Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just Plain Busy

It is ironic. There has been much to think about and to share. However the reality is I've been too busy to reflectively record what has been happening and how I've been thinking about it all. One of the elements that has been capturing my energy is the start of the semester and teaching a course that I've haven't taught before. 

Last semester I was not in the classroom but our dean, Jeff Rutenbeck was. I vividly remember how good he felt about it. This week I had to tell him how I completely understood how much joy it gave him. Teaching gives back as much as one gives. At the same time, it is totally humbling. In the classroom, it does not matter how much one had accomplished or who one may be to the 
outer world. The only thing that matters is who one is at the moment and what one delivers now. It is a constant prodding to do better. It is ironic because the critical audience, young strangers in many ways, become individuals that one cares deeply about and that one wants to see accomplish great things. The teacher comes to know the potential for impact in each student. I want to give them the best of my self that can enable them to their greatness. Already I am here in the semester and evaluating how best to propel them forward.

At the same time a lot has been happening with those I do know and have been working with and for. The Emergent Media Center 
is buzzing with activity. Joining Ray McCarthy-Bergeron and myself is Sarah Jerger. Again ironic. Ray and Sarah are former excellent students of mine. They are the energy and drive that will enable us to accomplish great goals. 

Our students are deeply involved in a number of projects. We are at deadline with the IBM project which is both good and bad. The level of creative activity and thought is so thick that you can feel the neurons swirl when you enter the room. This is good. Soon we will have met our goal and then I am afraid we will lose John Cohn. This is bad. His energy charges the room, the students and us. This week President Finney visited and got a taste. Few words but by his smile he acknowledged the powerful learning that was happening in our small space.

Also this week two collaborative proposals went out that could use emergent media and games created by our students to touch many others in life altering ways.  At the same time Ray and I met with Janet Cottrell and Sarah Cohen from our library to decide on the information literacy game projects proposed by our students that we will move forward on. We had seven independent submissions and our students are anxious to know which we have chosen. Tomorrow is the evening. In this same timeframe, the grant to work with CIMIT on the RIPS project has arrived. It has been a long time coming and is a partnership that now feels more like a common goal. We are selecting students that are best suited for the first phase of the project. 

Selecting students. This may be the most important part of where we are now. Students are showing up in our doorways, while we traverse campus, unannounced and through e-mail. They inexplicably know about our activities and want to take part. I would say that more students have knowledge of and understand what we are doing than the general campus community does. At the student level, the Emergent Media Center has become viral. This is a very good thing because this is who we are working for. They inherently understand emergent forms of communication and the value for the greater community.

Which brings me to another ironic platform. We are reaching parts of the community that can see the vision and want to continue the forward momentum. As a sampling these past two weeks, I have been working with Meeting Professional's International on student created games to encourage change, the International Game Developer's Association preparing a presentation at GDC, the IEEE Computer Society to create a Technology Summit on Game Development and on accreditation of degree programs, the local business community for an event entitled Creative Jam 3.0, and the Vermont government on encouraging emergent media business development. 

All of these are steps towards new forms of teaching, learning, community building and business. Each step is strategic and vital towards examining and creating our future. Again irony. It comes down to empowering strangers to accomplish great things. These strangers are keeping me just plain busy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


By now, reading this, it's readily apparent how avid I am about our young people's destinies and the future role of interactive communicative technologies. There is another devotion I must share. I am passionate about Vermont. Though not born here, in my adulthood I've grown up here. The opportunity to move to my mother state of New York was presented two years ago. Even as excellent opportunities called out, there is an essential quality to this state that I could not abandon. 

What a state it is. One can look out one's window and see such natural beauty! The air clean and pure, space unfolds, and our forests beckon, and then there are Vermont's people! Some will say stoic, stubborn, taciturn New Englanders but in Vermont you need not look far for warmth and ingenuity. When disaster strikes; stuck in a snow bank, a forest falls around you, or to coach your child in softball, they are there—hard working, supportive, with few words but a warm handshake or a tractor if need be.

Yet there is more to Vermonters, whether born to or chosen by the place. They are self-reliant, innovative, passionate about the world in which they live. Ready to go against the grain if need be. I have been lucky to know these people. People like John Cohn, a top researcher at IBM who is working with our students to support an IBM initiative around engaging young people through games to the sciences and technology. Or people like game developer Chris Hancock.

