Tag Archives: information fluency

Learning the art of Digital Content Curation

It is undeniable that we live in a world of information overload. Check out Internet Live Stats to be truly ‘infowhelmed’!

Just one second of internet traffic....

Just one second of internet traffic….

As busy people, it is often at precisely the wrong time that we find that fascinating article, or when we are looking for something else that we discover a great resource for the future. Keeping track of all of this digital information is important – we all know how quickly our time is sapped away while searching online. Fortunately, there are a number of tools that are easy to use, and which we can use to manage our digital information, so that we can virtually ‘file’ and share with others the quality articles, resources and media to be easily drawn upon again, or to be read at a later, more suitable time.

So how does one ‘curate content’?

Using these tools effectively requires skills in ‘content curation’. Traditionally the term curator refers to someone who looked after objects in a museum exhibition. A new and increasingly popular definition of content curation is the act of selecting and collating digital content, organising it so that it may be better used to meet a particular need. Beth Kanter has an excellent Primer on Content Curation, where she hastens to point out that curation is not simply an aggregation of links; it is a process of strategic collection, where what is left out is just as important as what is included. It is also an editorial process, where context specific knowledge is added the each digital resource, and then delivered via a tool that best suits the needs of the identified audience.

2015-03-08_1104This sounds more complex than it is. More simply, it means finding quality digital content, evaluating it for a particular purpose, adding extra information for those most likely to use this context within that particular purpose, and sharing it with those users.

I’m a teacher/student- do I really need to do this stuff?

Content curation has always occurred in schools – resources were always gathered around the topic of teaching, in order to support and extend  student understandings. The difference is that in the past, this consisted of gathering ‘hard’ content – books, posters, newspapers, kits etc (and these were usually gathered together by the teacher librarian, the leading content curator in the school). Nowadays, the teacher librarian and teachers not only have access to these resources, but also to a huge range of digital resources – many of which provide fantastic, engaging learning opportunities for today’s students. Content curation enables this huge range of resources to be arranged in a usable, accessible way.

Students too can benefit from learning effective curation skills as being able to quickly and critically evaluate a range of information sources, and then curate these into a meaningful collection is a vital research skill. Content curation is even becoming a study skill which is explicitly taught to students.

Be the best curator you can be – avoid the pitfalls!

One vital difference between curation in the past and dealing with digital content is the sheer amount of information, and the need to avoid filter bubbles and the temptation to simply collect everything. Joyce Seitzinger describes some of the pitfalls to avoid when curating very succinctly, in her presentation, When Educators Become Curators:

Curationpitfalls.jpgShe describes these traits as the following:

The Hoarder: a curator who collects  everything indiscriminately, who doesn’t  organise their content, and doesn’t  share – this is really closer to simple aggregation than curation.

The Scrooge: one who, similarly hoards their information – although they may organise their collection, they don’t share either; one of the key purposes of educational content curation!

The Tabloid (or National Enquirer):  a collector who indiscriminately collates everything together, and generously shares this aggregation, whether others want/need it or not!

The Robot: a curator who uses tools to shares  automatically, with no context related additions or value adding; in this case, the curation is really no better than providing a list of Google search results.

Avoiding these pitfalls is what differentiates the effective content curator from those simply ‘collecting’ content.

It’s all a bit much – are there tools to help me?

The task may seem overwhelming; however, as I mentioned above there are many fantastic tools to make the process streamlined and simply part of the work of the day.

Keep in mind that not everyone will like every tool. That’s why it is important to think about the audience, as well as the type of content you are curating. An example is the choice between Pinterest and Diigo. Both Pinterest and Learnist are very visual in their appearance, and therefore likely to suit younger student groups,  groups who are disengaged or those studying very visual learning content, such as Visual Arts studies. However, Pinterest now requires a membership to see full boards; therefore, for younger students (those 13 and under, who should not have their own membership due to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) requirements), Learnist may be the best tool. For older students however, this may not be a consideration.

The right tool for the right purpose.

The right tool for the right purpose.

Content curation tools and how to use them have been explained countless times online. One of the benefits of content curation is that you don’t re-invent the wheel; you simply share what already exists. With this in mind, I have used a number of tools to curate lists of curation strategies, curation tools and articles on curation, which I share with you below. Click on the images to access these sources.

Click to access board.

Links to articles that detail effective content curation strategies as well as how and why educators and students should be digital content curators.

Click on the image to access.

