Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Aggregate-Then-Curate: How Digital Learning Champions Help Communities Nurture Online Content

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Aggregate-Then-Curate: How Digital Learning Champions Help Communities Nurture Online Content

Article excerpt


This article presents and then tests an original model for the process of developing collections of online content in a digitally inclusive way. This model, Aggregate-then-Curate (hereafter, A/C), was developed for and then tested through the MOSI-ALONG project which ran in Manchester, UK, during 2011. MOSI-ALONG brought together a variety of organisations in the city (named in the acknowledgements) and members of local communities. Through this interaction were developed "digital learning champions" (DLCs). DLCs are individuals who could help both their own and other communities to nurture and manage collections of online content. Thus, DLCs catalyse the A/C process.

A/C is a model of change that can describe how the skills necessary for digital inclusion can be conceived within a single theoretical framework and then developed in individuals and communities as a whole. It is a significant tool for analysing any initiative or programme that claims to be developing digital literacy or content production skills in learners.

Background: stewarding and community informatics

Individuals and the different communities into which they gather share resources (Clarke 1996, p. 24). These resources mediate their activity within the world and include people, technologies, skills, memories, symbols and the facilities for learning. All of which exist in dynamic interrelationships, or as Luckin has called them, ecologies of resources (Luckin 2010). The metaphor is carefully chosen. Ecologies are not static but evolve, and any ecology needs to be sustainable, well managed, accessible, diverse, and healthy or of good quality (Whitworth 2009, p. 21).

Communities that share learning needs are termed by Wenger as "communities of practice" (Wenger 1998). The ecologies of resources created by communities of practice, in the digital era, have been called "digital habitats" by Wenger, White and Smith (2009). These authors explore how communities create and then steward digital habitats to help them meet their learning needs. Stewarding - active work oriented towards sustaining a community's digital habitat - is a "creative practice" and a "critical part of community leadership, facilitating a community's emergence or growth" (ibid , p. 25).

However, the skills and capacity required for stewarding are rarely distributed throughout the community as a whole. Instead, they tend to be invested in individuals who "take responsibility for a community's technological resources for a time" (Wenger, White, and Smith 2009, p. 24). Because a community with a limited number of stewards, perhaps only one individual, would suffer if the steward(s) left the community for some reason, it is best if stewards also seek to build the capacity for stewarding in others and thereby distribute the capacity to sustain the community's digital habitat.

Stewarding may originate from outside the community, and it is partly the historic role of formal and non-formal educational institutions to assist with the maintenance and preservation of a community's informational resources. However, such institutions, which include universities, museums, libraries and training providers, have historically presented and organised their resources in ways that do not necessarily make them accessible to members of the communities on whose behalf they may claim to be acting. For example, different terminologies may be used to present or organise the resources from those that are meaningful for community members (see Simon 2010). Barr (2005), in her counter-critique of those who oppose "widening participation" in the museum sector, also addresses these ideas. She points out how the sector typically organises itself around exclusion, not inclusion, and is criticised for "dumbing down" if it does attempt to reach out to a substantial number of potential visitors who, though they support the sector through tax payments, never feel motivated to visit. …

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