for students? How can students engage, more importantly, want to engage in the process and illustrate their learning via the technology at their disposal? I continue to struggle with the age-old problem of labouring through a unit of work to reach the end and have to assess student learning via an assessment paper. Assessment should be more than just form filling. An idea that has struck a cord with me has been that of Valenza (2012) who highlights Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) that meet both the academic and personal needs of the students. The change from the LMS (Learning Management System) to PLEs is more of a pedagogical shift, from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to one that is able to focus on the varied needs of the user. Encouraging a framework that is a smooth transition from the past to the present and hopefully allowing students to find meaning from their learning.

To date, my experience with iTunes U course creation has led me to believe that they are not dissimilar to other Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard - a place to load and store content. However, it is at this point that I question the idea that why can’t we use these platforms to create Personalised Learning Environments? My initial thoughts for a resource to illustrate this theory in action will be to create an iTunes U course on Mental Calculation that will service the needs of school community as whole, not just as a resource for students to understand how to mentally calculate. Students can already access this information via my Year 5 Mathematics course as well as an excess of YouTube Clips online. Instead of me curating and producing the course, I would like to ask the students to gather, organise and present the course that requires them to tell a story and become ‘experts’ in the field of mental calculation and venture out to discover other aspects of what could otherwise be a rather dull topic for any student. Transitioning from content-based to more knowledge-based systems of education.

Meeting them ‘half-way’

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, ‘Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.’ These routine algorithms see teacher instruction at the front of the room; students then listen or possibly engage in quasi investigations, that probably have many constraints. Then finally, a test paper is produced to validate learning and illustrate accountability through reports, as well as for parents to see their ‘value for money’. I would like to propose a learning environment that requires the teachers to ask themselves a question as a prelude to a new topic, ‘Shouldn’t the kids be doing this?’ Instead of presenting the students with the information, ask them to produce the information. Ignite their imaginations and ponder the idea that if a computer can already give the information that teachers are sharing in the classroom, why are we denying children the ability to learn something new?

Today, teachers have the great responsibility of changing draconian ways and pushing forward new ways of thinking. Though one individual teacher cannot and will not change the system over night, there must be a way to meet the needs of the students, as well as engage them in exciting learning opportunities. To curate successful learning environments that are parallel to meeting the needs of standardised testing and reports. Meeting the system and its authors ‘halfway’. Technology will never be the answer, but will always be the pathway. Seeds of possibility must be laid down to engage students’ individuality, curiosity and creativity. Communication and exploration have been the centrepiece of social interaction across the centuries and it is obvious that it will continue way into the future.

Curators of a new idea

Interestingly, teachers are not the ‘gate-keeper’ of information, but the co-curators of the content. The term curator is often associated with those that are responsible for the selection of art and choice of artists for an exhibition in a local art gallery. Similarly, I see teachers as the curator of a learning environment where they are able to locate and organise relevant information for their students. In other words, collating good websites, videos and data relevant to the current topic and making it readily available for their students to then take the reigns and produce content of their own. In turn, the students curate their learning in a format that illustrates to their teacher what they have or have not understood about the current topic of research. All of which must bubble under the surface of today’s education system that appears to be more data-driven every day. This leads us then to how we might curate in an environment where our students are able to flourish and prepare for a future in an education system that is life-long and unknown.

Curating is the finding, organising and sharing of information. It is about giving context to information and building a picture or story for a common purpose. According to Meeker (2012) it is about assembling information on a topic, that may include web links, videos, podcasts, photos or images and information, then presenting it in a way that students can understand and feel comfortable with. Students and teachers are exposed to so much information on the Internet that it is difficult to filter the good from the bad or the overwhelming from the underwhelming. The skill of finding and deciding upon relevant information is an important aspect of digital literacy that students need to develop. Teachers need to ensure that their programs allow for such skills to be developed. Livingston, Bober and Helsper (2005) discuss digital literacy as knowing how to access the Internet and have the ability to understand and evaluate information and opportunities. Livingston et al. (2005) also suggest for students to create content and be an active participant and contributor to online content. For learning to occur some form of activity needs to follow the teaching, for students to illustrate their understanding. Allowing for them to articulate their knowledge processes. My theory is that students and teachers should be able to find a common place to share their conclusions and collaborate their ideas, questions and discoveries about a topic or concept discussed in class. Curating the learning and producing a knowledge base together.

As Valenza (2012) outlines in her paper, curating is an information life skill. She goes on to illustrate that the learning environment must meet both the academic and personal needs of its participants and the establishment of ‘networked’ learners. Curators of learning build an environment for their learners to come together, with a common goal, to source relevant information and use it achieve understanding. Wolff & Mulholland (2013) outline that curating is the process whereby educators set up a stage of inquiry and the formation of a research question or framework. Once a learning goal is set, the filtering of resources, annotation and organisation of individual content can occur. Finally Wolff & Mulholland (2013) are proponents of the need for the narration of the learning process and the use of context to allow the learner to discover and dissemble the task as well as support the formative assessment process. Giving a context to the learning and a base from which an individual might flourish.

The idea of curating knowledge and determining the most appropriate use of information is not a new concept. Molinar (1997) discusses in his paper, surrounding the history of computers, that in the early period of technology use in education, it was soon realised that it was no longer about how much knowledge one could store in their memory but how they might access information and use it. Though curating might be the new ‘buzz word’, it is a concept that needs to be taken seriously. It is no longer viable to ask students to replay what they have been taught. Instead, build upon their digital literacy skills and discover ideas beyond the basic knowledge base and find contexts in which to place their learning. Paul Saffo (1994) talks about a future where students will have access to a plethora of content, however, the context in which to use it will be hard to pinpoint. He also goes on to discuss the importance of ‘point of view’, where the future belongs to those that are able to filter the information overload and arrange it in a format that makes sense, is relevant, as well as manageable. Within are the pathways that technology provides, allowing students to be the controller, the one filtering information and using it to their advantage. Curating the knowledge and determining the most appropriate format in which to present it.

