Community vs Network vs Affinity Space

Community vs Network vs Affinity SpaceWe are beginning to explore the concept of “community” in the E-Learning 3.0 course. That word has long been one of those rather nebulous ones, which we as open learners in various platforms and spaces use as a default to suggest a gathering of people. I’m not all that sure it is the right term to be using.

Wikipedia defines “community” as:

A community is a small or large social unit that has something in common, such as norms, religion, values, or identity. Communities often share a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area or in virtual space through communication platforms.

So what is a network, then? (It’s a little trickier to find because there are many connotations for the word.)

A computer network, or data networkis a digital telecommunications network which allows nodes to share resources. In computer networks, computing devices exchange data with each other using connections ( data links ) between nodes.

And what about Affinity Space?

An affinity space is a place – virtual or physical – where informal learning takes place. According to James Paul Gee, affinity spaces are locations where groups of people are drawn together because of a shared, strong interest or engagement in a common activity.

I find myself using these terms rather interchangeably, even when I know I probably shouldn’t be doing so. Over the years, through my reading and learning, I feel like Gee’s concept of Affinity Space has best captured my ideas around connected learning practices across online platforms.

I bring this up because Stephen is challenging the folks in EL30 to create a “community” and then to become a member of that community. He has purposely made the whole assignment open-ended, with few details, and with little guidance from the “teacher.”

Stephen writes:

As a community, create an assignment the completion of which denotes being a member of the community. For the purposes of this task, there can only be one community. For each participant, your being a member of the community completes the task.

Huh. Ok. Let’s see where this might take us …

On Community

Roland has already started to bubble up an idea.

Peace (shared),




The Gap Between Open and Closed: OER vs TPT

Free vs Profit

Despite the inference in the title of this post, I don’t imagine the movement towards Open Educational Resources battling it out on the stage with profit-driven spaces like Teachers Pay Teachers. I am not sure it even has to be one (profit-based) versus the other (free-based). I just want to put both models side by side, to see what I can see.

And given Stephen Downes’ exploration within E-Learning 3.0 around OER resources, and the Distributed Web networks that might emerge for greater sharing of open resources as well as my friend Laura’s post with the question of “who pays” for hosting open content, I find it intriguing to think about these two movements in the field of teachers: One, where open sharing of resources is the underpinning of possible education change and the other, where teachers pay other teachers for their lesson plans and resources to make up gaps where school systems have fallen woefully short.

(Watch and annotate in Vialogues)

Both have some validity, although I lean more strongly toward OER, for sure. Personally, I try my best to share out project ideas and lesson plans and other resources as freely as I can (see: Video Game Design for the classroom), in the optimistic hope that somewhere, a student might be engaged in something that will light that light (you know the one) or spark a discovery that unveils something new. Ever hopeful, ever the optimist — that’s me.

It’s why I engage in connected communities and why I learn from others while hoping others might learn a bit from what I am doing. I can’t think of a time when I paused and thought, Maybe this should be behind a paywall so I can get a little honey money from the idea.

The success of a site like Teachers Pay Teachers, however, shows another model. That, of turning teaching ideas into cash. What is TPT? The site’s About Us explains and makes perfectly clear: this is a business:

Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original educational materials.

Now, look, I have paid to download resources from TpT and I found it mostly to be a seamless experience. I found and bought some good resources that helped me in the classroom. Sure, I wish I didn’t have to pay for what I needed, but I also understand the notion that teachers work hard and deserve to make a living (maybe if teachers were paid more fairly, and respected more in society, this would not even be a discussion). When I hit the virtual check-out line at TpT, I figure I am helping support a colleague somewhere and getting a quality resource.

And there are sometimes free resources at TpT. Sort of like nibbling on samples in Costco. They hope you will open your wallet for more.

I dug a little deeper as I was writing this post and boy, I quickly realized just what a huge business model this TPT really is and how it is growing profit maker — prob not so much for the teachers, but for the company overseeing it. The folks at TPT apparently host a periodic conference that appears to teach teachers how to sell themselves and their work (read this teacher’s post-conference reflections) There are a ton of videos on how to launch into the sales site. They have job openings for teachers as marketers, and more.

I was thinking of TpT in reference to an interview I once had with Howard Rheingold, for the Connected Learning Alliance, and he asked me about TpT because he had featured another teacher using TpT.  It struck me as odd, then. Howard was exploring ways teachers use social media and resources to connect with other teachers. I could not equate what she was doing — selling to other teachers — with connected learning principles of openness.

