I spend a lot of time thinking about Third Space Theory (and yes, I know just how much that identifies me as a geek), but honestly it seems to come up a lot in my work and life. I am not the first to identify National Writing Project work as occupying a “third space” (Lieberman and Wood did that in 2002) and similarly Grego and Thompson describe Writing Studio space as a thirdspace. Regular readers of my blog know that both NWP and Studio work are important to me. And of course, my very job title forces me to occupy a sort of thirdspace at my institution. As an instructor I am faculty but I don’t have the rights, privileges, and protections of the professoriate (or the rewards and recognition). I also like to picture my classroom as a third space where the roles of teacher and learner are fluid and shifting. It is harder to make this happen when we meet in our traditional classroom with its desks all facing forward and a lecturn at the front (even when we drag the desks into different configurations and ignore the lecturn), but we are more able to accomplish this in our online classroom spaces – especially in our Google+ communities.
That’s why I like this “contemporary construction” of third space:
one space is the domestic sphere: the family and the home; a second space is the sphere of civic engagement including school, work and other forms of public participation; and set against these is a Third Space where individual, sometimes professional, and sometimes transgressive acts are played out: where people let their “real” selves show.
Today, on the final day of Connected Educators Month, I want to reflect on my online communities, my professional learning network and my student communities, as a third space. I’ve written before about how my PLN allows me to be more and do more, but as a connected educator I am even more proud of the third spaces my students create using Google+ communities. It is especially exciting to watch in my First Year Seminar community as it includes students in an online section as well as students in a face-to-face section, but we all share an interest (bordering on obsession for some of us) in comics. I love to see us veer from fan discussions of the most recent episode of Walking Dead to the impact of Wonder Woman on feminism to comic memes. It is even better when I witness the student-to-student sharing and interaction that doesn’t require my intervention or involvement. Next week we will begin the service learning component of this class when we begin sharing the life lessons we’ve gleaned from comics with a group of middle school students. I can only hope that we can successfully translate our third space experience to include that new community as well.
I think thirdspace is important because school and work do not always allow us room to be ourselves or to express ourselves fully and these very traditional spaces make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to speak or act outside the norm. I constantly push my students outside their comfort zones, but it isn’t always easy to do that in a traditional space. Creating a thirdspace with my students creates a place for transgressive acts. I believe community and back channels are important to my students’ learning experience.
Where/how do you experience third spaces in your life? Do you think third spaces are important for learning?
Third Rail photo: Photography by Dennis Mojado