I’ve been binge watching Mark Brown’s Game Maker’s Toolkit series on YouTube. Mark is a game critic that has been creating these video reflections on games, typically on aspects of their mechanics. I’d like to discuss one of Mark’s videos called Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design in which he looks at the super successful level design of Super Mario 3D World. Have a look:
The game introduces a dazzling amount information to the player. Looked at as a whole it might seem overwhelming yet, according to mark, it works really well. I’ve been seeing this idea of overwhelming game mechanics a lot lately. Some of us at ALC recently consulted with a school who wished to introduce self directed learning to their students. This is like going from a linear 2D scroller—where everything is spoon fed to you—to a massive open world game. In ALC we have a number of games (or tools) such as Kanban boards, Set-the-Week, and Gameshifting that support self directed learning. When put together all these games seem, to the uninitiated, as overwhelming and complex. Just look at the Kanban, with it’s infinite variations and ability to expand to fit almost any situation.
The teacher at this school was keen to introduce our tools to her students, but it was clear to the ALFs present that this would be too much too fast. I wanted to support her in doing this, but more level heads were able to “limit the work in process” and we ended up suggesting a super simple Kanban and Gameshifting board to start.
I think that we can look toward Super Mario for inspiration when trying to introduce our games.
The 4 Step Game Design
As outlined in Mark’s video Mario is using a “four step” design principle.
This provides a useful template for introducing our tools, let’s focus on the Kanban, as it lends itself to this methodology.
One: The introduction
When Mario introduces a play mechanic it will typically do so in a safe environment with low stakes for failure. The player can then try and fail without risking a life while they feel out the mechanic.
The introduction to the Kanban can happen in two ways. First, it can be simplified into it’s most basic form, which I would describe as a two column board with these headers:
What I want to do today
What I’ve done today
I use the word want very deliberately here. It’s lower stake than will and makes failure a bit less sharp (changing a players perception of failure is for another level). The instructions are absolutely clear in these titles. Hand this Kanban and some sticky notes to someone and it’s instantly clear what they are going to do with it.
I’ve used a method like this when introducing ALC or our tools to people in the past.
By using a kanban to manage the presentation I am able to model the tool in a useful way. This, again, is a safe way to introduce people to it. They are participating with the tool, but not having to take care of it themselves.
Two: The development
As we move through our Mario level we are challenged by a slow development of that mechanic. More complexity is added as the player moves through the development.
With our Kanban it’s easy to see how to do this. We can just start adding columns. In the example of introducing Kanban to a school we might start with a two column and after a few weeks add a third column then a fourth.
The idea is to develop the tool over time with the player. Add new columns as the player realizes new needs.
Three: The twist
In Mario the twist is typically the addition of an unexpected challenge that makes the player have to interact with the mechanic in a different way.
With our Kanban the twist can come in the form adding elements that expand the functionality in unexpected ways. For instance adding rows (“swim lanes”) to group tasks.
The twist, I think, should be drastic and complex. It’s meant to show where such a tool can go. The twist opens up the players imagination to possibilities.
Four: The conclusion
Now we are done. In Mario the conclusion consists of one last use of the mechanic to show mastery by the player. Like a pat on the back for learning a new skill.
For our Kanban the conclusion can come from having our student walk away with their own modified Kanban. After seeing the “twist” they might well be inspired with a concrete way to improve their Kanban.
We expand the possibilities then conclude with an appropriate application of the flexibility.
Games as tools, tools as games
I think there is quite a lot to learn by thinking about our tools and practices in the context of games and game mechanics, especially video games. For the past 20+ years video games have been teaching people a wide variety of skills. Video games are coming to be the dominate storytelling medium in our society. Modeling our own pedagogy from the best that games have to offer gives us a powerful ally in expanding the reach of our ideas. I will certainly be looking more at game development and its practices to see how I can leverage it in my own practice.
I’ve updated the ALC Network Cheat Sheet and updated it to a more accurate title. The updates better describe some of the communication channels, add the new ALC WORKS! Trello board (formally the projects board) and bring in a whole new column that describes protocol in the network around what channels and infrastructure are used for what kind of activity. I am drawing from a number of sources such as @tomis’s Network Ecosystem Charter and the Virtual Culture Committee process which have not been widely agreed upon in the network. That means this document does NOT represent the consensus of the network, but my interpretation of it and how it might be soon. With that disclaimer out of the way, have a look (after the jump) and please leave your comments!
