Terry Elliot asked me to explain how I try and bring the principles and core values of connected learning into my classroom. This dialogue came about after I posted an ignite talk defining,  or rather poaching, the meaning of connected learning. I use transmedia teaching.

What is transmedia?

Transmedia storytelling involves an unfolding narrative across many digital new platforms. This is different than cross-platform (like a comic book, novel, and movie edition). Transmedia requires the unique content that authors and makers newtowrk together into one larger narrative.

What is transmedia teaching?

My emerging definition of transmedia teaching evolves from the principles and values of connected learning and the work of Gee’s embodied literacies. Gee argues that when we discuss digital technologies for learning we need to always begin with the purpose and and not the tool.

Once we have a pedagogical goal we then “network the tools” (Gee, 4:53). It is in this networking of unique content across multiple tools that defines transmedia teaching.

Every classroom has a space for learning, and this space consists of content (Gee, 2004). I give my students mutliple portals to interact with this content across many different media platforms. Sure we have our main portal (a class website hosted on Google Sites and class network as a Google+ community) but I encourage my students to network to otehr content and tools through this main portal.

As of now I have been more modeling transmedia teaching but hope to see greater diversity in the portals students are using to enter our learning space.

My Transmedia Teaching

I am going to once again refer back to Gee and use portals to define the networks and technologies we use as part of our transmedia teaching. Portals act as generators in that they lead to new content for our learning space (Gee, 2004). These are often digital texts and tools.

The Printed Word

The first technology we use is probably the most efficient tool I know for deep learning. The printed word. We use both a book and research articles (though these are both in electronic form). Our common texts include:

boyd, d. (2007). Social network sites: Public, private, or what? The Knowledge Tree, 13. Available:https://kt.flexiblelearning.net.au/tkt2007/edition-13/social-network-sites-public-private-or-what/

Downes, S. (2005). An introduction to connective knowledge. Stephen’s Web. Available: www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034

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

McVerry, J. G. (2012). TPACK and the new literacies of online reading comprehension. In S. Kadjer & C. Young (Eds.), Research in ELA and technology: An edited collection. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

O’Byrne, W. I. (2013). Online content construction: Empowering students as readers and writers of online information. In K. Pytash & R. Ferdig (Eds). Exploring Technology in Writing and Writing Instruction.

Richardson, W. (2008). Footprints in the Digital Age. Educational Leadership. Available: https://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/Footprints-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx

Ruffini, M. (2012). Screencasting to engage learning. Educase Review: Available: https://www.educause.edu/ero/article/screencasting-engage-learning

Students are also encouraged to share texts from outside our common reads. These pour in from YouTube, Pinterest,  and RSS feeds.

We then interact with this content across different tools and networks and this interaction then changes the content in our space. For example we still use discussion questions and have academically focused discourse around the readings.

Yet I also encourage students to make the reading social. As I read I annotate and share my thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #edu522.

To date no student has joined me. I learned this lesson early on. I do not force students through portals (except the primary portal). Instead I try to model the potential during my normal every day use. So I see Twitter as a tool I am using for instruction that cuts across different networks nodes. It is unique content


We began the class by creating 6 word mainfestos on digital teaching and learning. To accomplish this task we used one of Mozilla’s webmaker tools Popcorn.

Synchronous Video Chat

We also use Hangouts on Air as a tool for both synchronous and asynchronus video chat. This allows us to personalize the class and rely on expression to gauge each other’s learning.

 Screencasts and Online Video

In our current module we are focusing on building online spaces for learning using video. We have been creating a variety of screencasts or videos. The students began by teaching us something that they are passionate about (hopefully non-educational). They then had to choose a pedagogical goal and make a video for that goal.

I tried to model and teach this practice across many different tools. I have used scribing, animations, and screencasts.

I also shared other great content instead of building what is already done. Such as Michael Kennedy’s video on Mayer’s principle of multimedia learning.

Finally I screencast all of my feedback to students at the completion of each model. Due to the personal nature of these videos I do not share them here but I find it to be one of the best tools in my transmedia teaching toolbox.

Each of the videos I share are create are designed to introduce or reinforce new content while also modeling how a digital text and tool can be used.

Dispersed Media

We also have content joining our space from areas outside of the classroom. The video I shared on connected learning was uploaded by someone else to Vialogues.  I then reshared this with the class. Another Vialogue was then posted as a response to my video on  affinity spaces. This unique media made its way into the space we use to learn.


Transmedia teaching builds on the values and principles of connected learning. By having content networked toggether across many different digital texts and tools we strive to reach our shared pedagogical goal.

