I’ve been trying to gather feedback for a card on the ALF Community Mastery Board:
I feel like it isn’t being taken serious largely due to the amazing community we have who operate from a place of trust, respect, and understanding. It doesn’t feel like a big deal to define agreements because if something comes up we can “deal with it” on a case by case basis.
Perhaps that is right, but I don’t think so. We are growing at a fast rate, 5 new ALC Startups in the past 2 months, with nearly zero advertising on our part. The folks working on network infrastructure (like the website, etc) are foreseeing a “flood” of new interest in the coming year.
I work to keep our communication infrastructure running and transparent. Most of this is configuring web services, documenting their use, and working on making clear how they function. A part of this upkeep is also keeping cultural technology well functioning. An email list or website activity feed isn’t working if it’s full of spam or harassing messages.
Why General group communication agreements?
Right now there are about 6 email lists, multiple forums and discussion spaces on this website, plus endless comment threads on each blog post (including this one). We have no explicit agreement about what is and is not acceptable on any of these channels.
For the most part people can delete comments on their own websites, administrators of groups can moderate their forums, and empowered users can remove toxic people from email lists (which hasn’t ever happened). This is a fine system when we have only about 150 users. What happens when we have 1500 users? 15,000?
I want the General group communication agreements to act as a “baseline” agreement that is applied automatically to all ALC communication channels. Groups can exercise their autonomy to make their own communication agreements by over writing or adding to the general agreements.
What’s the big deal?
This isn’t the first site of this kind I’ve built. In 2011 I worked with a team of activist technologist to build a very similar site for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET in NYC. There was a need to coordinate and communicate about the encampment in the park digitally. It’s scope was limited to the NYC metro area and participants limited to people actually on the ground.
Even with this limited—trust based—scope things quickly spiraled out of control on the website. A minority of people began to create a very unsafe space online for other users. The tech working group who oversaw the site didn’t have clear guidelines around how to remove people. We were too afraid to use our autonomy to police the site because it hadn’t been clearly defined or granted to us by the larger community.
Our site, which we had worked so hard on, died. Only the trolls remained on the site and all the nice people who were interested in social change were driven out.
I don’t think the same thing will happen to the ALC site, the stakes are much lower and the community is much more grounded in trust.
The thing is, I don’t want to wait till something bad happens to have a process in place! I don’t want me and the other people I have granted admin rights to make arbitrary decisions about if a person is damaging the communication channels of our community. I want to be able to look to an agreement that is clear, which I can show to someone in “violation” and say “what you are doing is against our communities’ agreements”.
The Draft Agreements
– Keep posting relevant to the charter of the tool, no spam (irrelevant or inappropriate messages)
– Respect each other, no hate (any form of hate speech will result in immediate removal)
Any ban, blocking, or censorship will be forwarded to the Network Culture Committee Working Group (not yet a thing)
I think this could be much better. If we model it after student agreements, which are agreements that students sign to play in a space, then anyone in that space is empowered to point out violations of these agreements. This saves people like me from having to be the police and from normal users feeling powerless to deal with spammers or bullies.
What follows is my history of learning, schooling, and education.
See Spot Run
In my early years, I was sent to a Montessori school. Grades were mixed; 1st through 3rd occupied the same classroom. I remember an exercise were we wrote every number from 1 to 1000 in a grid of boxes. My math skills were far beyond that of my public school peers. I was doing very long division by the time I entered 4th grade.
I remember sitting where I wanted and doing things I wanted to do. I describe this time of my life as a little anarchist paradise.
When I was in maybe 3rd grade I remember being called aside to work with one of the teacher assistants. At the little desk were a number of those “easy” books like see spot run. I was told that I had a reading problem, that I couldn’t read like the other children. This, of course, confused me. During our “free reading” time I was reading Goosebumps along with everyone else. I was surely reading those books…see spot run was clearly beneath me…but teacher knew best. I had a reading problem and they would help me.
Even with my reading problem I was sent to the 4th grade. Into a new room, across the hall, where the “big kids” were. And they were big. The 6th graders were practically adults. I had always been older than I was, so it was welcome to be able to share space with older kids. I recall much of my time belonging to me. I remember being gently scolded for spending too much of my time taking apart disposable cameras and shocking myself with the charge meant for the flash bulb.
Something changed in the summer after 4th grade. I had a “processing problem” and it had something to do with my terrible spelling test scores. Though I clearly recall making the 99th percentile in the state sanctioned tests we were forced to take, a few days where “normal” school leaked into our anarchist paradise. I would later learn that my parents were told to get me tested to determine what my processing problem was. Well, they couldn’t afford it, so it was off to public school.