A curated board of tools that are effective and enjoyable tools for curating educational content.


A Flipboard of curated articles and tools for those who enjoy accessing their information using this magazine style app.

I have written in detail on a few curation tools in the past, including Pinterest and Diigo, and published these on my work blog, ResourceLink. Although it may take some trial and error before you find a range of tools you become comfortable with, you can be sure that once you have set up your curation accounts, and start actively selecting from the streams of information you receive, you will be surprised by how quickly you begin to build quality sources of digital content, which will be worthwhile resources for many others to access.

**A Word about Content Curation and Copyright**

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Austin Kleon

Although curation is not ‘theft’, all of the tips that Austin Kleon shares in his book ‘Steal like an Artist’, itself a treatise on reusing online content ethically, apply to ethical content curation.

ALWAYS link directly back to the source when curating. This is automatically taken care of when you use a curation tool such as Learnist, however, I believe that it is good practice that if you find a site which references a great idea or image, rather than simply linking to that site, I take the trouble to go back to the original creator’s publication of that idea, and link to there. An example:

A popular blog shares a post about a great resource they have discovered, which is created by a third party. Rather than linking to the blog post when curating the link about the great resource, take the time to go back to the third party’s original post and curate this link. Therefore, the creator gets correct attribution, rather than the blogger who wrote about it.

This is particularly important when curating from pages which include articles like ’10 great tools for x’ – these are aggregations themselves of original work, and not the original creator.

Copyright is all about protecting the income of the creator; therefore, ensure that nothing you publish in a curated list directs users away from the original, particularly if the original is a source of income for that creator. Always ensure that you attribute or reference where you sourced the original content from (again, something most content curation tools do automatically, but good to remember) and wherever possible ensure there is no way that users of your collections might mistake others’ work for your own.

Curating widely from various sources, rather than wholesale replication of others’ work on your own pages is also good practice, not only to avoid the risk of plagiarism but also to ensure you are providing a resource with a breadth of perspectives and information.

Have fun!

Seeing curation as an art is a great way to begin your journey. It takes time to develop the skills, and everyone will approach it differently; at the end, however you will have created something truly unique, and a source of content that others will enjoy and benefit from. Share your experiences in the comments box below!

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by The Daring Librarian

Becoming info-savvy : Information and critical literacy in the web world

This is the first of three posts which focus on information and critical literacy. This first post outlines the importance of developing information and critical literacy. The second post will give specific strategies and tools to use when evaluating information found online, while the third post focuses on verification of social media. Slides to support these blog posts are available on Slideshare.

The democratization of content creation is a wonderful thing; even as I type, I am enjoying the ability to publish to a worldwide audience. Thanks to the thousands of content creation and distribution platforms including WordPress, Scribd, Weebly, Storify, and of course YouTube just to name a few, millions of voices which might have never been heard have a channel to communicate their message. Content is being created at a mindblowing rate:
Click the image to open the interactive version (via http://pennystocks.la/).
Whereas previously content had to pass through extensive editorial processes prior to work being published, there is no such on the internet. Therefore we see just as much accurate as inaccurate information being posted online;

bogus tweet

Disturbingly, it’s not just the accuracy of assignments that are at risk by this spread of misinformation; in the past 90 days, according to this article by the Washington Post, 84 people have self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon; and almost all of them include information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong.

We need to develop skills in what Howard Rheingold calls ‘Crap’ Detection – knowledge of how to find and verify accurate, useful information – or basic information literacy for the internet age. This type of literacy is something which must be taught to students, and which must be brought to the attention of anyone who uses the internet as an information source – which, it seems, in Australia at least, is most people.

So what are these information literacy skills, and how do we learn them?
This series of posts attempts to outline some of the strategies, tips and tricks which can be applied to ensure the accuracy of information sourced from the internet; of course, much of it comes along with the fact that a little common sense goes a long way…

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Ludie Cochrane

The multimodal nature of the internet allows users to create any version of truth. You might have seen the Dove Evolution video, where an attractive young woman is ‘transformed’ into a supermodel using photoshop; more recently, a human interest reporter Esther Honig wanted to see just how much culture influences beauty, and so she had the idea to ask 40 photo editors in 25 different countries to photoshop her picture.
“Make me look beautiful,” was the brief. The results show the amazing way the internet connects us, and the way technology can manipulate what we believe to be true.

For students, the internet is the dominant medium and place they go to for information. In a world of information overload, it is vital for students to not only find information but also determine its validity and appropriateness.

