Some Initial Thoughts on Playing #TvsZ 6.0

TvsZ 6.0
In game theory, the idea of dynamics is important. Change a variable in any game system, and the play changes along with it. You can make this theory visible for yourself by taking any familiar game, such as Chess or Monopoly, and adding or removing elements/pieces/rules. You quickly realize that while your knowledge of the game has some historic grounding, the changes now put into place add a wrinkle to the perception of play. The game becomes something new.

Which leads me to a bit of a ramble … I am participating in the 6.0 version of TvsZ, or what was known in previous iterations as Twitter vs. Zombies. It’s being run by some very good friends of mine as an offshoot of Digital Writing Month and as part of the grad (I think) classes they are teaching. I find that fascinating, extending the learning about literacy in the classroom to something like a Twitter-based game. Now, this particular TvsZ is not Twitter vs Zombies, as the organizers were wary of having fun with zombies in a time when Ebola and other epidemic crisis flash points face the global community.

Instead, the narrative of this Twitter game (yes, it all played on Twitter, with hashtags and alliances and media and more) is about finding a community aligned with either Technology or Nature to survive an apocalyptic moment in time, where you need to determine what is important and what is not. The game rules allows you to #recruit others and fend off recruitment. It’s a bit difficult to explain here and you might be shaking your head.

The game started mid-day yesterday and continues through the weekend. I popped in when I could during teaching breaks. As I played TvsZ here and there during the day and into the night, some trends I noticed had me thinking about past variations (see a past reflection on why I played Twitter vs. Zombies) and the updates now embedded in this version.

Here, then, are a few unfocused observations ….

  • I admit, I was confused at first about the team concept, but then I aligned myself with Team Technology. I thought, all these young people will want the Technology over Nature. (I was also confused because an earlier version was Zen, not Nature, but I think the organizers went with Nature so as to not confuse students who are playing with philosophical concepts that would draw away from the game … maybe … I am not sure). So I thought the pendulum would swing to Tech. Wrong. Very wrong. For much of the afternoon, I seemed like one of the lonely technology beacons in the game, and then got recruited in a mad rush to Nature by a bunch of players. I could not defend myself and switched teams. Reading the tweets of the players on Team Nature, and realizing of course that it is a game, I could not help but think of the game as a way to push back on the intrusion of technology in our lives. I mean, the numbers even this morning remain overwhelmingly against technology in this game. It’s fascinating, particularly if it is a cultural criticism of our lives becoming digital and a yearning to break free of it now and then. Maybe the game has given some people a chance to express that contradiction (ie, they are playing a game on Twitter while renouncing technology).
  • In previous versions of the game, the narrative arc of the game was clear. The zombies are out to get you, and you better use all of the rules of the game to remain human. Or if you become a zombie, become relentless and get the hoomans. I’m not a zombie-literature fan, and find zombie stories rather boring. I never got into The Walking Dead. But I enjoyed the dichotomy and simplicity of the game. You were human or you were zombie. Zombies (antagonists) chased humans (protagonist) and humans banded together to thwart zombies. This is not a criticism of the architects of this 6.0 version, but I am feeling a little lost in the survival narrative of the game right now. It seems like teams are out to disparage other teams to shift the power balance by increasing recruitment. I get that. But unlike previous version, I am not sure where that is taking us. (I am hoping there are grand plans afoot to make it clearer.) I was happy to see a new mission on “food” this morning.
  • Related to that last point, I began to feel during the course of the day that there should be more ways to bring the groups together. It’s a survival story, right? It does not have to be a zero sum game (ie, you perish so that I can survive, or vice versa). I began to wonder if there were collaborative points that could be inserted into the game narrative, as a break to bring people together, no matter the affiliation. That led first to me creating a collaborative poem space — a #hidingspot — where folks on any team could write together. I also suggested a possible rule called #danceparty, in which if someone shares a technology- or nature-themed music video, the game stops and becomes a global dance party for five minutes. Imagine that? Yeah. I’ll be thinking more of ways to bring the game’s players together instead of pushing them apart. We’re all hooomans, after all.
  • It’s been intriguing to watch other groups emerge, too. Along with Tech and Nature, some groups of students created Dragon and Fish teams. And then last night, a friend with #ds106 connections created the Bovine team, and I was happily recruited. I wonder how this splintering of teams affects the overall narrative. Hacking games is a way to gain agency in the system, and I am curious to know how it will start to come together and make sense on a larger scale. I understand the smaller scale of the game. I want to see the larger picture.
  • I appreciated, too, that the organizers have opened up the Rules Document and allowed players to suggest rules for play, providing a space for anyone to get involved in how the game will unfold. We are not shackled by one vision of the game, although someone will become arbiters of the rules in the end. This is how digital writing plays a role here. I could write to the makers of Monopoly, and make suggestions, but what are the chances my words and ideas would be read and used? Unlikely. I know my suggestions in #TvsZ will be read and maybe included. Even if a rule change is not implemented, I feel empowered by the process. And that happens because of a click of a switch that makes a closed document an open document. That’s a powerful example of collaboration.
  • Finally, a huge hats off to the game’s organizers for exploring this kind of Twitter-based game for learning with their students. In the past, I’ve wondered how I could adapt Twitter vs. Zombies for my sixth grade classroom, and came up empty. I think this shift in the rules might be a way for me to revisit the idea, if I can find a solid “hook” to the narrative for my students … or maybe a more solidified goal for how the game ends (do we all become one large community again? do we defeat the darkness with a blast of light? do we build a spaceship and head off into the sky?) I will keep looking to the game unfolding this weekend as a possible model for how it make work.

