So, I’ve just returned from the Games Learning Society 2014 conference, held in Madison Wisconsin, and I’m all abuzz with new and grand ideas! Essentially, I went in as someone new to the #gaming #learning #academia field (or a “noob” as the vernacular goes). And although their website only provides a peripheral description of what the conference is about (with only the briefest of blurbs on the GLS’ about page), this particular conference was highly recommended by Barry Joseph, a friend and colleague with whom I’ve been working with on the AMNH Pterosaur Phylo deck. As well, Barry is a highly respected member of the games and learning community, which is to say that if I accidentally refer to him as a “Yoda” in the field, I mean it only in the most positive of ways.
Anyway, a few months back, I literally asked Barry to pass on a recommendation to the following query:
“If I only go to one gaming conference to get my feet wet in this type of community, what would that most excellent conference be?”
And so here we are. Fatigued mentally and physically from last week’s intense learning and networking, but also most definitely inspired to contribute more to the community. This is actually part of the challenge: so many interesting discussions and ideas surfaced with this interdisciplinary crowd, that I’m a bit befuddled on how to proceed and what to focus on next. My work plate is already very full, nutritious and rich, so navigating new opportunities is a little intimidating to say the least. Which is why, I’m going to write this post to organize my thoughts, but doing so, I hope readers will also get a taste of the wonderful community as well as the general vibe (academic or not) of this conference, so as to consider why they might like to attend in future years. Anyway, with this in mind and in no particular order…
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Firstly, I have to give kudos to Edge Quintanilla, Margaret Chmiel and Barry who graciously allowed me to play in their sandbox (as in metaphorically an accepted panel presentation/discussion – “Advancing STEM Learning with Games in Civic and Cultural Institutions: A Play, Critique, and Discussion Session“).
The workshop was both engaging for me (and I think the attendants), but I’m hopeful that maybe in the future the four of us can work on something together. I say this because I kind of think the four of us would make a good “SuperFriends” team, since Barry is from New York’s American Museum of Natural History (let’s say he’s “Superman”), Margaret is from the Smithsonian (let’s say she’s “Wonder Woman”), and Edge is from Chicago’s Field Museum (let’s say he gets to be “Batman”). What you’ll notice is that they inadvertently represent a trifecta of three of the most iconic (natural history) museums in North America. Maybe, I can act as that connecting, comedic, valued, but occasionally mocked (I’m o.k. with this) 4th wheel – or in other words, maybe I get to be one of the Wonder Twins. O.k. that came out wrong, but you get the point.
I should point out that my official gateway to the gaming scene is via the Phylo Trading Card Game project. This (in case you didn’t know) is an open source biodiversity game project that is essentially attempting to crowdsource a flexible trading card platform that allows for games to be designed around real organisms (indeed, the brilliant but surreal crowdsourcing efforts to date were inspired by knowledge that children know way more about Pokemon than they do about real creatures). It was cool to see such positive reaction to the project, both in commentary, but maybe more importantly in the many people who “got it” right away and started discussing possible “other” uses of the platform.
This ranged from folks like Ariel Marcy who has developed a card game about evolutionary clade sorting (see this successful Kickstarter); to Owen Gottlieb who is thinking about card games that reflect on historical, as well a religious culture, content (I love that). As well, I had a chance to chat with Tom Toynton, and found out that he also has a biodiversity related trading card game that sounds awesomely in tune with some of the mandates of the Phylo project.
A quick chat with Scott Price from BrainPOP was also pretty interesting. Here, he mentioned liking the idea of adapting and improving upon an open trading card platform (such as Phylo) so that it may be more widely used by teachers and students. This was quite intriguing especially given BrainPop’s presence in the educational market. The one nuance that would need navigating, however, is to ensure that the Phylo brand and game mechanic remain open, even if used by commercial vendors. To that end, the Phylo project is currently in the process of determining the right legal framework to allow “for profit” entities to utilize Phylo resources (branding, game mechanics, use of cards, etc) in a way that protects the open philosophy of community driven resources, whilst providing an option for others to commercialize and copyright their own “edits.” In general, I’m hopeful this will add another layer of flexibility in the project, so that more resources can be created in both non-commercial and commercial contexts (p.s. if there are any intellectual property lawyer types that want to help with this, then do let me know).
