The CLMOOC Web Ring, still under construction with a few hiccups along the way (including this platform of Edublogs not quite in synch with how Web Rings work), is designed to provide paths to different CLMOOC blogging sites, so that you can move in circular patterns through the ring of writers. I still don’t have a full handle on Web Rings, yet, but I’m getting there, and Greg created this video tutorial on how to connect your space to the ring.
The CLMOOC RSS Planet, meanwhile, is a gathering of RSS feeds from bloggers who have been part of the CLMOOC experience over the years. Greg (with generous help from Sarah) set up a master feed that pulls in RSS into one place — one “planet” where we all orbit as constellations.
You can see both the CLMOOC Web Ring and the RSS Planet at the site that Greg has set up. Here’s another example of CLMOOC venturing into unknown terrain, under the ethos of making connections with each other and hopefully, expanding out the Affinity Space in different ways. And all with Greg’s continued guidance and support and, well, cheerleading, around the IndieWeb movement and Domain of One’s Own concept of DS106 and other connected networked spaces (a shift which I might need to start re-thinking myself this year, too).
I’ve been part of the SmallStories gathering over at Mastodon for some time (often with CLMOOC friends), first drawn there by Tanya and Kate and others, and now find myself a regular SmallStories writer. SmallStories is the idea of small moments, shared in the open. They are typically short bursts of writing, often hinting at something larger. Sort of like Slice of Life, if you are a Slicer with Two Writing Teachers.
I’m enjoying watching Laura share the ideas of the writing (including work that Geoff has done with the Young Writers Project in Vermont) at a conference considering the possibilities of open networking. She begins by contrasting the push towards bigger, bigger, bigger networking spaces with small corners of writing, sharing, connecting like the #smallstories hashtag. (oops, then the sound goes out when she moves to chat about Mastodon. Read her lips!)
Kate then explores the difference between flash fiction (short creative fiction) and small stories (mostly non-fiction of a single event).
“This little thing happened, how weird was that?” is how Kate explains how our days, all of us, are filled with small stories. “Noticing is something you need to learn to do.”
It’s in that noticing that we bring forth the story, however.
Kate defines small stories as:
being composed of the details we notice
having something to teach us about ourselves or the world
notice our values in action, made visible
Thanks to my friends for gathering this together and sharing it out.
My CLMOOC friend, Wendy, shared a blog post yesterday about her explorations of Affinity Spaces, networks, poetry and music, and in doing so, she left a piece of music manuscript. I could not resist the urge to see if I could turn her musical notes into something musical (and I suspect she is doing the same).
Read her whole post to see the entire thread of what she was doing and thinking, for it is a fascinating example of how an idea is built with the help of others, creating a conversion about creativity and connection.
I hope my small musical piece — done rather quickly and with less finesse than I would have liked and crafted with some liberties of repeating some musical phrases in her original manuscript — is another angle from which to see/hear how Affinity Networks like CLMOOC can be powerful in how they inspire others to think, to learn, to make.
Thanks to Terry for popping the last full chapter in the book Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning, being read by CLMOOC as a month-long book study, for some crowd annotation into NowComment. Like Hypothesis, NowComment allows for many people to be reading and commenting and engaging in conversations on a single text.
(Note from Kevin: I actually wrote this post two days ago, thinking I would post it yesterday. I left it lingering in my draft bin. Then, the massacre in New Zealand happened, and I had a poem spilling forth about madness and hate and social media that I just could not shake without writing it, and that poem is what I shared yesterday as a blog post.
The final stanza is a call about kindness in the world. I wondered where it is, where it was. I wrote: … no one ever seems/ to stream the kindness of/ the world, only the madness.
This morning, I revisited this post about Nerdfighters, and realized, THIS is about one of those places where the counter narrative of social media is already taking place, with young people leading the way. I also remembered Friday’s global walkout on climate change, where young people were protesting on a world scale for change. I had an answer, already written, to my question in the poem, but I had forgotten it, in my sadness and bewilderment of the world. It happens like that. We lose perspective. The horrible things push aside the good.
So, here, then is a post about an Affinity Network where young people are empowered to change the world for the better, and is thousands strong, too. It’s a reminder of how social media can be a tool for the good.)
