Affinity Spaces for Informal Science Learning: Developing a Research Agenda - Report of Workshop held July 6 & 7 at Games+Learning+Society 2015
With support from the National Science Foundation’s Science Learning+ initiative, Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), in St. Paul, MN, in collaboration with a team of researchers in the US and the UK organized a workshop with the title Affinity Spaces for Informal Science Learning: Developing a Research Agenda. Our goal was to develop and refine a set of concepts and issues that will guide future investigations into how participation in online affinity spaces can promote and enable informal science learning. The workshop took place on July 6th and 7th, 2015, ahead of the Games+Learning+Society conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The agenda and the attendees are included in the appendices. Generally, an affinity space is a place – virtual or physical – where informal learning takes place, where people are drawn together because of a shared interest or engagement in a common activity (Gee, 2004). Such spaces encourage the sharing of knowledge or participation in a specific topic, and informal learning is a common outcome. In the workshop and in this report, the emphasis is on virtual or online affinity spaces, while acknowledging that online and offline spaces can be connected to good effect. A sizeable body of research has explored affinity spaces in computer games, the arts and other creative endeavors, but there is very little research on the novel potential of affinity spaces to advance informal science or STEM learning. With the explosive growth in the use of digital platforms and social media today, particularly among youth, it is an exciting time to investigate the unique affordances of these spaces. This report is designed to be a resource for anyone interested in exploring affinity spaces and informal science learning. Our goal is to not only introduce informal science education researchers and practitioners in informal science education to current affinity space research, but also to present the many interesting research questions identified and discussed in the workshop.