New Role for Web 2.0 Teachers: Curator

Art, says writer, technologist and blogger, Darren Barefoot, is the profound, and the profound is that which is deep, timeless and shared. We’ve seen people make profound statements in painting, music, architecture, the book, even radio and television, he said at this year’s Northern Voice . But he asks, Where’s the Art in Social Media?

There are several reasons for the paucity of the profound: crowds aren’t wise, says Barefoot. Artists may turn professional and leave social media before we discover them. Maybe artists just don’t yet have the feel of the new medium, although the Japanese are trying their hand at writing SMS novels. Some are racking up big sales: Rin, a 21-year old writer, tapped out a story, If You, that sold 400,000 copies when it went to print.

But, sales is certainly no measure of the profound either. Maybe, Barefoot suggests, social media discourages profound thinking. Social media is certainly shared and, as we’re lately starting to appreciate, it is timeless, though not exactly in the sense that Barefoot is talking about. However, social media is not very deep. Social media tools like Twitter ask “What are you doing?” which, said one in Barefoot’s audience, encourages “me-ophilia”, not reflection on the profound.

Lastly, it could be that that the profound is just too hard to find because we are awash in images, video, music and text and we haven’t the ability to sift through it all and make sense of it. The power of expression in social media, as an artistic medium itself, is in the aggregation of things, says Barefoot. He points to the Where the Hell is…Matt? videos by self-professed deadbeat dancer, Matt Harding. Although there are moments in individual videos that are moving–when the crowd in rushes in to dance with Matt, for example–we sense something profound about humility or our shared humanity or the diversity of people when we take the videos collectively.

What social media needs–and this was the common thread in all the sessions I attended at Northern Voice–is a curator, someone or something to make sense out of the endless stream of data that is pouring into the web. “No one goes to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the ‘Ten Most Recent Pics Posted to the Gallery'” said a wag in Barefoot’s audience.

I think we’re seeing a new role emerging for K-12 teachers: that of (web) curator. This is different from knowledge-giver and different again from gatekeeper. Fulfilling that role will require a skill set similar to that of a gallery curator and, above all, it will require wisdom.

The question now is, what are we doing to cultivate those things in new and in-service teachers?


  1. Reply
    Peter Rawsthorne February 23, 2009

    I found that these two social media works made me ponder and reflect in ways that really went far into the question of what the future will bring and the past innovations that got us to this place; and I really see these two pieces getting into the blogospheres collective consciousness for a point in time. Reaaly quite amazing from a global village perspective. Shortly after experiencing these two works, I tweeted; “Things are changing in more ways than we know. It all makes any kind of long term (>3 yrs) planning totally, lets say, irresponsible.” I don’t know if that was profound, but it was for me at the time. I believe these two works push into what should be considered thought provoking, profound may be pushing it.I think with social media we need to be our own curators. We need to develop the skills to garden our own Networked Environments and those shared with others, we need to be constant gardeners of the virtual environments we visit. Gardening IMHO is best learned within the Wiki environment and then it naturally migrates into other medias. I increasingly believe that the collaborative and personal lessons learned in participating in a full wiki project life-cycle are underestimated.

  2. Reply
    Adam Houghton February 25, 2009

    A very thought provoking piece. As a person who is just starting to get into the “deeper water” of Web 2.0, I wonder about the term curator. I think that teachers see a curator being equal to a collector, and I think that is incorrect.The curator/collector simply brings students into the mass of information that is available and try and let them differentiate between sources. I think that the real role is to be a curator/critic. Students seem quite content to simply answer a question because Google told them so. The curator/critic needs to be the one instead who gets students to look critically at the problems and data. That is where I think education needs to go in order to fully embrace web 2.0.I think drawing the comparison to a garden is an important one as there are many facets to maintaining one. They can be as sophisticated as we want and can be improved over time. I think the trick is to get students not to see the pretty flowers, but things like the value of perennials vs. annuals or the amount of sun/shade on the garden.

  3. Reply
    Mari Roughneen August 2, 2010

    Might we also consider that the partnership between librarians and teachers needs to be strong and deep at the curricular level? Thoughtful selection and organization of resources with a view to good teaching is what librarians are trained to do (in whatever sphere–social media,digital,print)–my concern is that the value of this partnership is being overlooked/underdeveloped in schools. Librarians, as information professionals AND teachers are in a position to train/coach/assist teachers with managing information for their teaching.In addition, librarians have developed curricula and pedagogy around information literacy–it is high time standards were adopted universally by Ministries of Education (as they have been by the Association of College and Research Libraries) so that students learn to think more deeply and meta-cognitively about their engagement with information. Libraries can be hubs for epistemic thought, relationships between ideas, critical thinking, independent learning and exploration, debate…Take a look at Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons. Thoughtful work is being done on the new evolution of information partnerships in schools.Two of the authors of this document, Carol Koechlin and David Loertscher are doing great work on “knowledge building centers” which focuses on the engine (and consequent dynamism) which can be created through collaboration, questioning and purposeful use of technology. Librarians can lead this powerful process in schools in partnership with teachers and also assist individual teachers with sorting and organizing resources in line with curricular interests and demands.

Leave a Reply