I’ve enjoyed the Case Studies inside the book, Affinity Online, as we read the book in CLMOOC this month. The studies give us a more human story insider account of different Affinity Spaces and Networks. The focus on the Nerdfighters, which I knew of but never really dug deep, is fascinating for a few reasons.
What is Nerdfighters? They are not nerds fighting nerds, but nerds fighting for a better world. Or, in the words of the community, to decrease WorldSuck, their word for a world gone mad. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that provides a helpful overview:
Nerdfighteria is a community subculture, based mainly online. It began in 2007, when the VlogBrothers (John and Hank Green) rose to prominence in the YouTube community. As their popularity grew, so did coverage on Nerdfighteria, whose followers are individually known as Nerdfighters. The term was coined when John saw a copy of the arcade gameAero Fighters and misread the title as Nerd Fighters.
Hank Green describes it as “a community that sprung up around our videos, and basically we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck”. He defines “world suck” as “the amount of suck in the world”. The Greens established The Foundation to Decrease World Suck, in order to raise funds and launch projects that would help a variety of causes.
Nerdfighters believe in fighting world suck, promoting education, freedom of speech and the use of the intellect in modern society.Nerdfighters and the Green brothers have collaborated on many projects such as the charitable drive, Project for Awesome which launched in 2007, and VidCon, the convention focusing on topics surrounding the world of digital media. Nerdfighters have been documented by websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal, with a following estimated to be in the millions.
The Nerdfighter community coalesced around two writers — the Green brothers, John and Hank– who early on saw the potential for video/vlogging as a means to make possible change in the world by reaching an audience of young people who often felt left out of the typical social circles.
The demographics, if still true from the statistics in the book, is predominantly a white, female majority (72 percent female and 85 percent white, in the information in the book, but also a high percentage of queer, gay and gender-fluid members) with an activist bent, using video and presence as its main media choice for messaging and connection points.
The Affinity Online rightly focuses on the Nerdfighters as an Affinity Network because of its deep civic action and reach. One of its main projects — Project for Awesome — has raised nearly $7 million for charities in the past five years, if I read the statistics right. Its homepage is chock full of user voice, with young people making and contributing videos as a way to engage and document and share.
Exploring the Nerdfighteria site, one quickly realizes how many strands are now out there, from various communities in other spaces to charity sites, to networking opportunities. It even has its own lexicon. And a map of local groups for local action projects. And a book club.
There is also VidCon, which is a digital media conference that showcases young and upcoming vloggers in the Nerdfighter networks. But the recent acquisition of VidCon by Viacom has me wondering about whether this Affinity Network event, designed to empower young video creators, will become another commercialized vendor space. If so, that sucks. And I use that word “suck” purposefully here.
How to become a Nerdfighter? The Green brothers explain, this video from a decade ago.
As I have been reading the new book Affinity Online with fellow CLMOOC friends, I have been highlighting some quotes and insights that I find valuable, and sharing some of them out on Twitter. This is a collection from the first two chapters. I do this often as a way to read a bit closer and also to surface some ideas.
This collection from the first chapters of the book remind me that many young people find their own affinity spaces because there is not a connection in school or with peers around them, and those places — school, friendship, home — might not understand the passion and connection they find in online spaces. This divided identity is normal for teenagers, of course, but affinity networks can make it even more so (not a bad thing, but something to notice).
I also note that the authors remind us that many affinity spaces are always in flux, shifting to meet the needs of new members and new trends in the focus point (knitting, gaming, dancing, etc.) and spaces that don’t adapt and renew will likely fade away.
…. while I appreciate the work of several educators in this community and elsewhere incorporating anti-racism and anti-bias work into their curricula and book selections, I cannot ignore that feeling I get of being one of so very few.
She goes further:
What I want folks to understand is that this state of affairs has very real and concrete consequences for how we understand and interpret events and experiences. Talking about race is uncomfortable for a lot of folks. It hatches all kinds of difficult feelings including guilt, shame, anger, defensiveness, helplessness.
Here is what I crafted as a response to Sherri. I don’t have answers for her. Just observations.
I’ve been part of Slice of Life on and off for more than ten years, and sometimes I note in reflections at the end of March the same observation you write about here — the gender, race dynamic is predominantly white, female.
