Let’s face it. Most physical textbooks have limitations: they aren’t current, tend to be dry, and focus on giving information without necessarily offering the best pedagogical methods for helping students learn. More and more, educators are relying on the internet to discover engaging activities, timely research, and the most current studies on how students learn best.
Wrestling the firehose of the World Wide Web to the ground so you can use it effectively can be overwhelming. This is where content curation is vital — so you can save resources on the spot and find them again later.
The goal seems simple but immediately gets complicated by many variables. What if you are using Pinterest and want to save a Google Doc or a Tweet that doesn’t include a picture? What if you installed a bookmarking extension on your laptop, but there isn’t an app for your phone? Even worse, what if you have more than one bookmarking tool, and can’t remember which one you used when you saved that incredible lesson idea for Monday morning?
Efficient methods for collecting teaching resources
To save my own sanity, I developed a curation workflow that alleviates a lot of the stress. The process is: find the best bookmarking tool for your circumstances, make it easy to bookmark anything you want quickly and organize the bookmarks so it takes less time to find them than it would take to Google the topic.
Choosing a tool
Let’s start with choosing a tool. There is no perfect bookmarking app, software, or website because everyone has different requirements. So, selecting a tool should begin with prioritizing your criteria.
What is the purpose?
I mentioned lesson resources as one reason teachers curate, but that might not be the only one. If you combine professional and personal, you may have hobbies, wishlists, recipes, travel locations, and even digital portfolios. For example, during the pandemic, I used one tool to collect messages from friends and family around the world for my daughter’s birthday. Some teachers might use curation to make a quick list of website links for student research. And others may be sharing with their colleagues or on a website.
Who is this for?
If the resources are only for you to view, then you have plenty of options. But most of us want to have public and private lists on our curation tools. Thinking about our audience also means we need to consider the learning curve it might take for others to access the tool, as well as if it is something available to everyone for free. If you will be using it with students, make sure that it’s free without limits, students don’t need to create individual accounts, and that your district doesn’t block it.
What types of resources will be included?
As I mentioned, Pinterest may be great for websites with images, but it immediately loses its utility if you are trying to save other kinds of files. If you consume lots of information from various sources, such as Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc., you want a flexible tool that can collect all of those in one place. It’s also nice to be able to add your own photos, PDFs, and documents, so you don’t have to hunt those down separately.
What devices will you be using?
Laptop or desktop browsers generally require an extension or software to be installed for you to use the tool. Mobile devices need apps. Also, does the tool you are considering have apps available that will connect to all of the apps and websites where you typically consume information (Twitter, Instagram, mobile browser)?
Some other things you may want to consider, especially if you are doing a lot of curation, are: Is there unlimited free storage (without ads)? Is this a tool that is going to be around for a while?
Once you settle on your top priorities, you may realize that a tool you’ve been using really hasn’t been the best for your needs. Efficiency is key for busy educators, so you might want to investigate some other potential tools to help you streamline the curation process. The most essential element is that you can find what you need when you need it.
Through the years, I have used several different tools, including Pinterest, Pocket, Flipboard, and even using “recipes” with If This, Then That. One that I have recently begun using is Wakelet. It allows me to save any type of file that I like from both my laptop and my smartphone, makes it easy for me to maintain both public and private lists, and offers different layout options. Other benefits are that Wakelet is developed with educators in mind and has a very supportive community. Although these features make Wakelet ideal for my own use, you may have a different set of preferences, so here is an article that offers other suggestions.
Bookmark and organize
Once you’ve got your bookmarking tool selected, install whatever apps and extensions are available so that it will work with your most important sources of materials. I use Twitter quite a bit, so I have an app on my phone that lets me click on a share button within a Tweet and then choose the bookmarking app. On my laptop, I have a Chrome extension on my Bookmarks bar that I can tap whenever I want to save a website.
To make bookmarking quick, I have one category called “Ideas.” As you can imagine, this encompasses many different topics, so I will add everything from DIY hacks to scholarly articles about education to this group. Once a week, I look at everything in my “Ideas” category and re-classify each entry. This may seem time-consuming, but there is logic behind this madness. First of all, I am usually bookmarking when I’m on the go (in line, waiting for the pasta to boil, on hold for customer service, etc.), so I want to just add the resource without searching for a category. Secondly, reading over my list at my leisure a few days later and carefully considering categories for sorting not only reminds me that the resource exists but makes me more likely to make use of it later. Once I put everything in a new place, I delete the entire “Ideas” list and begin a new one for the following week.
Specific categories are helpful. If your list is private, go crazy with your titles. (I have one called “Things I May Want When I’m Rich But Can’t Afford Now,” which is distinctly different than my “Things I Want as Gifts the Next Time My Husband Asks.”)
I often will double or triple bookmark my resources in several groups because I know that, on any given day, I may search for something in a less-than-obvious section. If your tool allows for it, multiple thoughtful tags on resources are also advantageous so that you can search by tag at a later time.
Make sure that whatever you plan to share is tied to its original source. For example, I will often save a Tweet rather than a link in a Tweet so that I can give credit to the person who called it to my attention. Whether they originated the content they are sharing or not, whoever “turned you on” to a resource will appreciate a mention and can be helpful to the content author when they learn who is spreading the news about their creation.
Our brains only have so much storage capacity, so give yours a break and let those digital bits and bytes work for you by choosing a “bank” where deposits and withdrawals are smooth: commit to one or two tools maximum so you won’t go insane trying to remember where you filed something, add the tool to all of your devices and apps (for the same reason), and devise a straightforward process to find your saved resources in the future.
Terri is an educator with 29 years of experience who authors the blog Engage Their Minds. She is passionate about sharing ways to empower students. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, teenage daughter, and three dogs. Her current learning opportunity is training their new Great Dane puppy. Follow her on Twitter @terrieichholz!