Last fall at ALF Weekend 2014 we participated in a game where we wrote out what we did, what we have “juice” for, what we want to be doing, and what action we are taking to get there. We wrote these down then went around the room and spoke them out to our peers, then everyone would suggest additions. It was a super powerful process an
It’s a year later and prompted by @abbyopost and @ryanshollenberger post I’ve decided to update my ALF Accountability information. If any ALFs out there want to do the same I’ll leave instructions at the bottom of this post.
The following is taken from the Mapping ALF Accountabilities Doc, updates are sub bulleted, additions are italic, while subtractions are strike through. Note: Some of these bullet points were added by me, others were added by my fellow ALFs, that should explain the change in tense.
Overall I see my role in this network to make it easy for people to accomplish what they want to do. Be that existing ALFs or people out in the world who want to create a better future for children. I feel that the more I define and document how we do things the easier it will be for people to engage with our network or create their own complementary networks.
It is through my work helping other people achieve their goals that I am fulfilled. Every time I see someone use a process or tool I’ve developed (or better, helped them develop) I am inspired to do more.
My time in this organization has been a great one, truly an upward spiral
Just like the last time we did this, if you see anything I’ve missed please comment below.
Write your own accountability post!
If you wish to participate please write a blog post with the tag:
Answer the following questions:
What I do: (for the network and in your local ALC community)
Juice: What gives you juice (what about the community or your work powers you up?)
Want: What do you want to do (in an ideal world)
Action: What actions are you taking or will you take to do this
You can see everyone’s post on the network feed site (this is a thing!) under the alfaccountability tag:
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!!
What an amazing week! I’ve been in Asheville NC visiting the Endor ALC crew. I was housed by two amazing collective homes full of wonderful and amazing people who kept me well fed and in good company. I spent most of my time co-working with @liam and @rochellehudson which fueled one of my most productive weeks I’ve had in a long time. So, what did I do?
I’ve updated the network website to a point where it clearly outlines what ALC is. Gratitudes to my fellow ALFs, especially @tomis, @nancy, @abbyo, @artbrock for their contributions in content and design.
We’ve switched to the network theme which is a lot cleaner and clearer now. The front page covers much more about what ALC is and how to get involved.
I did a bit of work on designing visual elements for the page and getting it to a point of being pretty okay.
I’m very proud of the ALC directory which I created using Google Fusion Tables. This takes a spreadsheet and outputs it as a map. I did some custom design using a Google Map Style Wizard, it’s pretty fun, try it. Then I implemented some custom code to get it to display real nice on the welcome page:
Each of those icons is generated automagically as new schools are added to the directory. Each icon is clickable and displays information from the directory.
I’m super excited to expand on this work. To tighten and expand on the design and layout. I now feel like I can send people to our website without worrying that they might not “get” what’s going on.
Foldy Release Party!
@liam and I printed out about 50 of my School, Yay! foldys for a Wednesday event at Fire Storm Books & Coffee. There was a great turn out and even with no planning we were able to pull of a successful info sharing session about ALC and Endor. I used a Kanban to manage the flow of the event.
There was some great questions from our audience and super awesome input from @liam, @rochellehudson, and Keli (a new ALF from Asheville).
The foldy was also a great success!
Organizing and Orienting ALFs
I spent a lot of time working on some internal pages for alf.agilelearningcenters.org and our supporting systems to better organize our communication and collaboration within the network.
The Newbie page
I created a page for newbie ALFs (and forgetful ALFs like me). A quick aside: newbie is a term for someone who is new and thus inexperienced, it’s a term of endearment, unlike n00b which describes a person who acts dumb. The newbie page covers all of our internal tools and links to our support documents and other such things.
The Baked ALF checklist
Along with the help of @nancy and other “bakers” I started to develop what I hope to be one of many internal checklists for doing network jobs. This one focuses on what to do once a person has had their peer review, submitted their documents, and been “baked” (a title we are using to indicate a particular status of an ALF).