I’ve sometimes, as a participant writer, tried to connect Slice of Life with other communities, to invite more people in. I was never all that successful. As white male elementary teacher/writer, this demographic make-up has not hindered me personally as a writer. SOL at TWT is still an amazing thing — hundreds of teachers, writing! It was more, this could be a positive opening for so many more teachers with diverse backgrounds to write with others, to share and make connections, to expand the notion of storytelling.
Speaking only from my standpoint as a male teacher, and remembering an interaction I once had from another male teacher who did a bit of Slice one year and then stopped when he noticed he was not getting comments on his writing, I think Slice of Life can be seen by a newcomer as a female-infused writing space. I’m not sure if is is perceived as having a white face to it, too, but maybe it does. When we don’t see ourselves in a space, we are less likely to dip our toes in.
I know Stacey and others at TWT are cognizant this point, too, and they strive to make sure everyone is invited, and appreciated, and I know that they would love a more diverse group.
How to achieve that? It would likely involve more time spent actively inviting diverse folks from other communities. It might involve adding even more diversity to the main administrators of the site. It might even require thinking of the design of the TWT website to showcase the ways in which a diverse writing community looks.
All of this can seem forced, particularly at first, until the momentum catches on, and then it can become a natural way of being. Just think of the potential, building on what is already an amazing experience for many teachers to write publicly, a huge barrier for many made easier by the Slice of Life community.
How do we bring more diversity to online spaces? Not just Slice of Life. But also other Affinity Networks — like CLMOOC, which is near and dear to me but is also overwhelmingly white.
At my local Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, we’ve been grappling with this for years. A long research inquiry called Project Outreach that delved deep into our site demographics and our region demographics led us to make some fundamental shifts, including a new Mission Statement at the time that makes it clear and public our organizational views on diversity and race.
The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools – urban, rural and suburban.
Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.
Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.
But of course, it is not enough to have the words. You need to do the actions. So every program we now run and administer, and every grant we apply for, is viewed through the lens of our Mission Statement. Does the program reach a diverse audience? Does it address equity and social justice? Does the program align with our core values? We actually ask these questions out loud to each other. We also actively recruit teachers of color in urban school districts, and make sure they have paths into leadership. We have a leadership team working on Language, Culture and Diversity.
I’ll admit, too, that we lost the interest of some of our WMWP folks over the years, with such hard push into social justice. Many who left thought we stepped away from writing and the teaching of writing as our core value, but this is not the case. Those are still core values, sitting next to others as signals of importance to the outside audience, in hopes that our writing project site signals a clear welcoming to all.
I’m about halfway through the book at this point and I find I am most interested in the vignettes the researchers have pulled together about people who are members of different Affinity Networks. These stories — they call them Case Studies, as they are researched stories — bring to the surface the themes of the chapters, of course, but they also provide a window into the insider’s world of Affinity Networked Spaces.
So, we learn about the way fans of wrestling have come together to form an interesting collection of fan writing and fictional competitions told through writing by the fans, connecting a love wrestling and competition with story and character creation/development.
We see how a video game system — Star Craft II — had launched an entire universe of gamers and players who want more out of the game, and who have developed more, through strategic play and groupings, with writing at the heart of it all.
On Wattpad writing app/home, a group of fans of the One Direction band have invented an entire niche site of fan fiction of the band, writing stories and making connections. They give feedback. They connect stories. They publish to an audience.
Video, performance and culture are connecting points for Bollywood Dance, where the American children of immigrants remain connected to heritage through dance, and through shared dance routines and competitions. Making and sharing videos becomes a common compositional practice.
These are the first four Case Studies for the first two chapters, and what comes to the surface for many of these portraits is the importance of writing and identity, of how the use of an Affinity Network for expression depends upon representing yourself with words and media. This surfaces for me because, as a teacher, I often wonder where my intersection with students’ interest in Affinity Spaces might be.
And no surprise — it comes back to writing as a skill from school that translates quite well into non-school activities. Even when an Affinity Network begins to create its own lexicon and style, writing words and sharing stories and making comments/feedback still are central elements, and those are all things schools can offer, even if the student feels disconnected from the classroom experiences.
I’ll keep an eye out on other trends as I read deeper into the book and consider other Case Studies.