From circles to the grid
I left my childhood home when I was 5. It was probably one of the most traumatic events of my life and it has set the tone for who I am today, a man of little attachment. When I was 10, I was taken from Montessori and dropped into 5th grade public school. Nothing made sense. There was a single room I was relegated to. The chairs, which had tables attached to them, were arranged in a grid all facing forward. A single teacher (I had always had a few…) stood in front of the class. “How could this be learning?” I asked my mom.
I was that smart ass who always questioned what we were doing. I was so far ahead of the rigid curriculum (only faltering in reading and spelling, but that was a processing problem…not my fault!). I would second guess the teacher and act like a total brat. Mr. Woody, my 5th grade teacher, was a first year teacher. The other teachers saddled him with every problem kid along with me, the transfer. My class of misfits. He only lasted one year…the other teachers broke him. Screw over those who are weaker than you. Lesson learned, thanks.
I sure did learn a bunch of curse words on the bus to school.
I’m sure they taught me something else, perhaps math or literature. I don’t really remember. I was reading at a 13th grade level, which was weird, seeing how I had a processing problem and couldn’t spell.
You know what I do remember? My computer. A Compaq. It came with a web camera which I discovered could take single frame stop-motion video. I spent hours making lego animations. God did I love legos.
I was a boy scout, literally. For some reason cub scouts never interested me, so I started out as the lowest rank when I entered scouts. To “rank up” one had to earn specific badges. I enjoyed the badges: making fire, small boat sailing, knot tying. I was soon up for 1st class. I had my first aid badge and swimming and orienteering. Then there was citizenship. I went to camp and signed up to complete my citizenship badge so I could obtain the next rank. Trouble was they wanted me to write a paper about what it meant to be a good citizen. Sounds like homework…I don’t even do homework for school! There was no way I was going to waste my time writing some dumb paper for boy scouts of all places. Scouts was for camping and playing with knives.
I didn’t do homework. School was a roller coster because of this choice. I would make good grades, pass the tests, and get sent to advanced classes. These classes would expect me to do homework! Not the normal homework either, not the stuff I could do on the bus or in home room, they wanted me to spend time at home doing this crap! Home time was when I played video games, not wrote stupid papers. I had a processing problem anyways…it was hard to spell all the words right.
Turns out not doing homework adversely affected my grades. Who knew! So then the roller coster would dip, and I’d find myself back in remedial classes. God these classes were so boring. The upside is that there was no hard homework and I could catch up on sleep or doodle in the margins of every piece of paper that crossed my desk. It was high school by now, and I had a room far away in the basement, which meant I could dedicate much more time to my computer and its video games.
After passing the remedial classes the roller coaster would send me back up to the advanced classes and I would repeat the same pattern of not doing that homework. It cramped my style. Of course my parents tried to discipline me, which was really annoying.
One year I took my report card, scanned it into the computer, and changed my grades using photoshop (a skill I had picked up because I wanted to edit the skins of my video game characters). That worked really well. My parents got to see “good” letters across from the names of subject areas; I got to continue playing video games without being bothered.
By 10th grade I was playing lots of Counter-Strike. This was a community created “MOD” (modification) of the popular Half-Life game. Some kid had made this MOD in his basement for fun and it was picked up by the company behind Half-Life (Valve) and made into a “real” video game. Modding really interested me, and as it turned out, all the tools one needed to modify the video games I loved were available for free to me. So I started building levels for my favorite video game.
I’m told important stuff was happening at school, but to me it just got in the way of me playing with my games, or in this case, the tools used to create my games. I got really involved with this and was even publishing tutorials about it.
All this practice with 3D modeling actually came in handy when I was “ready” to take geometry. School gave me the test appropriate formulas to determine the area of triangles and find the center of polygons. My life revolved around polygons. Every character and element in the virtual worlds where I spent most of my time were made up of triangles stitched together into monsters and terrorists and trees. I would manipulate the points where they met and create my own polygonal creatures. What power I had! The ability to pull from the ether and birth something!
Doodles in the margins
I was told I had to take notes in class. I never really truly understood why, something about studying them for tests, which sounded a lot like homework. Like many requirements of school I found a way around this task. If I doodled in the margins of my notes I could turn a wholly unproductive activity into a creative outlet. To the casual observer I was diligently taking notes when in reality I was creating.
Robots were my prime subject matter. A staple of video games and futuristic fantasy. I would create massive battle scenes with rich narratives that I would explore through the medium of drawing. Before I was taught to focus on the outcome of my art, I found quite a lot of joy in the process, building and fulfilling the story as I drew it. Looking back through the lens of my experience it’s clear that I derived a great deal of pleasure from these activities because I was in control. The story followed my narrative instead of a state mandated one.
The margins of my papers were where I found freedom from a public school system I had questioned from the very beginning of my internment. In this way drawing is closely related to video games. Unlike the media of my parents’ generation, video games granted me agency. The story moved only as far as I moved.
