Advice from Expert Curator, Robin Good, on How to…Curate


Robin Good has long been my go-to guru for inspiration on how and what to curate.  In this short interview by Cendrine Marrouat, social media blogger, curator, and founder of Social Media Slant, I got some useful direction for something I have been practicing for several years now. Perhaps it will be of value to you as well.

Good notes from the start that he never consciously decided to become a content curator. He hints at how curation chose him.  I think that Good hit the ground running with curation because he realized early on that an inventory of his likes was also an inventory of this skills. His earliest success was in creating a taxonomy poster in high school. Later he was an FM radio personality, a private-party DJ, a newsletter editor and eventually a curator of  breaking news feeds.  Good always seemed to know how these strengths aligned with those of curation in general even though he may not have called it that as a young man.

Good advises a form of enlightened self-interest in curating.  In other words by curating spaces that help him find what he wants, he also does the same for those with similar interests. I think that this is also the key to persistence as a curator.  If you are passionately curious about a question, then you can add value almost automatically.  For example, summarizing a blog post or research paper helps you understand both how and why a piece is worthy and unworthy.  That gives you greater depth.  If you can add critique and analysis to the curation, you make the article more and more your own.  And if you let others peak over your shoulder and even critique and analyze what you have curated, then so much the better for all to share in the rising intellectual tide that anyone can surf

Good also argues that curation is a necessity in a target rich environment. Without the skills he has evolved over the years,  he argues that he could not effectively find what he needs to do his job. Curation is central to efficient and effective filtering the info-muck that the Internet often seems.

Of course, curation makes you smarter and more nuanced because you have gone through the full cycle of seeking, making sense of, and sharing that information.  Curation is the full monty.

Good is not nearly so helpful when he is asked for tips on how to do ‘great curation’. His advice seems at first to be the same advice that the baseball player Willie Keeler gave, “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.” Yes…and how does one hit ’em where they ain’t?  Go deep–explore–be open to surprise—be disciplined–keep your filters on and your curation GPS flexible, but not too flexible. Perhaps the better advice would be to follow Robin Good’s work on Scoop.It  and Zeef so he can show you how to hit ’em where they ain’t.

To his credit, Good later in the interview does suggest that you follow others down their curated rabbit holes. He suggest that you start with these:

Maria Popova – Curiosity and culture

Robert Scoble –Technology and startups

Peter Bogaards – Information Design

Stephen Downes — How to Curate

While you are examining the curatorial work of others, he advises that you “shine the lights on other people’s work, tools, ideas and let others discover what may have never come across their typical path.”  I like this quote because it is a useful reminder that while curation starts with personal curiosity and knowledge management, it only become curation when we consider a larger audience.  Without the “making sense” and “sharing” it is probably more noise in a world gone Babel.  Curation is all about tuning into the best signal even if all you have is a crystal radio set and then sharing that pure signal with others.

Thanks so much to Cendrine Marrouat for asking the questions and to Robin Good for broadcasting his bright curatorial light.

Lighthouse on treacherous ground

PowerPoint Karaoke, Improv Presentation & the Infinite Game–Playing to Learn

I have known about PowerPoint Karaoke for years.  If the idea is new to you think “improv for presenters”.  Terrifying?  To some, any kind of presenting is next to losing a family member or having a tarantula crawl on you…

and that is why  I am exploring this as end-of-class fun for everybody.

Before I am accused of having a deprived and depraved funny bone, let me explain.  The main focus of my English 300 writing course, Writing in the Disciplines, is to produce a research project that uses all of the skills most folks in rhetoric consider critical to being a competent writer: summary, critique, analysis, and synthesis.  I prefer to simplify that whole categorical mess by using Harold Jarche’s triune approach to knowledge management–‘seek/sense/share’.

Every class I try to help students do each of those elements.  I might combine a new search tool like Topsy with a sense-making tool like critiquing and use peer discussion to share.  Sometimes the mix is eclectic and weaves technologies (Google Scholar/Zotero/ Other times I flip the classroom and have them go totally paper and pencil and face-to-face.  The goal is to always be doing all three at some point in the class period or as part of an assignment.

