Why curation could be the future of publishing

If you’re an educator, the need to create educational content can sometimes take away time from other educational and organisational roles. Curating content, rather than creating it, has become a viable way to produce engaging, stimulating educational materials that present learners with clear information pathways. What exactly do we mean, however, when we talk about ‘curating’ educational content?

Curating is selecting and arranging to add value

In Michael Bhaskar’s Curation: The Book, the author talks about ‘the power of selection in a world of excess.’ In a world where there is so much high-value content freely available online (content that is available for re-licensing), creating new material isn’t always necessary. Digital technology has resulted in information overload, too. There is so much content available that it is harder than ever to digest all the information available for a given topic.

Curation, as Bhaskar points out, has always been a facet of intellectual work, from newspaper publishing to museum and gallery curation. If you think of how displays are curated in a museum, insightful items are arranged to convey a thought-provoking broader understanding of a topic (human history, for example). In a similar way, curating educational content gives you the power to arrange individual, high-quality items into an edifying whole; a whole that gives higher value as the sum of its parts.

Why curate educational content?

Besides giving you the power to arrange existing items of content to form a broader selection that adds value, curating content has additional pros. You can take content that is high in informational value but weak in structure and create better clarity and cohesion, for one.

Curating content also makes readily available educational materials more discoverable. Through content curation, you can introduce learners to valuable educational resources they might never otherwise discover. 

Another perk is simply the time factor: When you curate content instead of creating it, you have more time for other vital pursuits such as lesson planning.

Can I just re-use quality content I find in my own educational materials?

Whether or not you can use content in your curation process depends on what kind of license it is shared under. More and more content is shared under creative commons licenses that allow liberal re-use and even reworking. Open education hubs such as Edutopia provide lists of open source educational resources where you can find everything from free lesson plans and activities to additional web resources that provide teaching supplements.

Curating educational content – what about quality standards?

One concern for some educators is the issue of quality control in curation. When you create content yourself, it’s true that you have a high degree of control over content. If you vet every resource you curate thoroughly to ensure it meets acceptable standards, this shouldn’t be an issue.

As a rule, .edu and .org resources tend to be the most factually reliable and tend to have a more rigorous editorial process than .com resources.

Given the sheer abundance of educational material available online, creating your content from scratch is optional. Curating educational content gives you the added advantages of being able to hand-pick the very best resources and arrange them into a whole that adds value and gives learners an engaging, stimulating experience from start to finish.

Design Based Research in Education

Design-based research (DBR) is a research methodology used in the learning sciences whereby interventions are conceived and implemented in real-world environments in order to test hypotheses and generate frameworks in a practical and iterative manner. As an approach, it was  popularised in education research by Jan Herrington and colleagues such as Thomas C. Reeves. Reeves presentation ‘Enhancing the Worth of Instructional Technology Research through Design Experiments and Other Development Research Strategies’ (2000:8), defines the characteristics of DBR as an approach that seeks to address complex problems by collaborating with practitioners in real contexts to incorporate technical affordances and known as well as hypothetical design principles to propose potential solutions. There is an iterative process in play which is used to refine and reflect on the process and principles used.

Herrington defines the phases of a design-based research project in ‘Design principles for mobile learning’ (Anthony Herrington, Jan Herrington and Jessica Mante 2009:129). In the first phase of design-based research, a problem is analysed in depth in consultation with the practitioners or teachers involved. A solution is then designed according to theoretical principles and with knowledge of recent technological affordances. The proposed solution (or intervention as it is sometimes known) is then implemented in two or more iterations, with adjustments and improvements made between implementations, so that the emphasis remains on finding the best way to present the subject in the particular pedagogical context. The last phase is the creation of design principles based on the knowledge gained from the theory, practice and reflection of the previous phases. The focus of the approach is always upon improving the learning design, rather than proving that one approach works better than another.

Reeves has developed a design research model, which he compares to a predictive research approach. The predictive approach starts with the hypotheses, based on existing theories, then moves to an experiment phase designed to test the hypotheses. Based on the test results a theory is refined which can then be used by practitioners in the field. The design research approach, however, starts with the examination of the problem by both the researchers and practitioners who collaboratively develop a solution informed by design principles and technological affordances. An iterative process of testing in practice takes place, the result of which loop back to the early phases of problem and development, refining the methods and design principles used along the way. A reflection process takes place, continuously, to enhance the implementation of the solution. The entire model loops back on its early stages and is an iterative process.

