In a recent research project exploring how everyday work-learning practices are changing through the infusion of web and mobile technologies, multiple knowing practices emerged (i.e., Thompson, 2013).
I wonder if these micro-practices enact a form of curating. Not in the traditional sense of what museum professionals have always done, but as Cairns and Birchall (2013) suggest, mobilizing “new tactics, both algorithmic and social, to help make sense and meaning from the swaths of hyperconnected, hyperflexible data” prompted by the horizontal organization of the internet (para. 7).
I propose this term with caution, acknowledging its legacy as well as its newfound cache, especially with respect to notions of digital curation. In this study, curating seems to describe practices of sorting, organizing, and prioritizing of specificities: what does what, what goes where, and the different spaces in which different actions unfold. It include acts of selecting, arranging, describing, annotating, aggregating (re)using, organizing, interpreting, storing, jettisoning, and even the care for digital objects (i.e., Barrett, 2012; Flanders & Munoz, 2012).
It seems curating practices unfold with a mishmash of digital artefacts, spaces, people, technologies, ideas and knowledges. The relations between these actors are characterized by a piecing together—purposefully and more accidentally; sometimes on a large scale and other times to focus on a few; reveling in the distributed reach and possibilities of connectivity to people, ideas, and digital things from elsewhere but also tethering to bring closer or even attempting to enclose and limit.
But curating is not something people do on their own. It is done with digital things and at times, digital things work directly with other digital things. Many digital objects and their entourages help direct attention to the noteworthy and useful. Some “thingly gatherings” (Thompson & Adams, 2013) are enrolled in selection processes, providing ratings or recommendations. Other objects offer to make digital connectivity (and learning) possible anytime-anywhere but then may, at times, fail: power cords, batteries, and credit balances on SIM cards teeter in precarious configurations. Contact lists here talk to contact lists there in attempts to bolster connections and relationships. Digital footprints make visible and may even net contracts, credibility, and enactments of expertise. But they may also generate fear of identity theft, data mining, and possibilities of being too fragmented over the web.
Such curating practices embrace the contradictions of the fragmentary and tethered, the physical and virtual, global and local sensibilities, and states of being frozen and fluid. What is the effect of these curating practices? Perhaps it is the enactment of learning ecologies: continually emerging pedagogical configurations best described as arrays of distributed learning spaces that integrate a mix of coded materialites, artefacts, activities, and people. Far from stable configurations, these assemblages are organic and restless; emerging from doings and undoings.
As an adult educator I’m left with questions about where educators fit vis a vis these emergent learning practices: What, if any, is our role? What increasingly sophisticated digital fluencies are being negotiated and called into play? Law (2011) refers to collateral realities as those realities that get done incidentally and usually unintentionally through everyday practices. For example, practices of curating vacillate between visibility and invisibility. Some practices may be more deliberate, such as choosing to be present via Twitter rather than Facebook, but much of what goes on to create, maintain, transform, and navigate fluid spaces, such as learning ecologies, are less visible: accidental, serendipitous, and at times, the result of powerful enrolment mechanisms.
And so, collateral realities could include the endless work of: choreography (of accessibility, devices, artefacts, apps, etc.); taking care of digital-human partnerships to keep the assemblage functional; and ability to reconfigure when the actor-network falls apart slowly or crashes dramatically. There can be no human overseer of all this work as managing such complexity would be impossible. Agency is therefore distributed across a range of human-thingly gatherings. As educators—whether in a formal, workplace, or lifelong learning setting—how do we address these collateral realities and new forms of distributed agency?
Barrett, K. (2012, September 21). Object lessons – curating in the 21st century [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://spoonsontrays.blogspot.ca/2012/09/object-lessons-curating-in-21st-century.html#!/2012/09/object-lessons-curating-in-21st-century.html
Cairns, S., & Birchall, D. (2013). Curating the digital world: Past preconceptions, present problems, possible futures. Retrieved from http://mw2013.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/curating-the-digital-world-past-preconceptions-present-problems-possible-futures/
Flanders, J., & Muñoz, T. (2012). An introduction to humanities data curation. Retrieved from http://guide.dhcuration.org/intro/
Law, J. (2011). Collateral realities. In F. Dominguez Rubio & P. Baert (Eds.), The Politics of Knowledge (pp. 156-188). London: Routledge.
Thompson, T. L. (2013, September). Digital doings: Reshaping mobilities of online adult work-learning practices. Paper presented at the 7th European Research Conference: European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA), Berlin, Germany.
Thompson, T. L., & Adams, C. (2013). Speaking with things: Encoded researchers, social data, and other posthuman concoctions. Distinktion, 14(3), 342-361.