Added Helpful documentation
I spent a lot of time writing up helpful documentation about how to use some of our internal organizing tools. One that I’m really proud of is the ALF Community Mastery Trello Board that we use to create ALF cultural norms. This board covers how we handles meetings, what meetings there are, what software we use, and the protocol we follow for doing everything from sending emails to adding new people to the network. It’s an interactive tool that makes our community agreements and structure not only visible to all members but changeable (through our monthly change-up meetings) for all members! It’s something that deserves it’s own blog post. You can read about a real ALC example on the Everett page.
Created “easy links”
Using a redirection plugin I’ve created a number of links to important documents and services that we use. So rather than sending around long links like:
to point to the long link. Which is also very helpful if the link has to change! If we find that the hangout link stops working all i’ve got to do is edit the redirect and no one will have to be told about the change, it will just work!
Playing with Slack
We’ve started using this cool service called Slack, which is a group chat room on steroids. It’s really cool! What’s more cool is that is has a bunch of service integrations that can do all sorts of things like listen to a website’s RSS feed or display changes to a Trello card. I spend some time setting up a number of these tools along with @tomis.
The Great List Migration
Part of the work I did over ALF summer was to migrate from the NYC Google Apps for Education account to the ALC Network Apps for Education account. One of the big items of that migration was to switch over the email list serves that we use to communicate. I wrote up an email about what was going on and what people could expect
Upgraded ALC Everett
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about what happened at ALC Everett but I left the website in a kind of limbo. Anyone who was visiting the site wouldn’t exactly know that the school had become inactive or that I had written a comprehensive debrief on the whole thing, including a bunch of documentation around tools and practices. So I spend some time making the site look nice, adding a bunch of links to the debrief and the tool box as well as explanations of what the current status was and a way to contact folks at ALC incase they were from the area and wanted to learn more.
ALC Domain Mapping
This didn’t exactly happen this week, but I wanted to share. @artbrock and I managed to finally get some backend features working that allow schools (or anyone with an ALC site) to map the site to their personal domain name. This means that our school sites can use their own domain while still being part of the network!
So now sites like alcoahu.agilelearningcenters.org will show up as alcoahu.org! So cool.
This has been such an energizing week or productivity! I really feel like I’ve been in a great flow and hope to continue it into the rest of the month.
This weekend on the ALF Summer planning call we began talking about what the process for turning people into Agile Learning Facilitators (ALF) and how to establish schools as Agile Learning Centers (ALC).
This post will cover my ideas on these two subjects which are, in my mind, related. I’m going to focus on three ideas. Trademark and protecting the ALC “brand”, what an ALF is and what a process of “entitling” new ALFs should be, and the process for adding ALCs to our network.
At the core my feeling is that an ALF is simply an ALF if other ALFs say they are an ALF. Just as an ALC is an ALC because ALFs say it is an ALC.
Let’s unpack these acronyms!
Agile Learning Facilitator: This is a person who is trained in the methodology of Agile Learning. They are a member of the Agile Learning Centers network and part of the community of other ALFs. The title of ALF empowers that person to participate fully in the community: they are both the custodian and CEO of the ALC network. They are empowered to facilitate and Agile Learning Center.
Agile Learning Center: This is a school which is facilitated by an ALF using the ALC principles or accepted variations on those principles. An ALC can be a fully fledged school or a program within the context of a school or home school.
So, what if someone calls themselves an ALF or an ALC?
A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods.
So there are two basic kinds of trademark. One is the ™ (trademark) symbol and the other is the ® (registered trademark) symbol.
Anyone can slap a trademark on their word, name, symbol, or design and signal to others that “this design object is ours!” So it’s a bit like licking your cookie so no one else eats it. It doesn’t offer many protections (it would seem, I’m no expert).
Trademark does not protect the company from another company that produces a similar product or uses a similar name. If such a thing were to happen, the original company would have to prove that it produced the name or design first, but still may not have a legal defense without a registration.
So we could start writing Agile Learning Centers™ all over the place but it doesn’t stop Agile Learning Core from becoming a thing. It then puts it on us to lawyer up and prove we were ALC first and they are trying to be ALC. It seems like a fine idea, giving us a little bit of protection, but (and I’m not a lawyer) I think that we could litigate in that situation anyways, ™ symbol or no.
The threat from without is much less of a worry than the threat from within.