Elsewhere, recently, I found another teacher wrote of TpT:

Selling my teaching materials on this popular website has made me a better teacher and has changed my life! — via blog

Um. Yuck. Sorry, but my hackles got up just perusing it all, the way the business model is seeping into the education model, built on the noble concept of teachers helping other teachers. A conference to help teachers sell themselves and their lesson plans? Yeah, that goes against my philosophical and moral outlook of education as a special kind of societal job, with the greater good baked in there.

Maybe that’s just me.

I am not naive — I know there is an argument to be made for teachers leveraging experience to make a living for their families. And the teacher quoted above might be suggesting that getting plans and resources ready for sale might have forced her to think more deeply about her teaching practice.

Legal Aside: if you develop lessons in the school you teach, who owns the intellectual property? The school or you?  Can you sell it? Do you need permission? I don’t even know. Some lawyer somewhere has already figured it out, I am sure.

Meanwhile, the Open Educational Resource movement (OER Commons is one of many sites) that we are exploring in EL30 is like another planet altogether. Which is not to say that the Open Educational Resource movement is not about quality, too. It is. It’s also about learning together, of sharing together, of collaboration, of considering the greater good.

The question of how to access (if you are looking) and how to distribute (if you are sharing) is a topic of great interest in many circles, particularly at the University level where the costs of textbooks are opening doors to alternatives for professors and students alike. Difficulties around how to license materials, and how to ensure adequate citation of used work, or the act of remixing the content of others  … these are all questions to be considered and barriers yet to be overcome.

But in the battle between open and closed, free or profit … I am all about the open sharing of experiences to make the world a better place. We all will need to be helping each other over that “river” (another reference to Laura’s post)– from here to there.

Teachers helping teachers (from Laura post)

Peace (beyond the marketplace),

Terry and Kevin’s Liminal Adventures: A Poem is a Map

Terry and Kevin liminal treasure map

Yesterday, my friend Terry shared a poem on Mastodon. His poem, enriched by the video he added, started a rich conversation that leaped across platforms through the day. He later wrote a blog post that tracks the flow over the day of wandering and wondering.

Read Terry’s post: Eight Thresholds But Who’s Counting

Later, I created the treasure map above as a sort of additional visual connection, and then I started to think about how else to think through this kind of platform adventure that began with a poem. I know he and I are sort of geeky like this, pushing our thinking back and forth and exploring the terrain.

As I read his post a few times, and thought about the unwinding of our words, I had this inspiration for a picture book story. So I made one in Storybird — using a keyword art search for “map” —  and entitled it A Poem is a Map.

What’s interesting about Storybird is that the art collection and choices come first in the making of stories, guiding the writing through the visuals. Except here, I had a story in mind – about how poems are maps, which forms one of my points in our discussion and which sparks a question from Terry — and I needed art. You can only access collections of art in Storybird (that is part of its interesting design), not keep searching its entire collection as you build a book. The keyword “map” brought up some interesting art but it was limited in scope.

In making this picture book, I had to dance between Terry’s ideas, our conversations, my story concept and the available artwork. The tension between the freewheeling concepts we were exploring and the limited nature of Storybird made for an interesting writing experience. I simultaneously wrote what I knew I would write and let the art push me in different directions.

In the picture book, you can notice me weaving in the conversation and some of Terry’s reflection points from his blog. It’s a story that could stand on its own, perhaps, but also be read as yet another threshold, as Terry called it, of the conversation.

A Poem is a Map book

Read the story

Maybe this isn’t the end. Maybe this is just the start.

Peace (everywhere on the map),

To Friends in Many Spaces: Thankful, Appreciative, Optimistic

Book Turkey(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)

Dear friends in many spaces,

Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.

I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements.  I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.

I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.

You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.

This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.

Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.

We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.

Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.

I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.

Peace (a few words and such),


In Defense of Google Plus

CLMOOC Google Plus

It feels odd and strange, defending the information-sucking, ad-selling, money-making Google behemoth here, but the recent news of the demise of Google Plus is actually worth a mention, given so much of the negativity it has seemed to arouse in people in some networked spaces. Putting aside the recent privacy breach (which is always something alarming and maybe should not be put aside at all … forgive me), I’ve read with some frustration as folks in some of my other networked spaces have mocked Google Plus, along the lines of “only three people who use it will care” to “Google Plus is still here?” to “Why would anyone use Plus?” and so on.

I get it. Google Plus never caught on with the masses, and is often listed as a “failed” experiment for Google. I get it.

But I have to tell you, Plus has been quite useful for a handful of projects that I have been involved in. In particular, the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) has long used its CLMOOC Google Plus space (3,000-plus members) as a way to easily share media files, engage in quick conversations and check-ins, and organize Make Cycles.

CLMOOC itself, as an experience, is never in one place for anyone person, so the Google Plus space was always just one of many platforms being used by folks to explore art and learning and making and connected learning.

