Much of what Gee has to say here is similar to what he said in his book in 2004. He adds here the designation “semiotic social space” to name the types of spaces he described in his book. He emphasizes that generators create signs that make up the content of the game. These signs can be viewed as internal, the original content itself and its design, or external, the individual and social practices surrounding the content and how people “organise their thoughts, beliefs, values, actions and social interactions in relation to the signs made available” in the content (p. 219).
Situated Language and Learning looks at the specialist academic varieties of language that are used in disciplines such as mathematics and the sciences. It argues that the language acquisition process needed to learn these forms of language is not given enough attention by schools, and that this places unfair demands on poor and minority students.
The book compares this with learning as a process outside the classroom, applying this idea to computer and video games, and exploring the particular processes of learning which take place as a child interacts with others and technology to learn and play. In doing so, Gee examines what video games can teach us about how to improve learning in schools and engages with current debates on subjects such as ‘communities of practice’ and ‘digital literacies’.
Gee introduces the concept of affinity spaces in this book, pointing out that popular culture is ahead of schools in the construction of “specially designed spaces (physical and virtual) constructed to resource people tied together, not primarily via shared culture, gender, race, or class, but by a shared interest or endeavor” (2004, p. 4). He argues that “people learn best when their learning is part of a highly motivated engagement with social practices which they value” (Gee, 2004, p. 77) and offers affinity spaces as an example of a space that facilitates this kind of engagement.
Gee contrasts affinity spaces with communities of practice as proposed by Lave and Wenger (1991), arguing that defining a community implies labeling a group of people, including determining “which people are in and which are out of the group, how far they are in or out, and when they are in and out” (Gee, 2004, p. 78). Talking about spaces instead of communities removes this concern of membership; people who are present in a space may or may not be part of a community.
Gee identifies some key components of any space, not just an affinity space: content, generators, content organization, interactional organization, and portals. Content is what the space is “about,” and is provided by content generators. Gee uses the example of a video game, which generates a variety of content (words, images, etc.). The space is then organized in two different ways: content is organized by the designers, whereas interaction is organized by the people interacting with the space, in how they “organize their thoughts, beliefs, values, actions, and social actions” (Gee, 2004, p. 81) in relationship to the content. This interaction creates a set of social practices and typical identities present in the space. The content necessarily influences the interaction, but interaction can also influence content. For example, with a video game, player reactions to the game may influence future updates to the game. Finally, Gee defines portals as “anything that gives access to the content and to ways of interacting with that content, by oneself or with other people” (Gee, 2004, p. 81). In Gee’s video game example, this could be the game itself, but it could also be fan websites related to the game. Portals can become generators, “if they allow people to add to content or change the content other generators have generated” (Gee, 2004, p. 82). A video game website might include additional maps that players can download and use to play the game or offer recordings of gameplay to serve as tutorials or entertainment. A generator can also be a portal; for the video game example, the game disc or files both offer the content and can be used to interact with the content.
Gee builds on this description of a space to describe “affinity spaces,” a particular type of space that young people today experience often. The “affinity” to which Gee refers is not primarily for the other people in the space, but for “the endeavor or interest around which the space is organized” (Gee, 2004, p. 84). He defines an affinity space as a space that has a number of features:
- “Common endeavor, not race, class, gender, or disability, is primary” (Gee, 2004, p. 85). People in the affinity space relate to each other based on common interests, while attributes such as race, class, gender, and disability may be used strategically if people choose.
- “Newbies and masters and everyone else share common space” (Gee, 2004, p. 85). People with varying skill levels and depth of interest share a single space, getting different things out of the space in accordance with their own purposes.
- “Some portals are strong generators” (Gee, 2004, p. 85). People can create new content related to the original content and share it in the space.
- “Content organization is transformed by interactional organization”(Gee, 2004, p. 85). Creators of the original content modify it based on the interactions of the people in the space.
- “Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged” (Gee, 2004, p. 85). Specialized knowledge in a particular area is encouraged (intensive knowledge), but the space also encourages people to develop a broad range of less specialized knowledge (extensive knowledge).
- “Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged” (Gee, 2004, p. 86). People are encouraged to store knowledge in their own heads, but also to use knowledge stored elsewhere, including in other people, materials, or devices, using a network of people and information to access knowledge.
- “Dispersed knowledge is encouraged” (Gee, 2004, p. 86). One portal in the space encourages people to leverage knowledge gained from other portals or other spaces.
- “Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored” (Gee, 2004, p. 86). People can use knowledge that they have built up “but may not be able to explicate fully in words” (Gee, 2004, p. 86) in the space.
- “There are many different forms and routes to participation” (Gee, 2004, p. 87). People can participate in different ways and at different levels.