I’ve seen this first hand as a “member” of Occupy Wall Street. Recently a twitter handle that represents OWS, a out reach resource, was litigated over by people who believed themselves to be the more authentic controller of that brand asset. This is a clear break down of the agreement around who is and is not “Occupy”. This from a movement with “official” documents reading:
“The people who are working together to create this movement are its sole and mutual caretakers. If you have chosen to devote resources to building this movement, especially your time and labor, then it is yours.”
Anyone could be “on the inside” of Occupy because anyone could simply start participating. ALC is in a similar situation. All of our knowledge is increasingly being documented to the point where someone could start an ALC all on their own. As such, our intention to make ALC open source becomes a means to fracture our network. All it would take is one divisive thing to break the whole network into factions. This is where I suspect the issue of trademark will enter: two factions of ALFs fighting over network resources such as the ALC brand, as opposed to someone from outside using the brand in a way that hurts us.
It is the use of these shared resources that make being accepted into the ALC network valuable. However the resources such as branding, which are easy to define and protect, are not the most valuable resource by far. It is the community of which you are a part which gives membership true value.
Therefore, the process of being accepted into the community holds much more importance than how to trademark and protect resources. I do think that developing a frame work for shared access to resources is an important process that needs to happen sooner than later, but it is outside the scope of this post.
Becoming an ALF
In James P. Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games he describes titles as somethings we win from playing finite games. Much like Steve Lombardozzi might have the title of “Winner of the1987 World Serise” for playing a finite game of baseball, so too does an ALF play some kind of game to become an ALF. It is our job as ALFs to figure out what that game is.
I want to avoid answering that question. I think that it will never be answered. Nor do I really think it should have an answer. The game will change as the players change.
My proposal is to create not a set of requirements, but a protocol or set of conditions to becoming an ALF. It’s actually pretty simple. To become an ALF an existing ALF invites you to be an ALF.
The invite comes in the form of an endorsement. Ryan endorses Abby and the process begins. Abby is now a rising ALF, she becomes an ALF once she receives a threshold of endorsements. More endorsements means a more reputable ALF.
Endorsements could come with caveats, such as keeping trial status of Rising ALF for a period of time. As we define the benefits of full membership the role of trial membership will come into focus.
A key to this process is the ability to update or remove endorsements from an ALF. This is a method of ostracism, which I believe to be a very important tool for any group. The word ostracize comes from the procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. There was no recourse because it wasn’t a punishment, it was simply a command from the community.
The tool of ostracism could be used to remove, even temporarily, an ALF who was working themselves sick or who needed space from the community. It is the ability to remove that I find most important from all of my experience with collective intentional groups.
This is the basis of my entire proposal. ALFs become ALFs when other ALFs endorse them (through a blog post perhaps). Negative endorsements are weighed against positive ones if there is contention around a rising ALF and those endorsements can then be updated to reflect changes in a situation.
We could then set conditions to access certain resources. For instance, to be listed as an ALF on the website you might need 5 positive endorsements and no more than 2 negative ones.
Through this process we can introduce Agile Learning Centers.
What Makes an ALC?
I think that it is the ALFs that make the ALC, because the ALC is a school facilitated by an ALF(s) using our principles and tools. So any school that an ALF is running can be assumed to be an ALC, because we wouldn’t endorse an ALF whom we wouldn’t trust to run an ALC.
It would be possible, and probably desirable, for ALFs to endorse ALCs like they endorse other ALFs.
Then similar conditions could be set for listing on the website along with other resources.
To tie this all together I’ve drawn a diagram of how I see the ALC network right now:
The inner ring with red dots are the ALFs. There might be more rings within this circle that signify other roles and responsibilities, all which could be granted using endorsements. If everyone endorsed me to be the Agile King, then it would be.
The outer ring of the middle circle is for rising ALFs and interns. These could possibly be sub divided into people who want to be ALFs and people who simply want to work in ALCs.
The outer circles represent the ALCs each full of students and facilitators, some of which have outer rights (or bumps) with potential (or rising) students.
The ALCs with dashed lines are rising ALCs. I’ve automatically assumed that any school without an “official” ALF is simply a rising, or potential, ALC. This is predicated on my assumption that ALFs make ALCs.
As my diagram illustrates, the ALCs are anchored to the network by the ALFs. Each ALF who is accepted becomes one more anchor point where an ALC can bind to the network.
Membership to the network comes from being entitled as an Agile Learning Facilitator.
