Bookmarked Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Learning Alliance)
New book, Affinity Online, explores how online practices and networks bridge the divide between in-school and out-of-school learning.
Ito, M., Martin, C., Pfister, R. C., Rafalow, M. H., Salen, K., & Wortman, A. (2019). Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning. New York: NYU Press.

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)

A history of this work:
The Macarthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative funded research conducted by, among others, members of the Connected Learning Research Network.

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)

Openly networked

Read Connected learning ecologies as an emerging opportunity through Cosplay (Comunicar)
Bender, S., & Peppler, K. (2019). Connected learning ecologies as an emerging opportunity through Cosplay. Comunicar, 27(58), 31–40.

Bender and Peppler analyze case studies of two cosplayers “who benefited from well-developed connected learning ecologies” to identify themes that might be useful in designing connected learning environments. They identified the following themes: “relationships with and sponsorship by caring others; unique pathways that start with a difficult challenge; economic opportunities related to cosplay; and comparisons with formal school experiences.”

Read Information literacy in interest-driven learning communities : navigating the sea of information of an online affinity space by Crystle MartinCrystle Martin
Information is ubiquitous in today's digital world, and the creation and application of a personal "crap detector" (Hemingway in Manning, 1965; Rheingold, 2011) is imperative to be effective in the information universe. The knowledge communities for online video games offer a place for studying informal and interest-driven learning, as well as the development and use of crap detectors. This study explores the information literacy practices that take place in the constellation of information, which is the in-game and out-of-game information resources, of the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game World of Warcraft (WoW). The dissertation builds a picture of the information literacy practices from the individual to the collective intelligence and offers a new perspective on how information literacy can be employed to create a better educated populace. It illustrates that at any level these affinity spaces encourage collaborative information literacy practices. The individuals through information horizon maps orient themselves toward the information and community available depending on play style and level of expertise. The use of community created resources like knowledge compendiums and the use of the collective intelligence of the community through forums and chat logs traces the individual and their contact with the group. The group interactions of the chat logs and forums demonstrate the information literacy practices used between members of the community. Then the collective intelligence of the community underlines the accuracy of answers given in the community created resources. The significance of this work, beyond studying information literacy in a new setting, is that it identifies the visible information literacy processes of community using frameworks developed from the literature but grounded in data.
Martin, Crystle A. “Information Literacy in Interest-Driven Learning Communities: Navigating the Sea of Information of an Online Affinity Space.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012.

Martin investigates “the information literacy practices that take place in the constellation of information, which is the in-game and out-of-game information resources of the massively multiplayer (MMO) game World of Warcraft (WoW).” (p. i) She uses information horizon maps and an analysis of “community curated resources like knowledge compendiums” and “forums and chat logs” (p. i) to explore these practices. Martin developed a new coding framework for information literacy based on the literature and used this framework to code chat data.

What are the forms of information literacy practices engaged in by participants in an online affinity space?
SubRQ1. How do players situatie themselves within the constellation of information available around their affinity space?
SubRQ2. How are information literacy processes practiced in the community?
SubRQ3. Does collective intelligence happen in these affinity spaces? (p. 106)

From her data, Martin generates a new framework of information literacy. She finds that “at any level these affinity spaces encourage collaborative information literacy practices” (p. 108).

Martin’s study assumes “that people can have individualized information literacy practices that they use to help them successfully fulfill their information needs” (p. 108). This contrasts “the traditional perspective that everyone needs to be taught to utilize the same strict structure of information literacy” (p. 108).

“Information literacy is more than a set of skills or abilities. It is the practices individuals use and how these individuals situate themselves towards the information available to them. However, it is also the practices of groups of people in a community that encompasses cultural norms, discourses, and implemented practices. In short, information literacy is a way of being in the world.” (p. 109)

Martin points out that previous research on and standards for information literacy were developed for institutional settings, keeping a division between academic information literacy and everyday life information behavior.

This is only the second study to look at information literacy in an affinity space; Martin & Steinkuehler 2010 is the first.

Martin points out “limitation in scope and research methodologgy within the field of information literacy” (p. 19):
There is an overwhelming number of standards.
Most are expertise-based rather than evidence-based.
“…separation of imposed and self-determined information-seeking makes little sense” (p. 20) as the same skills and abilities can be used for both, as well as the line between work and play not always being clear.

Martin aggregated “information literacy definitions to determine overlap as well as to create a stronger definition from each contribution” (p. 62-63) and that’s how she generated her codes.

She illustrates this aggregate as a “linear and solitary process” (p. 66) but points out that “in affinity spaces with synchronous and asynchronous communication, peer-produced resources, and frequently changing content, these spaces are neither linear nor solitary” (p. 66)

The standard model “presumes dissemination as the end product” (p. 68-69).

Martin proposes a new model, based on Martin and Steinkuehler (2010):

The major differences in this model are that it shows the complexity that can occur during information seeking, it can take collective and collaborative information literacy practices into account, and it shifts the focus of the information literacy model from ending with dissemination to ending with using information for a specific purpose, that is to satisfy the person’s information need.” (p. 71-2)

The phases in the standard model can be grouped: recognizing the information need, developing a strategy for finding information, finding the information, and creating a product with the information. (p. 68) Martin’s new phases can be grouped as: recognizing the need, input, evaluation, and output (p. 74).

