Long before the word curate was ever heard outside of a museum, the GTPG took a very aggressive position in preserving and showcasing student research and design work. From day 1, the group’s website posted team projects, technical reports, research papers, and sundry outputs of academic investigation were posted to the www.propagation.gatech.edu website. It takes a lot of time to develop and maintain this type of research website, but pays big dividends in the professional lives of the students that participate in the courses and research program. Below are several key reasons to curate both research and academic student work.
High-quality work is often lost in the current-day cacophony of mediocre publication. It has become increasingly important to aggregate work to demonstrate not just the individual quality of work, but the collective quality and originality of a research group.
The difficulties and barriers to documentation have fallen dramatically over the last few decades. Many of the duties that a typist, a secretary, and a print shop staff would have performed can now be accomplished by a teenager with a laptop in under 30 minutes. When I was in college, older professors would wax nostalgic to the days when the department employed an army of typists for producing finished work for students and professors. It has become absurdly easy to produce a seemingly-high quality document.
This ease of document creation has not, in any apparent way, led to an increase in the quality of documented content. The hard mindwork of composition has not changed at all. If anything, it has become even more difficult to recognize the quality of that mental work as it is buried under a cacophony of mediocre thinking codified into a digital medium. Hence, a primary motivation for document curation: to call out high quality work when it occurs so that others can discover it more easily.
Early on in my teaching career, I began web-hosting student projects for archival projects. Originally, I simply did this because I was proud of what my students had done. However I quickly come to find that it helped students in their job applications and interviews. Students would talk about a design project they had worked in my class (a common conversation point among recruiters and interviewers). The students could quickly bring up the curated project page on my website on a laptop or tablet and show it to the interviewers. On many occasions, the students related back to me how helpful this was to getting their ultimate job.
There is a huge psychological difference in the mind of an observer between students who have their work curated on a third-party, professional site versus their own homepage. If someone other than the student has taken the time to preserve high-quality work on a third party site, then the prospective employer is always more impressed. After hearing enough of these stories from students, I vowed to keep posting student projects for numerous future assignments.
Although the journals, conferences, and library sites are excellent repositories of research contributions, the official articles often do not capture important details or backstory of the work. For example, on a research site, you can explain the genesis of a research project in greater detail, discuss ancillary details (e.g. how a sponsor approached you, the initial reception of the work, the travails of finding a student to work the problem, etc.), and add supplementary data and text that fall on the cutting floor of an original paper production.
For educational assignments and projects, a site can contain the instructions for the projects and support files along with the actual project showcases. This allows other educators to reproduce your assignments and projects in their own courses. Formulating original projects are grueling enough, so it is extraordinarily helpful to other educators to provide this type of material. Of course, it is also gratifying to see other instructors using your stuff.
Posting both research and course work publicly is the pinnacle of transparency and public accountability. In research, it benchmarks important achievements and puts a check on self-promotion (especially if you are using a site that allows public commenting). In education, it is surprising how many people are peeking into the window of your course – for the better.
Funny story: I once posted a homework assignment in my Satellite Communications class that asked the students to analyze transmission of a video signal. In one homework problem, I had accidentally specified the deprecated “MPEG3 video standard” when, based on the problem context, I had clearly intended “MPEG4”. The first e-mail that I received to correct this obvious error came from a student at a university on the other side of the world! That was the first time that I realized that the number of people watching my courses was far greater than the students enrolled in them.