The Curation Debate – Plenk2010

Yesterday’s session seemed to be interesting. I missed it but was catching up on the recording. One part of it, around Curation (at least where it initially started), was especially interesting, not only from the point of view of what was being discussed, but also as an interesting example of the anatomy of the “narrative discussion” happening over the microphone and chat.
Disclaimer: I have tried to piece together, part-transcription, part my own interpretation, the discussion and debate. Please do correct me if I have misrepresented, misheard, ignored or inadequately/inaccurately represented a point of view.

The discussion was essentially between Dave Cormier, George Siemens and Stephen Downes, although there were many contributions from other people like Rita, Al, Alan, Asif, Bruce, jpaz, Dawn, Graham and others. Here goes.

Dave Cormier: happy about the curatorial activities like using ManyEyes etc.

George Siemens: creating is a sense making activity – blog post, mindmap, curation activity – what degree in a course should the facilitators lead – student’s role as a creator of resources vs. educators role of a curator. Perhaps facilitators, since they are more connected, can be relied upon to present curated artifacts for further discussion.

Stephen Downes:  problem with the curator-facilitator role? Can only Facilitators curate?

George Siemens: No, everybody should curate and demonstrate their own viewpoints and perspectives, but for the reason of being better connected with the topic under discussion, in reality (not potential), facilitators can lead. Impact of the facilitator curation would be more consequential. This is because, right or wrong, the facilitator is expected to have a broad grasp of the topic and participants may not have the same grasp.

Dave Cormier: That’s a lot of expectation and presumption. Why (asks George)? George has more social power (status, reputation) in the community. Isn’t that what this boils down to?

George Siemens: Dave has shifted the discussion a bit, importantly to the distinction between status and power/influence/pull. There are certain things that status may afford to you and raise expectations of you – assessing, leading students – but influence is something that goes beyond that traditional role. The curatorial role would become more influential if you are more connected. And that happens if participation is not equal by all participants in a course. In a network, in theory, there would be greater equality.

George Siemens: In this course, look at the talk time by the moderators. By virtue of the amount of time, moderators would likely have a more important role in shaping the conversation (someone mentioned back channels as an influence that can change this too)

Stephen Downes: Since other moderators talked more, does it mean they are more influential?

George Siemens: Given the time we have had with the microphone, I would say that we have hashed out the topic and shaped the discussion. That may not mean that we have had greater influence on the course as a whole. Also, now that Stephen is asking questions, it gives an opportunity to further enhance the discussion. “The curatorial dimension is that the voices that are being heard are the ones that are shaping the discussion.”

Stephen Downes: A lot of work around network theory has been done. Let us look at Power Laws – influence concentrated on the spike while the long tail contains the regular types of people with low interactions. People at the top have viewpoints and influence that stands out. This is an example of an unstable network. In a stable network, you would see a straight line with more equality. Stability is where the network is resistant to cascade phenomena – phenomena where a small effect gets replicated and amplified in a cascading fashion.

Chat: George Siemens: How can you design a network? You are addressing small worlds, Stephen 

Stephen Downes: Design of a stable network should provide for open-ness, diversity etc. unlike the current (Elluminate) environment

George Siemens (and others): In reality, all have access to the microphone, active back channel exists and there is a cross-referencing of content such as blog posts; why do we want a network to be stable as a virtue; the majority of networks are unstable

Chat: Alan Cooper: Why is network “stability” a virtue? Stephen Downes: Network stability is a virtue because only stable networks can be dynamic – unstable networks, that experience cascade phenomena, revert to a configuration in which every node has the same state – and then becomes inert, and dead.

Chat: Al Pedrazzoli: But the majority of the networks are unstable. Stephen Downes In living networks – eg., humans, trees, etc. – there are physical constraints that limit the size if the big spike.  In artificial – ‘scale free’ – networks (like financial systems) there are no such limitations.

Stephen Downes: But it is a question of perception that we are up against – we bring our histories in with the perception that there ought to be a loudest voice and this is what we must address in the design for a connectivist course. So bringing it back, curation leads to structures for authority, for the loudest voice. Journalism is close to what I am thinking about, where one does make value judgements but one is more interested in the analysis and assessments that follow.