One opportunity/challenge/terror they face at semester’s end is The Presentation. I have always thought of it as a festival of their ideas while many of them (especially my international and public speaking phobic learners) regard it as Professor Terry’s Cabinet of Horror.  The theory is that since they have had the entire semester to explore their project that they have become experts and are, theoretically, more confident.  Well…while almost all are more expert than their peers by far in their research arena, most do not feel expert at all as presenters.

This fits.  Consider the presentation habits of our greatest presentation practitioners–standup comics.  Almost all of the major comics (Chris Rock and Louis CK come to mind) have a similar workflow.  Their goal is about an hour of comedy once a year. And…it takes them about a year to do that.  (Aside: Think about that and then consider how little time we allow students to get ‘good’ at presentation.)  Typically,  the comedian will work up a few minutes of stories or jokes and then do short standup sets at very intimate comedy clubs.  Some stuff kills, some stuff sucks. Over a year of trial and error (and occasionally some new material created on the fly) a coherent hour emerges. A year of starts and stops and this and that.

And what do we give students?  I won’t even say because it is the definition of the word unfair.  Hence my crazy embrace of Powerpoint Karaoke.  What are the rules?

There are no rules so much as there are…guidelines, but if you are like Crazy Walter–

then here’s yer rulez:

  • The presenter shall NOT see the presentation slides in advance.
  • The presentation time shall be limited. 5 minutes is the most common time limit.
  • The jury shall have a sense of humor.
  • The speech must be related to the Powerpoint slides. General nonsense is not allowed.
  • Imporant: Everybody shall remember that the reason to do it is to have fun

What I am doing is a slo-mo embrace of the game.  First, I introduced it and showed a few video examples.  I then asked them if they were interested in trying it out on Fridays just for fun.  Horror dawns in their eyes.  A few brave souls with the hearts of middle schoolers willing to try anything including jumping off a bridge agree to try it.  Not an auspicious start but not unlike the first days of a drama class as you practice warmups.

Next, I asked some folks on Friday if they wanted me to demonstrate.  Of course, I was terrible compared to some of the great examples I had already shown.  Then it hit me.  Let them use their own research questions/topics, let them sit at their seats and let them do just one or two slides in a variation we call “pptx-relay”.  I see a bit more enthusiasm.

Next week we will try more.  The point (heh heh, maybe I should say the powerpoint? Oh, ok that would be mega-lame) is to ease them into the water with small successes.  I create the slide decks and I advance the slides while they just do the improv.

The main purpose is to play the long game– have fun , but if you insist on having cover then find some CYA in the Common Core (good luck) or just note that we are getting students to use the oldest trick in the book–teaching others in order to learn better ourselves.  An added CYA bonus is that we begin to increase the amount of time doing at least some extra rehearsal in front of others.

I sincerely believe that if you play the infinite game, you reap infinite, ever-expanding rewards.  If you play the finite game, you get winners and losers.  Needless to say I will be the entire judging panel and I will make sure I “cheat” so that the points don’t matter.  I am endlessly creative and improvisational in ways that make sure that everyone ends up getting the same amount of points. (Aside: you should hear the howls when I do improvisational team quizzes and my strategic students discover that there is no way to win or lose OR I rig it where I am the ultimate winner.)

Here is an exemplary ppt-karaoke to gnaw on.  Tasty. Wish me luck.


Critiquing with Other Lenses

I am showing students how to critique.  I am hoping they will return the favor.

I am using this very simple critique matrix that I am adapting from Andrew Dlugan.  He used it for evaluating speeches.  I am adapting it to a New York Times editorial board op-ed about coal, the Clean Air Act and an upcoming Supreme Court case.

The purpose here is to show how adapting a critique from another discipline might help you see others’ writings in a different slant.  The original matrix is below:


Here is the adapted version with a couple of small changes:

adapted matrix


So here are the question I am going to ask as I take notes for my critique (which I will do with Diigo).

How do I feel about the content?

How do I feel about the presentation?

What am I seeing in the presentation?

What am I seeing in the content?

What thoughts do I have about the issue and its content?

What thoughts do I have about the presentation of the issue?

Here is a link that shows all my annotations about this editorial where I answer these questions…for the most part.

I hope my students choose their own critique templates.  Here is a critique template for dance, one for art, one for websites, another for video game critiques from my friend Kevin Hodgson.  Each critique is a “stance” that might give you a different view of the same information.