Wikis as Third Spaces

March 9, 2008 at 4:49 pm (wikis)

I came across a discussion of “affinity space” in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2006):

“Many have argued that these new participatory cultures represent ideal learning environments.  Gee (2004) calls such information learning cultures ‘affinity space,’ asking why people learn more, participate more actively, enage more deeply with popular culture than they do with the contents of their textbooks.  Affinity spaces offer powerful opportunities for learning, Gee argues, because they are sustained by common endeavors … according to their skills and interests, because they depend on peer-to-peer teaching with each participant constantly motivated to acquire new knowledge or refine their existing skills, and because they allow each participant to feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of others.  For example, Black (2005) finds that the “beta-reading‘ (or editorial feedback) provided by online fan communities helps contributors grow as writers, mastering not only the basic building blocks of sentence construction and narrative structure, but also pushing them to be close readers of the works that inspire them.  Participants in the beta-reading process learn both by receiving feedback on their own work and giving feedback to others, creating an ideal peer-to-peer learning community.”

The differences between formal education and affinity spaces were also defined.  Formal education is conservative, static, institutional and bureaucratic.  In contrast, affinity spaces are informal, experimental spaces of innovation.  They change depending on the needs and interests of those involved.  Unlike formal learning communities, affinity spaces allow one to move in and out of the community if it does not meet our needs or interests.  This mobility is not possible in formal learning. 

Even though it is likely that affinity spaces relate more to social networking than they do to wikis, it is interesting to keep in mind how some of the characteristics of affinity spaces are also evident in wikis.  Bringing wikis into the classroom serves to bring some of the innovation and experiential learning into the traditional formal classroom experience.  In wikis students can decide what topics or issues they want to explore, expand upon, explain, discuss or debate, which adds a measure of fluidity and flexibility.   

At his blog of proximal development, Konrad Glogowski talks about Classrooms as Third Spaces.  Instead of explaining how to approach “building online communities,” Glogowski sees it as

“a process of laying the foundations, of ensuring that the online environment…can grow into a vibrant and engaging community characterized by meaningful and personally relevant interactions.  The idea here is to ensure that the students see the online environment as their own – not merely an extension of the classroom, but a place where they are free to interact and write as individuals.”

Glogowski discusses how the community created by students online is similar to a third place, a term created by Ray Oldenburg, a U.S. urban sociologist, referring to informal gathering places in public places.  Instead, Glogowski uses it to refer to the creation of a virtual social environment.  He pointed me to Teemu Arina who also applies the concept of third place to education in this slideshare entitled Serendipity 2.0: Missing Third Places of Learning.  The visuals allowed me to very quickly understand the concepts and how they relate, a liberating rather than domesticating use of computer technology (Subramaniam, 2006).  First place is home.  Second place is institutional such as school.  Third place, according to Oldenburg, is infomal, voluntary and much anticipated.  Wikis have the potential to be a third place for students. 


1 Comment

  1. Jennifer said,

    Hi Arlene,

    I have read both of these works you refer to as well. I was just having a chat with a friend who is in charge of the Online Reference Centre and she was chatting about how even young children are capturing (digital cameras) their lives and generating web content. Interesting shift happening so important to at least be trying to understand all of this.

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