As Networks evolve you begin to rely on the connections and nodes you have made. Not just for the identity work or self branding, not simply for the learning, nor for the personal connections. In order for a network to undergo a metamorphosis into what James Paul Gee labeled affinity spaces.
Members of the community must rely on each other for acts of humanity not simply learning.
During my tenure at Southern Connecticut State University I had to rely heavily on my networks.
In many ways the core values and principles of connected learning strive to bring this humanity in the classroom. It is learning for the soul and not simply for the score. These affinity spaces, which embody the values of connected learning, without the intervention of faculty and facilitators, teach us about learning in network spaces. As teachers we are always learning.
Seeking Solutions When Questions Have No Answers
Now with the dawn of the Web we seek answers to questions across time and space. We traverse multiple pathways of knowledge across global and local learners. Everything has changed.
What happens though when you rely on your networks to answer questions you know have no solutions? Such as poverty, plague, or even the death of infant children.
It is the latter tragedy that taught me the true power of learning within affinity spaces. JPG famously notes, “we are great at being stupid” and the best way to combat this is to learn together. I would like to add that we are great at being compassionate and the best way to witness such compassion is together.
My networks evolved as my family faced the tragedy of losing an infant to a terminal illness. I also realized that the social networks for the dying may represent one of the earliest and most active affinity spaces. They embody the values and design princeples of connected learning.
Watching Networks Grow
While my nephew fought a brave battle against leukodsytrophy my networks became a source of hope and pride. A vast space full of virtual hugs and shoulders to cry upon. This has most recently jumped from my digital spaces into my meat spaces.
The latest make came from my Southern Connecticut State University family. Unbeknownst to me a few students mobilized the campus to take the #burpeesforbobby challenge
Nothing in my short time at SCSU has made me feel more like a family (special thanks to Jessica Rosa, Sam Cohen, Laura Azzara, and Danielle Hunter).
My Making Community
When we first found out in June about Bobby’s illness his parents (my brother and sister-n-law) wanted to create something that would allow their son to impact the world. They wanted a positive message. It was decided to pick an exercise everyone hated to show support for those you love. Leukodystrophy robs the body of movement so we wanted to move in order to love.
I turned to my making community to help spread awareness. I set up a series of challenges such as the #edchat challenge and the #webmaker challenge. Tweets and posts went out to the #ds106 and #clmooc networks. The makes came rushing in.
Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) went straight into comic mode:
Mariana Funes of Gifadog and #ds106 fame sprung into action and made animated gifs.
Christina Hendricks of the National Writing Project jumped in with her own animated gif:
Loss and Social Networks
While my networks helped crank out spreadable media I, and my family, leaned heavily on facebook support groups. I am sure Social Media for terminal illness is probably one of the first uses of the web (behind sharing cat pictures).
The posts on the leukodystrophy group ranged from similar makes, to questions, and complaining. Most importantly it was a place for virtual hugs. We gathered as a group to seek answers when we knew none could be found.
In that network and on that quest we each found a little piece.
So a huge shout out to the makers in my networks. You are the first step in my evolution.