Peace (in the think),

Exploring Peace, Love and Understanding

Here is a collection of some of the artwork from our sixth graders as part of their Peace Poster projects (done with our art teacher). The theme of the year was Peace, Love and Understanding.

I can’t help but hear Elvis Costello in my head when I think about the theme .. but of course, not one of my students even knows who he is. In a former band, we used to play a punk style version of this classic tune, and it still resonates with me.

Peace (in the art),

All About #ETMOOC in the #CCOURSES

Come join me in reflections about a video discussion about the lasting impact of ETMOOC, via Connected Courses. I wasn’t part of ETMOOC, although I think I signed up for it. I followed it from a distance, and yet, it reverberates through many networks that I am in. I’ve put the hangout – with Alec Couros, Mia Zamora, Howard Rheingold and others — into Vialogues.

CCourses Hangout

Peace (in the share),

Keeping the Lights On …

Keep the lights on #CCourses

Alan Levine had a great post the other day (what else is new?) about how online learning communities, such as eMoocs and such, would do better to never situate an “end point” for a course and just keep the lights burning for folks. He situates this point within the context of the Connected Courses, where a lot of university folks are experimenting with how to transform their curriculum with elements of open design and open learning.

Alan cites DS106 and its #4life motto as an example. That’s what I do so love about DS106 …. it never seems to end and I can jump in and out as I please. I think what makes that system work, along with the great sharing, is the Daily Create … every day, there is something new to do.


It only takes a few minutes to do the Daily Create, but the act of getting that email update or seeing the call for creativity on Twitter reminds me of the presence of DS106. Even if I don’t do the create, I remember a bit of where I’ve been within DS106. I get re-anchored. The breadcrumb leads me back.

That identity with a learning space is important.

For many, particularly those in the Connected Courses, their teaching year no doubt revolves around semesters. The course they teach ends when the semester ends, and then things start up all over again. But when you add an open learning element, really, things should never quite come to a close. Why would it? Our learning never stops and if the connections forged have been true and honest and worthy, the space should continue.

Which is not to say this is easy to pull off. We’ve tried to keep our conversations and making going with the Making Learning Connected MOOC the past two summers. We’d love folks to stay connected in our spaces all year. It doesn’t really happen. Life intervenes. People get exhausted. Other priorities bubble up. We loosen our threads. But every now and then, we’ll see a burst of activity, as folks come back together with an idea or a share, and these echoes of the intense summer of the CLMOOC re-emerge in a powerful way. We still see the CLMOOC Make Bank as a growing connector of our ideas, as a sort of legacy project (modeled on, what else, DS106).

The power of the Daily Create is that we need constant and gentle reminders — a lighthouse beacon out in the world — of why we were there in that space and place and time in the first place and why we need to return to get recharged. Still, someone has to administer the Daily Create (I helped facilitate the Connected Courses Daily Connect all through October and I realized then how much of a task it is — enjoyable but still, a task.)

Meanwhile, I am taking a grad class right now that uses Blackboard as its LMS, and everything I write in there … I know it’s only temporary. My words will be eaten up by the LMS in a few months. The doors will close. The lights will go out. We’ll be done. This is important as I think about Alan’s points because what I write in that particular space is just enough to do the assignments. It’s me, the student, not me, the writer/connector, and when those words disappear … I could care less, to be frank. We have not really forged any true learning community connections in that online space (even though we are required to have “conversations” each week in the forum). It all feels so very forced and fake to me. The doors to the LMS will close and I won’t care.

Close the doors to the CLMOOC, or DS106, or other learning spaces I am in, and I would be in an uproar. And saddened. Those learning spaces, and those colleagues in those places, matter to me. I would be lost as a writer, learner, teacher, maker without those connections. Keeping the lights on is challenging, but important, if we are trying to keep to our ideals of learning as an open adventure.

Peace (in the think),

The Power of Student Voice: Artist Statements on Peace

These class podcasts come from a Lions Club-sponsored Peace Poster project that our sixth graders do with our wonderful art teacher. As a companion piece to the art work, we have them write an artist statement, reflecting on the symbols and colors and other design elements in their piece and a bit about why peace is so important for the world. The artist statements then get attached to the posters, which are displayed all around our school.

