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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Digital Residence and Affinity Spaces

Digital Residents of Affinity Spaces

A recent #edchat discussion centered on Prensky's idea of the digital native/digital immigrant (see transcript). I have never been fond of the metaphor. It is like assuming everyone born during the agricultural revolution produced bushels of wheat. Coming to age during these monumental changes to literacy and social practices does not automatically equate to participation in a digital landscape.

Instead I was drawn to @tomwhitby's idea of digital residence. To me it harped back to James Gee's idea (2004) of affinity spaces. These communities have low barriers of access, offer support for N00bs, and social connections. Unlike the idea of a digital native, howver, digital residency doesn't assume involvement. Affinity spaces, IMHO, require some involvement of the individual as they express their agency through increased participation.

This got me thinking about what kinds of skills and dispositions would be required to increase participation in affinity spaces, or in other words to become an active digital resident. The answer actually came to me not through the readings of scholarly articles or participation in class. Instead it was image driven and the thinking distributed across the folks I interact with in one particular affinity space: Twitter. I came to see that digital residency in affinity spaces required three components: online collaborative inquiry, online content creation, and online reading comprehension.

I chose to represent this with the Zelda Tri-force. Why? Well first it is a homage to a classic video game that created moved a way from scrolling into a world of choices. Next, the trinagle, as the mathematical symbol of change, is a perfect metaphor for the upheaval in the world of literacy that we are currently witnessing.

My Journey to find the Tri-Force

It is not the image I settled on that really matters. Like Link, who had to find the missing pieces of the tri-force, it is the journey that mattered.

It began with a request by @DrAshCasey that was retweeted by someone I follow, and fellow UCONN Grad Student, @DrGarcia. Dr. Casey was looking for an image that would work for the idea of the teacher as a researcher.

In this little exchange I came to realize the power of distributed cogntion over affinity spaces. I also saw the power of thinking in non-verbocentric ways. I began our online collaborative inquiry not with words but with images.

I first started with Flickr. I love being able to search through images marked Creative Commons license (got the idea from another person I follow @mbteach). This also represented an important online reading comprehension skill: locating information.

I started with "teacher as researcher" as a search term. This just brought up iamges of TED talks from around the world. I then kept tweaking my search terms until I picked an image of Pedro Pnce de Leon, one of the founders of deaf education.

I thought this might serve as a perfect metaphor for the teacher as a researcher. As inventing in alphabet for the deaf to use was in fact research. It was also research for a greater social good rather than our current infatuation of chasing effect sizes. I thought it would work perfectly for the classroom.

That idea brought me back to Reinking and Bradley's ideas (2009) on formative design experiments. Reinking often uses an engineer as a metaphor. I thought this was perfect. Instead of Flickr I thought I would try deviantart (a site I can spend countless hours on).

I began with the search term "teacher." The results were not for the faint of heart. Deviantart has a strong anime following and many of the images, were..well...not appropriate for the school audience.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum the images of teachers i could use also reinforced negative stereotypes. It was the classic: A teacher with a button collared, glasses, her hair in a dun, and a scowl across her face. Neither image represented the teachers I know.

So I switched terms, again a key online reading comprehension skill, and used engineer. I settled on an image.

While it was still racy, it is PG in terms of the anime images of teacher I found on deviantart. I also thought it was important to show engineering not as a boring male-dominated career. Especially as a mataphor for teacher as a researcher. First a teacher/research needs a toolbox with many tricks. Second any research endeavor by a teacher is not a neat activity. You are going to make a little mess. That is the joy of teaching.

So I sent these images along to @DrAshCasey. I am not sure if they wer ever used. That wasn't the point. It was an activity in online collaborative inquiry, online reading comprehension, and online content creation.

This realization brought me back to the discussion of affinity spaces and digital residency. I needed some image to represent the skills I thought @tomwhitby's digital residents would need. I thought of change, I thought of the traingle. Then like, Link, I searched for the Tri-Force.

Yet I did not stop there. Online content creation isn't a matter of jsut sharing links or content consumption. There has to be an act of re-design, a transformation of available signs into something new (New Londong Group, 1996). So using Gimp, a free image editor almost on par with Photoshop) I added in some simple text to share my ideas.

In Conclusion

Involvement in affinity spaces, at least increased participation, requires all three elements of digital residency: online collaborative inquiry, online reading comprehension, and online content creation.

I can not take credit for these ideas. It only came about because of my involvement in different affinity spaces and because of colleagues like Ian (who helped coin the term online content creation). What strikes the greatest resonance with me is how image driven my thinking has become. The writing process has in many ways broken the verbo-centric shackles we have thrown on it in the last few hundred years.

To me that is the power of digital media. Connecting new neighbors to the links of the past through affinity spaces.