Finally, at the conference I referenced the fact that Phylo’s DIY card making process would be greatly simplified over this summer (to the point where ideally a 7 year old can do it), with the intent that this would make it a lot easier for things like classroom decks to be created by teachers and their students (you can see examples here, here, here, and here). This proved really popular with the many teachers I chatted with. For those interested, the plan is that when this functionality is released (and note that you can do this right now – it’s just a bit complicated), we’ll likely beta test how it goes by only releasing 100 or so “teacher” accounts.
Still related to the Phylo project, one of most interesting conversations I had, revolved around the possible use of ARIS. This is basically an open source mobile app platform designed to allow educators to tie in GPS and QR code functions into tour or game like immersion experiences.
In Phylo’s case, the discussion was around whether such a platform might be amenable to addressing one of the central criticisms of the Phylo card game – that is, if you want to educate and/or advocate for biodiversity concepts, wouldn’t it be better to simply make people go outside, and not stay indoors playing a card game? Now, there’s all sorts of discussion we can have about the validity of this criticism, but I have always thought that an app that somehow entices Phylo players to go “outside” would be a lovely endeavour.
In this respect, there seems to be a lot of potential, ranging from using the cards as a wildlife checklist, using the cards to navigate a physical tour within a defined space (like a park or a museum), or even (if we ratchet up the creativity) a game wholly developed that draws folks into the card world, whilst moving around an outdoor environment with markers, goals, and/or tasks. I was also of mind about seeing how ARIS could connect with the Encyclopedia of Life. Given the deep and scientifically sound meta data collected by EOL, it seemed like there’s a no-brainer in seeing how these two could somehow mix, especially with their similar open source philosophy. More so, since the Phylo project is currently working with EOL on something very cool.
Anyway, it was great chatting with David Gagnon (with whom I not only share a first name, but also apparently and strangely, identical fashion sense) and Chris Holden on this. It sounds like a follow up proper is best done with a bit of funding, but this is something that has great potential and I’m definitely thinking more about this.
I also love that this was a conference where being an advocate for role playing games has an air of heroism to it. And being a former Dungeon’s & Dragon player, and more recently sharing this fine way of playing with my children, it was cool to see how some people were using RPGs as a portal to better learning. In particular, I had a chance to pick two remarkable brains, that being Trent Hergenrader and Kip Glazer. In their case, use of RPGs naturally flowed around deeper practices on narrative, storytelling, and creating richer context around such writing. It sounded really quite wonderful, with Trent using this innovative approach around creative writing world generation (see an example here with Hellwaukee), and Kip incorporating similar practices to get her high school students to not only better understand a work of literature like Beowulf, but to completely and wholly own it.
Anyway, I’m totally inspired to see if I can use a RPG based mechanic in my one undergrad course I teach – this would be ASIC200, a course with 2nd year undergrad students from both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science, all in together to learn about a few chosen global issues (climate change and genomics for instance). In particular, rather than ascribing learning objectives around writing skills, this would be more about somehow getting students to think, act and perceive the world view of the other (the whole art versus science thing I guess). As the token sciencegeek in the course, I’ll be chatting with Allen Sens (the humanities geek) on whether this might be doable, especially since we’ve been thinking about possibly moving towards a “flipped” class scenario, thereby freeing up a good chunk of class time.
Kip is also something of a force of nature! We got to speaking about teacher professional development opportunities and from this, we discussed the idea of hosting a teacher hackathon. Here, the goal would be to host a day session with a good number of keen teachers (my facilities can easily accommodate such an event with anywhere between 10 and 90 teachers), and provide a structured but relatively open template where they’ll be charged to explore existing materials, and attempt to come up, or “hack” something better.
Specifically, Kip and I were thinking a session where teachers will come out with a number of fleshed out (and shared) lesson plans/goals/ideas, that could focus on game based learning and mathematics (Kip’s true love). Add to that, the beauty of a hackathons is that it also embody ideals where it’s o.k. if the lesson plans are not perfect or great even. The point is that they represent a viable prototype, and something that can be built upon, more so with this new network of teachers that you’ve just spent intense time with.
Anyway, Kip has already thought through a way to start this in earnest, and the first step involves putting ideas to paper: and why not under the guise of chapter proposal for a book? I’m currently working on seeing if I can bring her out to Vancouver for a visit, so fingers crossed.
