Librarians, Curation and OER

Shadowgate. Carnavalet Museum. Aug, 2013. Flickr Creative Commons.

This morning I was assisting a teacher with using Newsela, an educational platform which “levels” news articles to meet the needs of students with differing reading abilities. The teacher seemed overly concerned about the content contained in Newsela articles, and shared that she had heard that a parent had complained about the “one sidedness” of the articles in a particular Newsela text set.  With a quick investigation, I found out that the parent’s complaint was about something else altogether, however, my interest in the need for sharing “balanced” content with students, and my curiosity about the best way to make that happen, was already piqued.

As a school librarian, I am responsible for providing and promoting access to information resources which meet the needs, and stimulate the curiosities, for members of my school community; curation is something I do on a continual basis. I curate physical collections by creating feeds for choosing and purchasing new and noteworthy books; adding extra value through displays, recommendations and promotions; and implementing shelving scenarios which make sense for our patrons. I curate virtual collections on our library’s website by creating pages which share and promote: subscription databases by subject area, information sources by topic area, web tools by purpose, book recommendations sites by age level and teacher resources by need. I curate for my profession, using tools such as Scoopit, Symbaloo Storify and Educlipper.  Because I serve the needs of many, with many needs, I keep up with all that is new a noteworthy, via blog feeds, Twitter, webinars, google groups and more. Because I know that the best resources are not easily found and not always remembered, I tag, bookmark and annotate resources for later use, using diigo and Evernote. This is what librarians do.

That being said, I still often “go to” master curators and curation platforms when trying to make sense of it all.  For example, before sharing a best tool for a particular purpose, I’ll double check Richard Byrne’s blog first, to see that I haven’t missed anything better. When curating resources for a particular topic, I’ll begin with libguides, to see what other librarians have already shared. As Ross Dawson presents, these curators create “high value” information, by filtering, validating, synthesizing, presenting and customizing information; (Jarche, 2012) they help us make sense and create meaning, which in this age of information overload, has become an incredibly difficult task.

Because I am “always interested” it’s especially difficult for me to chose one topic to research and present. However, in light of curation, in addition to wanting to practice curating for balanced content, I would like to further explore the movement towards OER (Open Education Resources). I am interested to see how schools, districts and individual educators are reacting to the DOE’s push for OER content, especially in making their own content free and open. I am always blown away by the contingent of educators who are not open to freely share; in order to fairly research this topic, I may need to do my best to empathize with “where they’re coming from”. In addition, I’m especially interested in the role of librarians for curating resources.

To find content related to this topic, I will begin with DOE sites, news type articles from a variety of venues, the #OER twitter hashtag, Edutopia, Edweek and the like. In addition to articles related to OER, however, are the platforms educators are using to share OER content. Search and evaluation of web resources is something I am continually trying to refine, more for my students than myself. I do not understand why we don’t spend more time in schools on this vital learning skill. For example, the 7th grade LA teachers at the school where I’m currently working allowed me to work with their students for four class periods. These students had zero background knowledge; they did not know how the internet works, never even considered how to create a search query and thought the site at the top of a google hit list was always the best and most credible source. How could we think that they they could learn all that’s necessary about search and evaluation in four class periods, when it takes that long to unlearn what they already think and do!

With regard to curation tools, I will start with Participate Learning because it works well for curating a variety of information platforms and from what I’m seeing, is quickly becoming a popular tool for educators. That being said, the curated content does not have the “shiny” appeal found in other platforms such as Pinterest or Flipboard; there are tradeoffs.  For me, choosing a curation tool depends on the platform of information I’m curating, in addition to audience and collaboration possibilities. For example, Scoopit works well for curating articles and posts, it allows for comments, is extremely easy to use, offers like content functionality and following features;  I personally have created “Scoops” for  Library Spaces, Teacher Librarians and  Maker Culture, Education and Spaces.  Symbaloo works well for younger students and like content, in addition to browser dashboards; I’ve created this Symbaloo for Making Sites.  Storify is my go to resource for curating tweets; I tend to use this tool for curating my own conference tweets and twitter chats. Edshelf works well for curating web tools and applications.  I personally find Flipboard more about finding content than curating it. For example, I remember hearing  Eric Sheninger saying that he finds most of the content he tweets via Flipboard. Interestingly, he wasn’t exactly sure how it worked; Eli Pariser may shed some light for us on that issue. Similarly, I used to use Paperli to aggregate Tweets, but  could not find information on how they choose what to emphasize; I no longer use this tool.

With regards to my interest in providing balanced information, there are databases which already do a good job of this; for example, Gale’s In Context suite.  However, I am still on the lookout for a process for making this happen on my own. My first thought is to begin by identifying stakeholders surrounding a topic or issue, and reading information from each of their viewpoints. This is something that I like students to do for gleaning all sides of an issue, however, it’s not exactly doable for all topics a librarian needs to curate.  If you have any thoughts or ideas to share, about a process for finding balanced resources, the OER movement, information curation and the need for teaching information literacy skills and dispositions…I’m, as always, interested!

