Content Curation for Academics: More than just your Institutional Repository or Archives

If you are an academic librarian, you have been hearing about Data Curation, Content Curation, Information Curation or Digital Curation for years. And the terms can be applied in several different ways. There are the curation activities surrounding purchased library materials and the curation of faculty and student items (like theses and dissertations for example). Archivists have been intimately involved with all sorts of curation activities since archives existed, and were early adopters of digital curation and finding aids for the items they maintained. In the last couple of years, Data Curation made the news again in response to government mandates to make research information widely available; first with the medical field, and more recently with the National Science Foundation requirements for data curation plans in all NSF grants.

The Digital Curation Centre defines the concept for us: “Digital curation involves maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle.” Their goal is to actively manage research data in order to “reduce threats to their long-term research value and mitigate the risk of digital obsolescence.” The site has a great Digital Life Cycle Infographic which graphically illustrates this cyclical process.

There are numerous questions, policies, issues and opportunities in all the various curation activities in libraries today, but I would like to turn our attention to the topic of Content Curation beyond the repository and archive doors. The buzz about Content Curation has become popularized throughout the digital world as a result of the explosion of users who today create content as well as ingest it. Blog writing became more widespread when simple blogging tools like Blogger and WordPress became freely available. Then Podcasts became all the rage. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and even TicToc “likes” gave us the social media push, allowing even more people to express opinions on the work of others. Amazon, and review sites like Tripadvisor, Foursquare, Yelp, Angi and Healthgrades encouraged everyone to submit their opinions and the average person was suddenly creating content on the web (even though they might not have seen it as such!)

Tools like Evernote and OneNote gave us platforms for saving information that we found on the internet, and bookmarking sites like Raindrop.io and Diigo added the social aspects of making our bookmarks public so that everyone could search for resources that others had found worth marking. While the tagging on bookmarking sites allowed for a rudimentary level of organization, information on why a particular link was included by the bookmarker was generally not captured. Social networks on various platforms such as Google + and Twitter provide sources for individuals with a shared interest to exchange information that they have found in their research with others. Information  was bouncing everywhere and the average person was struggling under the load of its rapid pace.

Clay Shirky (www.shirky.com) suggests that “[the problem] is not information overload. It’s filter failure.” How can we create better filters? Enter Digital Content Curation as a way to create new value from the current influx of lists of links to existing resources on a topic. Beth Kanter, a prolific and well respected blog author for non-profit marketers, defines content curation as “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.”  A good content curator is invaluable in this age of information because, Kanter says, “finding that information (and making sense of it) requires more and more time, attention, and focus.” And who among us has time, attention or focus to spare?

So, we’ve determined that curated content, when done well, offers great benefit to the reader. We have also acknowledged that it takes time, effort and focus to create this type of content. Other than accolades from a readership, what is in it for the curator? There are a number of benefits to the digital curator (Good, Robin):

  • One of the best ways to learn new topics or skills is by being able to teach it to someone else.
  • The process of digital curation makes you examine and evaluate the material in a “new and multi-dimensional way”
  • Curating helps clarify for both the author and the reader the relationships and links between groups of information
  • Helps develop critical thinking and writing skills
  • The overwhelming plethora of information today has learners seeking reliable and trusted guide to sources for well-organized and high quality information. (a new delivery point for a service that librarians have provided for generations) (Metzger, Miriam)

Librarians are in an advantageous position to add this area of expertise to the tool box that we offer in outreach to our academic faculty. While content marketers are often the target for many of the content curation tools on the web, educators and academics can borrow from their toolbox to gain valuable new applications for their own purposes.  One place to start exploring is Curata’s Content Curation Tools: The Ultimate List for Beginners and Pros.  Happy browsing down this sizable rabbit hole. 😀

References:

Good, Robin. Content Curation for Education and Learning, presented at Emerge 2012 http://www.mindmeister.com/63257746/types-of-curation

Kanter, Beth. Content Curation 101. http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/

Metzger, M. J. (2007). Making sense of credibility on the Web: Models for evaluating online information and recommendations for future research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(13),2078–2091.

Links Roundup #50 Notetaking Revisited: Notion

saddle and ropeTo get us started on the topic of notetaking, the blogger at Talking Concept recently posted a very nice summary article called the Ultimate Guide to Effective Notetaking.

Notion:

A couple of you have asked about my take on the productivity app, Notion, which touts itself as a competitor to Evernote.  Notion is a part note-taking, part task manager app available on both Windows and Mac platforms. It has a tiered payment structure with a free Personal level that is  limited on its functionality with no version histories on your notes, a limit on file upload size and no more than 5 collaborators.  Notion has a nice set of training videos on their youtube channel so you can see the tool in action.

A number of productivity gurus are playing with Notion these days.  Here are a few of the reviews that I liked.  Jessica Jewel from Academic Workflows on a MAC recently posted an indepth article: “Setting up Notion for Academic Collaboration” that is worth a read.  In “PhD Tips Update: Project and Knowledgement Management,” Genevieve Shanahan shares details of how she uses Notion for all her knowledge management.  The Red Head Academic does a nice video on how she uses it for her PhD and professional work.