Curators of a knowledge base

In 2011, Steve Rosenbaum presented a TEDx talk where he presents curating as being about telling stories as well as gathering, organising and curating a story. He also states that, ‘The era that is ending is the Me Web and the era that is beginning is the We Web’. Rosenbaum believes that when we collaborate and tell our stories, we are adding value into the web ecosystem. It is true that the volume of information is growing, but it’s the people who will create clarity and many will embrace this. Similarly, within my proposed theory, in the classroom context, students should be able to create clarity in their thinking, organise it in a common place, share it with their peers and in turn, receive feedback and commentary from both their peers and their teacher. Herein lies the result - collaborative, engaged, knowledge-produced learning.

Bigum (2002) discusses the idea that schools can be the producers of knowledge. However, he does mention the idea that some schools use this concept to their assumed advantage. Schools market themselves according to how much physical technology is present within their school. However, the idea of curating amongst teachers and students is about the participant’s personal journey within a topic and using the technology to support that process. It’s about adding value to the process, allowing students to contribute knowledge and produce something that illustrates their learning. From Bigum’s (2002) research, it has been found that when students are asked to solve a problem and create information to share with others, they see value in what they are doing and inevitably, engagement in the process increases. In summary, when students are asked to solve a problem and they see a purpose in answering it, they are more likely to engage and learn from the experience.

Life and learning in an otherwise dull existence

Sir Ken Robinson (2013) outlines three principles on which human life flourishes. Firstly, humans are naturally different and diverse and that no two students are the same, therefore, the way they learn, their personal needs and interests will vary accordingly. Secondly, curiosity is the engine of achievement and that children are natural learners and all that is required is something to ‘light the spark’ of curiosity for learning to occur. Finally, humans are inherently creative; they like to seek out new and exciting things to make their lives better. Robinson (2013) also goes on to say that current education is based on conformity not diversity and that a broad curriculum provides various ideas and learning environments. He encourages teachers to ponder on the whole purpose of education – to get people to learn.

Education is not a mechanical system; it’s a human system. It needs to be personalised, have close links with the community and be something that occurs in and outside of school. According to Bryant, Downes, Twist, Prensky, Facer, Dumbleton, & Ley (2007) the challenge for teachers is how they participate with learners and the role they play in stimulating communities of learning and co-creating with them, instead of just imparting information. For students to fully understand the scope of their world, they must be curators of it. Teachers need to awaken and develop levels of creativity in their students. Instead of using their energy to stand out the front of the classroom and using the standard worksheet and ‘form filling’ process of low grade clerical work, teachers need to excite their students into discovering the world in which they now live. Teachers must use the technology available to them and set personalised learning environments where students are led to discover the information, instead of the information being brought to them. Make the student want to find out, want to be better and collate and share their findings with others.

Where stories begin and end

Education is no stranger to reform and even during the mid-20th Century, educational reform began to focus on a change in philosophy where students needed to be prepared for their future and instead of knowing facts, thinking and problem solving skills where required. Not much has changed except for the fact that our world is dominated by technology, however, not all of the participants are fluent in digital skills. Boyd (2014) has based her work on the idea that ‘youth need new literacies’ and that no matter what forum students engage in, they need to think critically about what they are using and why. As curators of their learning, it must not be assumed that students will learn by mere exposure to media. ‘They (students) need to have the skills to ask questions about the construction and dissemination of particular media artifacts.’ (p.181) Students need to learn skills that will help them decipher various forms of technology and use what is appropriate to their needs. In turn, build an understanding of a topic and share this with others. Navigating students through the Internet and the flood of information at their disposal, as well as engage productively, is a high order for educators today, however, not an impossible one. ‘Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age’. (Boyd, 2014 p.177) Students are the drivers of their learning and the teacher’s role is to teach them how to read the map.

The Internet is so immense, the curriculum is overcrowded and the ‘silver bullet’ to save the education system is illusive. But all is not lost. By allowing students the opportunity to seek out information, organise it to suit their needs and share their discoveries with others must be more powerful than just ‘teacher talk’. Absorbing, filtering and curating learning environments for creativity to blossom may very well be an overwhelming prospect. However, think of the benefits. As Boyd (2014) so eloquently states, ‘It is easy to make technology the target of our hopes and anxieties. Newness makes it the perfect punching bag. But one of the hardest – and yet most important – things we as a society must think about in the face of technological change is what has really changed, and what has not.’ (p. 211-212) Teaching and learning should never have been about the imparting of information from one generation to the next, it should be about exploring the information, dissecting it and questioning its viability for use within a context. Question, create, collaborate and tell a story. The person who learns the most is the one who does the building. The most pedagogically powerful shift will be one that engineers us out of traditional roles of teaching into new ones.

The purpose of this paper was to provoke the idea of shifting from old teaching patterns to those that might place the student at the centre of the learning process. It seems obvious when you think about it. We can either continue along the path mapped out by centuries of structured education or we can build new pathways that open up a creative and exciting future for us all to flourish and grow collectively. It is hoped that the proposed resource for this project will ignite a curiosity in the students to find out more than just the content surrounding mental calculation. I anticipate the students will be able to curate and produce the knowledge base surrounding the topic and involve a number of parties in its development. Redefining the task and transitioning from the teacher being at the centre of the learning to the student being at the helm and together curate the learning environment that is prosperous for all.


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