For teachers in particular, it is necessary to not only have these skills, but also to be able to educate students to become informed, literate, self directed learners, who are able to navigate effectively the information accessible on the internet. Mandy Lupton, in her research on inquiry and the Australian Curriculum, has found that inquiry skills and information literacy are embedded in the Australian Curriculum in the subject areas Science, History, Geography, Economics and Business, Civics and Citizenship, Digital Technologies and in the general capabilities Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) . A huge part of being an effective learner and being able to research critically is being able to determine what is quality information, and where to source it from; after all,

See more on Know Your Meme

Click here to access the next post which explores Alan November’s ‘REAL’ strategy, and provides tools and strategies to apply in order to verify information discovered online. The third and final post, on critical literacy and social media is available here.

Tricks to find the truth: Information Literacy for Social Media

This is the third and final in the blog series on developing information and critical literacy skills for identifying quality information online. After exploring why these skills are important, in the first blog post, and then investigating the grammar of websites in the second post, this final post provides some tools to consider when verifying information which has been published via social media such as Twitter and YouTube.

A Pew Research paper on how teens research in the digital world  found that 52% of students access YouTube or other social media sites when searching for information for their assignments. Although not perhaps considered a traditional source of information, sites such as Twitter and YouTube are increasingly being accessed as a ‘way in’ to complex topics. These sources too require specific skills to identify reliable, accurate and quality information, perhaps even more so that websites. This is because the nature of social media is that it is designed often for quickly uploading and sharing information; there is very little skill level required to post to social media, vs the skills needed for web publishing; therefore an even larger group is publishing content which may or may not be correct. The personal nature of many posts also means that it is very open to bias, and the social nature means that scams, jokes and misleading posts are much more likely.

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by mkhmarketing

A fantastic and interesting way to learn more about how to verify information discovered via social media is to explore the work of the modern journalist. Often, information about breaking events is caught or reported by citizens ‘on the ground’, and is shared via social media much more quickly than traditional news services can. Therefore, for journalists reporting on news as it happens, often extensive investigation must take place to ensure the photo, video or blog post is verifiable, and not simply for notoriety or hoax value.2014-10-03_1558

The Verification Handbook is a really interesting read (and free to download) which shares a range of tools and strategies for how journalists verify information, using real case studies.
Of course, students who are researching won’t necessarily go to the lengths that journalists go to to identify the veracity of information they find online, but it is good be aware of strategies which are easy to apply if they aren’t sure of the accuracy of information.

Three ways identified in the handbook to verify the accuracy of information on social media include:

Provenance – is this the original piece of content?
Source – Who uploaded the content?
Date – when was the content created?

Finding this information requires the use of a combination of tools.

2014-09-19_1350One of the most useful tools for establishing the provenance of images is the Tin Eye reverse image search tool. Tin Eye begins with the image, and searches back,  to attempt to establish where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version. This is particularly useful if you have the feeling that an image has been doctored. You can install the Tin Eye plug in for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Chrome, or you can just go to the Tin Eye website and paste the image link or drag and drop the image itself. Click on this link to see some of the more interesting versions of images that Tin Eye has discovered.

When looking at the source to verify who uploaded the content, there are several things to take note of. Look at the account of the person posting the information; what is the quality and content of their previous posts? Look for slight inconsistencies in their name (e.g. Julian Gillard), when did they create the account? You can also be guided by the blue tick on Twitter accounts which indicate that they have been verified, but this, like anything else, may be faked. More information about verified Twitter accounts is here.

Who is the REAL Julia Gillard?

Who is the REAL Julia Gillard?

Just doing a search for a well known person on Twitter can reveal the range of accounts purportedly belonging to the same person. This is a great activity to demonstrate how closely users need to examine accounts, and how easily one may be fooled into thinking posts are from someone from whom they are not.

To verify the date that information was published, journalists have to go to great extremes to verify the accuracy of information they receive via social media; sometimes searching the weather at the time an photo was taken to identify a match, or using Google Maps to match background scenery to confirm the event took place where it was said to.

While students aren’t necessarily dealing with breaking information, they do need to apply a little bit of critical awareness to information that they gather from social media. Simply double checking information against a number of different sources is one of the best ways to identify the reliability of information; as well as having a little bit of general knowledge and common sense.

For those who wish to dig a little deeper, the Verification Handbook website has published a list of tools that are useful for verifying identity, places and images.