Violence was and still is a central theme of many video games. I, like many other kids, grew up playing out these violent fantasies. I remember an early flight simulator with blocky graphics that took place over California. While the aim of the game was to shoot down Soviet planes (the good violence), I would typically spend my time shooting missiles at the San Francisco skyline until all the blocky buildings were reduced to rubble, except the Transamerica Pyramid, which, to my frustration,would never succumb to my wrath no matter how many high explosives I launched at it.
This pattern of ultra violence was played out in many games. I would ignore the condoned violence of killing the “bad guys” and turn my weapons on the helpless NPC (Non-Player Characters). Even in “peaceful” games like Roller Coster Tycoon (where the objective was to build successful theme parks) I would find myself dropping random guests into water or building roller coasters that were in gross violation of state and federal safety ordinances.
I don’t look back on this sadistic activity with much horror or shame. In a strange way it provided a safe way to explore my relationship to a violent world. I was able to process the violent parts of society that were ever present. Of course I was taught to be this way, the games were programmed to allow for this. Society expected me, as a boy, to be violent. Even as a teen, in the wake of school shootings, when the adults began to rally against video game violence, I saw clearly the hypocrisy of these parents, so concerned with violent fantasy while seemingly ignoring their complacency within a society of violence.
My love of violence and robots merged into a love of war planes. Jet fighters were my speciality. I knew every single make and model. I researched it endlessly. I would spend hours reading about jet fighters then jump into Microsoft Paint and draw massive top down sky battles between my favorite planes, each drawn with great detail.
This passion lead me into other related areas of knowledge. I learned about the physics of flight by looking up animations in a CD-ROM version of Encyclopedia Britannica which came with my Compaq computer. The mechanics of jet engines was a natural topic for exploration. The history of these planes was also something I found myself learning quite a bit about. My father shared this fascination with me. I recall us reading about Skunkworks (a Lockheed alias during the Cold War) together. This was the team of people who developed my all time favorite plane, the SR-71. To this day the SR-71 is the fasted and highest flying plane…It was so awesome.
A funny side effect of this was that I learned quite a bit about the geo-political history around these planes. The SR-71 was a spy plane, but who were we spying on? Why? Russia, the Cold War, Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, proxy wars, communism, World War 2. I already know about WW II: I play Day of Defeat, another MOD turned “real” game from Valve Software.
I would try to find ways to sneak my passions into school work. It wasn’t easy, as most projects were tightly defined and it was often a stretch to get a super sonic jet into an English essay. Though it did exercise my creativity to try, even if sometimes my grades suffered.
Finding a community, finding a voice
Kids on my bus would make fun of me sometimes. I was a chubby teen who wore his grandma’s hand made clothing until the 10th grade, when I finally started wearing “cool” stuff with superfluous straps and buttons. I fought the bullies with a kind of ignorance…It didn’t make sense why they would say mean things and a confused reaction didn’t really “do it” for them, so it stopped.
I, of course, was pretty used to shit talking. I played Counter-Strike (CS) after all. An online shooter which introduced voice communications around the time my voice was just starting to crack, for which I was mercilessly made fun of. I learned to take it just as much as I learned to dish it out, once my voice stopped resembling that of a “little girl”.
Looking back, the CS “scene” was pretty toxic. It was full of machismo, racism, and an enormous amount of sexism. Though there were safe spaces if you knew where to look. Games would be played on dedicated servers; each server had its own community and standards. The independent ownership gave server operators, or admin, the power to create any kind of space they wanted. I would always gravitate toward safe spaces that banned trolls and racists, places that respected the few openly woman gamers, and valued casual play.
Recently I was speaking to a grey haired sociologist who had studied social activists and why they become activists. As a self-identified activist I inquired about the findings, and he said that in many cases it was interaction with a person who wasn’t from to same culture that sparked a life time of activism. I immediately thought about my time online. I spent many hours over many years within these communities where people of all ages, races, and backgrounds came together to kill each other’s online avatars over and over and over again. The game was actually secondary to these communities, and these virtual communities were welcomed refuge from a real world where I was segregated by age and largely unable to influence the culture around me.
Within the online sphere I was able to join “clans” of players, and by showing my responsibility I would be granted admin rights on servers so that I could protect and influence the culture of my server. Again video games granted me something I didn’t have and seemingly couldn’t have in the real world: agency.
Along with having agency, I would be listened to and judged on the content of my contributions rather than the number of times I rode the earth around the sun.
From the outside it would be easy to see me as a kid rotting away in my basement, failing school, and wasting my life playing worthless video games. From my perspective I was part of a community, learning about my passions in spite of school. Plus, I wasn’t running around with my contemporaries drinking and doing drugs.
