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.

Measuring Up: 6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment

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It is true, not all curriculum is created equal. There are specific things I look for when reviewing a curriculum to make the best decisions for kids and teachers. So when my friends at We Are Teachers asked me to take a look at, Measuring Up, a blended curriculum for grades 2-8, I was eager to check it out and provide feedback.

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and Mastery Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

I immediately recognized many positives while reading through the sample curriculum:

  • Concepts connected by what students will learn; to what they may already know; to real-world examples.
  • Academic vocabulary in context.
  • Scaffolded learning with guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility.
  • Apply learning independently.

Along with the previous list, two things stuck out to me about Measuring Up that I appreciate as a professional. First, the instruction is done by the expert classroom teacher, not the computer; and second, the Measuring Up Live 2.0 version aligned with my view on student-learning and assessment which they have streamlined through the use of computer applications.

6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment:

  1. Practice – Whether it is a high-stakes test or a certification exam; assessment practices are shifting from paper and pencil to an online version for a variety of reason (costs, access, data disaggregation, etc.) When students have little to no practice or frame of reference to online testing, anxiety rises and results are impacted. Blended curriculum should contain both digital and analog assessment options, as well as multiple types of assessment students,  can take in both a low-stake and high-stakes environment.  
  2. Cognitive Demand – If students have limited interaction and touches on devices when it comes to testing, all of their cognitive energy is wasted on how to manipulate the computer instead of answering the questions. Cognitive energy is best used for thinking critically and demonstrating understanding. From drag and drop to typing extended answers, when students have little access to the types of computer assessments they will take in their schooling and life, cognitive demands are misplaced on basic computer skills.
  3. Adaptive – When evaluating curriculum, edtech options for assessment should include adaptive measures, meaning, the test is sensitive to the answers the student provides and modifications are made based on answers. This ensures that the just right measures are used to gauge what the student knows and what they are not understanding.
  4. Feedback – Feedback is another area I explore when looking at assessment provided by curriculum with blended components. Feedback could come in the form of immediate grading, but could also provide extensions and reinforcement. All of these provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered and what additional support they can access to continue refining their learning.
  5. Mastery and Goal Setting – Curriculum that provides assessment should be aligned to the standards and instruction. It should provide a clear picture as to which skills and standards the students have mastered, what they have left to master and provide a direction on how to move forward. Measuring up provides students and teachers this information, as well as a way for students to set their own learning goals.
  6. Informs Instruction – FInally, data collected is useless unless it is used to inform instruction. Along with providing formative and summative student information, an assessment done via technology streamlines the process of accessing, disaggregating, and changing instruction to best meet students’ needs.

Curriculum cycles are a part of every district I have worked with over the past 10 years. Making the most informed purchasing decisions helps educators in their instruction and assessment of students. While all companies and curriculum writers provide unique frameworks or specialty components, be sure that any curriculum claiming to be blended places value in the professional and contains a comprehensive assessment system, similar to that of Measuring Up,  with a focus on the 6 areas above.

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

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Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

And now we have current brain research supporting this claim. The finding suggests words activate the same part of the brain no matter the input. “Fatma Deniz wants to take the experiment even further by testing on a broader range of subjects. She wants to include participants who don’t speak English, speak multiple languages or have auditory processing disorders or dyslexia.” Wins for educators and students!

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Lit2Go

Project Gutenberg

Rivet App

Immersive Reader (add your own text)

7 Resources to Fight Digital Misinformation in the Classroom

7 New Resources to Fight Digital Misinformation

Accessing information online is like looking for a proverbial needle in a haystack. The abundance of resources available 24/7 makes Information Literacy an essential life skill for one’s working, civic and personal lives. As an educator, it is imperative to recognize the shifts in locating reliable and relevant sources online. I spoke about this need at ISTE 2018 in my Ignite. Developing healthy skepticism and honing fact-checking skills are an important part of being literate today. Recently, there has been a release of new tools to support this endeavor; along with some updates to some of my favorite resources.