These three posts (click for post one or two  if you missed them) have attempted to provide a summary to this huge area. I have collated a list of resources and tools on my Pinterest board for further reading and information. I’d love to hear of any other tips, tools or strategies you have found useful when evaluating online sources of information.

Click the image to access my Pinterest board with resources to support teachers in this area.

Click the image to access my Pinterest board with resources to support teachers in this area.

Getting ‘REAL’ with web evaluation – tips and tools to develop information literacy

This is the second post in the series on developing critical and information literacy. The first post explored the need for critical literacy when learning from the web. This post explores strategies, tools and techniques for evaluating and verifying the credibility of information discovered online. The third and final post explores social media and how to verify its validity.

The ability to publish to a global audience is within the reach of anyone with a device and an internet connection. Identifying the signal in the noise is a challenge for anyone, and is a skill that must be taught. Fortunately there are many tools and tricks that make this easier.

Alan November, is an international consultant who is known around the world for his work in educational technology. He presents a great strategy for students (and anyone!) to apply whenever they are researching and need to confirm the reliability of the source of their information. He calls it the ‘REAL’ test. REAL stands for:


1. READ the URL: When browsing the web or doing research, it is easy to follow one link after another, ending up somewhere completely different to where you started. Reading the URL in the location bar is the best way to answer the question where am I?. It is good to have the habit of checking the URL to see if you are where we thought you were, and to check the credibility of the website and therefore its information.

This diagram breaks apart a standard web address:


Most web addresses begin with the letters ‘http’, which stands for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol – the protocol which allows two computers to communicate. If you see an ‘s’ added (https), this indicates a secure protocol is being used. You are most likely to see the secure protocol being used on sites where personal information such as banking details or credit card details are being communicated, like when shopping online.

The domain is the part of the URL which commonly identifies which company, agency or organization may be either directly responsible for the information, or is providing the computer space where the information is stored. In 2014, the number of active domains reached 271 million. The domain name may give clues as to whether the information can be trusted, but it is not the only part of the URL that is useful. The domain extension usually identifies the type of organization that created or sponsored the resource: e.g. * .com which identifies company or commercial sites,*.edu for educational sites,* .gov for government sites or * .net for Internet service providers or other types of networks.

If the domain extension is two letters, it identifies a country, e.g. .us for the United States, .uk for the United Kingdom, .au for Australia, .mx for Mexico or .ca for Canada. This can be useful if you are researching country specific information. For example, I often add site:.au to my searches if I am only looking for Australian results.

Information after part of the address is the file path, which shows where the file you are looking at is stored. This is really important. You can see in the example above that the file path is /~oddone/tutorials/page1.  While the domain name is useful to identify the validity or quality of a website, the filepath is also really important to look at. If the filepath has a personal name, a tilde, a percentage sign or the words ‘user, people or members’ it might mean you are on a personal site.

This is often the case with sites that have the extension .edu, – it is quite common for universities to give personal space on their servers to students – this means that the information on the page has not been published by the university, but is the personal page of student and therefore the information is not subject to the checks and balances that would be on the official university pages.

A good example of this is this website, the life and work of Jacopo di Poggibonsi which can be found at http://www.umich.edu/~engtt516/lifetimes.html. Although the site is hosted on the University of Michigan’s website, it is a very cleverly created forgery – no such person ever existed. The presence of the tilde indicates that the website is merely being hosted by the University.2014-10-03_1422

2. Examine the site’s content and history:

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by dullhunk

The currency of a webpage can often be seen by the date at the base of the page. However this only really tells you when the page text was copyrighted or last published. How can you see if the information is regularly updated, or if the website has changed over time? We can chart the progress or history of a web site thanks to the Wayback Machine.

The Wayback Machine:  allows you to browse through 430 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To use this site type in the URL of a site or page of which you would like to research, and click the Take Me Back button. Once you have conducted your search, select from the archived dates available. This gives you an idea of how the site has developed over time, whether changes have been made and how regularly the information is updated.

3. Ask about the publisher or the author: Using a domain lookup service like easywhois, you can see who owns the site or who has published the material.

Alan November the example of martinlutherking.org because it is one that students could easily choose (it comes up very high in search results) and has been published to look appealing to students. Using a domain lookup to find the owner of the site reveals it is actually hosted by the server stormfront.org . If you search stormfront, you will find that it is a white supremacist organisation. You might not use this type of tool all the time, but if you are looking at information which could be controversial, open to bias or if you would like to know more about the publisher, this can be a handy tool to use.

