Curation: A Labor of Love or an Act of Hubris?

curation postFirst, some context:

This Christmas I gave my father a 64GB flash drive. He probably doesn’t need the extra storage, but I was certain he should listen to the podcasts I put on it.

Podcasts are a reoccurring topic here, and I might describe myself as an early-ish adopter. I started listening to the Hospitality Podcast to get hours of free drum and bass in 2007, and a year later I began to subscribe news, arts and culture podcasts. A few Christmases ago, I gave my father an iPod Nano with hours of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and Hardcore History and a few audio books.

Since then, podcast providers are the new thing (thanks, Serial). Slate names its podcast network Panoply, there’s Gimlet Media, and there’s Radiotopia, in addition to the numerous NPR and APM podcasts versions of their shows. I’ve expanded my consumption, and it was time to introduce my father to some new ones I hoped he would enjoy, and ones I thought he should hear.

This act required much reflection and research, and it was valuable for me to revisit some of the stories I’ve heard and create contextual boxes for the multitude.

In the end, I think I used up roughly two gigs of space with 82 episodes plus a table of contents with hyperlinks to each episode page. You can find this list at the bottom of this post.

podcast by the numbers

As you can see, there’s a bias toward 99% Invisible, and that’s because I kept my target audience in mind. Then I had to consider which themes emerged from the content and which themes I wanted to superimpose. In doing so, I offered my implicit interpretation of the podcasts and emphasized connections between content. Finally, wrapping a flash drive seemed a little lame, so I created a book with the episodes listed and images that reflected the content or provided commentary. Yes, it was a scrapbook of podcasts.

curate - podcasts book

Now, I share this here, for two reasons. First, the curated list might be interesting for you to peruse or share with students, and second, the process could (and should) be duplicated with students.

Curation: The Process

  1. Initial Exposure
  2. Making Connections
  3. Analyzing the Audience
  4. Drafting Themes
  5. Organizing Content
  6. Supplementing Content
  7. Finalizing Themes
  8. Visualizing Interpretations
  1. Initial Exposure

Before curation, there must be raw material to curate. One doesn’t need to know each item on an analytical level, but there should be a general understanding of the topic. For me, my initial exposure to these episodes was while running, doing chores, or yardwork. Students, on the other hand, may find this raw material in a set of poems, a collection of historical records, or whatever course material we ask them to read, watch, or hear throughout a course.

  1. Making Connections

During that first exposure, the individual makes connections between the new information and prior knowledge and experiences. Sometimes these connections are to specific memories or facts, but other times the connections are to themes. While listening to the Gist, I would connect Mike Pesca’s new rants on flags to prior rants on flags. He helped forge these connections but maintaining patterns in the show and using reoccurring guests. Teachers do the same when they draw on prior information when introducing a new topic. However, to make connections to themes, one must have multiple examples. I had to listen to many, many episodes of 99% Invisible before I realized that some shows focus on the design of everyday objects (branding) whereas others were more location specific (what was, what is, and what shall never be). Teachers help students create themes for information by exposing them to many, many short stories, poems, math problems, or historical figures.

  1. Analyzing the Audience

Ideally, steps one and two occur throughout one’s life: whether in school or just as something you do. But if you’re passionate about this raw material, this stuff you absorb in life or in school, and you want to share it with someone, you need to think about what that other person likes and is also passionate about. For me, that meant thinking about what I know my father likes and what he likes to learn about and listen to. I also needed to consider the production quality, podcast format (conversation, storytelling, interviews, multiple hosts, for example), and length. Then I made new connections between what I knew about the content and what my father appreciates and how he might experience the content.

For students, they might curate course content for someone living in another country, a family member, a friend, or a future student. Teachers might start conversations by saying, “Look over everything you’ve experienced in this course. What would X find most interesting?” Students might answer the questions: “How do you know what someone likes? What does that person choose to watch, read, hear, or do in his or her free time? What do they talk about?” This asks students to empathize and imagine.

  1. Drafting Themes

After the collecting content and analyzing the audience, the curator should think of how to thematically organize the information. What themes already exist and which themes connect to the audience? Are their interests reflected in the content that have yet emerged as themes? Is there a way to recontexualize previously made connections to make it more appealing for the audience?

  1. Organizing Content

Organizing content is just like shelving or filing. Which examples of themes are worthy or sharing and where? Which best fits which theme?

  1. Supplementing Content

After drafting themes and sorting through content, the curator may find some themes under represented. For me, I knew I needed to find more episodes on language and creatures. Plus, there were some podcasts that I didn’t find that interesting but I knew my father would enjoy. Consider this step like recasting your net. In the art world, we see this when museums ask to borrow objects from other museums. Sometimes to tell a complete story, other pieces must be found and added.

  1. Finalizing Themes

After recasting ones’ net and adding more content, the themes may need some revision.

  1. Visualizing Interpretations

Finally, the last step is making the presentation visual. For my project, I went low-tech by making a book. Each theme had its own page, and I illustrated it with images that the title evoked or represented my understanding of the content. Students, on the other hand, could use technology by making a website with images and hyperlinks to the content or embed it directly. Students may also use presentation software like Power Point, Prezi, or Emaze. If students make a book, then QR codes could direct readers to the content, or student may choose to use augmented reality to trigger a video of their description, interpretation, or reflection of the content.

For Love or Hubris?

Curation takes time and effort. I spent hours revisiting old podcasts selecting not only topical podcasts but also ones that offered the best quality. I visited iTunes and podcasts’ websites to make sure I didn’t overlook a podcast that would fit well with the themes. I went through some podcasts that I had been meaning to listen to. I cared about my audience and wanted to produce the best selection, and I cared deeply about the content I was including.

Yet, curation takes a fair amount of hubris as well. The mere act of selecting what is good and worthy to be included is a little prideful because it forces you to play the role of the expert. Also, it takes a bit of pride to be able to follow through. Not only am I proud of my effort, but by making this collection, I’m saying to my father, “You will be better if you listen to these.” You, audience, should check this out because it is interesting and it’s something worth knowing.

Will I do this activity again? Maybe. I might also invite my father to send the flash drive back with whatever he thinks is worth listening to.

If you’re interested about podcasts but haven’t listened to many, I invite you to check out my list below. There’s a little something for everyone. If you are also passionate about podcasts, please comment and tell me what I missed and visit my Podcast page and suggest an episode for other educators.

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