Figure 1: Reeves comparison between predictive research and design-based research. (Source: http://cresenciafong.com/wiki/ref:amiel2008design-based)
Figure 1: Reeves comparison between predictive research and design-based research. (Source: http://cresenciafong.com/wiki/ref:amiel2008design-based)

This is an action-based research approach, with Reeves writing:

The overall goal of research within the empirical tradition is to develop long-lasting theories and unambiguous principles that can be handed off to practitioners for implementation. Development research, on the other hand, requires a pragmatic epistemology that regards learning theory as being collaboratively shaped by researchers and practitioners. The overall goal of development research is to solve real problems while at the same time constructing Design-principles that can inform future decisions (2000: 12).

Context is important for design-based research projects, which are often situated in a real-world environment. By prototyping proposed solutions, the success in learning can be observed and changes can be made to refine the proposal which can then be released for further use and further refinement, feeding into the iterative nature of this research project. Design principles are the characteristics of the learning intervention, highlighting what it is planned to do and how, listing the learning environment and potential outcomes. Herrington et al (2009: 134) describes the mobile learning design principles as:

  • Real world relevance: Use mobile learning in authentic contexts
  • Mobile contexts: Use mobile learning in contexts where learners are mobile
  • Explore: Provide time for exploration of mobile technologies
  • Blended: Blend mobile and non mobile technologies
  • Whenever: Use mobile learning spontaneously
  • Wherever: Use mobile learning in non traditional learning spaces
  • Whomsoever: Use mobile learning both individually and collaboratively
  • Affordances: Exploit the affordances of mobile technologies
  • Personalise: Employ the learners’ own mobile devices
  • Mediation: Use mobile learning to mediate knowledge construction.
  • Produse: Use mobile learning to produce and consume knowledge.


  • Koole, M and Ally, M. ND. Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) Model: Revising the ABCs of Educational Practices.EDN4502w: Research and Evaluation of Emerging Technologies in Education 2014 Course Reader. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.
  • Joole, M. 2009. A model for framing mobile learning. Mobile learning: Transforming the delivery of education and training. Athabasca: Athabasca University Press.
  • Herrington, A, Herrington, J, and Mantel, J. 2009. Design principles for mobile learning. New Technologies, New Pedagogies: Mobile Learning in Higher Education. Wollongong: University of Wollongong.
  • Reeves, T. C. 2000. Enhancing the Worth of Instructional Technology Research through Design Experiments and Other Development Research Strategies. Unpublished paper presented at International Perspectives on Instructional Technology Research for the 21st Century.

A Learning Design Model for Africa?

Digital education products and platforms are often brought into Africa from more advanced digital societies such as the United Kingdom or the United States of America. While these products could be world-class and highly effective in the markets they were developed, they have not been conceptualised with the societal, cultural  or technological contexts of Africa schools and learners.

Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland’s  Integrative Learning Design Model, posited in their book Online learning: Concepts, strategies and application (2005) is a pedagogical approach that aims, through a series of phases, to decide on the most  appropriate learning technologies and  learning strategies required to achieve a specific learning objective.  The three phases of exploration, enactment and evaluation form a circular model, with the learning developer situated at the centre. Each of these phases have a number of tasks or actions that need to be completed. I have illustrated them as circles within the larger circular framework in the diagram below.

The initial exploration phase begins with a decision around the specific learning objectives required; research into the the social and cultural context; a profiling of the students and educators; and exploring appropriate learning theories to use in order to achieve the learning objectives. The enactment phase targets specific pedagogical strategies and then analyses the affordances required by the learning object and offered by various technologies, in order to find a suitable match. A prototype could be developed at this stage. The evaluation process forms a structured feedback from colleagues involved in the development or implementation of the learning object as well as a potential user or student. This evaluation can be used to refine the product, correct any errors, or bring to the fore any underlying assumptions the learning designer may have.

Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland’s Integrative Learning Design Model. Adapted diagram by Niall McNulty.
Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland’s Integrative Learning Design Model. Adapted diagram by Niall McNulty.