“The division of information literacy by the process in which the intellectual work is undertaken represents information literacy as a cognitive process instead of a skills-based system that essentially lays out a checklist.” (p. 75)

Diagram on p. 76

After using this new model to generate codes and analyze chat logs and forums, Martin proposes a refined version of the model based on her data.


Bookmarked Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out (The MIT Press)
An examination of young people's everyday new media practices—including video-game playing, text-messaging, digital media production, and social media use.
Itō, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Cody, R., Stephenson, B. H., … Tripp, L. (2009). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out : kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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).

Read How Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Creators Gave Rebecca Bunch Her Happy Ending by Allison Shoemaker (Vulture)
“It’s not about auditioning for the missing puzzle piece. It’s about getting everyone to a place where they can healthily prioritize someone else.”
It feels like there have been a thousand times Rachel Bloom has said something in an interview and I felt like shouting, “YES THIS!” but this is a new flavor of that:

I came from a very… rigid is the wrong word, but a very set technique of sketch comedy writing. When you study at UCB, if you do improv or sketch, you find the game of the scene, you heighten the game. It’s almost mathematical. And I think that for so long, some of the sketches I wrote, I wasn’t necessarily bringing my full self to them, because I was trying to fit into this like mathematical technique. I was surrounded by guys. So everything I wrote was probably subconsciously trying to, like, be acceptable to the male gaze. So when I started writing songs, because it was combining what I learned from sketch comedy with musical theater, my first love since I was 2 years old, it felt like I was bringing myself fully into my writing. I wasn’t trying to be anyone else, because I could bring in emotions, I could bring in those tropes that I’d been absorbing for my entire life, and then use my techniques to shape that.

Like Rachel, I have loved musicals from a young age. Like Rachel, I trained in improv and sketch writing at a school/theater that emphasized game: you begin a scene, find the first unusual thing, repeat it, heighten it, and break the pattern with your punchline. Not only did we learn that structure, but we also learned how to write particular flavors of sketch: fish out of water, comedic duo, commercial parody, satire, superpowers, torture game, literalization, and mapping.

I had a lot of fun and I got really good at recognizing game, if not initiating it, but there was a fundamental disconnect between how most other people in my comedy community did comedy and how I did comedy.

When I showed up at sketch class eager to show everyone Mike O’Brien and Tina Fey’s crazy car salesman, in my mind a brilliant example of a commercial parody combined with literalization, the class tore it to shreds.

My strongest sketch was one in which several adolescent girls show up at a county fare to participate in a literal melon growing contest and express their insecurities about their produce. (It’s a mapping scene, mapping their growing bodies onto the growing produce, see?) It was a deeply personal sketch, drawing on my own experiences with never feeling like I had the right body shape as an adolescent, whether that shape was too small or too big.

Eventually, I ended up on a hip-hop improv team – thanks almost entirely to developing a Hamilton obsession. (Seriously, if you want me to like something, just write a musical using/about it.) Again, I was a little sideways from the group sensibility; my favorite raps drew on my impostor syndrome and my frustrations with family holiday gatherings. My favorite scenes were often quiet little things, with comedy arising from the awkwardness of two people trying to connect, or things that used my heavily pregnant body as a punchline itself (I was pregnant for my entire tenure on that team), or preferably, things that combined both, like one scene where I had ended up on a blind date and ended the scene responding to my scene partner’s “This’ll be a funny story to tell the kids” with the line “Ohhhh… You want kids?” while I was eight months pregnant.

(We do comedy in our bodies. They are one of the tools we have, and we don’t leave them behind, even when we take on characters with different physicalities than our own.)

While everyone was very nice, I often felt out of place. And reading this quote from Rachel Bloom pinpoints a lot of the problem, I think. I imagine that, while she wasn’t writing with her whole self, Bloom was very good at writing that kind of sketch. I can even imagine some parallels between her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Rebecca Bunch’s success as an attorney and Bloom’s as a writer, both getting good at/pursuing the thing everybody says you’re supposed to want (in Bloom’s case, right down to auditioning for Saturday Night Live).

And I love that in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bloom has gotten to finally write more personal things and bring her full self to the table. It’s such an important piece of art for me, personally, and reading about this part of her experience has led me to rethink how I engage with comedy and what types of writing and performance I want to pursue in the future.

So Rachel, thank you.

Photograph by Greg Gayne/CW.

Read IndieWeb Journalism in the Wild by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (BoffoSocko)
I noticed a few days ago that professor and writer John Naughton not only has his own website but that he's posting both his own content to it as well as (excerpted) content he's writing for other journalistic outlets, lately in his case for The Guardian. This is awesome for so many reasons.
Read Indieweb for Journalism by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (BoffoSocko)
There is a rapidly growing group of writers and journalists who have been joining the Indieweb movement, and it's long overdue to create a list of resources specific to the topic to help out ourselves and others in the future.
Read The IndieWeb and Journalism by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (BoffoSocko)
Some thoughts about how journalists could improve their online presences with IndieWeb principles along with a mini-case study of a site that is employing some of these ideas.
Read I'm Author Austin Kleon, and This Is How I Parent  by Michelle Woo (Offspring)
Austin Kleon doesn’t glamorize creative work. It’s hard. (Hence, the “work.”) But the bestselling author has found ways to stay the course in the face of burnout, self-doubt, and yes, even raising children. He shares his wisdom in his new book Keep Going, which comes out tomorrow. Today, he talks to us about how he parents.