When we see a finished piece of writing, we rarely see all the mess that went into creating it. As Annette M. Markham and Nancy K. Baym point out in their book, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method,
Research reports are carefully edited retrospectives, selected among different story lines and options, depending on one’s audience and goals. Within these reports, research designs are generally presented as a series of logical and chronologically ordered steps. Seasoned scholars know there’s a complex backstage story line and have experienced such complexities themselves. But for novice scholars, it is easy to imagine that the researcher’s route was successfully mapped out in advance and that interpretive findings simply emerged from the ground or fell conveniently into the path. Qualitative research requires a tolerance for chaos, ambiguity, and inductive thinking, yet its written accomplishments—particularly those published in chapters and articles rather than monographs—rarely display the researchers’ inductive pathways or the decisions that led them down those routes.
Two of my voice values are transparency and helpfulness, and I want to share some of the messier bits of my writing process. I have hopes of showing off some beautiful, colorful pen-marked-up copies of memos and notes to you in the future, but today, I’m just offering a few thoughts on freewriting.
I often hit a point where I’ve thought and thought and thought about something, ideas are all kind of swirly in my head, I’ve made notes, I’ve mapped concepts, and I’m still not ready to do formal writing for an audience that’s not me. I might be in a good place to talk to somebody, but honestly, I’m rarely around people who actually want to hear about things like affinity space ethnography (now I’m trying to imagine explaining ethnography to my 3 year old). When I’m in that place, eventually, I realize I need to…
So I open up a new document and type out what I’ve got in my head, with notes to myself but also with citations. I know I’m not inventing anything new here, but this is part of the writing process that I think it’s easy for academics to forget.
Here’s what I freewrote today:
Ethnographic methods are appropriate for studying information literacy practices that are social and occur in an affinity space, as this looks at a sociocultural phenomenon, in a naturalistic setting. These methods cannot produce a full ethnography, but rather must be partial (Hine 2000). (BUT WHY? LIKE, THERE ARE REASONS, LEARN TO ARTICULATE THEM.)
Online spaces, however, present challenges to traditional ethnographic methods. Primary among these is the problem of location-based research; using spatial metaphors to define ethnographic research sites is limiting, because:
Practices travel across various online “spaces.”
Boundaries of online spaces are porous.
And, more and more, boundaries between online and offline activity are also porous.
There are ways to approximate these features online. The field site is the trickiest bit. It’s possible to select one environment (for example, fanfiction.net) and consider its boundaries to be the boundaries of the field site, but this lends an incomplete picture.
Now, this is not a useful introduction to ethnography for anyone. It’s incomplete, it privileges data collection over more conceptual issues. But it’s helping me move forward in my writing.
Two dissertation-related things I’ve been working on simultaneously: my final chapter of comps, which I’m writing about affinity space ethnography/connective ethnography, and engaging more systematically with cosplayers. I went to Greensboro Comicon this weekend and actually interacted with cosplayers a little more than I have in the past, and now I’m exploring all the different ways cosplayers find each other.
(I’ve been a casual/closet cosplayer for many years, but never really connected with other cosplayers before.)
When I started my comps I wasn’t sure what data sources I would use to explore how cosplayers exhibit collective intelligence online, but now I’m realizing that Twitch & Discord may be where it’s at. As far as online research goes I think looking at those is fairly cutting edge stuff, and I think they’re great examples of what Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico talk about when they say that researchers need to engage on multiple platforms if they’re going to understand the way practices move across an affinity space.
My brain’s awhirl with questions about the ethics of research on Twitch and Discord, now. Also, I’m feeling a bit reinvigorated with respect to my work, and that’s great.
Months ago now, Margy Thomas of ScholarShape released a 7-day email course called Deep Why. I tucked all the messages away in my Gmail archives and am just getting to them now. I’ll post my responses to some of them here on my blog.
The first prompt is to reflect on your manifesto:
In writing a manifesto, we let ourselves imagine the positive change that we can create through the knowledge we’re building.
I’m writing one here. This isn’t a manifesto for life; it’s a manifesto specifically for my dissertation research. You can see the draft prospectus for that research here. Feel free to annotate it.
In the video that accompanied the prompt, Margy suggested that a manifesto articulates two things: VALUES and VISION. So that’s how I’m organizing this manifesto.
My research takes an asset-based approach to information literacy. It’s easy to find doomy proclamations that kids don’t know how to find, evaluate, or use information. But they do it all the time, in pursuing their passions. Young people have information literacy: it just isn’t necessarily aligned with the way educators are attempting to teach and assess their information literacy. My research sees information literacy instruction and assessment as related to culturally sustaining pedagogy: just as young people’s heritage and community cultural practices are resources to honor, explore, and extend, so are their information literacy practices.
