working out loud

A Little Fun With Curation



A big part of my “day-to-day” working at the National Writing Project is curating—selecting, organizing, and presenting information online. The public aspect of this can been seen on, Educator Innovator, or our social media accounts. I’m not the sole curator for our organization, luckily I have help from brilliant colleagues, but in a way, I’m the primary curator for online content.

The Task

Yesterday, we were a “core partner” for Digital Learning Day, and a couple weeks ago our team decided that we’d do a Storify of the day’s events as part of our post-event coverage (and in case you don’t want to read this whole thing, I’ll give you the final product now (though I do hope you read this anyway)). For those of you not familiar with Storify, it’s basically an online platform for curating content from across the web. One of my colleagues focused her attention on gathering assets throughout the day for this project, but knowing what a tremendous amount of content was going to be shared online via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and hundreds of other sites, I was also glued to the stream, grabbing highlights along the way. Here are some questions I considered while gathering the info:

  • What is the story? Yes, it was about digital/connected learning, but it was also about how teachers engage students in learning using technology and what the products of learning were. The day was also about considering access and equity issues regarding technology and education around the U.S., and what the future of digital learning looks like.
  • What’s our story? NWP and its Educator Innovator and Digital Is initiatives were core partners, along with other partners that we often collaborate with. In fact we had a collaborative project called #Make4DLDay which was a set of challenges to engage people in “making” to celebrate. I wanted to try to represent everyone who is closely related to NWP in some way.
  • What’s the source? Not only did I want to represent partners and individuals related to NWP, I also wanted our story to have a variety of content that would include thoughts, perspectives, stories, photos, and video from several major sources like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The Tools

At first, I wasn’t too excited about using Storify to produce the story, probably because I’ve seen a lot of Storifies that weren’t all that engaging. Many of them seemed to be just a (sometimes long) list of tweets from an event or topic. Having never actually used Storify for a real purpose though, I did some research, and saw that with some effort and a little vision, one could actually create an interesting story, pulling content from across the web, fairly easily. The real trick was going to be monitoring all the information streams and saving the content to be considered later for the story.

For monitoring Twitter, I used Hootsuite. It allowed me to search for the tags #DLDay and #Make4DLDay, and save them as columns in my dashboard. I also had several lists of friends and colleagues on my dashboard, many of whom were sharing their own content from the day, which I cherry-picked along the way. It’s easy to search for other Twitter users and view their timelines from the same dashboard in Hootsuite, which allowed me to find partners and individuals on Twitter all from one place. If I had had time, I would have created a Twitter list with all our partners and created a column on the dashboard for them as well, but alas, I did not. For YouTubeFacebook and Google+, I just used their respective web interfaces to find content, but most of the content from these spaces came to me through Twitter.

As I found content, I pasted links with brief descriptions into a single note in an Evernote notebook. I also used Evernote’s web clipper for Safari to grab relevant articles from websites, which was a quick way to grab the headline, text, and link and save it to the notebook. As I added content, I organized and reordered it continuously by idea groups with rough prioritization. I realize I could have been doing all this in Storify, but I wanted to stick with flexible tools that I was familiar with (plus I wanted a clean slate when I started the Storify portion).

Telling the Story

After an extremely active day monitoring the enormous amount of content that was flooding the interwebs yesterday, it was time to piece it all together. My colleague created a story in Storify this morning, adding her relevant content, and handed it off to me. The theory of “two heads are better than one” proved true in a couple instances, the first being that she had found some great stuff that I had missed.

I found the Storify interface very easy to use, and actually had a lot of fun finding, dragging, and dropping the content into place, using my Evernote collection as the basis. With so much great content, the text I needed to add to contextualize everything practically wrote itself. Editing was what took the most time. I tried to find the balance between including too much stuff, but including enough to paint a vivid picture of the day and NWP’s involvement. I also wanted to be sure I only wrote what was necessary to help someone understand the full scope of the event and our part in it. It’s always harder to write less than more (as is evidenced by this piece!).

The last part was getting feedback, again, trusting that “two heads are better than one.” My other colleague, having a background in journalism, suggested some reordering of content to get “the point” higher up, and I was thankful for his advice. This seemed like it was going to be a pain in the ass in Storify—a lot of dragging, scrolling, and dropping over some distance—but there’s a “collapsed view” feature that shrinks everything down to narrow rows, making it much easier to drag and drop things through a long list.

Closing Thoughts

In my curation role, I don’t usually get a chance to create. I find, organize, and present what others create. But in this project, I got a chance to make something using a new tool, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Whether or not the final product gets much play, I feel good about it and I think it does paint that full, vivid picture of NWP’s involvement in Digital Learning Day.