To Curate or Not Curate….that is the question!

Actually, there is no real question here. Curation is a skill we need today. I have spent a good chunk of the last couple of weeks speaking about the importance of curating material so that when you want to find something again, you can.

Take the following scenarios:

  • Our communications team has a file of fantastic material that we all contribute to over the course of the semester. Ideas for activities, workshops, assessments, projects that aid in curriculum mastery….all of these things and more are uploaded to the file as we create them. Believe me, we all put a great deal of effort into creating activities that will engage and challenge students and it is a fantastic way to share resources and gain insight and inspiration from each other. The reality at the end of the year though, is a file with so much in it that navigating to find something useful can be daunting at best. In the back of my mind is a pressing urge to go in and clean it all up, organize and CURATE the material so we can all use it effectively….and as soon as I have time, I’ll get to that!
  • I am working at our campus Writing Center over the summer, sharing office space with the Math and Science Center, all of us extremely passionate about and dedicated to student success….and all of us working in largely individual silos with no central tracking of what students are accessing the center, what their needs are, and how often they see us over the course of the year. Easy enough to set up, to CURATE the information so that it is readily accessible to professors and support staff, thus allowing us all to ensure students are getting the help they need on a consistent basis and identify those who may have deeper struggles.
  • Every weekend, I put some time aside to go through some of the links and references I have bookmarked on Twitter related to education (FABULOUS PD to be found there, by the way). Some of them I save to my laptop in OneNote – these are fairly easy to find again. Others I browse by I-pad and save them as graphics, or pages, or link to them, favourite them, or send them to my college email for further review. What this means is that I end up with information everywhere and have to find make the time to CURATE it all, order it according to the classes for which it is most appropriate (and I have been guilty of saving things for classes I might possibly teach one day as well, which just adds to the general weightiness of the project), and label it so that I can find it again when I want it.

These are just three examples – small, personal examples – of the importance and relevance of Curation. I don’t have many tips other than this: Do it as quickly and as often as you can, and above all, be consistent.

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Hybrid class

Last week’s hybrid class went very well, all in all.

Hybrid Screenshot

There was a small distraction with a rooster. Some students found navigating through Blackboard difficult. Others has some wonderful feedback that will help me improve the next hybrid section. Am I going to do this again…? Absolutely. The benefits and uses of Hybrid courses are something I will discuss in a later post. Here I want to go through what I did, what I would do next time, and what feedback I received from students.

Although I have taken numerous online courses, the learning curve here was large. It took me – no word of a lie – almost eight hours last Thursday to prepare for a 2 hour class on Friday. Part of that was not having exactly the right technology or experience: I had never made a narrated powerpoint before; I didn’t realize the limitations of YouTube; and I had never before paid much attention to the Module component of Blackboard (our online learning management system at St. Lawrence College). I wanted everything to be laid out as fail-proof as possible and spent more time than I should have testing and re-testing links (Blackboard did not work in Google Chrome), and writing detailed, explicit instructions for students to help them get through the material.

Students were given the option (and strongly encouraged) to use the computer lab I booked during the class time. About 50% did; others used their own computers and about half of them ran into glitches that resulted in their not completing all or part of the online modules).

I set the course up in three sections:

  1. Hybrid Screenshot youtube                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A welcome video. I filmed this 2 minute introduction explaining the written instructions “in person” last and uploaded it to YouTube with a link on Blackboard. Some students had difficulty opening this.
  2. Hybrid Screenshot 1                                                                                                                                                                                                        Module 1: The Writing Process. This had a 30 minute video (YouTube only permits 15 minute videos. Who knew?) that I uploaded at great length to Blackboard and which I expected students to watch during the 2-hour class time slot. It was a narrated Powerpoint that students could pause at various intervals to do some writing. Two assignments were included: an in class assignment that was to be uploaded by the end of class; and a Homework assignment that they had the weekend to complete and submit.
  3. Hybrid Screenshot 2                                                                                                                                                                                                        Module 2: In Depth Article Analysis. This included a link to an article, a 15 minute video (narrated powerpoint again) referring to the article which students could watch at their convenience as long as the homework assignment (a discussion board response) was completed by 9pm on Sunday night. I also included a second optional discussion board for students to provide feedback on the hybrid experience. There were zero marks associated with this, and only 6/27 students commented.

Lessons Learned

Even as I uploaded material, I was planning how to improve it next time. There are a number of key recommendations:

  • Make each video shorter. I had activities layered within the video so that wasn’t an issue. However, uploading took a very long time, and the longer video could not be added to my YouTube account. In addition, anytime I made a mistake, I had to start over. This could be resolved with another type of technology which I will have to look into (as opposed to a narrated powerpoint)
  • I need to add more actual video. When I teach and talk in a classroom, there is movement as I walk up and down. I found, watching the video, that just to listen to a voice and watch a screen, was not very interesting. The short video where I filmed myself talking was more engaging.
  • I think Prezi might be a good way to do this, but am concerned it won’t meet AODA requirements.
  • I uploaded a transcript with each video. This took a long time to create as I don’t teach from a script, and in the end (approved by our campus counselor) the transcript only had the key bullet points rather than every word I said.
  • I had a mix of media and types of assignments, but would want to add even more.
  • Recording at my home is not perfect (see comment re: rooster below) and perhaps a better sound studio is a good idea.
  • Having the time frame left flexible is my preference. This way students can take full advantage of the benefits of online coursework
  • I have a whiteboard program I wanted to use to demonstrate something, but was trying to keep the steps simple and streamlined. Powerpoint did not give me the final result I really wanted, but was familiar to students and easy to follow.
  • It takes longer than I realised to upload video. I went out for dinner while the Module 1 video loaded.

Student Feedback

In Tuesday’s class, we had a complete debrief as part of the process. That, plus the comments from the feedback discussion board, are explained below.

First of all, the good: Students liked the self-pacing, the flexibility, the fact that they didn’t have to come into class. A number of students said there was an adjustment, but really enjoyed the online format. Feedback included that the modules were easy to follow, organized, and the assignments well paced. They liked that they could rewind video to watch something again. By and large, students greatly preferred Module 2 which allowed them to complete the module on their own time. This is the point of an online course, but I wanted to try a timed module as well, just for comparison.

On the other hand: This was a big departure for many students who found it difficult without an instructor. Technological issues were a problem, and at least two students complained about the sound of a rooster on the background of the video that was distracting. Some students commented that they missed the in-class discussion and activity that we usually do, and found the lack of ability to ask questions as they learned frustrating at times. This could be resolved with a discussion board, though it is still not in real time.

Here’s Darwin, our rooster. He really was just background noise, but there were complaints from one student who claimed he was too distracting (she has ADHD). Another student noticed but found it charming. I was concerned so had a colleague listen to the video. She said she could barely hear him. Either way, Darwin…next time, you have to be quiet!

darwin rooster