The exploration phase includes:

  • decisions around the specific learning objectives required;
  • research into the the social and cultural context;
  • a profiling of the students and educators;
  • and exploring appropriate learning theories to use in order to achieve the learning objectives

The enactment phase:

  • targets specific pedagogical strategies;
  • analyses the affordances required by the learning object and offered by various technologies, in order to find a suitable match;
  • and a prototype could be developed at this stage.

The evaluation process forms a structured feedback from colleagues involved in the development or implementation of the learning object as well as a potential user or student. This evaluation can be used to refine the product, correct any errors, or bring to the fore any underlying assumptions the learning designer may have.

  • Peer – questionnaire to be answered by the developer for this project, focused  around the conceptualisation of the prototype and how this might flow into the project implementation as well as the technology choices and any potential issues.

Assumptions are often made, by international organisations as well as local technology or media companies, on what approach would work best for South African students without taking cognisance of the unique challenges facing South African students. These challenges can, conversely, often force innovative approaches and decidedly African solutions to everyday problems, with the mobile money service M-Pesa being a well-documented example of this. Without this awareness of the particular local challenges and sensitivity to local cultural contexts, no educational intervention would be successful. The phased approach, which structures the development of the learning activity, allows for the most appropriate strategies and technologies to be adopted. The circular nature of the model allows for iterations to be made, both at an individual phase  and a larger project level, which can be fed back into the project to improve it. Lastly, putting the learning developer – as opposed to the product or technology – at the centre means that the project will have a strong pedagogical approach and a clear roadmap in regards as to why things have been done the way they have.

Dabbagh, N & Bannan-Ritland, B (2005) Online learning: Concepts, strategies and application. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

MOOCs and Skills Training

In recent years, a global increase in access to the Internet, a demand for quality and affordable higher education and the willingness of some international higher education institutions (HEIs) to experiment with Web 2.0 tools and concepts, has resulted in the substantial growth of Massive Open Online Courses  (MOOCs).

These courses allow for new ways of learning skills and gaining accreditation and, as such, offer much in the way of skills development.

In this section, the concept of MOOCs will be introduced and their application for digital media skills training explored with reference to some of the major  resources available.

MOOCs: An Introduction

MOOCs are simply a kind of distance education, taking the form of  online courses, open to any users via the web. While there are some variations in the kinds of content they offer, the basic elements  are:

  • Course material (readings, video and audio lectures, problem  sets)
  • Online community components (forums connecting students and lecturers, collaborative learning)
  • Testing (online multiple choice assignments, essays, peer review,  etc.)

Most MOOCs follow the format of traditional “offline” courses, requiring users to work through the coursework according to a set schedule, before taking  some form of assessment to test the comprehension of the knowledge gained.  In addition, many MOOCs encourage interaction between users and teachers, and amongst users, adding an extra dimension to the learning process, a collaborative element that can aid users. This can take place through online forums, chat rooms and email correspondence.

The accreditation offered for completing a MOOC varies from course to course, as does the cost. Most courses are free, while some providers offer paid courses (often with premium content). Accreditation is often simply nominal and does not provide recognised academic credits (though some Higher Education Institutions are experimenting with using MOOCs as course alternatives). MOOCs can also be completely open, allowing anyone to adapt and reuse the course material, or they can be closed, allowing anyone to take part but enforcing copyright on the course material.

MOOCs: The Benefits and Challenges

MOOCs offer many benefits when compared to the alternatives (distance learning, self-study, etc.). Some of these, taken from Moocguide (2014)  include:

  • Ability to organise a MOOC wherever there is internet  connectivity
  • Courses in multiple languages
  • Ability to start with short notice
  • Relatively short time frames
  • Ability to work at own pace (within a  framework)
  • Access to content from different contexts
  • Informal, online setting
  • Ability to learn from other participants
  • Low barriers to entry – no degrees  required

That is not to say, however, that MOOCs are not without their challenges. As a new field that is still in the process of defining itself, the challenges that MOOCs face (as identified by MoocGuide) include:

  • Lack of structure
  • Some digital literacy required
  • Organic nature requires user to direct the course at  times
  • Requires self-regulation by the user

Using MOOCs

While MOOCs cannot fully replace a comprehensive degree or diploma, they offer a good way to fill skills gaps in a digital project’s team. They are more accessible than independent learning/research and many MOOC providers offer a wealth of content around digital/knowledge management skills. The content of many of the leading MOOC providers is adapted from actual university courses, which means that there are often quality resources available for those who seek them. MOOCs are particularly useful for developing digital competency, helping project team members to gain the skills they need for a particular project as well as develop skills such as project management and research techniques.