Here are 7 Resources to Support Information Literacy Online and to Fight the Misinformation Out There:

  1. NewsGuard – NewsGuard is a browser extension to add to your Chrome or Edge browser. Trained journalist, with “no political axe to grind” help readers and viewers know which sites are reliable. Their tagline, “Restoring trust and accountability” uses 9 Criteria to give websites ratings by color-codes from red to green. If a reader wants to understand the rating given by the group, they can read the expanded “Nutrition Label” that provides this information. NewsGuard also has great resources for libraries and is user-friendly.  
  2. SurfSafe – SurfSafe is also a browser extension for Chrome with one goal, to detect fake or altered photos. After installing this extension, users can hover over an image on the web or Facebook which instantly checks it against 100s of trusted sites for its validity. Surfsafe provides a rating system to users, along with links to other websites. Users can also help “defend the internet” against misinformation by reporting suspicious images as well.
  3. News Literacy Project – The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit offering nonpartisan, independent programs that teach students how to know what to believe in the digital age. They have been helping students and teachers identify fact from fiction on the web for the past 10 years. On their website, educators will find resources, information, infographics, stats, and much more. Schedule a virtual visit, or catch up on their blog; News Literacy Project is a beneficial resource for all teachers.
  4. Factitious – Factitious is a Tinder-like game but involves news instead of potential dates. Created by JoLT, (a collaboration between American University’s GameLab and School of Communication tasked with exploring the intersection of journalism and game design) users are given a title and brief text of news and are to swipe right if they think it is real, or swipe left if they believe it to be fake. After guessing, users are given the link to the source and a brief summary statement, pointing to strategies that can be used to identify misinformation. This game is fun and fast-paced.
  5. Snopes – A website that many turn to first, Snopes is a resource that all educators and students should be aware of and use when questioning validity of digital information. What began in 1994 as David Mikkelson’s project to study Urban Legends has now “come to be regarded as an online touchstone of research on rumors and misinformation.” Snopes provides users with a description on their methods and selection on their about page, which is important information to point out to students. Users can search for a specific topic or check out the “What’s New” or “Hot 50” to be current on the misinformation and the actual truth that is spreading across the digital waves.
  6. Politifact – One word, Truth-O-Meter. PolitiFact’s core principles, “independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting and clear writing,” give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. During the election of 2007, Politifact was born and has continued to fact-check and provide ratings on their Truth-O-Meter on all things political. From statements made by Politicians to bloggers, Politifact offers users information on a Global, National, and State level.
  7. CommonSense – Common Sense is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Fortunately for all of us, CommonSense News and Media Literacy offers a  Toolkit for educators with strategies, resources, videos, and lessons to support understanding of news and media literacy and promotion of Digital Citizenship. This is a website to check frequently for updates, news, and excellent educator resources; one of my favorites!

Have I missed any of your favorites? Drop me a comment to investigate additional resources.

ISTE Ignite::: Flat Earth, 9/11, Anti-Vax: Things People Doubt in the Digital Age of Information

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Photo Credit: Shawn McCusker, Thank you, friend!

This year, I pushed my comfort level and gave an Ignite (5 mins. 20 slides) at ISTE in Chicago. It was my first time presenting in this format and I chose to speak about a topic that I am passionate about – How to Develop Healthy Skepticism and Fact-Checking in Students.

I started off with a personal story from college about a girl on my floor who was sucked into a cult…

Armed with flyers and a headful of answers, Cassandra pushed her way into our room and began her recruitment speech.

The misinformation of today is more difficult to recognize, posing as websites and Facebook pages. As educators, it is our obligation recognize that the checklists we once used to verify information have a hard time exposing the fake news, half-truths, media-bias, propaganda, fallacies… that we consume on a daily basis.

Critical literacy skills are needed not only for current discourse but also rhetoric in modes we haven’t even considered taking, for instance, Deep Fakes. Fueled by AI, creators are enabled to hijack one’s identity, voice, face, body. Think of it like photoshop on steroids but also with video, and now audio. What was easily recognizable as altered has become so sophisticated that it is almost imperceptible to detect by both human or computer.

We must recognize the shifts in information and change to adapt to the new mediums, equip students with critical thinking skills that allow them to get closer to the truth than they once were. To move beyond checklists I suggest looking into the work of Michael Caufield who provides guidance with 4 Moves for digital information.

Verification is a process, not a simple yes or no. You may ask if it is worth it? Or why doesn’t the government step in and take down these websites? On a surface level, that may seem easiest, but upon further reflection, once one allows censorship to invade their space it creeps into every aspect of their life.

The answer is not censorship but empowerment. And when our students walk out that door for the last time, I hope they leave with a critical lens to consume information. Equipped with the ability to not only think critically but speak with authority and be advocates for themselves and others in the great unknowns of the world.

Thank you to all of the people that supported me during this process and cheered me on as I took the stage! Steven Anderson, Adam Bellow, and Erin Olson

Until next year!!!

Thank you to Dan Kreiness for recording Round 2 #Ignites. If you would like to see my whole presentation click the link!  Shaelynn’s Ignite

On mobile device? Try this link at 47 mins. Round 2 all Ignites