Affinity space – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Terry Anderson drew my attention today to the concept of the ‘affinity space’ from James Paul Gee (always an interesting writer), which bears a marked resemblance to our understanding of the set as a social form for learning, and with which I was previously unfamiliar. This is certainly something I need to investigate further. At first reading I think the affinity space is a (large and probably the most important) subset of what we mean by a ‘set’ – it is concerned with people sharing an interest and a normally virtual space but otherwise having no social connection to speak of, which is exactly how we distinguish set from net social forms.  It is also a close cousin of communities of interest and interest (or interest-based) networking, that are very much in the same area but that gained their names from people with perspectives slanted by where they already had expertise and experience. I like the term ‘affinity space’ far better than those terms for the reasons mentioned in the Wikipedia article, which are very similar to the reasons we went for the term ‘set’.

Our concept of the set additionally recognizes learning value in sets that are not directly or only concerned with the kinds of affinity mentioned in the article – e.g. those of people of similar, greater or lesser abilities, those of people simply near to one another, those where personal attributes like culture are significant – which becomes more significant when thinking about how collectives emerge or are formed from sets. Also, we are keen to emphasize the continuous fuzzy boundaries between sets and groups (e.g. tribes, religions, Goths) and between sets and networks (e.g. circles of friends, college alumni), seeing most such collections of people as occupying blended or overlapping social forms. But this is a useful concept that I suspect we will use in future to characterize one of the purest forms of set used for learning purposes and one that has most relevance in an online context. Whatever the minor distinctions, and whether the concepts turn out to be almost the same or just similar, I am glad to know that others, especially those with the intellectual muscle and creativity of Gee, think it is an idea whose time is well upon us.

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It’s Anyone’s Game in the Consumer Electronics Playing Field

Great report from Accenture on the results of an International survey (not including Canada but a good basket of developed countries represented) on use of consumer electronics from 2013. The big takeaways are:

  • Consumers are focusing on fewer, multifunction devices
  • Consumers are not locked into a single platform
  • Cloud-based services are increasing
  • Mobile devices are consumerizing IT in the workplace

The report is very well presented and easily digestible, and is packed with interesting statistics and analyses of trends. As someone with more than a passing interest in technologies and technology trends, I found something fascinating on almost every page. Understanding, reacting to and, ideally, anticipating such changing patterns is going to be vital to Athabasa University as a primarily online learning institution.

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The Web Index

An interesting set of statistics about access to the Web as well as many other metrics relating to use, availability and freedom on the Web, ranking nearly every country on various different scales. Canada makes a mediocre showing at 15th overall, with a disappointing nearly-80% having access, and falling well short of perfect on most other metrics too. The recent CBC report that ranks Canada 53rd in the world on upload speeds is also sobering. Like all such statistics, these need to be looked at critically and considered in context, but it is none-the-less a good starting point for discussion. See for more on the project, and how the figures are calculated.

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Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage

This study looks at multitasking behaviour measured by the amount and frequency of attention paid to a computer screen and TV. It is interesting, if flawed, at least partly because of the differences it claims to show between multitasking behaviour in older and younger people. The researchers claim to show that there is not much age-related difference in overall time spent looking at things when multitasking, but that younger people’s gaze tends to flit much more frequently – the differences between age groups on this measure are actually quite huge. The researchers don’t make any notable claims about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it is a result that helps to explain other findings that older people are better at multitasking, inasmuch as they retain more of what they have been paying attention to and are typically less easily distracted (I think I may be an outlier here!). However, the big flaw that I see in this study is that it used staff and students at a university as subjects. University staff are trained to concentrate in quite peculiar ways because that is what scholarly study is all about, and have typically spent a great many years acquiring that habit, so they are not at all representative of older people in general. It would at least be useful to compare this demographic with other older people who do not habitually concentrate very hard and very persistently on one thing for a living.

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China Wholesale – Wholesale Electronics – Dropship From China

Thanks to my friend Richard for pointing me to this great site for total geeks. Electronic toys galore, at knockdown prices, direct from China. Important proviso – almost all look pretty awful, but the site is honest about their failings and ridiculously rich in information about them, so it is easy to decide not to buy things. But who needs Apple, Samsung, or Sony when you can get a no-name budget dual SIM Android phone for $70? Or any number of watch-phones, projectors, remote controlled doodahs and accessories to fit any need? Well, me. But I like browsing this site.