Sometimes it just takes a simple Google of some key information from the site to check its reliability – take this example:  The idea of conducting Lasik laser eye surgery at home doesn’t immediately ring warning bells – and this graphic from the website should be warning enough!!

However, if users are still unsure, a simple Google search for the Doctor who appears on the site confirms that this is indeed a hoax:


4. Look at the links: Students usually only search using one search engine. They also believe that the top hits are the most important. Sadly, this is not in fact the case. Many businesses specialise in SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is all about improving the visibility of a web page in search engines search results. The higher ranked on the search results page your website is, and more frequently your site appears in the search results, the more visitors it will receive. The process of getting a website to appear high in the listings returned by a search is not based on luck, but on a complex series of strategies, including how the website has been built, and what key words are embedded in the metadata of a website.

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by tamper74

A great activity to explore the way web rankings work is to get students to enter Australia into the Google search bar. These are the results they will probably get:

Google: Australia
Why did WIKIPEDIA get first hit?
What is common about top three sites?

The search looks at the search terms and tries to compare with other content. When lots of pages have similar titles or content, it is the links that make a difference. Wikipedia almost always comes up at the top of a search not just because it is well known and popular, but also because there are so many sites that link to each Wikipedia page.

You can find out what sites are linking to the site you are evaluating by typing in the word link: and then adding the web address. Take the first site- Wikipedia address and type link: with address. It returns a list of websites that link to the site. Quite often, the more links the website has to it, the higher it appears on the hit list.

Here is an example of how you can use this tool as another way of evaluating its content. When I searched using the link: strategy and the blog I write for my work at Brisbane Catholic Education, you can see that three hits show that other educational websites have linked to the blog. If these educational websites consider the blog of value to share to their readers, then it is more likely that the content is reliable.


The links to site will allow students to build a map of related commentary -who uses this site and considers it important enough to link to it?

The third and final part of this blog series explores using verification strategies when searching for information using social media. If you missed the first part of this three part blog series, click here.

Perpetually in Beta – the constantly evolving world of the website

Early on in the history of what is known as ‘Web 2.0’, one of the identifying features many speakers touted was that Web 2.0 tools were ‘perpetually in beta’. Essentially, this meant websites and tools were a constant work in progress – with updates and improvements made on an ongoing basis.

We see these updates in websites and tools large and small. Sometimes the improvements are substantial, and welcomed. Other times they are invisible to the user (what on earth does Java change every time I switch on my machine and get told it needs updating yet again??).

Changes to tools that people use on a regular basis are usually heralded with a negative response – anyone who uses Facebook will know the huge reaction to any of it’s ‘improvements’ to its services:

Today, it was my turn to be totally taken unawares by a massive website redesign. Today I presented in front of a group of about 60 Teacher Librarians at their quarterly network meeting. One part of my presentation centred around an incredibly useful GreaseMonkey script, created by the very clever Alan Levine which, when installed, makes Creative Commons attribution information available on every Flickr Creative Commons licenced image. You can read about this fantastic tool on my work blog here.

Unfortunately, last night Flickr chose to unveil quite an extensive redesign – which of course rendered the greasemonkey script null. So, there I was, standing in front of 60 people, with no script to show them and an unfamiliar website to navigate…great!!

Fortunately I had other tools at my disposal to show the TLs, so a crisis was averted, and a quick tweet to the creator of the script gave me up to date information about when it might be resurrected, but it goes to show that online, nothing is set in stone.

What does this mean for educators?

We must be flexible and always have a backup plan; I find that when glitches occur (and they inevitably will), staying upbeat and moving quickly to a second option usually allows the lesson/PD session to continue relatively smoothly.

We must develop in ourselves (and teach our students) a level of fluency with tools and websites that allows us to confidently cope with constant change, find alternate tools or contact those online who can help us. This level of digital literacy comes from not only familiarity with the way things online generally ‘work’ but also the development of skills that can be transferred from tool to tool. The best way to do this is through ‘playing’ with as many different tools as possible, trying things out, investigating why things don’t work as they should and accepting that in the online world, nothing is static (or particularly reliable!).

The only thing constant online is that things are constantly changing. The challenge to stay up to date is demanding; the best way to deal with it is to accept it, and appreciate the fact that when one tool or website does not do what we need it to do any longer, there are always many, many more that will do more, or even better.