Still, Plus was quite useful for what it was, providing a flowing connecting point of easy sharing. In particular, the sharing of images — for ongoing ventures like SilentSunday or Doodling — and adding video files was somewhat easy to figure out. Sure, things got lost in the mix as new material was added, but that’s what connected spaces are like.

Everything is always in flow.

And compared to the terrible visual design of Facebook (which is still, despite all that money flowing in, an awful mess to my eyes and gives me headaches whenever I happen to look at it, which is not very often) and unsteady tinkering of Twitter (which I use and still find useful), Google Plus — with its tiling box-like post formats — worked for me. I actually liked the organization of it. I found it useful.

I’ll miss it.

What happens to the CLMOOC G+ space now? It will probably disappear, but I figure with connected work, that is always bound to happen at some time. We will still have our main website hub (Thanks, Karen) and folks will continue to share and connect in other spaces, online and offline (postcards, anyone?). Some of us will investigate some other possibilities for sharing. Maybe it will open up more doors for more projects in other exploratory spaces. Who knows.

CLMOOC was always more than the technology and still will be.

Peace (the defense rests),


And … they’re off … more #clmooc postcards

CLMOOC postcards Sept2018

I’ve been lax the last few months with the CLMOOC postcard project (we have a list of about 70 people who periodically mail postcards to each other). This past weekend,  though, I got my act together and mailed out 18 postcards to CLMOOC friends on our list. Some of the cards may already be arriving. Some may take longer.

Peace (in the mail),

Slice of Life: A Doodle Every Day

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

For all of July, we in the CLMOOC community were drawing and doodling and sharing. With today’s theme of “exit” now complete, I was trying to figure out how best to grab all of 31 of my doodles together. I’m still hoping to do a collage, but this video version via Animoto will have to do for now. The use of the artistic garden animation theme seemed … appropriate.

Many of the crowd-sourced themes connected to the Write Out project, which is another open learning adventure that took place the last few weeks.

I used the Paper app on my iPad for my doodles, and making art is always tricky for me. Writing is so much easier. Words flow faster than visual ideas. These pieces were all done with fingers, not stylus. Sort of like finger-painting. So, some of these doodles I made I like a lot and some, not so much.

What I appreciated most was the call and invitation to doodle in a networked community, and to share with others, and to see how my friends took the same idea in different directions.

Day Thirty-One Exit Point

Peace (on the tip of the pen),


#CLMOOC Goes Doodling in July

Day One Enter

It’s CLMOOC season! That means invitations and connections via Connected Learning MOOC, and this July, every day, there is an open invitation to doodle on a theme, all related to open spaces and mapping. You can doodle every day, or just join in when the muse strikes you.

Learn more about the doodle effort, an online poetry exchange project, and more at the CLMOOC website.

You can also get the daily prompts via email or RSS feed through The Daily Connect, where we will be posting each day’s prompt as a new post.

I’m not much of an artist, but I still love to doodle, particularly when others are doodling, too. Today’s theme is Enter/Welcome.

What will you draw and share?

Peace (in pens and crayons),

The Body, Entropic (A Poem Sprawled On In a CD Cover)

The Body, Entropic

A friendly email arrived, with a request. Might I be willing to write a poem?

A musical collaborator, Luka, was working on another project and he was looking for a poem that could become part of the cover of the CD project. He sent along a few tracks, asked me to listen, and get inspired. (Luka and I wrote and recorded Alchemist Dream for A Whale’s Lantern music project, a remote collaboration taking place off the Mastodon social network. We’re now into the third iteration of the music-making partnerships.)

Oh, and there was a fast turn-around deadline. I’d have to get the poem out the door within just a few days. The theme of the project was Entropy, and so as I put on headphones and listened to the tracks that Luka provided (interesting stuff, as always from him), I read up on Entropy, trying to wrap my head around the concept and how it might translate into poetry, and music.

Then, I wrote … just letting the words flow as I listened to the beats and musical landscape of the tracks. It was one of those times when I only thought about what I was writing later, in revision. First, I let the music guide me into discovering the possibilities of a poem.

Fast forward a few months, and I saw Luka promoting the CD, with a limited series artistic cover available, so I ordered it, and the resulting project (airmailed from Luka from Slovenia, with a very kind note from him) is just beautiful. My poem is splayed out in the center, but the way the cover folds in and around itself, and the use of art to explore music (and vice versa), and … well … the whole dang thing is just pretty cool to have in my hands.

I’m glad I had some words to contribute. (And Luka, in return, has lent me some of his original music to use in a video project I am working on for a summer learning experience.)

Peace (across the world),