In 9th grade I elected to take art. I drew, and people celebrated my drawings, so it seemed like the right thing to do. Unfortunately my art teacher was underwhelming and many of my classmates were put in art class because the school simply had to put them somewhere. I didn’t take art classes the next year.
By 11th grade I had a new art teacher who was inspiring and lit up my creativity. Even though she faced the same influx of involuntary students, she made it work. Art was one of the few classes I really enjoyed. By this time in my high school career I had become adept at creating a more pleasurable schedule for myself. My forged notes bought me time away from classes that bored me. I had become proficient at playing hooky and leaving school on my own terms. I had learned that a white kid who walked with intention and held a slip of paper (even if it was blank) could go anywhere. I figured out that one could just photocopy library passes and scribble on the teacher signature line to gain unlimited access to a quite place to read and hang out.
I was also learning quite a bit about computer networks. My friends and I gained administrative access to the local school network and installed video games on every computer on campus. Now we could jump onto any computer and join our fellow students in a few rounds of Half Life: Deathmatch!
After geometry I had basically checked out of all math classes. It may be true that I was required to attend math and was taught math, but I didn’t learn math anymore.
By the last semester of my 11th grade year I was leaving school everyday after lunch with my senior friends who had been given permission from the school to do “off site learning” stuff, which they had—of course—manipulated to basically be free time. I don’t remember how exactly I pulled it off, how the teachers and my parents never put it all together, how no one realized that I was illegally leaving my prison school every day. What I do know is that school was finally bearable.
The final nail, the next lie
What ended my faux high school experience was a trip to New York City over the summer leading into my Senior year. My art teacher had suggested that I attend Pratt’s summer program, a month in NYC where I would pretend to be a college student.
It ruined high school for me. For the first time I was nearly autonomous! The city and the campus dazzled me. I got to do art and was given responsibility to get to class on time and take care of myself. It made clear to me that I was ready to move on.
When I returned to “real” school I only lasted 5 days, most of which I skipped anyways. On Friday, me and some friends had left early to avoid an assembly where we were to be talked down to, preemptively scolded, or hyped up in a half-assed weird jingoistic way. My dad came home early, too, and caught us. We half-heartily made up some excuse why we were home and not at school.
Years before, in 9th grade, I had skipped a day of school only to chicken out and return half-way through the day. Me and four friends all walked back into school at the same time and tried to sign in. We were covered in sweat from the August in Atlanta heat and were fooling no one. The assistant principle and his minions split us and interrogated us until we ratted each other out. I was suspended for one day. My parents struggled to punish me…they had never been very good at the whole punitive justice thing and furthermore they knew—to some extent—my lack of enthusiasm for school.
So it was easy to convince them to let me drop out of high school. My argument was compelling, and I promised to take an online course to finish out the year. Which is to say, I did what I had been taught, I told the adults in my life what they wanted to hear so I could do what I wanted to do. So I pretended to work the online course, which was basically just homework all the time, and my parents really weren’t that into it either. So eventually I stopped.
My intention at this point was to go to art college. For this I needed a high school diploma and SAT score. Luckily I had taken the SAT and got a perfect middle-of-the-road score: 1100/1600. It turned out I could just take the GED, and if I passed I would get a high school diploma and could move on with my life.
I lazily studied—a skill I never have mastered—for the GED for a little while then took the test. Top percentile in all the subjects apart from math, which I did also passed. I remember finishing the test, the last in a long line of standardized tests, and thinking to myself that I could have probably passed this in the 9th grade and never had to deal with high school.
With nothing left to waste my time, I set to work on my art portfolio.
I remember the last time I raised my voice in anger: it was nearly 10 years ago. I was in a candle-lit apartment, the power was out, and we were living there because our house had burnt down (furthering my lack of attachment to things). We were talking about schools and money. My mom was trying to dissuade me from attending Pratt. It was an out-of-state private school which a hefty price tag, I wouldn’t get much financial aid, and we were a bit tight on money, with the house burning down and all.
“I don’t care what it costs, I have to go there,” I foolishly yelled.
Mom was right. I hadn’t realized it yet but my parents were right about a great many things. I, however, was an only child used to getting my way. To my credit, I did make a compromise and choose to go to Pratt’s sister—and far less expensive—school in Utica New York.
Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute
Out of the darkness of the Georgia public education system I emerged in this amazing place. We call it Munson, me and my 90 classmates (down from 1400 high schoolers). It was as if every weird art kid was collected and put in an arc, stranded in the middle of a post-industrial wasteland city. We had not much else to do than make art and go to class.
Munson was only a 2 year school, after that students were automatically accepted to the Pratt Brooklyn campus where I had visited for the month just a year prior.
I learned much in my time at Pratt. One of my first classes, sculpture, immediately thrust me into uncomfortable territory by tasking me with creating an installation piece in the student gallery building. How amazing to be challenged.