For the techie side of reviews, PC Magazine also did a recent indepth review of this tool with mixed advice: Notion Review.  Nick Lafferty is a Notion convert, posting his praise in his Jan 2021 post “Why Notion is the best productivity tool.” The folks at Techpp did a thoughtful evaluation in their March 2021 post: “Evernote vs Notion: a Detailed Comparison of the Top Two.”  And by the way, if you are shopping around for the various notetaking options, the Techapp Productivity Hub is a pretty awesome place to find posts on a number of the top contenders.

So am I a person convert to Notion?  I must admit, I have been an entrenched Evernote user for a number of years.  At this point I am not yet ready to invest in another notetaking system, but I will be keeping my eye on Notion as it continues to develop.

Is Time Management Really the Problem?

Horse with heart blindersProductivity tools, books and podcasts proliferate today.  Time Management techniques, calendars and planners have never waned in popularity through the years.  The introduction of smart phones were widely touted as the ultimate way to remain plugged in and achieve the control of our work and home lives of which we always daydreamed.  So why does the average person still complain so often about feelings of being overwhelmed and there just not being enough time?  Why has information overload and needing “unplugged time” become the latest cry? Is the culprit our understanding of how to best utilize all the tools at our disposal?  Are we just inherently lazy?

David Allen, the father of the GTD (Getting Things Done) technique, addressed his view of the impact of smartphones on his traditional GTD system (which was largely paper/pencil driven).  Surprisingly, his opinion was that while mobile devices did make managing calendars and communication easier, the impact on the GTD process was minimal. In fact, he comments, “I think it’s as much adding to the distraction factor as it is to the leverage factor.”

So, is our problem one of time management or one of focus?  This is not a new concept.  In fact, Stanford University researchers Ophir, Nass and Wagner reported as early as 2009 that they considered “processing multiple incoming streams of information is considered a challenge for human cognition” (Cognitive control in media multitaskers; 2009).  Their tests showed that mega-multitaskers, rather than performing better, actually had a more difficult time focusing on individual tasks and were more vulnerable to environmental distractions.

Have we been striving for the wrong goal all these years as we learned to multitask and deal with increasing streams of information? Would our time have been better spent honing our ability to focus intently and think deeply and methodically about each project on our plate individually? Equine trainers recognized the value of decreasing outside distractions for their horses long ago and created blinders for their animals to wear. These trainers found that horses wearing blinders were much calmer and better able to channel all their energies forward to the tasks they were being asked to complete. Their overall performance improved significantly.  Do we need to think about developing our own form of “blinders” to everything but our most important projects?

A number of people have added a daily block of time for “being totally unplugged”.  They solely focus on a chosen task for that time block and do not allow interruptions for any reason. Knowledge management expert Thomas Davenport (“The Attention Economy”, 2002 and “Thinking for a Living”, 2005, to list only a few of his books) addressed the importance of focus in his article, “The rise of knowledge towards attention management”, (Journal of Knowledge Management, 2001); he states:

” One of the key battlegrounds in the future knowledge war will be the management of attention: understanding how it is allocated by individuals and organizations, knowing how to capture it more effectively for important information and knowledge, using technology to get, keep, and protect it.”

All the skill we can develop at finding and organizing information is for naught if we are so involved in keeping all our balls in the air that we never manage to stop, focus, synthesize and effectively apply the information we have gathered. We are not managing knowledge or adding to collective wisdom until that process occurs. A sobering concept, but, as Davenport reminds us, one that is key to our continued success and development as knowledge workers.  We have had 20 years since Davenport made his predictions.  How do you think we are doing?

Checked Your Burnout level lately?

Hamster running on a wheel  “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Lily Tomlin

Yesterday was GroundHog day and according to the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, we are in for extended winter weather.  That’s a pity because for many of us, Spring cannot come too soon.

Many people experience a letdown during the first few months of a new year. The busy holiday seasons are over and life settles back into shorter daylight hours, longer stretches of work and more challenging weather for many of us.  This year, in particular,  the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis makes these feelings seem particularly acute. For some, the negative feelings and lack of motivation can be more serious; SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a recognized medical condition made up of a “combination of biologic and mood disturbances with a seasonal pattern.”(Kurlansik, p 1)  As well as a general feeling of melancholy, Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School describes several common symptoms of individuals suffering from SAD:  “They slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches, and they gain weight. Their concentration suffers, and they withdraw from friends and family.” If this sounds familiar, 30 to 90 minutes sitting under a bright florescent light could help.  See this WebMD article for more information on treatments for SAD.

A lack of concentration and decreased energy and interest can also be an indication of another problem.  A problem that seems to afflict some of the most highly-committed,  hard working and successful people is burnout.  I have experienced a serious bout of burnout in the past myself.  Eventually it resulted in a career change for me, but the outcome does not have to come to that if symptoms are recognized and corrective behaviors are put in place early enough.