- “There are lots of different routes to status” (Gee, 2004, p. 87). People can gain status by being good at different things or participating in different activities.
- “Leadership is porous and leaders are resources” (Gee, 2004, p. 87). No one is the boss of anyone else; people can lead by being designers, providing resources, or teaching others how to operate in the space. “They don’t and can’t order people around or create rigid, unchanging, and impregnable hierarchies” (Gee, 2004, p. 87).
Gee argues that as young people encounter more and more affinity spaces, they see a “vision of learning, affiliation, and identity” that is more powerful than what they see in school (Gee, 2004, p. 89).
A boutique featuring affordable clothing and gear for parents and their kids with a spooky edge. Includes plus size goth clothing, baby clothing, and unique items.
New book, Affinity Online, explores how online practices and networks bridge the divide between in-school and out-of-school learning.
Ito et al describe the ways in which online affinity networks can be conducive to Connected Learning, explicating an updated model of Connected Learning in the process. This book is the output of the Leveling Up study; it is a collaboratively authored text identifying themes that were shared across multiple ethnographic studies in a variety of online affinity network contexts.
Connected learning “both describes a form of meaningful and opportunity-enhancing learning and guides design and policies that expand access to this form of learning” (p. 3).
It “is centered on young people’s interest-driven learning and is agnostic as to the types of relationships and institutions that can support this learning” (p. 3).
Some of the questions they seek to answer:
“How do relationships and networks provide social support, information, and connections to opportunity?… What kinds of relationships and networks support connected learning? Can online affinity networks help develop social capital, learning, and opportunity?…what kinds of additional relationships and supports do young people need to connect their learning in affinity networks to academic, civic, and career opportunities?” (p. 4)
“Why do some young people go online primarily to hang out with existing peers and to browse entertaining YouTube videos, while others dive into online tutorials, courses, and communities of interest that drive more specialized forms of ‘geeking out’ and social organizing? What role can educators, parents, peers, and the developers of online resources play in shaping these dynamics? What kinds of institutional practices, policies, and infrastructures can build stronger connections between youth interests and sites of opportunity, particularly for less privileged groups? What kinds of cultural barriers and assumptions inhibit or facilitate the building of these connections?” (p. 7-8)
How do online affinity networks connect to educational, career, and civic opportunity?
While educational technology (“edtech”), and especially specific edtech tools, have both proponents and detractors, their approaches fail to consider that “Technologies and techniques…. Take on different characteristics depending on the cultural and social settings they are embedded in” (p. 6). Without attention to the cultural and social environment, new technologies “tend to amplify existing inequity” (p. 6).
“…access to social, cultural, and economic capital, not access to technology, is what broadens opportunity.” (p. 6) (emphasis original)
One of these projects was the Digital Youth Project. Fieldwork for this project was undertaken in 2006 – 2007, when “teens were flocking to MySpace… YouTube was just taking off… before the mobile internet and texting had taken hold in the United States” (p. 8).
The output of that project was the book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (Ito et al 2009). The model described in that book was designed to describe how children and teens interact with new media, but “was not designed to directly inform educational practice or design” (p. 9).
Affinity Online is an output of the Leveling Up project, another project of the CLRN. Contrasting with HOMAGO, Affinity Online is explicitly designed to inform “the design and deployment of learning technologies and related programs” (p. 10). The project came about because “…large-scale adoption of new media created an imperative to investigate the potential connections between young people’s online activities and meaningful opportunities in education, civic institutions, and careers” (p. 10).
“Critique of existing practices is necessary but not sufficient; we believe that those of us practicing ethnography and social science also have a role to play in presenting alternatives.” (p. 10)
This text provides a “cross-case analysis of in-depth qualitative research in networked settings” (p. 12), specifically “a variety of affinity networks that make use of online spaces” (p. 13). Data collection methods include “questionnaires, surveys, semistructured interviews, observation, and content analysis of media, profiles, videos, and other online artifacts” (p. 13).
Networks were chosen by seeking out “examples of practices already existing in communities that can be spread and scaled to address systemic problems” (p. 14), an approach from the public health field called “positive deviance” (Pascale, Sternin, and Sternin 2010).