I am not there yet. I haven’t got the civic engagement component totally built into the classroom yet. We do, those of in the class, have a shared purpose united around a pedagogical goal of improving our instruction with digital texts and tools.


Do connected educators rely on community? Can you simply dictate the creation of community?  I have long argued that attempts to force community on educators is a misguided policy. Instead I draw on Gee’s ideas of Affinity Spaces.

Affinity Spaces

I find the notion of Gee’s affinity spaces to be a useful frame for examining connected educators. Too many of us  quickly jump on the notion of a community. This often leads to superficial connections that may last as long as a Twitter stream. Instead of thinking in terms of community, which denotes a sustained membership   defined by culture, we need to think in terms of spaces. Affinity Spaces.

Spaces are different than communities. For me to be a connected educator you first need to identify the space where folks with like minded interests gather. Then you need to develop your own space to connect to this existing network.  This in turn allows you to design your identity, your spaces, and your networks (Gee, 2004).

Gee identified 11 principles of affinity spaces. I tend to group these into three over arching frameworks. Affinity Spaces and communities difer in three important ways: membership, teaching and making, and knowledge.

Membership in Affinity Spaces

Membership in communities is often defined along race, religion, geography and borders. In affinity spaces the members is fluid. Connected educators will come and go.  This ebb and flow mainly exists because affinity spaces have  low barriers to join. Think about #ce13. If you have a twitter account you can participate at the most basic level. Increased involvement, unlike communities, self-organizes around interests.This plays out in leadership levels too as it gets distributed without any organized hierarchy while new members and masters share the space.

Teaching and Making in Affinity Spaces

Simply put teaching is doing. Making is teaching. Doing is making. Okay, not as simple, but the point is both teaching and content creation involves joint action. The spaces itself helps to mediate learning through social practices. The content is made by doing and through doing people learn. That is why affinity spaces, have many teachers. As mentioned newbies and masters co-mingle and this allows for “Just in time” teaching (Gee, 1996).

Teaching and learning are also embodied actions. They involve the space just as much as the actors. This is very important for Connected Educators. The places we gather, whether online such as Twitter chats or face to face at an #edcamp  mediate our learning just as much as those we learn with.

Knowledge and Affinity Spaces

Affinity spaces encourage multiple pathways to knowledge. In fact Gee discusses many ways of knowing: intensive, extensive, individual, distributed, dispersed, and tacit knowledge. All of these pathways contribute to the space and allow learners to demonstrate knowledge growth. Affinity spaces also allow for varying levels of expertise with multiple types of knowledge. In essence learning is connected and through collaborative inquiry across different spaces knowledge within the space grows.

Examining my Affinity Spaces

When I began this post I thought about some of my affinity spaces. Gaming, hobbies, etc. Yet the most pwerful affinity spaces for me, and in line with #ce13 are those that swirl around my professional life. I loosely call my affinity space the “Writing as Making” crowd. We gather through many portals, ways into Affinity Spaces. I join up during twitter chats using hashtags (#fycchat, #engchat, #clmooc, #teachtheweb). I gather around with folks at #hackjams and tweetups at national conferences. We attend sessions together at NCTE and LRA. We read and comment on each others’ blogs. We participate in MOOC’s (which I argue only work well for me when they involve affinity spaces).

The Writing as Making crowd (in which I place my self squarely with a noob label) move me. There is varying levels of expertise and no leadership. Yes NWP and Digital Is help set up the Connected Learning MOOC. Sure folks moderate Twitter talks. There are netcasts and podcasts, but I found much more than formal learning. I found a space where I can grow and contribute.

Applying principles of Affinity Spaces to my Teaching

I believe you can’t have an affinity space with forced membership. Therefore saying I will just create a PLC or a PLN in my classroom is foolish. Therefore I try to draw on the principles of learning that Affinity Spaces taught me. So my first goal as a  teacher educator is to have every student leave our class knowing that they are a reader and writer. If I can accomplish I feel have met the major outcomes of my writing intensive classes.

Students must design their identity (Gee, 2004) in order to see themselves as teachers of reaidng and writing. In order to do this they must know they are readers and writers. Designing identity is a central tenant of my writing classrooms.

I also want my teachers to build spaces that allow multiple pathways to knowledge to flourish.  It requires the classroom, both physical and networked to provide guided practice andto store and reinforce knowledge through daily routine. I try to model this principle in my classroom.

I also try to encourage  and model networked learning for my students. I do my best to use open resources and an open classroom. I am teaching my classes using Google as a Free LMS. While my students have the legal right to privacy I encourage everyone to document their learning in public spaces through Blogger.

I still have much work to do, but at least I know I can find the people to help in my affinity spaces.


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