Jarche, 2012. “PKM as pre-curation”. Harold Jarche: adapting to perpetual beta.


Scaffolding to Support Authentic Inquiry


Yes, Information Literacy is my responsibility..I’m a teacher-librarian. I desperately want for our students to be ethical, effective and creative users and producers of information. Contrary to what your image of a librarian may be, however, I’m not a big rule follower; and accordingly, I have no interest in being a school’s rule imposer. Nevertheless,  I’m often caught in the position of feeling that way.

For example, in my current temporary position, a class comes into the library to work on a health project. The teacher wants them to come up with an advertising like slogan about diabetes and “collect” facts and pictures to go along with their slogan on a billboard, actually a poster on construction paper. He gives them two websites to use for information, tells them that they need to use those websites, and as long as they use those websites, they don’t have to cite them on their posters. If they want to use another site, they must see him or me. He also tells them to use Photos for Class for images.

Because I am all too aware of the realities of education, I proceed, Kristen Fonchiaro style, in my act of  “nudging” towards Inquiry. The teacher likes the physical poster aspect, so I leave that alone. After sharing  a statistical report from the CDC, which he added to the resource list,  I offered the suggestion to have students choose an audience which their billboard is aiming to reach,  which he liked. With regards to image selection, I shared that  Photos for Class is great for lifestyle pictures, but I gave him a couple places to try if students needed medically accurate images.  I asked if they discussed persuasive techniques to assist in their slogan creation and he thought that students were fine. I ask if he would like for students to ask questions to support their inquiry, and he didn’t think there was enough time.

I made these suggestions for the following year. Start by having students brainstorm what they think they know about diabetes, share the statistical report from the CDC, (or a couple infographics from the PDF). with the class, and discuss what they find surprising. Have students choose one surprising fact and brainstorm questions, Question Formulation Technique style, related to the fact. In addition I shared virtual ways they might create their “billboards” and suggested having them add QR codes for additional information. I also shared that he could use their constructed questions, and how accurately their created slogans and supporting information reached their chosen audience, as another form of assessment.

However, here’s the issue I’m truly trying to get at for this post. This teacher is saying to students that they “must” use the websites he gave them, because for an earlier project,  I said that if they didn’t use the given resources, they’d need to (find and) evaluate the resources they found, which they have not yet learned to do. He’s telling them that they “must” use Photos for Class, because for the same earlier project, I told him that they needed  to consider their rights to the images they were using, in addition to attribution, (especially) since for that project, they were publishing their creations. (I’m not sure why he told them that they didn’t need to cite their information sources?)

Because these students, and the teacher for that matter, have not had the opportunity to develop information literacy competencies, they don’t understand why they are being told to do what they are being told to do.  I have quickly become the maker of rules and the limiter of options…definitely not a role I want to take on!

So, how do we solve this problem? For students, I believe that we have to start young, scaffold and model.  Kindergartners understand that putting someone else’s name at the bottom of something they created is disrespectful; and handing out Oreos and saying, “I baked these last night” is unethical. First graders can add the information providers name  to their information writing. Second graders can learn to use advanced search options, boolean operators or quotes, within a given database. Third graders, can say “according to”, when sharing fun facts on their morning announcements show.  Fourth graders can  consider, “according to whom?” when presented with an infographic to interpret. Fifth graders can choose a presentation medium according to their determined purpose and audience.

With respect to teachers, it’s more difficult, because most were not introduced to information skills until they were in high school or college, and see them as higher level academic only competencies. In addition, most were not given the opportunity to consider why they were doing what they were doing and plus, too much has changed too quickly for them to keep up. I think the best opportunity we have, is to provide our teachers with age appropriate scaffolds to use with their students and to foster their use across all content areas.  If teachers continue to simply skip what they don’t understand, we are doing our students a disservice. Information literacy is a real world competency;  ethical responsibilities and effective practices do not change because they aren’t required in a teacher generated rubric.

Limiting resources is not the answer, because it does not support authentic inquiry.  There is no way to anticipate the questions students come up with..and there shouldn’t be. With respect to my suggestions for the diabetes project shared earlier, student questions might pertain to ethnically based lifestyle choices, Native American living standards or healthcare for the elderly. The information they are curious about, can’t be found in the limited resources originally shared. Yes, teacher-librarians are there for guidance, however, if the ultimate goal is independence, we have to allow students the means for developing information skills, dispositions and responsibilities, one age appropriate step at a time.


CDC. Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Fontchiaro, K. “Nudging Toward Inquiry” School Library Monthly. Sept. 2009, Vol XXVI, No. 1. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.