(So much credit is due to Dr. Crystle Martin, upon whose dissertation my work is building, for articulating this asset-based view of information literacy before me, and to Dr. Django Paris, for introducing the concept of culturally sustaining pedagogy, as well, of course, to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, for introducing culturally relevant pedagogy before that.)
In my research, I seek to apply Dr. Martin’s model of information literacy, which takes this asset-based approach, to a new context: the cosplay affinity space. I also hope to find ways to extend or enhance her model, as new pieces of the interest-driven information literacy picture emerge from my findings. The ultimate vision is to create an accessible, asset-based model of information literacy and then share it widely with librarians and educators, along with ideas for how they might teach and assess information literacy in ways that are aligned with young people’s individual and collective information literacy practices. Or, more colloquially:
I want librarians and educators to stop treating kids like they don’t already know how to deal with information, and instead to start looking for ways kids can transfer the skills they use to deal with information in their own interest-driven pursuits across contexts, to address their academic, professional, and everyday problems.
Gee, J. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From the age of mythology to today’s schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.), Beyond communities of practice: Language, power, and social context (pp. 214–232).
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, J. P. (2004). Situated Language and Learning : A Critique of Traditional Schooling. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
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).
The elements of connected learning (interests, relationships, opportunities, sponsorship of youth interests, shared practices, shared purpose, connections across settings, and a focus on equity) illuminate the ways in which connected learning already happens in libraries and the ways in which libraries need to change to expand their support of connected learning.
Libraries have traditionally supported personalized, self-directed, learner-centered, and interest-driven learning (Braun, Hartman, Hughes-Hassell, & Kumasi, 2014; Hoffman, Subramaniam, Kawas, Scaff, & Davis, 2016; Ito & Martin, Fall 2013). They also have facilitated relationships, sanctioning “intergenerational contact centered on youth interest discovery” (Braun et al., 2014, p. 9) and serving as “inclusive spaces that bring many different groups together” (Hoffman et al., 2016, p. 11). As libraries have transitioned from spaces that serve as warehouses for physical resources to spaces where teens can “build skills, develop understanding, create and share, and overcome adversity” (Braun et al., 2014, p. 4) through the proliferation of learning labs and makerspaces, they have embraced shared practices, especially production-centered practices for knowledge creation and sharing. Their position as a third space – neither school/work nor home – allows libraries to facilitate connections across settings, bridging activities from different spheres of learning (Ito & Martin, Fall 2013).
Libraries traditionally have had and continue to maintain “strong ties to non-dominant communities and families” (Braun et al., 2014, p. 9). Because members of nondominant populations perceive libraries “as lifelines to learning, technology, and information… libraries are well-positioned to not only connect formal and informal learning but also to do this for the populations that are most marginalized in terms of traditional academic programs and indicators” (Ito & Martin, Fall 2013, p. 30). These relationships with nondominant communities support libraries working toward the connected learning agenda of expanding access to connected learning experiences to people who may not have them without community and institutional support.
While libraries already support connected learning in many ways, they may need to undergo further shifts to expand their support for connected learning. Library staff must consider not only the physical and digital resources that support interest-driven learning, but also human resources (Braun et al., 2014), building relationships “among learners, between learners and experts or mentors, and between learners and people outside the learning context” (Hoffman et al., 2016, p. 17). In order to help learners to connect their interests and relationships with academic, career, and civic opportunities, library workers must reconsider their roles, learning to consider themselves sponsors and mentors rather than experts or authority figures (Braun et al., 2014; Hoffman et al., 2016, p. 17). Library policies for use of technology and space may need to change to enable learners to engage in shared practices, socializing, collaborating, and publishing their work online (Ito & Martin, Fall 2013). Libraries may also need to change how they evaluate the impact of their services and programs; traditional measures of impact, especially quantitative measures of participation, may not be sufficient to capture the impact of connected learning (Hoffman et al., 2016). Measures of connected learning need to capture the way learners move with their learning across settings; setting specific desired outcomes can facilitate capturing evidence of and communicating the impact of a program.
