Affinity Spaces: What Video Games and Virtual PLNs Can Teach Educators About Informal Learning

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On any given night, you can find my children (grades 5 & 9) along with millions of others, playing video games. From Fortnite, to Minecraft, to Roblox; many hours are logged in these virtual spaces playing… and also learning. The learning taking place is not necessarily organized by specific disciplines but instead, a collective intelligence which blends content knowledge, creative problem solving, design thinking, along with collaborating and communicating with peers around the globe.

This informal learning is similar to my own when I think about jumping on Twitter to connect, consume, and share with other passionate educators, my virtual PLN. So what can we learn from video games, #EdChat, and other virtual spaces? All of these spaces include similar characteristics that James Paul Gee calls Affinity Spaces. While technology has led to an explosion of these spaces, they are possible to replicate face to face although it is difficult because, “institutional constraints, pre-existing status, geographical boundaries. A Classroom where students did not choose to be there and the teacher grades everyone.”

As educators, the goal is not for everyone to use video games in the classroom, but instead, understand the features of Affinity Spaces and work towards creating similar conditions in our classroom.

 15 Features of Affinity Spaces (by Gee)

  1. Organized around a common passion – A common passion, not race, gender, or socioeconomics, is primary and respected by all in the space.
  2. Not segregated by age – Older people can be beginners and younger people can be veterans. Passion, skill, and learning are respected
  3. Common space shared by all (Newbies, Veterans, Masters, etc.) – Everyone is accommodated in the same space. Newbies are not segregated from those that are considered masters of the game.
  4. Everyone can consume and create – Affinity spaces allow everyone to consume not only game-based creations but those created by players in the space. Consuming and creating are encouraged to allow everyone to build if they choose to.
  5. Content is transformed through interaction – The content is not fixed and constantly is transformed through interaction.
  6. Development and pooled broad, general knowledge as well as specialists – People are enabled to create and share knowledge and skill within the space.
  7. Individual and distributed knowledge encouraged – People are enabled to gain individual knowledge and share and spread specialized knowledge.
  8. Use of dispersed knowledge is encouraged (hacking and smashing to gain the desired product) The use of onsite and outside resources and tools is encouraged and supported to gain the creations people seek.
  9. Tacit knowledge is used and honored – Affinity spaces support people to learn by doing rather than memorizing tutorials or reading lengthy directions.
  10. Many different ways to participate – Participation in the space is varied and on multiple levels.
  11. Multiple ways to gain status – People can gain status, if they want to, in many different ways.
  12. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources – There are no bosses. People can be both leaders and followers.
  13. Roles are reciprocal – People sometimes lead, sometimes follow; mentor or be mentored; ask questions or answer them. The bottom line is there is always more to learn.
  14. Learning is individually proactive -Affinity spaces view failure as a means to success. Help is available, but individuals are still responsible for own learning.
  15. Encouragement from audience and feedback from peers – Feedback is welcomed from others interacting with your creations, while peers play an important role in providing critical advice to move individuals forward.

While all of these features are not required, an Affinity Space has most of these features. And upon reflection, most of the popular video games that our students play have these features. That is why we have students, and in my case children, who play hours on end. I, too, see some of these features in the spaces I spend my time as an educator. It is time to pay attention to attributes that make this type of learning successful for students and ask ourselves how these features can be reimagined in our own classrooms. Education is not merely producing consumers but those that can create and produce for the betterment of their space.

Source: Gee, James Paul. Literacy and Education. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Edcamps. Please Don’t Kill Our Passion!

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This past Saturday I attended EdcampKC. While Kansas City Edcamp was a first for me in that state, overall, the number of Edcamps I have attended has now reached into the double-digits. Edcamps fuel my soul and help me approach educational issues with a divergent mindset by providing room at the table for all voices.

Edcamps are well-organized, free, learning opportunities which sprung onto the education scene in 2010. Attending an edcamp is voluntary. There are no “presenters” or scheduled sessions, no topic is off-limits, and educators from all disciplines, levels and roles are in attendance. The rapid growth of the Edcamp movement over the years has provided educators around the globe a similar experience. While no two edcamps are identical, I believe there are definite components in place that are designed to foster this successful, unconference experience for all attendees.

