Monday, August 18, 2008

Welcome Serious Games

I've been hanging out on the lonely virtual playground for some time, wondering if I'm crazy for being here the way I have been, if I'm using the right "things" -- occasionally, I'll get a brief suggestion that there is somebody else out there who knows what the heck I'm talking about. There doesn't seem to be many ways of putting it into words except for anecdote. I know this stuff works, so I have to be satisfied with that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Disruptive Innovation and the Infomated Workplace

One author who set my thinking into "forest fire" mode was Dr. Shoshanna Zuboff: her book The Future of the Workplace was a validation of my thinking about the virtual community as a place where one could really "use" one's imagination. Dr. Zuboff coined the word "infomate" in the spirit of "automate", wherein, an automated workplace amplified the muscle and sinews of the worker; computers and the data stream would amplify the brain and nerve power of the worker in the future workplace.

"Exploiting the 'informated' environment means opening the information base of the organization to members at every level, assuring that each has the knowledge, skills and authority to engage with the information productively." Shoshana Zuboff

"Computerization brings about an essential change in the way the worker can know the world and, with it, a crisis of confidence in the possibility of certain knowledge."
Shoshana Zuboff

"The workplace of the future will bear little resemblance to today's centrally administered hierarchies. Work will be more ad hoc, on the fly and responsive. Successful employees won't be afraid of new situations without rules." Shoshana Zuboff

Later, I will try to make the sense that I made out of Dr. Zuboff's vision. For right this red-hot second, though, today, I was browsing the bookshelves and a provocative title called out: Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christiensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson. This was a book that had something that made perfect sense on every random page. As a high school English teacher, I enjoy finding the patterns in diverse pieces of literature. I am going to try to make sense of Zuboff by reading Christiensen, et al.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I was browsing the shelves at the local bigbox store and there was a reprint of Elliot Wigginton's first Foxfire -- one of the inspirations for Harrington Project. Redburn Gap, GA. Some kid set his podium on fire. But Wigginton realized that kids need and appreciate limits, but they also need an outlet for their energy. He realized they were capable of bringing to school the knowledge and energy of their lives, and that the role of school is to set some limits for personal, constructive growth. Focus. The classroom is a starting point for personal conceptual growth. We have paid years of lip service to this, but in order to preserve the institution of school, we have encased it in pretty amber.

Today is closing day, and the teachers are filling up the dumpster with raggedy grimey textbooks. Someday, no dumpster will be needed, because everything will be taken home, everything will be recycled into pure energy.

I will be spending more time debriefing here over the summer in preparation to publish somehere. Your comments appreciated.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Sorry, the Barth article appeared in Johns Hopkins Magazine.


In the course of researching a speech I've been tapped to deliver at the upcoming NHS induction ceremony, (subject: "Scholarship"), and following some threads related to Dr. Thomas Pettit's speech, on "The Gutenberg Parenthesis", I came upon an article by the novelist, John Barth, under "Culture", entitled: "Virtuality", containing an early appearance of the word: "virtuality". I like his definition:

"...we can make the (virtual) mountain (virtually) come to us..." John Barth

Friday, May 23, 2008

Superman vs Batman -- A Debate on the Nature of Magic

During "end of the year" cleaning yesterday, Harrington Founder William H's essay "How I could destroy this game without using magic." bobbed up to the surface of a pile of papers. William and Jai, during that first year of Harrington, hadn't really had much interaction, so what transpired was, to me, the proof of this pudding.

William, a sci fi fantasy fanatic, had asked me how for he could go in creating his suburban village -- the city was getting intense, and there was still plenty of unexplored hinterlands, so I suggested that anyone who was interested should start a suburb. I advised William to go for it -- use his imagination, of course. William's scenario started something like:

"In a secluded meadow, a couple of miles outside of Harrington City, the ground began to glow a strange purple, and out of the ground, rose up in a circle, a dozen darkly hooded and cloaked figures of ancient age. One of them began to speak: 'After eons it is now time for us to reveal ourselves to the rest of the world, and so we will create a village and disguise ourselves as humans and mix with them.'

When William distributed this scenario to the rest of the class, it caused quite a stir, especially with Jai, who was on his way to becoming the first Harrington billionaire. "You can't do that! He can't do that! He can't use magic! There's no such thing as magic and Harrington is all about being real! Magic isn't real! Whatever we create in this game has to be real!"

I really had to step back here. I had committed to a real doozy of a problem: the rule was "anything goes, as long as it's real." However, I had also commited to "imagination: is the key." I didn't want to tell Willam he couldn't implement his obviouly fertile imagination, but then, Jai certainly had a point: magic isn't much help in the concrete world. I'll tell you, I thought these kids had found the fatal flaw! However, luckily, I was working with teenagers! "We need to debate this!"

Jai first: "If he uses magic, all he has to do is go back in time and kill my grandparents, then I don't exist anymore!"

William: "I wouldn't do that! That would destroy the game! I don't need magic to destroy the game! All I need to do is to engineer a virus in my drug company and let it loose. I would never do that! Nobody would do that!"

Jai: "Ok, that would be evil but anybody can deal with evil if it's real! (Jai goes to the blackboard and draws a Batman symbol and a Superman symbol!)The problem is the differnce between Batman and Superman.

(At this point, you would need the perspectve of the academic and behavioral history of these two students -- just picture a string of detentions, suspensions, and not-so-great grades for who knows how far back in their school lives!)

William: "I see what you're getting at."

Me: "What are you getting at?"

Jai: "I can deal with an evil Batman because he only has his utility belt. He's just some guy who is good with his fists. I can just shoot him or something. But I can't deal with an evil Superman. If Superman is evil, he's unstoppable. Bullets bounce off him. We can't have magic."

William: "I have to agree."

At this point, I could have given them their high school diplomas, and sent them on their ways, but that was just the first layer of the cake! The rest of the class actually huddled in a discussion. I kept out of it, because I was ruminating how I had led William astray in encouraging his imagination. But the huddle broke up, and, I forget who was the spokesman, but they all lent their voices: they, as a class had decided to allow magic in Harringon. However, if they chose not to believe what the magic had done, then they didn't have to, and they just carried on. If they believed in the magic that Willam's creatures did, ok. If they didn't, it wouldn't matter. William had his strange little suburban town, and Jai went on to become Harrington's first billionaire.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Long Cold WInter...

...has not slowed things down in Harrington City. In fact, committee work has resulted in the development of laws -- I was just looking over the shoulder of a Harrington Citizen who had been doing extensive research into the kinds of civil laws that are at the heart of every municipality -- "We're not really interested in what the national thing is, yet," he told me. "We have to get our community organized first, so things run smoothly close to home." Granting business licenses, marriage licenses, parking regulations, sales and property tax rules, some minor criminal law..."Who are going to be the judges, and how does a municipal court function, and what's the role the police department? Elections! Appointments! Politics!"

Our Resident Novelist announced that she is writing a novel, working with a professor at Bryn Mawr College for her Senior Project -- that is, the final hurdle for high school students in our school district, before they graduate. Seniors choose a field experience and do research and seek an outside facilitator. Our Resident Novelist had decided, in December, after starting up the Harrington Community Center, that she wanted to retire to her mansion and work on her novel. Since anything constructive goes in Harrington, that is what she did. I wish I could convey the high-speed, 180 degree turn involved in this outcome of high school for this particular young lady. I believe it has something to do being able to address one's heart's desire.