This shift to full support of connected learning “demands new competencies from youth-serving librarians that graduate programs in library and information science do not always provide, and may require a shift in thinking for some librarians and outside partners” (Hoffman et al., 2016, p. 19). Hoffman and colleagues identify the following “four categories of interrelated knowledge and skill sets… that librarians must have to promote connected learning among youth”:
…they must be ready and willing to transition from expert to facilitator…
…[they] need to apply interdisciplinary approaches to establish equal partnership and learning opportunities that facilitate discovery and use of digital media…
…they should be able to develop dynamic partnerships and collaborations that reach beyond the library into their communities…
…they should be able to evaluate connected learning programs and utilize the evaluation results to strengthen learning in libraries… (Hoffman et al., 2016, p. 19)
The need for training to build these competencies can be met by in-house professional development, programs provided by professional organizations, open online learning resources, and formal educational experiences. The ConnectedLib toolkit (“ConnectedLib,” n.d.) is one example of an open online learning resource directed at meeting this need, while the University of Maryland’s Youth Experience Graduate Certificate program (“YX @ UMD – Youth Experience Post-Masters Certificate Program at Maryland’s iSchool,” n.d.) is an example of a formal educational experience designed to build these competencies.
Connected Learning can be conceived of in three ways: as a type of learning experience that occurs spontaneously, as an empirically-derived model or framework for describing that type of experience, and as an agenda for research and design approach for creating learning experiences. The model/framework was first described by Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutierrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins in their report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design (2013).
The Connected Learning framework incorporates three spheres of learning: interest-based learning, peer-based learning, and academic learning (Ito & Martin, Fall 2013). These spheres of learning are derived from the HOMAGO framework outlined in the report, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (Itō et al., 2009). This report draws on three years of “ethnographic investigation of youth new media practice” (p. 2) examining how these practices fit into social and cultural worlds and how they are meaningful in youth’s everyday lives. Ito and colleagues found that youths’ new media practices tended to fall into one of three genres of participation: “hanging out,” a friendship-driven mode of participation, “geeking out,” an interest-driven mode of participation, and “messing around,” a mode of participation that tended to bridge the other two, in which either youth deepen their commitment to particular interests as they engaged in social practices, or in which youth engage in expanded social activity via participating in their current interests. Ito and colleagues found that young people transitioned easily between these three genres of participation.
The HOMAGO framework was derived from a study that was designed to describe current practices, especially in informal learning spaces (Ito et al., 2019). This study was not aimed at creating a design agenda for educational experiences or describing formal learning environments. Ito and colleagues (2009) found, however, that formal learning environments were often cut off from peer-driven or interest-driven learning environments. The Connected Learning environment seeks to incorporate academic, civic, and career opportunities with peer-driven and interest-driven learning, describing and expanding access to a mode of learning in which all three of these spheres overlap (Figure 1).
In its initial iteration, the Connected Learning framework encompassed six Connected Learning principles. The first three incorporated the spheres of learning: peer-supported, interest-powered, and academically-oriented. The other three principles described the kind of environments that tend to promote connected learning experiences: being production-centered, having a shared purpose, and being openly networked.
“Connected learning is a framework under constant development that offers principles and examples to be adapted and remixed rather than a template for programs and activities” (Ito & Martin, Fall 2013, p. 31). In the years since the model’s initial development, it has undergone some changes. A number of studies developed by the Connected Learning Research Network have provided new evidence that contributes to revision and refinement of the model (Arum, Larson, & Meyer, Forthcoming; Ben-Eliyahu, Rhodes, & Scales, 2014; Ching, Santo, Hoadley, & Peppler, 2015; Ito et al., 2019; Larson et al., 2013; Livingstone & Sefton-Green, 2016; Maul et al., 2017; Penuel, Van Horne, Santo, Ching, & Podkul, 2015; Van Horne, Allen, DiGiacomo, Chang-Order, & Van Steenis, 2016; Watkins et al., Forthcoming). The three spheres of learning have shifted slightly (see Figure 2): “peer-supported” has changed to “relationships,” to indicate not only peer-to-peer relationships but also relationships between young people and adult brokers or mentors, while “academically-oriented” has changed to “opportunities,” to include not just academic opportunities but also civic and career opportunities.
The other three principles of Connected Learning have shifted, as well (“About Connected Learning,” 2017). “Sponsorship of youth interests” is a new principle that was previously woven throughout the others; studies have consistently demonstrated that young people require adult assistance to make connections between their own interests and academic, civic, and career opportunity (Ching et al., 2015; Ito et al., 2019; Van Horne et al., 2016). This principle asks adults to reconsider their role in youths’ learning, to be more than either a “sage on the stage” or “guide on the side,” engaging in actively assisting youth in expanding their networks. “Production-centered” has shifted to being described as “shared practices,” including not just media production as the early model suggested, but also “friendly competition, civic action, and joint research” (“About Connected Learning,” 2017). “Shared purpose” remains, while “openly networked” has changed to “Connections across settings” to incorporate not just openly networked online platforms, but also connections between online and local affinity networks and relationships between home, school, and community.
