The Shell of the Game

I will usually include this phrase in the image below at least once at the end of a twitter chat. It is something I feel the need to both remind myself and the community: Read outside your discipline.

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Seems a bit of a no-brainer, doesn’t it.  Kind of like ‘diversity’. Who wouldn’t want that?  But I still openly and obviously advocate both.  And I always hope that as I read outside my echo chamber/filter bubble that I will find rationales for the advice I give.  I found one this week as I read Yu-Kai Chou’s new book, Actionable Gamification. Here is his Kickstarter for the book which you can get for as little as a buck! If you are of a video state of mind, watch this Google Talk.

Or listen here:

I have already uncovered some outsider wisdom inside its pages.  I love his phrase “the shell of the game”.  Here is the context for the phrase taken from my marked copy of the book.


Chou argues that PBL’s (points,badges,leaderboards) are surface cruft of gaming but not what he means by gamification. They are the shell of the game.  When he defines gamification it is with a broader brush that intends to more deeply engage the gamer.

How does this fit my discipline of teaching?  Over the years I have been disheartened by every wave of reform that pisses down from on high, each one a call to arms of various sorts.  Big data, portfolios, high stakes assessments, common cores…grit, mindset, learning styles, hemispheric learning….And every time one of these new games descends a curtain seems to fall over our judgment as professionals involved in helping our learners…learn.  The hue and cry arises at profession meetings from teachers new and experienced.  Help us game this new requirement. PUHLEEZE.

Corporate learning shills are only too happy to respond with “the shell of the game”, a layer of “points, badges, and leaderboards” that will help teachers get through the day.  What Yu-Kai Chou argues is that this “shell of the game” gives people the impression that they are gamifying much like these shells make teachers feel like they are learnifying.

As Sportin’ Life sings in “Porgy and Bess”, “‘Tain’t necessarily so.”

I admit that any time you are acquiring the skills of a discipline as complex as teaching that early on almost everybody is faking it, but at some point the game has to start welling up from inside from some mysterious confidence in the core of one’s own expertise.  That’s why there is no shell in the infinite game of teaching. That’s why good teachers are so rare and diverse. That’s why shell teachers are a dime a dozen and all the same robotic mess (and probably why more than half of them quit within five years).

So you see.  The shell of the game is a shallow shell game. Our ed schools seem to teach the shell of the game, perhaps necessarily so.  I believe they need to balance out this “precision” as Whitehead called it with “romance and passion and curiosity”.  Eventually, the content will be generalized and internalized but without the inner confidence of the game for its own sake it will be for nothing.  It will be all surface and no substance.  I have seen it.  I have done it.  I believe that ‘burnout’ is the realization that there is no there there…except that hard, shiny carapace that might win you recognition and that allows you to ‘fool the man’, but in the end reveals the hollow shell of the game.

Whether I am right,wrong, both or neither in this analysis, none of these considerations would have come to light had I not “eaten my own dog food” and read outside my discipline.  I get the feeling that while this book might have been better edited, the ideas in it will help me play the infinite game of teaching and learning.  You play, too.






The Genius of PJ Harvey, John Donne and Daniel Bassill

I dedicate this post to John Donne, PJ Harvey and Daniel Bassill.

I posted yesterday in a fit of confusion. I think that was my point. I wanted to share how fine the line is between noise and signal. Once the balance has been tipped toward noise it can be overwhelming to pull back from that event horizon. Similar to finding a signal on a crystal radio with a cat’s whisker.  Unfortunately, I forgot to make clear to my audience that this was a purposeful step into the madness and that I had Ariadne’s thread attached to me as I descended into the Labyrinth to meet the bull. My safety line was poetry. It has always been a powerful connecting force for me in the struggle to fine tune the noise into a signal. Daniel’s response was so honest, so true, so generous.

Well, you’ve certainly made my Friday afternoon pretty depressing.

I am sorry to have done so. What follows, however,  in his continuing comment is an object lesson in filtering the chaos and standing up straight in the face of the approaching storm.

I met with a man in Chicago yesterday, who has been successful in business, and has started one successful mentoring program and is launching a new one. As we talked and I described how we can show program design on web sites and educate potential donors and partners, he tuned me out saying “CEOs won’t take time to look at that. It’s one-on-one relationships and salesmanship that will generate their support.” Previous to that meeting I’d tuned into this conversation on Linked in, talking about how “conversation” with donors needs to replace the “Pitch, or elevator speech”. You can see my comments.

Then yesterday afternoon 3o-40 people were gathered at a meeting talking about building a “STEM program ecosystem” in Chicago. The person paid to facilitate the project spoke about goals and vision for about 30 minutes, and pointed to work being done to build similar ecosystems in other cities. She ended that part of her presentation, saying, “None of us has the time to dig into that web site, but it’s pretty informative” .

Instead of encouraging people to find time to dig through the information she pretty much said “don’t try”.

Thus, your illustrations of how much noise is flooding our on-line lives, just reinforces how difficult it is to build an on-line community of learners focused on solving difficult problems.

Thanks. Just to add to your clutter, here’s a blog article I posted earlier today focusing on building on-line communities.

It pretty much says, “I know it’s difficult, but if we don’t try we’ll never find a way.”

I’m overwhelmed that you can look at so much, and find time to create your videos and share them on your blog. I think you have a full time job, a farm, a family.

We still only have 24 hours in each day.

Keep adding your drops of observation into this ocean of ideas and distractions.

Indeed, none of us is or can be alone.  Which brings me to one of my favorite metaphysical writers, John Donne, and favorite performer, PJ Harvey.  In the video below we see her coming to terms with the British exit from the European Union just like I did with my own chaos–with poetry

And here is my small ‘response’ to what I viewed as a ‘call’ from her:



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If you want to follow the lyrics and annotate them try here on Genius. It is fun to be a part of the main.

And just to give props to PJ Harvey I think she addresses the issue of immigration, of striving to join the “main” here in her song “The Wheel”


And again, the lyrics on Genius embedded below:

An Insurrection of Noise

Today’s post strays into a briar patch where only rabbits feel comfortable: the sense that the noise of the net is drowning the inner signal that is trying to get out of ourselves, our voice.

Here are five short screencasts that don’t even begin to scratch the high pressure stream of data that is my Internet life.


Chrome Address Bars

Happy Friends



And what about mobile apps and YouTube channels and Roku and Chromecast and…my question to you dear readers, “Is there any controlling this giant game of “Crack the Whip” or the feeling of being a wee child tethered on the end and losing his grip?

I hope you don’t listen and watch all of the vids above. Just scrub through them and let us think about what our tech hath wrought and what we might do about it if anything.

When I get confused I write poems.  They help settle the silt in the muddy glass of water. Here is one. It helped me find the signal.

Dragonfly in a Bucket

A dragonfly


in the sheep’s

water bucket.



It’s not dead.

I lift it

from the water

and hold it


to the sun.

I see.