Korean man near boat 1960
1960 Kangnung Beach, South Korea from Flickr user Smothers52. This is my favorite image on Flickr. I know some of the reasons why this is the case, but others are purely emotional or inspirational.
1960 Kangnung Beach, South Korea from Flickr user Smothers52. This is my favorite image on Flickr. I know some of the reasons why this is the case, but others are purely emotional or inspirational.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will” – George Bernard Shaw

Since learning in the age of unlimited content foregrounds the importance of curation, that process of selection and assembly, it might be prudent to take a moment to reflect on what is being revealed exactly through this process. So lets consider for a moment the two stances of learning (not the only ones) of creation (composing, writing, etc.) vs. curation (selecting, cataloging, meaning-making). Often these two overlap (every act of creation is an act of curation, for example), but they are distinct enough to consider as discrete elements in a larger learning environment.

In creation, we have the process of construction, of generating artifacts that stand on their own or are explicitly for later use and reuse (by the individual or the community). Think of a Monet painting generating the millions of academic essays that subsequently followed it. Presumably, even Monet returned to his earlier works to inspire his later ones. We always return to our past to guide us into a future. Creation positions the learner as artist, composer, an active apparatus for generation.

In curation, we have selection, discernment, categorizing, all the hallmarks of analysis. We discern that something is indeed a thing (discrete), that it has value or relevance, and what that relevance is. We then discern how it slots into our existing ontology and, if it doesn’t, we discard it or evolve the ontology. These two processes of curation and creation are occurring simultaneously and repeatedly in any given moment. Both generate the other in some way.

All that being said, what does curation and creation reveal about the individual learner? What does it reveal about the psychosocial processes the learner is wading through, about the myriad motivations and emotional content the individual is projecting into an environment, about even what the individual finds beautiful, jarring, or tragic (which can all be beautiful)? What does curation reveal that creation doesn’t necessarily?

Curation: Exposing the logic and emotion of meaning

So I turn to Flickr. It is where I store every image of any significance that I have created (creation) as well as those that I have tagged from others as meaningful (curation). I curate my own images as well, organize them into coherent sets and collections, even deciding which ones are repetitive or not worthy of even being selected at all. Whether I am aware of it or not, I am advancing a narrative of myself, a projection of how I want to be seen.

It is the curation, however, in which I reveal true psychological structure and motivation. I didn’t create these images, but I have invested in them. I have been struck by their composition or their relevance or have been inspired by them (presumably to revisit the creation process once again on my own). So, these are the Flickr photos that I have curated as Favorites. They are laden with Korean ones, skylines, juxtapositions, architectural structure.  More importantly, they reveal my constructs of beauty, the logical underpinnings of my meaning-making in visual domains, what provides inspiration for my own work. They are like a scrapbooked set of Rorschach tests, tenaciously plotting my hopes, dreams, desires, long sighs and reflective pauses. They reveal more about me than my own creations, I suspect, as they are investments of my emotional content in something outside myself. I have made a deposit in them without owning them. Below are my Favorites from Flickr.

Curation as vantage point, as ontological signature

Yet curation is a two-way street. What I have curated as relevant or generative to my meaning-making has been created by others; my creations presumably provide this same inspiration to others. So, I look at my own photos to see what others have favorited and I realize that most do not hold much emotional content. The ones that I have created that mean the most to me are generally ignored by others. There are some intersections of curation and creation in this community, but not much. Case in point, the image below. It is one of my most popular photos on Flickr. For me, it is a beautiful door in Tunisia and not all that much else.


Door outside Tunis, Tunisia. Aka, one of my most popular photos.

There is something about the process of creation that implies a lack of ownership. With curation, we own the process of evolving our learning structures; we are heavily invested in their efficiency and versatility (we have to be). We evolve our sense of meaning-making with the introduction of new stimuli. With creation, it is different. We create and then deposit this creation into the aggregate of artifacts for community reuse. We lose ownership the instant this creation is ‘completed’. If we revisit our own creations at later stages, we do so as curators, mining some meaning from the creation just as others might in a museum. With curation, we are doggedly independent and entirely unique. We share ontological attributes with others, certainly, but our curatorial structures are learning DNA; they are beholden only unto us.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free — Michelangelo

I think this process is most authentic when it is most easily enacted. Say for example on Pinterest. A simple, button, a simple click, and boards of meaning are constructed and visible to all. The reflective and analytical process made transparent. Pinterest naturally blurs the boundaries of curation and creation (the boards of curated images are creations of larger meaning), but its explicit function is that of a curatorial tool. The images I have chosen, the boards/sets I put them in, the names I apply to them, all reveal the underlying logical and emotional structure I have applied to them presumably for later use.

Curation is the act of creating meaning itself and the act of creating environments of meaning. We construct these worlds through our curation process and we build within these worlds. It is a highly symbiotic, reflexive activity, but I believe that in curation we are less concerned with our constructed self, less concerned about the visage we are projecting. When we create, we are hyper-aware of this process (in some instances of creation, it is the reason for the creation itself). So, to look at how we construct meaning, how we make sense of our worlds, perhaps it is best to look to curation to illustrate those processes. And to think how social media has made that process relatively transparent.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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