Tag Archives: Peg Boyles

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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Virtually Present

My friend and colleague, Peg Boyles of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, offered this followup to my earlier post, “What Museums Can Teach Us,” which explores how Web 2.0 technology is forcing private- and public-sector agencies alike to rethink our standing vis-à-vis their clients.

A quantum shift, the move from seeing oneself and one’s organization as the single/primary source of information to behaving as one (however deeply informed) node in a networked conversation. Not to mention the overt recognition that others in the network may have a lot to teach as well as learn, and that others may challenge your data/information/point of view—even your credibility.

Funny, I was thinking along a somewhat similar vein as I wrote this piece.  I was reminded of a scene from recent documentary about Air Force One in which a staff member points to a threshold separating the ultra-secure presidential compartment from the rest of the plane.

“Everything beyond this point is the White House,” said the staff member, as he gestured toward the presidential compartment.

I was struck by that statement.  Until comparatively recently in our history, the term “White House” delineated a specific physical space located at what is now known as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Only since World War II, following the rapid growth of U.S. presidential power and influence, has that term been expanded to encompass more abstract concepts, such as officially designated space aboard a Boeing VC-25.

Now, with the advent of Web 2.0, these kinds of abstract definitions are becoming increasingly common in every facet of our lives.

Until recently, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System would have been defined as an organization encompassing a brick-and-mortar headquarters in Auburn and Normal, Alabama as well as some 800 employees operating in county and regional offices throughout the state.  Now, this definition stands alongside a considerably more abstract, nontraditional definition — a virtual Alabama Extension presence encompassing an official Web site as well as numerous social media venues.

Peg is right to point out that this nontraditional virtual presence creates an entirely new set of dynamics.  We no longer occupy the commanding heights we once enjoyed when we were confined to a single definition.  Now we are merely nodes in a vastly extended network.  Likewise, our standing vis-à-vis our clients has undergone a marked change.  Social media now afford us with opportunities to learn as much from our clients as they do from us.

What fascinates me most, though, is the underlying irony in all of this. Think about it:  This new definition, while greatly diminishing our historic role and standing with our clients, nonetheless presents us with the greatest opportunities in our history for expanding the Cooperative Extension concept and mission.

Equally ironic, this new definition, despite all the displacement it has caused, is every bit as critical to our continued survival and success as the traditional definition that preceded it.

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. For that matter, so does technological change.