Writing is a classroom technology I use fairly self-consciously in my courses. I also look for ways to assess learning without requiring proficiency in the short or long-form essay as one of the objectives. So I use an assignment on gathering “notes” as a way to practice very specific writing skills, research techniques, and divergent thinking. In today’s post, I want to think about how the assignment might be adapted for an exercise in digital curation.
“Notes on (Thanksgiving, Medical Marijuana, the Parthenon)”: This assignment is one of a sequence of four required essays for my English Composition course. Students select a subject and research it over two weeks. The research is combined with library visits and database orientation sessions with my school’s research librarians. The aim of the instruction is to teach research as inquiry. I hope that the students will explore their subject of interest and then create a “portfolio” of well-substantiated claims about various facets of the subject.
The assignment form is intended to help the students to collect and grasp the complexities associated with a topic without, at this point, at least, forcing what they have learned into an essay structure. So I discourage the students from using transitions in their final essay; rather, I want them to experiment with orthography and organization. A typical essay might offer a bullet-list of purposefully-crafted paragraphs. I still expect the “essay” to present an insight on the topic, but this essay should be more complex and less conclusive than my students might usually expect to produce. After the assignment is complete, they narrow the discussion of the topic to write a more traditional persuasive essay.
I previously mentioned three sites I have looked at as possibilities for moving such an assignment into digital curation: Storify, Scoop.It, and Pinterest. Here is a handy resource from SocialCompare that collects and evaluates a wide range of curation platforms. Thinking through which platform to try, I would be interested in seeing how students would be able to integrate their own materials and non-digital sources into such presentations. I would want to see how students could integrate their own insights into their presentations, both in how they can discuss sources and in how they arrange and present the sources. This post from the Online Universities Blog offers a good way to begin exploring some possibilities: 15 Colleges Using Pinterest as Educational Media.
Digital curation is compelling because it offers a presentation for the public. A generally accepted truth in my field is that students tend to produce higher-level writing when they know it will be read by others beyond their instructors. This public presentation could have great applications for civic engagement and service-learning courses, as well. I imagine, for example, that such an assignment would be an immediate way to move my students from their ready impulse to “raise awareness” of what they care about to more complex understandings of social issues in public life. I think it would also be a way to move toward thinking critically about public identity and agency, especially as it is played out on other social media sites my students use.
Combined with more directed purposes in working with a community-based organization or combined with a sequence of structured reflection, a digital curation project could have a lot of potential.