Isn’t burnout just an excuse that employees use when they become overtired on the job?  Actually, exhaustion is a different problem than burnout.  While exhaustion can be overcome with rest, burnout is more pervasive. As well as the physical symptoms such as exhaustion, sleep problems and increased susceptibility to illness, individuals with burnout display a number of behavioral and emotional symptoms.  A core part of burnout which separates it from plain exhaustion is a deep sense of disillusionment.  In fact, the American Psychological Association warns that burnout is not just the office joke, but can actually have serious physical side effects including cardiovascular disease,  “an increased likelihood of type II diabetes, male infertility, sleep disorders and musculoskeletal disorders among those with the extreme physical, mental and emotional fatigue.”

One of the challenges with burnout is that an individual might not recognize the early stages of burnout. Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers of stress research and he spent significant time studying burnout.  He discovered something surprising when he studied the long-term effects of stress on animals. He concluded that “they survived very well for quite a long period of time until, then all of a sudden, their resistance collapsed without any obvious direct cause. ” (mindtools.com)  Are you experiencing burnout?  Take this online test to evaluate your condition.

Becoming more efficient and organized can help relieve some stress in our lives. Experts encourage us to pinpoint areas of stress in our daily lives and to use tools at our disposal to help address our work overloads.  One technique that I have used when experiencing early stages of burnout is to find something new to learn that intrigues me.  This change of focus sometimes helps me to regain my enthusiasm.  Another technique can be to plan a summer vacation getaway (even if it is camping in your backyard!). Just having something special to look forward to can help change our focus from the mundane to more pleasant thoughts; saving for a vacation or a long desired home renovation out of our paychecks can help remind us of one way that our job adds meaning and enjoyment to our lives.  Making a list of the various ways that our jobs give us meaning as well as those things or people who make our lives richer can help rekindle the passion in our lives.  For more ideas for recovering from pandemic burnout, see Rebecca Pope-Ruark’s article for Inside Higher Ed article, and stay tuned to future posts in our blog to find more ways and tools to help improve your daily work stresses.

 

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

As we approach the USA celebration of Thanksgiving, I ask your indulgence to veer from the regular posts of productivity to share a message that was recently broadcasted to Christian professors and staff around the country by Faculty Commons, a division of Cru. I highly recommend this organization, which has groups on most campuses around the country. In their Missional Momments on Oct 27,2020, Adegbola Adesogan, from the University of Florida, shared the following message called Managing My Time.  I hope it blesses and challenges each of you as it did me.  Warmest Thanksgiving Blessings to all my readers.

“I am surprised at how quickly a colleague who has passed away or retired is no longer part of the discussion in an academic department. At the time, he or she is genuinely mourned and sincerely missed, but I am shocked by how quickly someone who spent 10, 20, perhaps even 30 years mentoring students, teaching classes, leading and collaborating on research projects is ‘truly gone’ and seemingly ‘forgotten’ by the university. This speaks to me about how transient our jobs and lives are.

As Christ-followers we are called to do our work as to the Lord, and so we must continually strive to do our best with our academic pursuits.

Our jobs are crucial, but temporary.

Remembering this will help us aspire for work-life balance and also direct our focus on our call to live for Christ in the university.

This could seem like a juggling act for us, but it does not have to be. As God has called us into both the academy and His Kingdom, we seek to follow His leading in both areas.

So, what does this mean in practice? 

It means that we aim to excel in our teaching, research and outreach activities.

It also means we look for ministry opportunities God sends our way. We don’t want to be so intent on completing the next manuscript or grant proposal that we miss opportunities God places in our paths. This requires being interruptible, as in taking time to listen to a student who needs help outside my office hours or pausing to pray with a staff member or colleague who needs support.

It means ensuring that my light is not hidden under a bushel, rather I appropriately let my students and colleagues know about my faith.

It means being willing to share Christ when prompted by the Spirit.

Do we own our jobs and time, or do they own us?

I once heard that if you have something and you cannot give it away, you don’t own it, it owns you. As professors, our time is perhaps our most important and limited resource, and we rightly want to guard it carefully.

We need to be careful not to guard our time so carefully that we fail to meaningfully engage in the work of God on our campuses. I am learning that time spent with or for God is invested, not wasted, which is why I humbly accepted the invitation to lead the Steering Committee of the UF Christian Faculty Fellowship.

So, what is God calling you to do on your campus?
Is it to participate in a faculty discipleship group on your campus?
Or to identify yourself as a Christ-follower to your students?
Or to share the gospel with a colleague?
Or to serve someone in need?

As we work hard to exceed in our annual evaluations with our academic unit leaders, let’s also plan to shine in God’s assessment of how we have stewarded our time and fulfilled our calling through our jobs. C.T. Studd put it well when he wrote: ‘Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.’ ”   (Reproduced here by permission, all rights reserved, FacultyCommons.com)