George Siemens: Lets talk about the PLE/PLN ideas. Stephen sits on the spike in the power law. That is a deserved role given his work across a decade. A new blogger will be at the low-end of the tail. It would be unfair to compare the two. Now Stephen compares education with social justice and social reform, which I don’t disagree with. In reality though, we would encounter power laws more naturally than stable networks. As an example, Stephen may be at the long tail when it comes to frogs (Stephen disagrees), so you really play different roles. Depending upon the context, the role and position (and thus the influence) will vary. We don’t give media, newspapers or teachers the same position/status for everything, but choose among them.

Dave Cormier: We may want to move from unstable to stable configurations. Talking about this discussion is not necessarily indicative. The format of a narrative discussion does not allow for a hundred separate voices to be talking at the same time (GoogleDocs is a different format, an example of how technology controls things) – it is just not technology but also human nature that we can’t have 50 people talking at the same time and have a useful discussion. I give a lot of weight to what people in my network comment. It is important to consider taking on more than a single role to start moving towards stable networks.

George Siemens: This discussion is bigger than what we can handle in this session, also given the amount of work done by people like Watts and Strogatz. Let’s move on.

…and so it went. For me, an important piece of the conversation was the reinforcement that the stable vs. unstable networks tension is not just about technology or collaboration but also about more broadly about ideas of equality and justice, however close or far we could be in relation to “designing” or wanting to design a stable network.

Another important takeaway, from the learning standpoint, is that the challenge is to build systems and practices that can allow a hundred different voices to speak all at once and not have a useless cacaphony in the end.

But I think this discussion was especially interesting because we are also debating how future PLEs/PLNs should look – what affordances they should have, as a collective research practice that is PLENK2010, and curation may be an important part of the deal.

8 thoughts on “The Curation Debate – Plenk2010

Add yours

  1. Hi Viplav,

    You say “the challenge is to build systems and practices that can allow a hundred different voices to speak all at once and not have a useless cacaphony in the end.”

    As far as technology goes, we have the open web and all the evolving tools. I think what we are doing in the MOOC is learning to navigate the plethora of tools and knowledge and resources and network connections, as well as learning how to filter, analyse, aggregate, curate etc. I think these are important skills for the learner of the 21st Century that will help avoid the cacophony.


      1. I certainly agree that new pedagogies are a part of this.

        As far as the technologies go, yes there will be new ones to support the new pedagogy. I’m wary though of new technologies that simply allow institutions to co-opt the ideas involved with open learning, PLEs, PLNs etc. and continue to deny students control over their own learning and content.

        I see from your post on PLEs as OSes that you seem to agree with this approach. To me it’s important that we allow learners to use the tools of their choice. This is why I mentioned the tools on the open web.

        As an educational technologist are you interested in developing these types of technologies? You seem to have the technical knowledge and interest.


      2. Yes, Sean. I am very interested in developing new innovative formats for collaboration and supporting technologies. These may just be based on existing open technologies/tools or may necessitate building up new ones. An important piece will be how to generate insight (learning analytics) from these new formats.

        I believe that these new formats, if adopted, will shift control and structure in the learning process towards learners and allow teachers to adopt new roles with ease.


  2. I like what you are saying about the importance of providing technological solutions to make it easier for teachers to move into their new roles with ease.

    If teachers don’t have easy-to-use tools that show clearly how the new pedagogy works it will be a lot harder to encourage them to change away from the style of teaching they are familiar with. I hadn’t heard it articulated in that way before.

    The current MOOCs are a step towards that. Have you looked into Stephen’s gRSShopper which provides the underlying framework for the course? Have you seen


    1. Thanks for pointing me to edufeedr. I have read about gRSShopper and I find the work Stephen is doing around resource profiles very interesting. I am looking at designing something that is targeted at collaboration, not just aggregation and matching. One of the (many) thoughts, is to build in, say, critical literacies, into the design of the tool in a way that is somewhat quantifiable – maybe somewhat like what Papert did with Logo?


      1. I’m familiar with Papert but really familiar with Logo. I wonder though whether critical literacies can ever be quantifiable.

        I was just supporting the direction and underlying principles of your work. I’ll leave the technical details to you! 🙂

        I will be interested to see what you develop.

        Cheers, Sean


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