When investigating whether a MOOC is appropriate for members of the project team, the following factors should be taken into  account:

  • Skill level: does the stated level of the course match that of the  team?
  • Content: does the course adequately cover the required skills (see outline for information)?
  • Commitment: does the project member have the time and energy to dedicate to the course?

Some examples of MOOCs relevant for digital projects  are:

MOOCs can be a valuable resource for filling the skills gaps of a digital project team. If skills development in ICT marginalised communities is one of the aims of the project, MOOCs that offer some form of accreditation for    course completion, can be especially beneficial. Though not without challenges, with proper planning and consideration, MOOCs can provide an accessible form of skills development.

Adapted from The Digital Memory Toolkit

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (2008) was developed by Andrew Churches as an extension of the original Bloom's Taxonomy and creates a hierarchy of learning activities in a digital environment. In this post I will provide a background to Bloom’s Taxonomy and its subsequent revisions, list each of the categories in the hierarchy and suggest a technology that can be used at each level to support learning.

Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy of learning objectives in 1956, as a structure to understand the learning process. Divided into three psychological domains – cognitive (processing information), affective (attitudes and feelings) and psychomotor (physical skills) – his taxonomy progressed from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). The levels he identified were: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Bloom’s Taxonomy followed the thinking process with the logic that you “can not understand a concept if you do not first remember it, similarly you can not apply knowledge and concepts if you do not understand them” (Churches, 2008). Forty years later Lorin Anderson and David Karathwohl, former students of Bloom’s, revisited Bloom’s Taxonomy, publishing a revised version in 2001 which reordered the sequence of categories and used verbs rather than nouns to describe each category. It is this revised version that Andrew Churches used to develop his digital taxonomy, keeping Anderson and Karathwohl’s categories of remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, but extending them into the digital environment.

In her TED presentation ‘How to learn? From mistakes’ (2010), teacher Diana Laufenberg presents a similar progression in learning styles, using the examples of the schooling her grandparents, parents and she herself received. In the space of three generations, information became more widely available and from more sources, and was no longer confined to the physical school building. It is this progression that fed into her own approach to teaching. Laufenberg is a proponent of experiential or ‘real-life’ learning, encouraging her students to fully engage with a topic and learn through creating and collaboration. This is an approach that allows for failure and encourages learning through doing. Churches’ Taxonomy uses a similar active learning approach, with students using digital tools to complete a learning activity at the various levels.

Remembering is the act of retrieving knowledge, in this case digitally, and can be used to produce definitions and lists. It is the lowest of the taxonomic levels but is vitally important for the learning process. At this level, the use of basic searches is a relevant task for a student to undertake. They would need to be able to identify a legitimate search engine – such as Google (www.google.co.za), Bing (www.bing.com) or Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) – and understand how it works; that a keyword is entered into the text box and the search button is clicked, following which the user then receives relevant, hyper-linked search results that, when clicked, take the user to further resources. An important part of this task is being able to identify the correct keyword to use in order receive the information required. With access to a vast quantity of information in the digital age, it is not the remembering of information but the knowledge of how to retrieve it that is important. This task tests students abilities to find and access necessary resources and is a skill that is built on and used in all other levels.

The next level in the taxonomic structure is understanding, which is defined as the construction of meaning and the building of relationships. A learning activity at this level could involved the categorising and tagging of bookmarks through a social bookmarking application such as Delicious (www.delicious.com). The student would register an account with Delicious and then bookmark a number of relevant websites or specific web articles. These could, for example, be resources needed for a school project. Once the links have been created, the student would spend some time adding tags to the bookmarks. These tags exist as metadata, providing information about the original data object, and could be specific to the particular resource or be used on more than one bookmark. Tagging becomes useful by creating relationships between the various bookmarks which allows the student to click on the hyperlink tags and view all resources that have been categorised with that tag. The tags can be further categorised through the creation of tag bundles, which are used to group similar tags together. This task allows the student to organise the information they have retrieved, create links between resources and construct meaning from this categorisation process.