The “foundation” year introduced me to many expressions of art that I had not experienced. I did a lot of exploration outside of class and their still rigid requirements. I shot portrait photography of friends after hours and did many collaborative projects. Using my skills of institutional manipulation I was able to get graded on my terms, rather than that of the syllabus. At the end of my freshman year I embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of my life, corpse gold. A large scale Exquisite Corpse (collaborative drawing).
I did the video editing and composed the music for the whole thing, as well as participated in it. To have so much creative freedom was astounding. The time really felt like my own. I was pushed by the institution to create and supported in my exploration. School made sense again.
By my second year I was doing great and feeling great about my choices. I was more independent and coming into myself. All the sophomores lived in a large house together and our RAs (Residential Advisors) were our peers and let us get away with all but the most blatant violations. It was as close as I had ever come to being free and on my own.
Something that struck me in those first two years were the people who weren’t happy with what they were doing. About 10% of my peers were unmotivated or unsure of why they were even at art school. Some were there because they were told that this is what you do, go to college. Others were there because they were told “you will go to college.” Those whose choice was made for them or whose choice was unenthusiastically made had a bad time, dropped out, or worse…they stayed.
No sleep till Brooklyn
Graduation came, I passed, and would soon find that no one would ever know or care. This graduation simply meant that we were automatically accepted to Pratt in Brooklyn, or could transfer to some other school where most of our credits would be honored. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t go home for summer vacation. Atlanta had nothing to offer me, so in 2007 I moved to Bedstuy into my first apartment.
I now had a lease and rent due. I had a roommate, and I had a revelation. While trying to scrub the dried cereal from a bowl left by my roommate I remembered my dad’s voice:
“Drew, when you eat cereal could you at least rinse it out so it’s not impossible to clean?”
There, standing in my bare apartment with soap up to my elbows the wall of teenage angst and parental distrust came crashing down. Everything they had told me was true. Broccoli was delicious. Getting mad only made a bad situation worse. My attitude was everything. Years of ignored advice came flowing in. They had even foretold this very moment, when I would realize that they were right and were actually pretty smart. What an ass I had been.
It was almost fall. School was about to start.
Living in Brooklyn cost money. Lucky for me I had some sellable skills. I could use photoshop and other such computer-aided design programs. Because I made digital art, I wanted to share it, so I learned to code HTML. Having learned about web design I wanted to dig deeper, so I read a book on code (PHP). This string of self-directed learning had armed me with the tools I needed to make a buck during the worst recession in living memory.
I quickly found a job paying $11 per hour. Suddenly I was an independent—adult like—human.
Then school started. Pratt has an absolutely beautiful campus: there is art everywhere and the feel is very collegiate. There was a big renovation to the campus while I was there, and the walkways were being replaced with bricks. It looked very nice, even if it got in the way a bit.
With the start of school came all my friends who moved into the dorms, a large tower north of Pratt. A mostly vacant lot butted up against the north edge of the dorm. It would soon be cordoned off by temporary construction walling. A new building was to be erected.
Something began to change in me. The classes were interesting, but I found them to be more theory-based than practical. This was surely because I now had a job to contrast them against. I paid Pratt for ideas, someone else paid me for production. I was learning more by doing than by being taught. This haunted me as I went from work to class to my apartment. My mom’s warning about the cost of Pratt and debt echoed in my head, and hadn’t I just realized she was right about everything?
Every day I visited my peers in their dorm. The construction walls had been painted white and a sign read “post no bills”. An empty white wall which nearly almost touched a building stacked with artists. The myth I had created about this place began to unravel. Why was this wall white? How could it be that hundreds of artist armed with every art supply they might ever want—from the school store, of course—walked past this blank canvas every day?
Behind the wall was being built a new administration building. The myth shattered. This was no place of refuge, this was a trap. Two massive capital expenses were underway: the superficial beautification of the campus and the erection of a massive administration building. I had been deceived. Pratt wasn’t interested in creating a space for artists or making art. It was a business, a machine like all the others to maximize profits. It presented an alluring exterior and a promise of a better life outside of high school where you could be a real artist! “This is the way to be a real artist,” sang its siren song. “Look here at our beautiful campus! Just step into our massive administration building and sign up. Years of debt are worth it!”.
The cramped and limited artist studios, the vapid classes with content that could have been read out of a book, and that white wall… the blank canvas begging to be painted. The administration who would support no such activity and the students too afraid to mark the wall for fear of losing their scholarship.
I had to leave this place.
You’ve already paid
Said my advisor. I might as well finish off the semester. The remainder of my time was quite pleasant. I did only what I wanted to do, attended only when it suited me and when I had something to gain. I would never again worry about what marks I got in a class.
The year came to an end. I had chosen to follow the commercial design path at Pratt rather than become a fine artist. For my final piece, however, I would dig into my artist’s heart and pull something shocking out for them to see.
