Saturday, November 10, 2012

Digital Curation and CALL

There has been a growing use of web platforms for the purpose of what has been termed "digital curation" or "content curation." In this post I want to briefly describe this technology and how it might be beneficial for teaching English language learners.

What is digital curation? 


Digital curation refers to the technique of searching for and presenting highly selective online content around specific topics aimed at a particular audience. According to the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), digital curation also involves "maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle." Scholars' discussions about the conceptualization of the term "digital curation" relate how it has been viewed by archivists, historians and museum curators. Thus curation is not simply collecting or aggregating material, but rather involves placing content in a context and interpreting it.

Options for web-based platforms that provide digital curation have grown significantly over the last few years. Examples of such platforms are,, StumbleUpon, Zemanta, CurationSoft, and Bundlr. There are many more of these platforms on the web, and I will return to discussing the use of one of these tools later, but it is important to realize each of these platforms are slightly different in terms of how they use complex algorythms and link to other social media sites to suggest and share content.

How might digital curation be used by language teachers?

 One of things we must keep in mind as language teachers interested in curating material from the web is our audience. The question arises who are we curating for? The social element of digital curation through the web provides the potential for sharing materials that other teachers within our field will find useful. For example, when I collect pedagogical information from the web, I annotate it with the thought of how this might benefit teaching specific skills, strategies and techniques that I am currently teaching or have taught. I do so with the notion that other teachers in the field of TESOL will most likely be having to teach similar language courses and may find my annotations and interpretations beneficial as well.

So I think that when we assess whether we might curate an site/tool from the web, we should do so in a way that conceptualizes how it relates to our pedagogical goals and practices. In my own curation process using the web tool, this principled approach has meant that I create categories that relate to specific types of language courses and/or skills. And when it is applicable, I try to consider how a particular resource might relate to a classroom objective or activity. One of my interests as a teacher and researcher is vocabulary instruction, so I have created a category for curating resources on the web that relate only to vocabulary teaching and learning. At my university, many of our faculty members do research related to corpus linguistics and how it relates to vocabulary learning. So I continually look for materials that apply corpus linguistics to the teaching and learning of vocabulary.

I mention this above example to demonstrate how I believe we can move towards using digital curation to better inform computer assisted language learning (CALL). In order for curation to prove meaningful to other teachers and myself, I think it is very important that curation is seen not only as a continual process of adding to one's collection of curated resources, but also the refinement of those resources. In the past I have added resources on a specific topic, but have then went back and deleted or edited my annotation for a resource because of my own experiences with it in the classroom or based upon research articles I've read relating to the application of it.

Philip Hubbard of Standford University recently proposed that digital curation could possibly lead to greater learner autonomy. In his talk at Eurocall 2012, he gives an example of how curation can be used with Ted Talks to curate content for supporting autonomous language learners. While my experience using digital curation has been more for the collection of class materials to inform my teaching, Hubbard provides an example of content curation can be used in language teaching as well.

There is lots of potential for using content curation, but caution must be taken in terms of the evaluation of curated resources. I think this step of refining and re-assessing the resources we curate is essential if we are to have meaningful content that can be applied to our teaching. This also ensures that we are not simply collecting a mass of resources without relating it to our classroom contexts (something Hubbard also mentions in his talk). There are numerous curation topics out there that seem to be an unprincipled mass collection of web technologies, which as pointed out earlier, is not so much curation, but resource collection or aggregation.

Thus for digital curation to become an aid to teacher's ongoing knowledge and development, I believe we must continue to think about how it relates to specific teaching contexts and proven pedagogical practices.

Note: If you are interested in ways that you can develop your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) as a way of continuing your own professional development with digital technology and especially content curation, you might want to check out Nik Peachey's talk on this subject from the 2012 IATEFL Annual Conference.

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