Peace (in the peace),

Comic Book Review: xkcd volume 0

Talk about context. There were many comics in this xkcd collection by Randall Munroe that were so over my head with the math and physics and programming ideas that my brain was spinning just to see if I could find a reference point. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes (often), no.

But that never stopped me from enjoying Monroe’s comedic flare for poking fun at things, and even when the scientific/mathematical concept was beyond my grasp, I still had fun reading his comics (which, he notes, are still freely available online if you don’t want to pony up for his book). His quirky takes on technology amuse me, and I like the simplicity of his drawings (although he can do more with a stick figure head to show emotion than anyone I know).

For example, all the notes and codes in the margins of the book? It’s beyond me, but I suspect some readers are having a blast deciphering the numbers and programming codes. I kept looking at them thinking, this is a whole other world that I know nothing about. It’s very humbling. Then I’d start laughing at a joke that I did get, and that was satisfying.

(One note for teachers: this ain’t a classroom-friendly book, although pieces of it would be fine to share with older students. There are plenty of funny sex and profanity references.)

Peace (in the frame),

Book Review: The Penderwicks

You would think we would have read this book by now. The author is local, my wife knows the husband of the writer, and the book got pretty good publicity and reviews (and some awards) when it came out. But … a tale of four sisters in a summer cottage … not a big draw for my son. But his book club chose The Penderwicks and so, into the story we went … and ver glad for it, we are.

In fact, the book is a nice reprieve from so many of the action-orientated novels that we have been reading together lately. A tale that reminds one of the English manners books (whose genre my wife adores), The Penderwicks is centered on characters as much as plot, with the sisters coming to life on the page as they help a neighboring boy deal with his overbearing mother’s plans to send him to military school.

I won’t give the story away, but you will come to know the sisters well. The gentle adventures that take up these pages are lovingly told, with strong writing. You’ll care about the Penderwick sisters — Rosalind, the oldest with the burden of being the oldest on her shoulders; Skye, the quick-to-anger and quick-to-defend-the-family sister; Jane, the young writer with an imagination as large as the sky; and young Batty, whose friendship with the family dog, Hound, had my son and I giggling at times because her dog reminded us of our dog (Duke, also a hound).

I’m glad we found The Penderwicks and may seek the sisters out again in the sequels.

Peace (in the story),

Unwriting the Unreadable Untext

unread and then unwrite

Phew. Just writing the title of this blog post is a bear of an idea to get my head around, and I don’t know how to even write what I want to write here. So, let me try to frame it, if I can. I am somewhat “collaborating” with a handful of others — facilitated by Maha B. and Keith H. — on an ancillary document about an unwritten autoethnography of the Rhizomatic Learning uncourse/discourse we were all part of months ago. (ie, Rhizo14).

The collaborative document — entitled for now as Writing the Unreadable Untext — is an attempt by Maha and Keith to explain why the autoethnography hasn’t gotten done and in creating a document about an unfinished document, they invited others into the mix, and man, we have made a mess of it. Half-finished sentences. Notes and poems and ideas in the margins. Embedded gifs. Comics. Poems. It’s a like roadmap to nowhere and yet … and yet … it’s also a roadmap to somewhere.

Here, I am trying to unwrite it … deconstruct what I see in there.

You see, in this collaborative piece, I get the sense that we are exploring the idea of voice, of emergent writing in a shared space, of giving up control and ceding authority to the group, of pushing the text beyond the text and into the margins, of playing against the stereotypes of what writing is and might emerge as, of how the visual plays of the written word, of how our collective thinking may or may not be able to be neatly tucked into one single document that represents us all. We seem to be pushing back at the very nature of what we expect writing to be.

All, by the way, in harmony with Rhizomatic Learning, so even amidst the crazy chaos of that document, we are modeling how the swirling, decentralized ideas of many can gravitate around some anchor ideas that may indeed make sense. We’re writing beyond the writing, and from the outside, it looks like dissonance. From the inside, it looks like a new creature of ideas coming to life, even though we can’t say for certain how it will be shaped when it is fully evolved (Pokemon!).

Maha asks if we can move it another step forward, into something more readable and publishable. I’m fine with that, I suppose, although I don’t feel the need, either. If we think of writing as nourishment for the self (I write to learn), then this document, in all of its starts and ends and middle roads to the margins, has done its job for me.

By the way, I realized this morning that I never saw the original document — the original autoethnology draft — that inspired this reflective piece on why that piece wasn’t getting written. I thought this was the piece. I had my anchor set on a different pier, and still, we set sail. Of course, then I found the original, and realized I had contributed to it, months ago, and it was like finding some echoes of words from my mind and being reminded of myself on the screen. I was there. I didn’t remember being there. Odd? You bet.

Peace (in the rhyzome),