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EdTechnology Ideas – Education Technology Journal

A new open-access educational technology journal. Looks slick, CC licence, a social approach, and I know and respect a couple of the editorial team, so I think it should be reliable and interesting.

Slightly less clear about the need for yet another journal in a crowded market though I guess it’s good to have a thriving ecosystem with plenty of competing species. However, there is a balance between those benefits and the relatively small amount of attention that can be spread around. Now that there are plenty of open-access journals of this nature I see a strong place for metajournals that consolidate writings around particular themes and/or that use curational skills to identify the best of the best. To some extent this occurs in isolated pockets like blogs and curated sites like Pinterest etc, but there is scope for more concerted and formalized efforts in this field.

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Fiverr: Graphics, marketing, fun, and more online services for $5

A marketplace for services, many of which start at $5, hence the name. Compared with long-established competitors like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk this is very simple to use and easy to understand – you hire someone for a ‘gig’ and they do the work for you, whether it is proofreading, choosing a gift, teaching you to juggle, turning your room design into a CAD drawing, correcting your code or whatever. Mostly, you pay $5 or some multiple of $5. Being a global site, some of the prices are amazingly low. It has a simple collective approach to reputation management so, like most such sites, it is not too hard to find reliable service providers. I’m torn between concerns about the ease with which it can handle contract cheating and delight that people can distribute workload in such a simple and convenient manner. I’ve not come up with a personal use for it yet but can see the potential value in many different areas.

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When Did Human Speech Evolve?

Balanced critique by Barbera J. King for NPR of a study that reveals strong correlation between brain processes for technology use (flint knapping) and those for language. The study itself uses fTCD to show brain activity while engaged in language and tool-use tasks, with remarkably consistent patterns for both.

The authors suggest that  ‘tool-making and language share a basis in more general human capacities for complex, goal-directed action’. The critique linked here provides grounds for being wary of drawing firm conclusions of this nature because there are other confounding factors (we already use language so it is possible that we are using it to conceptualize how we go about using tools) and the fTCD approach is a bit coarse. However, the study’s results accord well with the widely held view that language is a technology. Whether tool use or language use evolved first is still up for debate, though I strongly suspect that they evolved in tandem. Language is a technology that makes other technologies possible and vice versa: all technologies are mutually constitutive assemblies, evolving as a result of being combined and recombined.

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Doug Engelbart, American inventor and computing legend, has passed away — Tech News and Analysis

Sad news of the death, at 88, of one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of the past century. Although the headlines all proclaim him as the inventor of the mouse, that was only one of his many achievements that were more profoundly influential. Among the many other things that he invented or played a significant role in inventing were the first working hypertext (and hence the Web), the word processor, the Internet (his lab was the second node on its forerunner, the ARPANET), email, video conferencing, windowing systems like the Mac and Windows, and much else besides. A modest and inspiring genius whose vision of augmenting, not replacing, human intellect reverberates loudly to this day.

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Learning Locker

Very interesting new development, not quite finished yet but showing great promise – a simple means to aggregate content from your learning journey, supporting open standards. This is not so much a personal learning environment as a bit of glue to hold it together. The team putting it together have some great credentials, including one of the co-founders of Elgg (used here on the Landing) and the creator of the Curatr social learning platform.

Currently it appears that its main open standard is SCORM’s new TinCan API, but there are bigger plans afoot. I think that this kind of small, powerful service that disaggregates learning journeys from monolithic systems (including those such as the Landing, Moodle, MOOCs and Blackboard-based systems) is going to be a vital disruptive component in enabling richer, more integrated learning in the 21st Century. 

This is the description of the tool from the site itself:

“It’s never been easier to be a self-directed learner. Whether you’re in school or at work, you’re always learning. And it’s not just courses that teach. The websites you visit, the blogs you write, the job you do; it’s all activity that contributes to your personal growth.

Right now you’re letting the data all this activity creates slip through your fingers. You could be taking control of your learning; storing your experience, making sense of what you do and showing off what you know.

Learning Locker helps you to aggregate and use your learning data in an environment that you control. You can use this data to help quantify your abilities, to help you reach personal targets and to let others share in what you do.

It’s time to take your data out of the hands of archaic learning management systems that you can’t reach. We use new technologies, like the xAPI, to help you take control of your learning. It’s your data. Own it.”

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