Gaining Experience Through Affinity Spaces

I have to admit, I’ve been prey to being not smart. I’ve followed the mainstream crowd without thinking, a lemming in the past. James Gee in his book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning helped me to put a name to it, stupidity. It was about five years ago when I entered Sacramento State University’s Special Education teacher credentialing program (SacState) that I began to become smart. This was “due to plugging myself into good tools and other people to make something bigger than myself” (Gee, 2013, p. 6).  Gee speaks to many reasons why me and most other humans are stupid but for now lets just talk about me.

Prior to attending SacState I had been living on my own for 11 years, lived far away from family and friends for several years and been out of the country once for a month. I thought that I was pretty experienced in the world and if the internet had never come along I probably would have been. I knew that in the groups of humans I hung around with I was one of the most experienced when it came to education and travel. However, like our ancestors who lived in small communities and rarely met strangers, I had no experience of what the world around me was saying, wanting to give me or telling me to do (p. 57). The world was changing and changing fast. Gee goes on to say, “one reason humans can be “stupid” is that in a complex and ever-changing world they have each had only limited experience. They have experienced things only from their place and situations in life” (p. 57).

As an educator I was doing the same thing. I had created a perfect little corner in the back of the school, literally, that was all mine. I was rarely visited by anybody. Yes, I included my kiddos out into general ed classes but I still felt most comfortable within the four wall of my classroom, where all of my safe experiences took place. I did not have to move, go out and I very seldom met strangers. Hmmm, sound familiar to my life I was leading at home? My experiences were contained to my classroom and the few visitor I received. I was becoming a stupid teacher as well as a stupid human.

Nevertheless, there is a solution, get experience! Gee has termed a place on the internet where gaining experience from expert and novice share a place. These spaces he terms as affinity spaces. “Affinity spaces, at their best, are key examples of synchronized intelligence. Multiple tools, different types of people, and diverse skills sets are networked in ways that make everyone smarter and make the space itself a form of emergent intelligence” (p. 174). These spaces need to have people of different ages, backgrounds, different skills and different levels of expertise. People ranging from”newbies to old hands.” (p. 175). Bringing these types a people with different experiences into my circle of life and teaching, dancing with them and their tools will add a medley of knowledge to my tool kit.  And because isolated mind is one that is lacking in experience going out and gaining experience will bring experience to my students and colleagues as well.

Resources

Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

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