In the fall, I’m about to start a research project around children’s impressions of “science” and their impressions of “creativity,” with a mind to explore how they might intersect (or not). This, you can learn more about here, but what was cool was a chance to meet someone working on a research initiative with similar elements. This individual is June Ahn, who has this intriguing project called “Sci-Dentity” where they:
“…are creating an after-school program for inner-city, middle school youth in Washington DC Public Schools (DCPS) where students will create science inspired stories with different media (e.g. graphic novels, short stories etc.) [...] A main focus of our research will be to explore how science fiction and other creative narrative projects can be designed and used to help young people imagine the exciting ways that science impacts us as human beings and shape who we are.”
This is especially cool for me, because the research that I’m involved with revolves around a fieldtrip program (the Science Creative Literacy Symposia) which essentially provides an informal educational experience that combines science experimentation with expository creative writing. Anyway, definitely will have to follow up with June to see where we might work together, and possibly even bridge research outcomes, given the potential overlap existing. This is also another example where twitter is proven to be a valuable tool – the whole discussion began via monitoring the #gls14 twitter feed.
The description of the next potential project is purely tangential, in that it involves Pokemon and that this somehow relates to the fact that the Phylo project happens to reference Pokemon as a call to action. In any respect, this was spawned by a great conversation with Christian de Luna, a Pokemon devotee, which revolved around Pokemon’s mechanics emulating evolutionary concepts, and how that might be taken advantage of to, you know, actually look at evolutionary concepts proper. I have to say that this is very enticing to me especially as someone who is a geneticist and very familiar with evolutionary biology. How cool would it be to design something around this angle? Anyway, I’m totally game on as a collaborator (maybe from the content expertise angle, but also as a director of an educational lab where we can discuss elements of seed funding and certainly roll out betas to children of various ages), although I am most intrigue by what this grant proposal might look like, as well as where it would go!
Finally, I have to mention that part of the reason of going to #gls14 was to immerse myself a little in the academic culture of people who research games for learning. And there’s probably no better way of doing this than hanging out with the amazing young researchers who shared their time with me. In this respect, I had a lovely time hanging out with folks like Olivia Stewart, Kelly Tran, Niels Quinten, Lori Ferguson, Christian de Luna, Andrew Jefferson, Jeff Holmes, Joey Huang, and Lien Tran to name a few. Thanks to all who were so generous with their time – definitely do look me up when you’re next in Vancouver.
Anyway… In the end, this whole conference was definitely time well spent, but now for the difficult part. Basically, I’m sold – I do want to dig a little deeper into games research, but the reality is that I can only pursue a few of these great ideas in earnest. This is both in terms of intellectual engagement (collaborative grant proposal anyone?) but also in terms of thinking about possible seed funding support. Regardless, I’m pretty sure the GLS conference is now going to be one of those conferences I try to attend on a yearly (or at least biannual) basis.
(Images from the #gls14 feed at Flickr)
So, we have a few more pieces of Darwinian art to show, continuing from our first look see. As mentioned before, all of this art is in preparation of a Phylo trading card game that revolves around the many species that Darwin took note of during his “Voyage of the Beagle.”
As well, here is another card mock up below, with another iconic inclusion, the HMS Beagle itself:
Here, the artwork was created by Robert M. Ball (website, instagram, twitter). Not sure if you remember from the previous “work in progress” post, but Rob has made his 8 commissions into this epic panoramic image. This you can take closer look at below (you can also click to get to a larger version), but essentially, re-imagine this lovely piece as 8 separate cards coming together.
Anyway, the Phylo deck project is really starting to come together. Final artwork is coming in, (I’ve even personally bought some of the originals from Diana Sudyka as you can see below), and we’ve finally hired our last artist. This would be Simon Gurr, which is all the more special because this is the individual responsible for the Darwin graphic novel. With his addition, the Darwinian deck should have a total of 40 lovely pieces of art.
All in all, I expect the “Voyage of the Beagle” Deck to be ready around October or November of this year, where it will be launched by the UK Nonprofit, The HMS Beagle Trust, for their science outreach and advocacy programs. Game on!
(Note, you can see the rest of Diana’s pieces at this post).
By Michael O’Neal (winner of the iPhone Photography Awards – animal category), via My Modern Met.