For commercial design, rather than a final review we had “survey” where students would put all their best work on display for all to see and be graded on their display. It was worth 50% of your final grade, so fail survey, fail the semester.
I calculated how much the semester cost me, $21,300 and had a friend cut it into my body.
And that was that, I walked away. I am proud of my departure from both high school and college. Everyone around me said not to quit, don’t throw away your education. Somehow I knew without knowing that my education was mine and was not a product that was given to me but a process I had taken. I didn’t end up like some of my friends, tens of thousands in debt for something that they never wanted and were too afraid to quit.
Quitting, in real life
Soon after I left school I decided to leave my job. Going to work was a drag, the work was getting to be a bore, and I felt that I had the skills to make more money as my own boss. So once more, I left.
I was scared.
I started looking for gigs on craigslist and hustling for clients. It was here that I confronted one of the most heinous lies we tell children. My fear was of my clients. I was inexperienced and young. I was going to be seeking work from business owners, people who had their lives together, who were in control, who knew what they were doing.
This, of course, is the lie. No one really has a handle on what they are doing. Parents don’t know how to raise kids, business people don’t know how to run businesses, and workers don’t know how to work. I hope you understand my meaning… We are all pretty much making it up as we go along. This I did not know, and would not have know for a long time if it wasn’t for my intimate relationship with business people as a contractor.
“Not in front of the children” adults often say. Teachers put on the happy face, trying not to expose their frustration or confusion or anger. Business people hide behind a brand or a logo. People hide behind institutions. Casting a vail over our true selves, our fears and uncertainty. Act like you’ve got it together so the children aren’t afraid. So the children grow into adults and find themselves confused and uncertain surrounded by people who are—seemingly—anything but. What did they do to fail, where did they go wrong?
Perhaps this has been the biggest lesson of my life.
So this is my education, this is what I have been taught. These 15 years of school and what did I learn? How to appease the apparatus so that I could find my own education. How to see the unintelligible truth from the comfortable fiction.
I’m not sure yet, and finally after all these years I feel like I might just be growing comfortable with the uncertainty of it all.
Ultimately what I learned is that there are no tidy book ends to my education, for every day is a class, every experience a lesson, every one person a teacher and pupil.
Now available on all ALC Network websites is a plugin I recently created called Slide Out Widget Drawer (Click here to download the latest .zip), all you need to do is activate it from your site’s plugins area. It’s a simple widget area that can be displayed by clicking a tab on the left edge of a site. You can see an example on my site, just look for the “donate” tab on the left. I’ve also implemented it on the main network site.
What’s really cool about the slider drawer is that you set the tab’s title using the title of the top most widget! On the Network site I used this feature along with the Display Widgets plugin to show different widgets to logged in users and normal users. So when you are not logged in you’ll see a “contact” tab, while logged in users see “support” tab.
Clicking the tab will reveal the widget area.
If you have any questions or find bugs please comment here, or if you’re really cool, submit a report to the project’s GitHub page.
This post will cover how to write a post that covers how to do something (so meta!). One of the Agile Roots is to create sharable value so that you, and others, can visualize your learning. I like to model this root by creating tutorials that cover doing things. The wonderful thing about writing these kinds of posts is that I can stay DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) by pointing people with questions to the answers I’ve already documented.
Let’s talk about some rules and philosophy behind a good tutorial.
Don’t be esoteric!
We want to write something that will answer questions, not create new ones. Use simple language and spell out what you are trying to say. Keep it simple! Even the use of the world esoteric (which means highly technical speak) here might be a bit much. Pretend that the person reading your post is not a native speaker and has no background in the topic you are discussion. Of course sometimes your target audience might be people who understand esoteric language, in that case go for it.
A picture is worth 1000 words, sometimes
Personally I can’t follow tutorials that don’t have pictures, other people need each step spelled out. It’s wise to use both written and visual media to explain yourself.
Link, link, link
I try to always link to documentation of ideas and technology that support my tutorial but are outside of it’s scope. For instance I was writing about Trello (a web application with cards you can write notes on) and how they use Markdown syntax. I don’t want to go off on a tangent about what Markdown is so I would link to the documentation already provided by Trello.com. If you use a word or introduce a concept that people might not be familiar with, add a link to it’s Wikipeadia page.
Limit the scope
Keep your tutorial on topic and focused on a single issue. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and start explaining a bunch of stuff that is related to the thing you are talking about. Use your best judgment to determine if what you are talking about is adding or distracting from your main topic.
Let’s Make a Tutorial
Start off with an introductory paragraph. I like to relate the tutorial with a real life story or some personal anecdotes like I did at the top of this page. Don’t make it too long though, people are here to learn about a specific thing and probably don’t want to wade through more than a few sentences.