Ito et al identify common characteristics of online affinity networks that support connected learning:
- Strongly shared culture and practices
- Varied ways of contributing
- High standards
- Effective ways of providing feedback and help (p. 17)
“…an interest cannot be separated from its culture, people, and places.” (p. 18)
“Connected learning is not limited… to a particular pedagogical approach… the focus is on building relational, practical, and conceptual connections across settings and experiences, centered on learning interests and affinities.” (p. 19)
“…connected learning is more appropriately conceived of as the growth of a network of connections than as a linear pathway or an internalization of skills and knowledge” (p. 21)
“Transformative and resilient forms of learning are embedded in a web of social relations, meaningful projects, and shared activities with which a learner feels a sense of affinity” (p. 166)
“We see connected learning not as a journey of individual development that is transferrable across different settings that a person moves through, but as building stronger, more resilient and diverse social, cultural, and institutional relationships through time” (p. 167)
This idea of network-building as opposed to pathway-traversing is similar to the contrast Martin (2012) draws between traditional, linear models of information literacy and her new, more networked model of information literacy. It also has implications for people who are trying to identify pathways to connected learning, such as Bender & Peppler (2019). Should people asking questions like Bender & Peppler’s be investigating networks rather than pathways?
KEY FINDING: Online affinity networks rarely overlap with school or local networks or career networks.
“Building these connections requires concrete forms of sponsorship, translation, and brokering in order t oconnect interests to opportunity.” (p. 167-168)
“When we consider the resources and supports that young people need to connect their interests to their opportunity, equity becomes of critical concern.” (p. 168) Youth need programs and mentors with social capital to broker connections; if brokering is treated as a market-driven process, this exacerbates inequity.
“The responsibility of providing mentorship, brokering, and connection bulilding to link youth interests to opportunity is a collective one and cannot be shouldered only by families, nor only by schools and other public educational insitiututions. It entails a broader cultural shift toward recognizing the new learning dynamics of a networked era, paying more attention to learning and equity in online communities and platforms, and providing more educational supports in both formal and informal learning environments.” (p. 169
Barriers to “having a shared understanding and public agenda for how the adult world can harness online affinity networks for educational opportunity and equity” (p. 171) include the Digital Culture Generation Gap and Compartmentalized Social Networks.
Re: the Digital Culture Generation gap – “lack of understanding and visibility around what digital youth culture is about” (p. 172) and “cultural values and negative stereotypes” – e.g. gaming and fandom in particular are stereotyped as addicitvie and frivolous, respectively.
Re: Compartmentalized Social Netowrks – “online affinity networks can support bonding social captiial, but they have few avenues for bridging social capital between onlien relationships and local ones, limiting connections to academic, career, and civic opportunity” (p. 173).
Design Principles for creating Connected Learning Environments/Experiences:
Shared culture and purpose
- “Purpose-driven participation” (p. 174)
- “Diverse forms of contribution and participation” (p. 175)
- “Community-driven ways of recognizing status and quality of work” (p. 175)
“In learning environments that are less interest-driven [esp. Schools], it is more challenging to develop this sense of shared community values, culture, and purpose” (p. 176). Schools tend to foster this more in extracurriculars and electives. These activities offer a potential site of connection between online affinity networks and local networks.
Project-based and production-centered
- “Competitions, creative production, and civic engagement” (p. 178)
- Getting rid of disposable assignments
- Opportunities to communicate and collaborate
An examination of young people’s everyday new media practices—including video-game playing, text-messaging, digital media production, and social media use.
Conventional wisdom about young people’s use of digital technology often equates generational identity with technology identity: today’s teens seem constantly plugged in to video games, social networking sites, and text messaging. Yet there is little actual research that investigates the intricate dynamics of youths’ social and recreational use of digital media. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out fills this gap, reporting on an ambitious three-year ethnographic investigation into how young people are living and learning with new media in varied settings—at home, in after-school programs, and in online spaces.Integrating twenty-three case studies—which include Harry Potter podcasting, video-game playing, music sharing, and online romantic breakups—in a unique collaborative authorship style, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out is distinctive for its combination of in-depth description of specific group dynamics with conceptual analysis.
Ito and colleagues take an ecological approach to youth new media practice, looking for both commonalities and diversity, seeking to describe youth’s practices and how they affect “the dynamics of youth-adult negotiation over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge” (p. 2). They report on “a three-year ethnographic investigation of youth new media practice” (p. 2). They consider how these practices fit into social and cultural worlds and how they are meaningful in youth’s everyday lives. They take a sociology-of-youth-and-childhood approach, considering youth as social actors who can impact culture. Youth are both consumers and producers. The practices Ito and colleagues examine occur in social or recreational contexts rather than instructional contexts.
Ito and colleagues analyze their data around four concepts: “genres of participation,” “networked publics,” “peer-based learning,” and “new media literacy” (p. 14). Genres of participation include friendship-driven participation (“hanging out”) and interest-driven participation (“geeking out”). A third genre, “messing around,” bridges the other two. Youth transition between the three genres. “Networked publics” captures the socially- and technologically-mediated nature of youth spaces. Peer-based learning is reciprocal and not hierarchical, occuring in spaces where adults do not have authority. Ito and colleagues describe but do not prescribe new media literacies.