Prepping a genomics 101 workshop as we speak, and I’m just going through some older material of mine. Will use this to explore the issue of correlations in big big data sets. Anyway, this piece written back in 2006 was a fun exercise in this notion, although it was a little freaky how the correlations were for the Bush era folks. One of these days, I should do an update on this – might be interesting to see how those matches come up.
By DAVID NG
Every living thing on this planet adheres to a script, a biological language that is not unlike the ingredient lists on the back of your grocery store products. This script is DNA, composed of a limited alphabet of four building blocks (or letters, if you will): A, T, C and G.
Our human document is just over three-billion letters in length. To offer some perspective, E. coli has just over four-and-a-half million letters, a fly has about 150-million letters and rice has close to 400-million. In all—as of August, 2005—over 100,000,000,000 letters of code have been sequenced from a multitude of earthly delights and made publicly available for research within the life sciences.
DNA orchestrates the production of proteins—the molecules that are responsible for the architecture, mechanics, senses and defenses of each and every cell and tissue in an organism’s being. These proteins actually do the work of “living.”
And here’s where it gets interesting: Proteins are composed of strings of amino acids, pieced together as a direct result of DNA code. There are 20 different amino acids, each one denoted by a single letter. Since amino-acid alphabet is only missing the letters B, J, O, U, X and Z, one can look for relevant words within the huge dataset of genomes—within life’s code—and, perhaps, find wisdom for important decisions.
With this in mind, I decided to supercollide genetics and politics—more specifically, to contemplate specific words, built with strings of amino acids, and search all available genetic and protein sequence data for relevant matches.1 And it is these matches or answers that are gleaned—as if from a Magic 8 Ball—to reflect and evaluate our leaders, our options and our future. Whether you buy into this brand of decision making or not, here is what you’ll discover when you search genetic code for amino-acid sequence strings such as “BUSH,” as well as other names from current events.
1. The query for “BUSH” receives no hits, primarily because it is deemed a “low complexity sequence.” This is compounded by the fact that the letters B and U do not exist as specific amino acids.
2. To be fair, I tried the string “GWBUSH.” Here, the closest match resulted in the sequence “GWDASH.” It was interesting to note that 21 of the top 22 matches were derived from the genomes of “uncultured” organisms—ones that cannot be grown in any laboratory setting
3. Next, I tried “GWBLISH,” under the pretense that when you squint, it looks like “GWBUSH.” In this case, the best sequence match referred to the Japanese strain of Oryza sativa (paddy rice), a food staple from a country that is justifiably sensitive to past actions of the United States.
4. Because none of the above results sounded particularly encouraging, I figured that a better indicator of Bush’s worth might come from querying the names of his top advisors. However, when the sequence strings “ROVE,” “RICE” and “ALITO” are queried, all are met with the “low complexity sequence” result. The top hit for “RUMSFELD” was Xylella fastidiosa, a grapevine-decimating pathogen infamous in the wine industry. Interestingly, the top two matches for “CHENEY”are Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera, as well as Vibrio speldidus, a nasty intestinal pathogen known for inducing vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
5. Finally, in an effort to further demonstrate my impartiality, I begrudgingly entered “PRESIDENTBUSH.” In this case, the best non-hypothetical match—one that can actually be assigned a biological function—was from the genome of Entamoeba histolytica. The organism is a single-celled, parasitic protozoan known for infections that sometimes last for years, which may be accompanied by vague gastrointestinal distress or dysentery—complete with blood and mucus in the stool.
6. For good measure, I considered how 2005 could have been different politically, entering a couple of searches related to Senator John Kerry. A query for “KERRY” received many perfect hits from a wide variety of different organisms, and “PRESIDENTKERRY” results in a best non-hypothetical match to a gene in Zygosaccharomyces rouxii, an organism belonging to the kingdom fungi.
I’m left to make the following conclusions: Simply stated, Bush is of low complexity. Addressing Bush using his first and middle initials suggests that he will run away or act in an uncultured manner. Squint at Bush and he just might make fun of your slanting eyes, call you “sushi lover,” or make some other inappropriate comment. His closest advisors are, at best, too simple for the task or busy attacking wine, or, at worst, will make you suffer horribly. At the end of the day, if you don’t want the hypothetical, but instead want the truth: President Bush is akin to an extended period of significant discomfort in your gut.