Create an Outline
Your outline should go over the broad steps involved, think of this as a quick reference that leads into more detailed steps:
Provide an outline
List needed materials
Collect screenshots/pictures of a “example run”
Edit screenshots with text, arrows, and removal of sensitive data
Create post with a descriptive title
Write the body content, make use of headings
Write a conclusion, ask for feedback
Before you get into the meat of the tutorial make sure you list the supplies someone will need. These will obviously be wildly different depending on the tutorial. Here are some ideas:
A camera to document the process, perhaps keep a sticky note near the project space that says “take pictures!” to remind you to photograph each step
A note pad to record each supply use use
A voice recorder or video camera
A place to record the tutorial, like a blog.
Screenshots & Pictures
I typically go through the steps of the tutorial I’m writing before I write the tutorial so that I can collect screenshots. If you are doing something in the “real world” make sure you have a camera ready and are taking shots. Really think about details that people will need to know when doing the thing themselves. Be aware of knowledge that you take for granted.
For instance I often will say something like “click the menu button” and forget that the menu button is small and out-of-the-way. A newbie might have a hard time finding that. A better way to say that would be “click the menu button in the top right corner of the page” and better yet, add a picture:
If you are writing a tutorial about something that happens on a screen you’ll probably want to capture the action on your screen.
I will be going over some techniques for taking screenshots on a Mac, if you have Windows or Linux or a tablet, please refer to take-a-screenshot.org
I prefer to use Mac’s partial screenshot function so that I can take a picture of only the important section of the screen (Tip: don’t crop too tightly or you might lose context for the screenshot) This is achieved using Cmd⌘ + 4 which then provides you with a little crosshair. Click, hold, and drag the crosshair to form a box, once you release the mouse button the screenshot will appear on your desktop.
Adding symbols and text to picture
Sometimes you’ll want to direct attention to a specific spot on your picture, symbols (like the arrow) are great for this! Again, I’m only going to show you on Mac, you windows folks will have to use MS Paint or something (sorry).
On Mac OSX: Once you take the screenshot open it in preview.
Expand the edit panel:
Then use the line tool:
You can adjust the line tool settings on the right , by setting the arrow head on the left the arrow head will appear where you start your line which I find gives me more control.
Remember: Be aware of what you are taking pictures of, you don’t want to inadvertently share a secret password or email address in your public tutorial!
Now save the picture and you’re ready to post it!
Create the post
Coming up with a good title is very important, you’ll want to the title to reflect what you are going to be talking about. This is how people will search and find your awesome tutorial so take some time to think about it!
Remember, also, that the title and first 150(ish) characters will appear on search results and social media posts, so make it count!
As you can see from this post I’ve made use of headings to break up the content. Typically each heading has a size (or level). For instance “Lets make a tutorial” is heading 1, then then main points are Heading 2 (e.g. “Create the post”) while sub headings like the one directly above are Heading 3.
This is simply good practice for formatting posts. You can imagine this post (up to this point) has a nested outline like so:
How to Make a Good Tutorial (title h1)
Don’t be esoteric! (h2)
A picture is worth 1000 words, sometimes (h2)
Link, link, link (h2)
Limit the scope (h2)
Let’s Make a Tutorial (h1)
Create an Outline (h2)
Material list (h2)
Screenshots & Pictures (h2)
Taking Screenshots (h3)
Adding symbols and text to picture (h3)
Create the post (h2)
Using headings (h3)
See how clear this outline is? Doing things this way isn’t necessary but it does create a data structure that eventually will come in handy when humanity (possibly) moves to the Semantic Web in the future.
Now we are done with the tutorial. I typically like to write up a short conclusion about the great things we’ve learned, like how to take screenshots and edit them and how to use headings and break up your tutorial.
Have any questions? Or comments? Leave them below!
Gravity Forms is a wonderful plugin available to our network that allows site admin to create powerful forms that users can fill out. Part of the beauty of these forms is the powerful notification system. When a form is filled out you can have the input emailed to multiple email addresses.
I recently found out that Trello, a web application that acts like a Kanban, has the ability to create cards via email. This tutorial will go over how to configure Gravity Form notifications to automagically add cards to your board when someone fills out your form.
You’ll need an account on Trello.com and an ALC website with the Gravity Forms plugin activated (Go to Dashboard > Plugins to activate)
Create or select a Trello Board
Grab your secret email address
Create a new notification for a Gravity Form form
Add the secret Trello email as the send to email
Add merge tag values to the subject and message fields
Get the Trello email
Once you’ve created your Trello board navigate there:
Click the show menu button on the top right.
Click the More menu item.
Click the Email-to-board Settings.
Copy the email address they give you. It’s important to note that if anyone gains access to this address they can send cards to your board, so don’t share it! Then set the list and position the card will appear in when it’s emailed to Trello.
