A few more thought-provoking lines from Henry Jenkins’ new book “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.“ It’s been giving me quite a bit to chew on in the 30 or so pages I’ve read. I think he has an amazingly perceptive read on how access to people and ideas change the equation in the classroom. Just for some context, these are all from a chapter titled “Why Heather Can Write” which was expanded from an article published a couple of years ago in the MIT Technology Review. It’s primary focus is on kids turning to fan fiction, in this case, Harry Potter fan fiction. But the larger conclusions are pretty powerful, I think.

First, there is a discussion surrounding Paul Gee’s so-called “affinity spaces” which says that “people learn more, participate more actively, engage more deeply with popular culture than they do with contents of their textbooks” (177).

Affinity spaces offer powerful opportunities for learning, Gee argues, because the are sustained by common endeavors that bridge across differences in age, class, race, gender, and educational level, because people can participate in various ways according to their skills and interests, because they depend on peer-to-peer teaching with the participant constantly motivated to acquire new knowledge or refine his or her existing skills, and because they allow each participant to feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of others.

That resonates so powerfully with the way I reflect on my own practice as a blogger and with this community: constantly motivated to learn because of the connections that I have to the community of learners in this space. And it’s powerful because of the way learning is nurtured. As Jenkins says

In the classroom, scaffolding is provided by the teacher. in a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way.

I love the language that Jenkins uses as well when talking about the potential effects of the fan fiction world on learning.

What difference will it make, over time, if a growing percentage of young writers begin publishing and getting feedback on their work while they are still in high school? Will they develop their craft more quickly? Will they discover their voices at an earlier age? And what happens when these young writers compare notes, becoming critics, editors, and mentors…As we expand access to mass distribution via the Web, our understanding of what it means to be an author–and what kinds of authority should be ascribed to authors–necessarily shifts.

Our students have a plethora of opportunities to publish right now, and more are opening up each day. (In fact, Barbara Barreda is writing about just such an opportunity in her blog.) When are we at least going to start thinking about the possibility of publishing work instead of just handing it in? I think that’s one of the most powerful shifts this is bringing about in our classrooms. If we don’t start considering the potential of publication soon, we’re going to find ourselves more and more irrelevant. As Jenkins puts it, we now live in a world “where knowledge is shared and where critical activity is ongoing and lifelong.”

Not surprisingly, someone who has just published her first online novel and gotten dozens of letters of comment finds it disappointing to return to the classroom where her work is going to be read only by the teacher and feedback may be very limited.

Finally, Jenkins writes eloquently about the new power our students have in this culture.

They are active participants in these new media landscapes, finding their own voice through their participation in fan communities, asserting their own rights even in the face of powerful entities, and sometimes sneaking behind their parents’ back to do what feels right to them. At the same time, through their participation, these kids are mapping out new strategies for negotiating around and through globalization, intellectual property struggles, and media conglomeration. They are using the Internet to connect with children worldwide and, through that process, finding common interests and forging political alliances…In talking media pedagogies, then, we should no longer imagine this as a process where adults teach and children learn. Rather, we should see it as increasingly a space where children teach one another and where, if they would open their eyes, adults could learn a great deal. (Emphasis mine.)

I just find that to be such a powerful articulation of what’s happening to learning in this new world. And I just don’t think many if any of our schools are really looking through this new lens very clearly yet. How are we supporting these types of connections in our curricula? How are we helping our students to become globally conversant? To what extent are we really handing over the power of these tools and teaching them how to use them well?

Much to think about…

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