Sophisticated Network Spaces: Members and Mentors

Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher is a former middle grades teacher who is now a full-time author and educational consultant specializing in the intersection between instructional technology and curriculum design. He actively blogs for the Curriculum 21 website and ASCD’s Edge Social Network. Find his books published by ASCD. Find Mike on Twitter @fisher1000.

Professional Learning Through Collaborative Creativity

Creativity, like wildfire, spreads with more kindling. Likewise, ideas can grow with more collaborators. What I come up with on my own might be good, but better ideas are generated when I work with others, particularly those who share my passion for learning.

As I observe myself in this process, I become aware of how I am using the habits of thinking interdependently, thinking flexibly, and metacognition. I appreciate the benefit of using these habits since they create good kindling for my creative process.

Working Together in Affinity Spaces

This shared creative space wasn’t easily accessible in the past. A generative process such as the one described above would require many face to face or phone meetings. But with the advent of new technologies and our decisions to act on our collective passions, we all can work together in this new affinity space. An affinity space is a place where like-minded people come together to further their learning pursuits.

Quest for Learning
Pre-order Quest for Learning now!

You’ve likely participated in these affinity spaces before, such as an in-school group who got together for a book club discussion. Perhaps you wanted to know how to do some basic plumbing and you consulted YouTube before you called a plumber. Perhaps you engaged with an activist group to learn more about a situation that you hoped to affect positive change around.

At any rate, affinity spaces have some commonalities:

  • We seek knowledge and learning from each other’s expertise.
  • We have a shared passion about our work.
  • We desire a collaborative path to our professional goals.
  • We care that we have a shared, safe place in which to explore.

All of these aspects of an affinity space are vital to the health of a group and its generation of creative ideas. In our new book, The Quest for Learning, we describe five different network spaces that range from physical spaces to the introduction of virtual opportunities that expand the network landscape.

The top two tiers of network spaces are what we call Member and Mentor spaces.

Member and Mentor spaces

Member spaces are spaces for “just in time” needs and the participant, or learner, initiates plugging into this network on the basis of knowing what resources are available and seeking members who can build, collaboratively, on the participant’s needs.

Mentor spaces, as an extension, are network spaces where the members seek communication and collaboration with a potentially global network of experts. The experts might be experts in the field of study for the learning or the expert might be an in-group mentor. The learner benefits by having access to a learned individual during their learning process. It differs from the member space in that it’s not just about resource management and continued uncovering of the layers of learning…it’s going straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, to learn directly what needs to be learned.

Creating the Personalized Learning Center

As a result of our desire to empower networking for the purpose of promoting thinking about personalizing learning and habits of mind, we decided to create a PLC that could serve educators both as member and mentor spaces. As a member of the space, you can access and contribute to the shared body of knowledge of everyone here is contributing to. As a learner in this mentor space, you may seek out others for specific knowledge you need from experts, or, you may find that you’ve become the expert yourself, and thus, a mentor here.

If you haven’t already, please visit the Community page for the Personalized Learning Center and come join us. We need your unique and creative contributions!

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