The Awesome Power of “Sophisticated Curation”

Once again, my friend and colleague, Peg Boyles, has responded to a post — in this case, with an incisive description of curation, which essentially could be defined as the marshaling of information into a more enriched learning context.

I think a lot of the most important 21st-century information/education work…will come in the form of sophisticated curation. I also think we’ll come to appreciate good curators, who help make sense of chaos by identifying, attracting, connecting, and distributing information from many sources, as genuine leaders. We’ll think of many of them as “self-taught,” because they won’t have conventional credentials and the formal schooling it takes to acquire them.

Peg rightfully observes that my Web mentor, Jim, demonstrated the value of curation as far back as 15 years ago, when the Web was still in its infancy.

Yes, curation — “sophisticated curation,” as Peg aptly describes it — is essential to the future of Extension. Indeed, I would contend that few educators are as well equipped as Extension professionals to provide this indispensable skill.

As Jim demonstrated almost a generation ago, there is plenty of room, especially now, in this socially networked environment, to provide new perspectives on existing forms of knowledge.

By adding new perspectives to knowledge, we refine it, and by refining it, we reinforce it within the minds of our clients.

But sophisticated curation potentially unleashes something even more significant.  By curating large bodies of knowledge — in other words, by endowing it with wider perspectives — we increase the likelihood that some facet of this knowledge will be adapted to some wider, possibly even to some entirely new, use.

Science writer Steven Johnson describes this as exaptation — a practice that has advanced our species in incalculable ways. Exaptation could be broadly and very informally defined as a kind of hijacking of a trait, feature or idea for an entirely different, often previously unimagined purpose.

Evolution abounds with examples of exaptation — feathers are believed to have initially evolved for temperature regulation, although they ultimately proved useful in enabling birds to glide through the air.

In human technological terms, one of the most memorable forms of exaptation was Gutenberg’s borrowing of the wine press technique as the basis for a more advanced form of printing — one that changed the world in a myriad of ways.

That is only one example among many.  Punch cards, originally invented by French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard to weave complex patterns with mechanical looms, became a mainstay of computer programming through the 1970s.

Think about it: By curating vast bodies of knowledge using social media tools, we increase the likelihood that exaptation will occur.

Peg is right: The implications of specialized curation to Extension and to our diverse audiences are profound.

‘Nuff said.

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2 responses to “The Awesome Power of “Sophisticated Curation”

  1. Great point to make – >> “we increase the likelihood that some facet of this knowledge will be adapted to some wider, possibly even to some entirely new, use.”

  2. Pingback: Extension Educators as Content Curators | The Winnowing Oar

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