Connected Educators: Building Communities or Spaces

Do connected educators rely on community? Can you simply dictate the creation of community?  I have long argued that attempts to force community on educators is a misguided policy. Instead I draw on Gee’s ideas of Affinity Spaces.

Affinity Spaces

I find the notion of Gee’s affinity spaces to be a useful frame for examining connected educators. Too many of us  quickly jump on the notion of a community. This often leads to superficial connections that may last as long as a Twitter stream. Instead of thinking in terms of community, which denotes a sustained membership   defined by culture, we need to think in terms of spaces. Affinity Spaces.

Spaces are different than communities. For me to be a connected educator you first need to identify the space where folks with like minded interests gather. Then you need to develop your own space to connect to this existing network.  This in turn allows you to design your identity, your spaces, and your networks (Gee, 2004).

Gee identified 11 principles of affinity spaces. I tend to group these into three over arching frameworks. Affinity Spaces and communities difer in three important ways: membership, teaching and making, and knowledge.

Membership in Affinity Spaces

Membership in communities is often defined along race, religion, geography and borders. In affinity spaces the members is fluid. Connected educators will come and go.  This ebb and flow mainly exists because affinity spaces have  low barriers to join. Think about #ce13. If you have a twitter account you can participate at the most basic level. Increased involvement, unlike communities, self-organizes around interests.This plays out in leadership levels too as it gets distributed without any organized hierarchy while new members and masters share the space.

Teaching and Making in Affinity Spaces

Simply put teaching is doing. Making is teaching. Doing is making. Okay, not as simple, but the point is both teaching and content creation involves joint action. The spaces itself helps to mediate learning through social practices. The content is made by doing and through doing people learn. That is why affinity spaces, have many teachers. As mentioned newbies and masters co-mingle and this allows for “Just in time” teaching (Gee, 1996).

Teaching and learning are also embodied actions. They involve the space just as much as the actors. This is very important for Connected Educators. The places we gather, whether online such as Twitter chats or face to face at an #edcamp  mediate our learning just as much as those we learn with.

Knowledge and Affinity Spaces

Affinity spaces encourage multiple pathways to knowledge. In fact Gee discusses many ways of knowing: intensive, extensive, individual, distributed, dispersed, and tacit knowledge. All of these pathways contribute to the space and allow learners to demonstrate knowledge growth. Affinity spaces also allow for varying levels of expertise with multiple types of knowledge. In essence learning is connected and through collaborative inquiry across different spaces knowledge within the space grows.

Examining my Affinity Spaces

When I began this post I thought about some of my affinity spaces. Gaming, hobbies, etc. Yet the most pwerful affinity spaces for me, and in line with #ce13 are those that swirl around my professional life. I loosely call my affinity space the “Writing as Making” crowd. We gather through many portals, ways into Affinity Spaces. I join up during twitter chats using hashtags (#fycchat, #engchat, #clmooc, #teachtheweb). I gather around with folks at #hackjams and tweetups at national conferences. We attend sessions together at NCTE and LRA. We read and comment on each others’ blogs. We participate in MOOC’s (which I argue only work well for me when they involve affinity spaces).

The Writing as Making crowd (in which I place my self squarely with a noob label) move me. There is varying levels of expertise and no leadership. Yes NWP and Digital Is help set up the Connected Learning MOOC. Sure folks moderate Twitter talks. There are netcasts and podcasts, but I found much more than formal learning. I found a space where I can grow and contribute.

Applying principles of Affinity Spaces to my Teaching

I believe you can’t have an affinity space with forced membership. Therefore saying I will just create a PLC or a PLN in my classroom is foolish. Therefore I try to draw on the principles of learning that Affinity Spaces taught me. So my first goal as a  teacher educator is to have every student leave our class knowing that they are a reader and writer. If I can accomplish I feel have met the major outcomes of my writing intensive classes.

Students must design their identity (Gee, 2004) in order to see themselves as teachers of reaidng and writing. In order to do this they must know they are readers and writers. Designing identity is a central tenant of my writing classrooms.

I also want my teachers to build spaces that allow multiple pathways to knowledge to flourish.  It requires the classroom, both physical and networked to provide guided practice andto store and reinforce knowledge through daily routine. I try to model this principle in my classroom.

I also try to encourage  and model networked learning for my students. I do my best to use open resources and an open classroom. I am teaching my classes using Google as a Free LMS. While my students have the legal right to privacy I encourage everyone to document their learning in public spaces through Blogger.

I still have much work to do, but at least I know I can find the people to help in my affinity spaces.


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