You are now done with the Trello side of things, let’s navigate over to our ALC website (or any WordPress site with Gravity Forms)
From your Dashboad find the Forms menu item, click it and select the form you wish to send notifications from, I’ve selected a contact form. Now go to Form Settings > Notifications to see a list of the notification that are attached to that particular form. Click Add New to start building out the trello card notification.
Paste in the Trello email address from earlier into the Send to Email field. If you don’t see this field make sure the Send To radio button (round white dot) next to Enter Email is selected.
Now for the fun part, we need to configure how the data from the form will show up in the Trello card. You can use the following links for reference:
Gravity Forms Merge Tags – Merge tags allow you to put place holder text that represents data from the form as well as other variables such as submission date.
You can select merge tags using the marked buttons in the above picture. Anything you put in the Message area shows up in the description of the card while the text in the Subject area is placed in the title of the Trello card. I suggest playing with the Markdown syntax in a test card then transferring it to the Gravity Form notification and adding merge tags like you see above.
Once you are done setting it up hit save, test the form and allow about 15 minutes for the card to show up on Trello. After that you’re done!
If you want to take this to the next level you can use different user accounts to create different email address that can then be sent to based on conditional settings on the Gravity Forms. Let me know how this works for you in the comments!
The conference (or con as the cool kids say) brought together a number of intentional communities from around the world. It takes place each year at Twin Oaks a nearly 50 year old egalitarian income sharing community. Both @bear and myself think that intentional communities are very important allies for ALC as they typically already have experience in creating and maintaining the kind of culture at the heart of ALC.
On Sunday we hosted a info sharing session in the “Open Spaces” portion of the conference, which was basically like our daily intention setting and offerings practice.
Our session had about 10 people attend. We structured the presentation around a big kanban board with the column headers what we could do, what we will do, what we are doing, and what we have done. As questions came up or new topics emerged we would add them to the board. I love using the kanban to organize these kinds of meetings because it allows me to organize the meeting in a dynamic way while also modeling the tool.
We also used a Game Shifting board to facilitate the meeting space (and model the tool).
It should be said that Bear and I didn’t really “plan” very much of this event, we just shot from the hip and it was awesome!
Played a connective game
What is ALC?
How do we use this stuff in RL (Real Life) – i.e. how Bear and I used the tools and practices in our daily lives.
ALC & Experiential learning
Tool: Set the week
Tool: Change up Meeting and Community Mastery Board
What is an ALF?
Tool: Game Shift
I started by explaining the Kanban, then we moved into a connective game where bear had everyone mill around the space, make eye contact, then start saying hello, then stop and share with a person what you intended to get out of the conference. We then moved into playing “yes lets” where people suggest something to do then everyone says “yes! lets!” and we all do it. Our group stretched, jumped like a kangaroo, stood still in silence, sung a song made up on the spot, touched our toes, and sighed.
After the games we dove into what ALC was and then went over the tools and how we use them in real life. The Game Shifting Board was use to manage how we all interacted fairly successfully. We lead a real life Change Up Meeting using issues with the dish line as an example.
I felt like all this information went over very well and that overall the presentation was great! Later in the event I even stumbled upon a Kanban that someone else had made:
Always the sign of a great success. I got this feedback on Facebook today as well:
I made a kanban today to handle the tasks I needed to accomplish. and I’m hooked. I love it. I can totally see parenting using the whole system…and my children and I using the CMB to bring up with citing issues and providing solutions. I can’t wait to learn more. Please keep me in the loop for any trainings or visitation days. Thanks!!
I went out to an event for Flood the System last night in New York City. Flood the System is a decentralized group of activist organizations that are seeking to form action councils to coordinate actions across the world.
I want to talk about an awesome game that was played at the beginning of the event called Rebel Beach Bingo.
So this game was a great way to introduce people to each other and learn a little bit about what people are passionate about. I got to share with a number of people that I played and instrument and that I’ve written the NLG (National Lawyer Guild) number on my arm.
It was also a great way to manage the late comers. People would file in late and enter a high energy space where everyone is playing a fun game.
Then someone yelled bingo! The facilitators took over and had everyone circle up. Where we then did a game called allies where people step into a circle when they agree or align with a certain statement.
In this context the person who got bingo read each question and said who signed their bingo card, then the signee stepped into the circle followed by anyone else who identified with the question. For instance, the first bingo item was Born and raised in NY, so everyone who was born and raised in NY stepped into the circle.
This game functioned to do a number of useful things:
Helped break the ice and introduce people to each other
Eliminated the need for a lengthy introduction go around
Created a buffer for late comers
The allies game allowed us to get a sense of who was in the room with us
By using both serious (“Has taken an anti-oppression workshop”) and silly (“Will do the funky chicken dance with you”) question they were able to expose certain truths about the group without making the whole process too heavy.