Monday, September 15, 2008

The Informal Pedagogy of Anime Fandom: An Interview with Rebecca Black (Part One)

To hear more of affinity space and it's relation to learning you can attend DevLearn08 and meet Constance at her session.

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The Informal Pedagogy of Anime Fandom: An Interview with Rebecca Black (Part One)

One of the central animating idea behind the New Media Literacies movement has been the observation that young people often learn better outside of schools -- through their involvement in informal communities, such as those formed around fandom or gaming -- than they do inside the classrooms. Researchers have sought to better understand these sites of informal learning and the often unconsciously developed pedagogical practices by which they communicate skills and information to newbies. James Paul Gee has used the term, "affinity space," to describe such sites of grassroots creativity and learning. Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler deploy the "affinity space" concept to talk about communities of gamers. I've used the same concept in my discussion of young fan fiction writers.

Rebecca W. Black, one of Gee's former students, has recently released an outstanding new book, Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction, which uses the study of anime fan fiction as the focus for a consideration of informal learning. Her central focus are on how fandom helps students for whom English is a second language refine their linguistic abilities and sharpen their expressiveness. She argues fandom has allowed many young people -- especially those from Asia -- to find their voice and gain greater social acceptance because the community is so eager to learn what they know about the cultures where anime is produced and circulated. This book reflects some of the best thinking in the current field of educational research on the value of participating in popular culture and will be of interest to parents, educators, policy makers, and fans.

I had a chance to meet Black some years ago when she was at the beginning of her research; my early conversations with her and with Gee helped to inform my own writing about "Why Heather Can Write" in Technology Review and Convergence Culture. I am proud to share her insights through the following interview.

The central claim of your book is that the practices and processes around the writing and sharing of anime-related fan fiction show many of the signs of a very robust and effective learning community. What aspects of fandom do you think support this kind of learning?

Well, for one I think that the openness and scope of the fan community really fosters learning. And, I should clarify that I don't just mean traditional school-based forms of learning but rather learning in a broad sense. For instance, in terms of openness, you don't have to pass any kind of a test, and there aren't any requirements for gaining access to all the sections of Therefore, youth at all different skill levels have the opportunit...

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