Chris, recently moved to Vermont, is creating a serious game business—Tertl Studos LLC. He is known industry-wide for creating the premier game in the educational space for science and math, "Zoombinis". Chris and John define the Vermont lifestyle. How many top engineers do you know voluntarily work promoting science education—and have fun while doing so? How many game developers that heat by wood? Or live a short walk from the capital building?

Which brings me to today. Greg Morgan and I parked in Chris's driveway to visit the capital for Governor Douglas's State of the State address. Once inside the capital I photographed a lovely painting that captures the Vermont spirit—independent, loyal, with a heart and sometimes a life given for our society. Also I was compelled to speak to the youngest Vermonters there.

There was Tyler a young artist sketching the proceedings. He draws daily realizing continual observation and practice develops his skills. There were the young pages who were chosen based on their written essays. They were using cell phones to photograph each other, digitally recording their big moment. They were all giggles and charm but when the proceedings began—all business. They define our future. They are why I was here. Their direction is what this distinguished assembly of legislators determines daily.

Today a keystone event occurred for emergent media and the future of this independent state. Governor Jim Douglas in his address proposed investing in a pilot project to be managed by the Emergent Media Center in collaboration with Champlain's B.Y.O.Biz and Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. The goal to grow student created businesses in the serious games and emergent media space. To quote:
"Now with one eye to the future, and one on the bottom line, we must strike the right balance of protecting key government sevices while making smart investments for the years ahead...
...To further inspire investments in technology, I’m proposing we invest a quarter-million dollars in two pilot projects—a partnership with Champlain College and the University of Vermont’s Center for Emerging Technologies to provide grants to start-up businesses that are developing cutting edge software; and an e-communities grant program to enable more local internet content, discussion forums, wikis and blogs."
Governor Douglas's proposal is an exciting opportunity aligned with the Emergent Media Center's mission.  Through the collaboration with B.Y.O.Biz and VCET, we can continue to lay a solid base to launch new, future-defining Vermont businesses. Businesses begun by our students. Businesses that have at their core use of emergent media, in formats yet to be defined such as serious games, blogs, wikis, and social networking, to share the Vermont vision of the future. One built on hard-work, neighborliness, innovation and concern for our world.  I believe—actually, I strongly believe—that Vermont with its mix of creative artists and technological innovation is the perfect place for these businesses to thrive. 
Businesses that our young pages will wish to be part of, to build and to create. They will have the opportunity to share a Vermont-inspired vision of networked community with our world. Let's dance to that.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mentoring for the Future

Champlain College is awakening back to life. The students who are taking mentorship positions are back to campus in training. Likewise faculty and staff are preparing to welcome the students into this shining new semester. An amazingly full plate confronts us at the Emergent Media Center with a very busy upcoming week.

This past week a small team of faculty and myself have been crafting a new degree program proposal. We spent two full days brainstorming; working with input from our external advisory board gathered before the holidays. One of our defining moments was after a full day of construction. We realized that we needed to pinpoint what the students who will enter this degree will call themselves. We knew what type of brain sets they would possess, what the students would be looking to become as far as skills and intellect are concerned and what the domain they would be entering is but what would they call themselves? 

The challenges are different when you are designing degree programs for firmly established fields. An accountant-to-be is an accountant. A graphic design student is a future graphic designer. Each comes with time-tested definitions and areas of craft. But what about the students who will be creating new fields and pushing existing ones? How does one define them and their expertise? Creative technologists is a term being used but that is too general at the moment for our mission.

This at its essence is identifying with the future as mentors. The road to the future can sometimes seem straight forward like a bright clear day. However more often that not it is obscured with occasional brilliant moments pointing out potential pathways. In creating a new degree program one must identify those bright directions and the skills and intellect needed to create and build upon those directional markers.
I have been fortunate to have mentors in my life who have helped me craft a future for myself and for the young people I work for. This morning, contemplating this, I have been thinking about what a mentor does for the men-tee. A mentor is not necessarily a teacher but is a guide. A mentor may not have the skills that the men-tee is seeking. Stronger still, a mentor is interested in promoting and developing the eventual path of the person being mentored. Often this means opening doors that lead to directions worth exploring. True learning coming from the individual recognizing discovery. It also means sharing or giving the lime-light to the person being guided. It is a uniquely selfishly unselfish act.
In essence this is what we were doing this week—creating doorways through which young people may define future media technologies and modes of communication. They in turn will be our guides. So what did we decide these students will call themselves? Innovators, developers, designers who work within emergent media. Emergent media? Networked, interactive, participatory communications. In the end it all boils down to building community.