There are no “higher” levels of membership beyond ALF.
Persons are accepted as ALFs through peer endorsements.
Endorsements can be either positive or negative, no endorsements are seen as neutral.
Further roles and responsibilities are granted though conditions based on the content and number of endorsements.
ALCs are endorsed by ALFs.
Access to resources is granted to ALCs based on conditions relative to ALF endorsements.
Strengths of this process
Allows for independent evaluation of ALFs without requiring attendance to programs such as ALF summer. Any ALF can endorse another person at any time. Other ALFs can conduct interviews on their own time to formulate their own endorsements for the rising ALF.
The more a rising ALF participates with the community the better their chances of gaining endorsements.
Low level of process around inviting and empowering people to be ALFs.
Programs like ALF Summer give rising ALFs an opportunity to meet and interact with other ALFs. This strengthens community ties and provides space for current ALFs to have time with rising ALFs to create better endorsements.
Endorsements can change and give ALFs the ability to both add and remove ALFs from the network.
Endorsements can carry caveats such as trial periods or any other features. For instance Ryan might state that he endorses Abby but wants her to come to ALF summer before he is ready to accept her as a full fledged ALF.
Provides a measurable figure (positive/negative endorsements) to set certain condition thresholds.
Here are some example conditions that can be set for access to community resources.
To be a full ALF one must have at least 4 positive and 0 negative endorsements.
To participate in weekly ALF calls a person must have at least one positive endorsement.
To be listed in the ALC directory a school must have at least 1 ALF and no negative endorsements.
The obvious issue here for me is negative endorsements. Publicly stating that you don’t feel that someone belongs in a group is hard and feels bad. This, I feel, can be remedied with good communication. Rather that write a negative endorsement I might go to the person in question and let them know what my issues are with them and how they can work to turn my negative feelings into positive ones.
Also creating ways of publicly and privately endorsing people might be a way to help this process.
This also doesn’t completely alleviate the issues outlined above about schisms within our group. If we get to the point of such in-fighting it might be a sign of much larger issues. Being that we are building an open source educational methodology, we might want to take notes from the free software movement and promote forking.
If we design our resources in such a way that people can “fork” (or duplicate) our systems so as to take them in another direction, this would be ideal. We can then solve intractable disagreements by facilitating the duplication of systems for a “break away” group. This idea of forking is something I would like to explore in future posts.
I would appreciate feedback to evolve this idea. Are there any weaknesses you see in this plan? What are ways you would improve it? Please leave a comment or write another post linking back to this one with a response.
As you can see, from Today column to the right is much the same as v1. The new areas are labeled with letters.
Ideas under exploration
Active ideas (doing)
Tasks goals for current month
Task goals for current day
Tasks completed this week
I’ll go through the rough workflow for the rest of the board, you can follow along with the numbered “notes” on the above illustration:
Add an idea – A project, activity, or goal idea is added to the board in the idea (A) column. The “Term Goal Area” rows are optional subject areas that the community outlines before hand. For instance they might be general subject areas like science, math, and art. Ideas are then asked to fit into one of these goal areas.
Promote idea to explore – Through a weekly or monthly meeting new ideas are discussed and a manageable number are promoted to the exploration (B) phase. These ideas are then put through a goal setting process. The goal setting process aims to determine if the idea is do-able and what things need to be done to achieve the goal. Ideas are either demoted back to the idea pool, removed, or pushed forward to…
Ready idea – After an idea has been explored it is added to the ready column. Other “sub” tasks or milestones are added to a stack of stickies with the idea on top. This stack of stickies represents a well formed idea that is ready to begin working on.
Start work – Once the group is ready to start working on the goal it is moved to the doing (D) column. The same principle of limiting the works in progress applies to this column, the group can only have so many active goals. This is one reason for the ready (C) column.
“Task out” the goal – Every month (or cycle) milestones are selected from the goal (if there are any) and the tasks needed to accomplish them are laid out in the month (E) column. This provides a visual representation of what we want to do for the month (or cycle).
Add tasks to the daily column – Each day tasks can be pulled from the month (E) column into the today (F) column. Alternatively if any individual wants to take a task from the board and add it to their personal kanban they most certainly can.
Complete the task – Once a task is completed it is then added into the done (G) column and saved their for the reflection process
Note: this process was never fully implemented and is thus untested.