  1. Independently organized by a group of volunteers. (shoutout to Brent Catlett, Laura Gilchrist, Kyle Pace, Michelle Nebel, Mimi Jones Lachi, and all of the other educators who helped to make EdcampKC a memorable experience).
  2. The schedule is crowd-sourced the morning of the event. There are no “presenters” or slides. Instead, conversations by all those who are interested in the topic as it is being suggested and slotted.
  3. With sessions ranging from Bitmoji to close reading in the primary grades, attendees decide the topics; and if you aren’t interested in the direction the conversation turns, you “vote with your feet”. Edcamps are individualized professional learning at it’s finest.
  4. Edcamps are free! Typically held on Saturdays, edcamps are not mandated by administration, have a hefty price-tag attached to tickets, or sign-in sheets at each sessions. Instead, what you will find is a passionate group of educators, ranging from teachers to principals, to college professors and pre-service educators, gathering together to share, learn, and grow for student-benefits!

(I am sure there are other components veteran edcampers would add to my list above, I chose 4)

One of my favorite sessions I attended at EdcampKC was facilitated by Hadley Ferguson, Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation. In both small and large groups, we discussed the evolving face of edcamps, ideas for the future, and benefits gained through this type of personalized professional learning. Hadley Ferguson, Kristina Peters, and I had a brief conversation that was connected to thoughts that have been swimming around in my head for the past few years. On the long drive home I had time to reflect and am now finally able to structure my thoughts into coherent, or somewhat coherent paragraphs.

When I hear a conversation about credit being tied to an edcamp, or credit offered to educators who attend, I cringe.

Please, Please, Please! Do NOT kill my passion!

Edcamps are FREE. Edcamps are Voluntary. And what you find at any edcamp you attend, are passionate educators who WANT to be there. Everyone may not have the same opinions, roles in the education system, or home state; but everyone has an unquenchable desire to learn, grow, and are motivated to be there by the same thing – the student!

Attaching credit, hours, or monies to attendance at edcamps taints the intent and motivation of those who attend. Some attendees may be forced by administration to be there, or are motivated extrinsically instead of intrinsically. It could also have the potential to alter the structure of edcamps. For instance, would there be a sign-in sheet at each session, a track designed for certain credits, follow-up homework to complete, or a signature required by an organizer to prove you were there? No longer would you be able to vote with your feet, attendance for each session would be tracked. When sanctions are added to edcamps, the once grass-roots movement shifts ownership of the learning from the educator to the credit-disperser.

“External rewards and punishments – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones.” (Daniel Pink, Drive).

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, was one of my favorite reads last summer. I often refer back to his quotes and images when discussing motivation and reward systems.  In one example, he describes an artist who finds it difficult to complete a contract, commissioned by a large business who wanted specific design elements, colors, and materials used in the piece. It was not because the artist lacked skill or time, in fact, her passion was squashed because of the money attached to it. When money is in the picture, it greatly affects everything like the business or the person. With that, in case you need an informative post concerning the process of lending money and its broker, look for loanovao.co.uk. It is the same reason I caution educators against grading genius hour projects or passion-based learning. I would hate to be the one that killed a student’s passion. Payday loan with no broker loansstores are usually very easy to deal with. They have convenient hours that are typically more flexible than what you’ll find with a bank. For example, they might stay open until eight o’clock at night so that you can deal with them, have email and phone support and some even have live chat. This makes it easy for you to get payday or cash advance loans and easier to make your repayments on time.

Edcamps are heuristic, not algorithmic, and just as Pink suggests in his book, rewarding or punishing an educator based on their attendance and learning at an Edcamp could lead to devastation, not only for the individual, but for the edcamp concept that drives 100s of educators each weekend to attend.

Please, don’t Kill my passion, I have EdcampIowa coming up and can’t wait to learn, share, and grow with passionate educators from around the state!

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