Having described youth practices, Ito and colleagues offer “potential sites of adult participation and intervention in youth practices” (p. 341). They suggest that adults and youth need to develop “a shared sense of what counts as valuable learning and positive sociability” (p. 343) and share equal contributions of interest and expertise.
Ito and colleagues point out that educators are often cut off from adult leaders in interest groups, and that it would benefit youth if these two groups coordinated their efforts. They emphasize that educators must provide youth with the tools they need to participate in these practices, and recognize that this may require access to content that is more social or recreational than “serious.” Learning environments and pedagogical interventions should be designed with the social, technical, and cultural support youth need in mind.
“In many ways, the crucial ingredient in youth engagement and successful adult intervention in these spaces seems to be a stance of mutual respect and reciprocity, where youth expertise, autonomy, and initiative are valued” (p. 350). Ito and colleagues conclude by imagining the goal of education to be not preparing youth for jobs and careers, but instead guiding them toward participation in public life by sharing the responsibility for education between schools and a “distributed network of people and institutions” (p. 352).
Kumasi describes a Young Urban Scholars Book Club as a model connected learning program designed to meet the needs of youth who could “become disconnected from school and life if the right kind of learning opportunities are not available to them” (p. 8).
StarCraft, a real-time strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, has been labeled by many of its participants as the chess of the twenty-first century.
Kow and colleagues describe a study of StarCraft II, a real-time strategy game, and the community surrounding it. They selected the game “as a research site because of its intellectual demands, academic relevance, and networked peer support driving players to strive to learn and achieve higher levels of gaming skills” (p. 5). They wanted to understand “both the design and uptake of the game within the context of connected learning” (p. 5), so they interviewed both players and members of the game-development team. They found that players and developers both brought up learning in the interviews.
They found that StarCraft II is a learning environment in which many features of connected learning are present:
- Interest-powered learning
- Openly-networked supports, provided both my the designers of the game and the community of players
- Social interaction and expertise that translates across contexts (home, school, public IRL, online)
They found that “several design features of the game…. enable both the competitive and productive practices at play within the community” and that participation in the game “offers participants a chance to develop soft skills that seem highly relevant to future work environments, characterized by constant competition and nonstop learning” (p. 43).
“…at the core of learning that takes place within StarCraft II is a model in which players are connected by media content developed by players themselves, using the game editing tools or other social network tools, as well as an active and peer-supported social network.” (p. 5)
“…continuous participation within an ecosystem of technology-centered learning circles can help deepen the participants’ expertise and social skills.” (p. 43)
“Players can move at their own pace, take advantage of a diverse set of resources created by other players, and are invited to contribute their own knowledge and expertise.” (p. 44).
Bilandzic describes a study that “explored implications for design of interactive learning enviornments through 18 months of ethnographic observations of people’s interactions at “Hack the Evening” (HTE)… a meetup group initiated at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia… dedicated to provide visitors with opportunities for connected learning in relation to hacking, making and do-it-yourself technology” (p. 1 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number). The study aimed to address “how free-choice learning environments can provided connected learning opportunities, in particular through an interactive, participatory and inspiring socio-cultural context for learning?” (p. 3 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number) and the following three related questions:
- What factors facilitate the connected learning experience of members within the group?
- How does the public library as a location for the meetup group affect the participants’ learnign experience?
- What are challenges and barriers for connected learning as experienced by the group, and how can libraries address those? (p. 3 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number)
Two factors contributed to HTE’s success as a connected learning environment: uncoordinated interactions between participants and diversity in participants’ backgrounds, skills, and expertise. Designing environments that facilitate these interactions through an “open, uncoordinated and flexible meeting agenda” (p. 24 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number) and invite diverse participants in can create space for connected learning to take place.
Bilandzic draws a distinction between events like Hack the Evening and traditional “free-choice learning environments” such as libraries and museums “where learning is primarily supported through the physical environment” (p. 24 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number). HTE focuses on designing a socio-cultural context where people can learn not only in a self-directed manner, but also socially and collaboratively. [Bilandzic’s emphasis on socio-cultural context is consonant with Lloyd’s and others’ work on sociocultural models of information literacy.]
Bilandzic offers four suggestions for interventions to help overcome barriers for connected learning:
- Increasing the awareness of social learning opportunities within a learning environment
- Facilitating an open, collaborative and interactive culture among users in learning environments
- Providing access to contempoerary learning tools and materials for “learning-by-doing” activities
- Supporting informal socialisation and hangouts between participants inside as well as outside the learning space premises and opening hours (p. 25 in author’s copy; consult published version for final page number).
Larson et al document the YOUmedia Learning Lab at the Chicago Public Library’s downtown Harold Washington Library center. The lab is designed to support HOMAGO.