Applying is the level where the student applies learned knowledge or processes to a situation. The student implements the skills they have learned to produce a presentation, document or simulation. Here, the editing of a wiki page, such as on Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), would be an appropriate learning activity. The student would register an editing account with Wikipedia and navigate to an appropriate page to edit. This page could relate to a topic that is being discussed in class or a subject that the student has researched. In any case, the student should have relevant and original information to add to the page. Following the editing guidelines, available from the Wikipedia website, the student would edit the page and add their material to it, keeping a similar writing-style to the rest of the article. If the student has any images, they could upload them and add them to the page. Once the page is edited, the student should then click save. In this task they have used material they have generated, through independent research, and carried out an editorial procedure to add this to a wiki page.

Analysing is the level where the student learns to process data, dividing it into parts and determining the relationships between these parts and the overall purpose of the project. At this level the use of an online survey tool such as Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) could be an appropriate learning activity. The student would register an account with Survey Monkey and, using the online tools provided, set up a survey. The student would decide on a survey topic and write several questions. These could be open-ended questions that would require the respondent to input an answer or multiple choice or true/false questions, which would require the student to generate possible answers. Setting a closing date for the survey, the student would then invite respondents to participate. These respondents could be members of the student’s class or a wider survey group. Once the survey period has ended, the student would then use the tools available in Survey Monkey to organise the results – comparing responses, dividing respondents into groups and deciding how these groups relate to each other and how they relate to the overall survey topic.

The fifth level in Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy is evaluation. This level requires the student to make criteria-based judgements through the processes of critiquing and checking. A task the student could do at this level would be moderating and responding to comments made on a blog post. In the digital environment there are a multitude of opportunities for discussion and an ease of participation through comments and forum posting. Not all comments or respondents add value to the discussion and the student must be able to critically decide what is relevant and respond appropriately. Using a free blogging platform such as Wordpress (www.wordpress.com), the student would write a blog post on a subject of their choosing, encouraging comment and interaction with the ideas presented in the blog post. The student will be alerted via email when a new comment has been made. They will need to evaluate the comment in context and decide if it contributes to the discussion and debate. If it does, they can make the comment publicly visible using the tools supplied by Wordpress. They will need to generate a critical response to this comment and post it as a reply in the comment section of the blog post. It should be constructed to respond both the comment and the topic of the blog post. If the comment is not appropriate, then they should delete it using the tools provided. Through this task the student learns to evaluate comments on a blog post using a set of criteria (e.g. does it contribute to the online discussion, and then respond accordingly).

Creating is the final level in Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and is concerned with taking   various elements and creating a new, coherent product. This level draws on all other levels, with the student remembering, understanding and applying knowledge, analysing and evaluating outcomes and processes to construct the end product. The digital environment allows for publishing to take place at an ever increasing rate and in ever increasing formats. The learning activity the student could participate in at this level could be the publishing and distribution of an ebook through the Amazon (www.amazon.com) platform.  Deciding on a topic, the student would research and write the text for the ebook. They would need to structure the text in a coherent manner, possibly dividing the text into sections or chapters. Once complete, the student would then decide whether the ebook needed photographs or illustrations to complement the text. If yes, then they would need to source or generate these. Using an application such as Microsoft Word, the student would lay out the text, formatting chapter and section headings and deciding on fonts to use. At this point, they would also add any images they had decided to use. Once complete, the document would be saved. The student would then create an account at the Amazon Direct Publishing website. The student could input the ebook’s metadata (author name, description, etc.) and upload the Microsoft Word version of their book. They would be able to create a cover using the tools Amazon provides and decide on a price for their ebook. The Amazon website’s software would then convert these elements into an ebook format that could be read on the Kindle ereader. Once reviewed by staff members, the ebook would be available for sale. Through this task, the student learns how to take a number of different elements and create a coherent product. The student would have planned the process of content creation and, using various computer-based and online tools, created the ebook.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy provides the opportunity for a number of different learning activities for students, using a variety of digital tools. Several have been highlighted above but others could be selected by the student or teacher. The aim of the taxonomy is not to focus on specific tools but ensure that the student progresses through the hierarchy of levels, building on what they have learnt and using these skills as they move from LOTS to HOTS.