All of the principles of Connected Learning are directed toward creating learning environments with an equity agenda, in which nondominant youth gain access to learning experiences that have historically been more available to those with privilege and financial access. Without attention to the cultural and social environment, new technologies like those that facilitate connected learning “tend to amplify existing inequity…access to social, cultural, and economic capital, not access to technology, is what broadens opportunity” (Ito et al., 2019, p. 6) (emphasis original).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 building 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 institutions. 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.” (Ito et al., 2019, p. 169)
Connected learning has often been conceived of as occurring along pathways, but recent research suggests that it “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” (Ito et al., 2019, p. 21). Connected learning is best seen “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” (Ito et al., 2019, p. 167).
About Connected Learning. (2017, December 6). Retrieved April 12, 2019, from clalliance.org/about-connected-learning/
Arum, R., Larson, K., & Meyer, W. M. (Forthcoming). Connected Learning: A Study of Educational Technology and Progressive Pedagogy. New York: New York University Press.
Ben-Eliyahu, A., Rhodes, J. E., & Scales, P. (2014). The Interest-Driven Pursuits of 15 Year Olds: “Sparks” and Their Association With Caring Relationships and Developmental Outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 18(2), 76–89.
Ching, D., Santo, R., Hoadley, C., & Peppler, K. (2015). On-ramps, lane changes, detours and destinations: Building connected learning pathways in hive NYC through brokering future learning opportunities. New York, NY: Hive Research Lab. hiveresearchlab. files. wordpress. com/2015/05/hive-research-lab-2015-community-white-paper-brokering-future-learning-opportunities2. pdf (accessed November 15, 2015).
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, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Craig Watkins, S. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from dmlhub.net/publications/connected-learning-agenda-for-research-and-design/
Ito, M., & Martin, C. (Fall 2013). Connected Learning and the Future of Libraries. Young Adult Library Services, 12(1), 29–32.
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.
Larson, K., Ito, M., Brown, E., Hawkins, M., Pinkard, N., & Sebring, P. (2013). Safe Space and Shared Interests: YOUmedia Chicago as a Laboratory for Connected Learning. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from dmlhub.net/publications/safe-space-and-shared-interests-youmedia-chicago-laboratory-connected-learning/
Livingstone, S., & Sefton-Green, J. (2016). The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age. NYU Press.
Maul, A., Penuel, W. R., Dadey, N., Gallagher, L. P., Podkul, T., & Price, E. (2017). Developing a measure of interest-related pursuits: The survey of connected learning. clrn.dmlhub.net. Retrieved from clrn.dmlhub.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CRLN-Measurement-Paper-120714-for-CLRN.docx
Penuel, W., Van Horne, K., Santo, R., Ching, D., & Podkul, T. (2015). Connected Learning: From Outcomes Workshops to Survey Items. Retrieved from hiveresearchlab.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/clrn-from-workshop-to-survey-items-report-may-2015.pdf
Van Horne, K., Allen, C., DiGiacomo, D., Chang-Order, J., & Van Steenis, E. (2016). Brokering In and Sustained Interest-Related Pursuits: A Longitudinal Study of Connected Learning. dml2016.dmlhub.net. Retrieved from dml2016.dmlhub.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/14_vanHorne_CLRNBrokeringPaper040416_submit.pdf
Watkins, C., Lombana-Bermudez, A., Cho, A., Vickery, J., Shaw, V., & Weinzimmer, L. (Forthcoming). The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality. New York: New York University Press.
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)
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).
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
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)
Connected learning explains how people can build learning pathways that connect their interests, relationships, and formal learning to lead toward future opportunities such as careers. However, most learning systems are not set up ideally for connected learning; for instance, most schools still teach disciplines as discrete units that do not connect to students’ interests outside of school. We do not yet know enough about the structure of naturally occurring connected learning ecologies that do connect youth learning across contexts and help them follow pathways toward careers and other desired outcomes. Learning more about what works well on these pathways will allow us to design connected learning environments to help more youth access to these desired opportunities. This paper analyzes two case studies of cosplayers –hobbyists who make their costumes of media characters to wear at fan conventions–who benefited from well-developed connected learning ecologies. Cases were drawn from a larger interview studyand analyzed as compelling examples of connected learning. Important themes that emerged included 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. This has implications for how we can design connected learning ecologies that support all learners on unique pathways toward fulfilling futures.
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.”
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.