Counting the Calories in my “Information diet”

I recently read James Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era, and it made me begin to think about the networked affinity spaces that I utilize regularly.  According to Gee (2004), “An affinity space is a place or set of places where people affiliate with others based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals, not shared race, class culture, ethnicity, or gender” (p. 67). It’s important to understand the influence these have on me, as I gain most of my information from them.

Ways in Which Networked Affinity Spaces Currently Inform my Thinking and it’s Limitations

The networked affinity space that I typically use is Twitter. I use Twitter to connect with like-minded people and to grow as a professional. I noticed that I don’t often follow people with opposing views. If I find somebody that says things I like or that I find interesting then I follow them. If they say things that frustrate me or that I disagree with, then I unfolllow them. This may make me less frustrated  as I read my Twitter feed but it also means that I’m not taking in opposing viewpoints regularly. It assumes that my current views are correct and unchanging. In editing my Twitter feed in this way I’m creating what Eli Pariser would call a filter bubble. (Check out his TED talk for more on filter bubbles.) It’s important that I’m not always adding like minded people to my Twitter feed as the information we take in should be balanced and diverse. Gee notes that “such diversity expands the possibilities for new discoveries and survival in the face of change.” It’s not that diversifying my affinity spaces will make me change my views necessarily, but it will help me better understand opposing viewpoints and see their positive contributions to the conversation.

Adding New Sources to Expand my Mind (Emphasis on the capital “M”)

Twitter, however is not the only place I get information. I also gain a lot of information from blogs I’ve aggregated on Feedly. I rarely seek out opposing viewpoints and add them to Feedly. However, because I think there’s value in listening to opposing arguments and actively seeking them out, I’ve added a couple blogs that generally contain opposing viewpoints. The first is What is Common Core. This is an anti-common core website that routinely writes about the “terrible” effects Common Core will have on our society. As a younger teacher I just assumed Common Core was better then what we had before, without really thinking about it. Now that I’ve thought about it a lot more I still thinks it’s better, but admit that, like any curriculum, it has some shortcomings. I hope this blog will help me understand them better.

I also added Jeff Lindsay’s blog. Jeff is a parent that writes about the value in “traditional” approaches to learning. I disagree with most of the things he says, but I think it’s important to hear opposing viewpoints, especially from parents. I think that there are times when “traditional” (although I hate that word, because that implies things like inquiry learning are “modern”, which isn’t true) techniques are appropriate and I hope to better understand when those times occur.

In terms of Twitter I followed a person (the Algebros)  that, although they’re Flipped Classroom teachers, I disagree with on a few points about implementation. One problem with a lot of flipped learning is the assumption that knowledge is primarily attained through direct instruction. My viewpoint is that the DI is only a piece of the learning puzzle and that it often should’t be the starting point or “first exposure” to a topic. I also wonder about the effectiveness of the mastery model in more homogenous classes (in terms of ability). It seems as though they don’t wonder about this, as illustrated by our recent conversation. I think that having their viewpoint in my Twitter feed will help me refine my views on effective flipped learning.

Summary

I think that it’s important to keep a balanced “information diet”. I notice, mainly on Twitter, that discussions are often not directed toward understanding opposing viewpoints, but toward demonstrating how a certain viewpoint is correct and another is incorrect. I think Gee and Pariser would agree that you shouldn’t just add diverse viewpoints to your network to argue with them, but to better understand their position in the hopes of generating new knowledge and ideas.

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This image, I think, represents affinity spaces and the lack of overlap in the many spaces we participate in.

Image via yaph on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

References

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

TED2011. (2011). Beware online ”filter bubbles”  given by Eli Pariser (video file and transcript). Retrieved on July 13, 2014 from, http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles

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