In hindsight, it would appear that these queries reflect accurately on the past year, what with the general mismanagement of the Iraq war, the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, the administration’s rebuff of climate change, as well as the President’s awkward but accommodating tone with intelligent design.
But, what if John Kerry had been elected president? Well, he would have just been a “fun guy!”
Perhaps there is some merit to this method of divination after all?
As a postscript—and to look forward rather than back, it being a new year—I ran one last query. Given Hillary Clinton’s potential candidacy in the 2008 presidential race, I performed one last search, inputting “HILLARY.”
Here, the top non-hypothetical hit corresponded to Burkholderia vietnamiensis strain G4, a bacterium known for its prowess in eliminating various hazardous environmental contaminants that are found in groundwater. Could this result possibly foreshadow an interesting campaign ahead? Is HILLARY someone that will bioremediate—literally “clean up” —the polluting mess left by the current administration.
No matter, I think it is best that I leave that act of interpretation to you the reader, since my actual Magic 8 Ball suggests that I “better not tell you now.”
1. Anyone can do this with a common bioinformatics tool known as BLAST. Follow the link and click on the “search for short, nearly exact matches” under the PROTEIN subheading. In the new page, enter your query, and then hit the “BLAST” button.
Originally published January 11, 2006 at Seed Magazine.
By DAVID NG
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HAN SOLO: Well, so far, it seems like it’s a pretty good thing. Me, I’m not too up on the technology, but Chewie is pretty good at that stuff. Right Chewie?
CHEWBACCA: Uuuhhhggg. Rrrrggghhh. Hhhgg-aaa. Rrrrn.
HAN SOLO: Yeah, that’s a good point. Chewie just reminded me that this new system has significantly increased our energy efficiency. This basically means less money spent at the pump, and more money in our pockets.
CHEWBACCA: Rrrrrr! Aaaa-Ghhhuuurr. Uuuuhggg.
HAN SOLO: Right. And lower emissions too. Although I don’t get why that would be such a big deal in deep space. Do greenhouse gases do anything out there anyway?
CHEWBACCA: Uuuuhhh-rrrr. Ghhhgggg. Uuugggg. Ggg. Rrrrr-uuuuaa. RRRR! NNHHHUUUR!
HAN SOLO: Alright, alright. Calm down. I’m not saying it’s not a problem. I know there’s science behind all this stuff. It’s not like you haven’t told me to be environmentally conscious like a hundred times already. Look, I’m sorry buddy. I didn’t mean to sound negative like those Empire bastards.
CHEWBACCA: RRRR! RRRRRRRR!
HAN SOLO: Yeah, I know. That would be pretty funny to watch you pull the arms off a one of those guys. Doing that would be carbon neutral too right?
CHEWBACCA: Gghhnn. Nnnnh.
HAN SOLO: Yeah, sure. But listen Chewie, seriously: How would lower emissions in deep space help? I just don’t get it, you know?
CHEWBACCA: Grrrrgh. Uuurhh. RRRggllhh. Hhuu-hhhuu. Auhhh-ghu-gh. RRRRR!. Ggg-rrr, uurrghh. HHGGU! Uuuuhh. Rrr, ggghhu. Huuhhhg. GGGrrr. Uhh?
HAN SOLO: Oh, O.K.. That makes sense. You say you still want fewer emissions because there’s still a lot of flying involved when the Falcon leaves or returns to a planet, or just when she does her cool maneuvers close to the surface. These things still directly contribute to increasing greenhouse gas amounts within the confines of the planet’s atmosphere. Hence, not helping with the global warming problem.
CHEWBACCA: Ggggrrr. Rrrrh. Uuuhhggr. RRRR! Uhhfuckinggghug.
HAN SOLO: Definitely. And you’re right, Tatooine is already too damn hot.
CHEWBACCA: Rrrrrhhg. RRRGGH! Hhhuurrg. Ggrrgh. Huurg. Grrhhg. Guuuaaauu. AAAURRGG! RRRRGGG!
HAN SOLO: Yeah, O.K. I mean I’m basically pretty happy with the modifications. Really, as long as we can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, I really don’t care. Plus, I still get to say stuff like “Punch it Chewie,” right? Chewie, you love that stuff.
As many of you know, one of my stranger science education projects is a biodiversity themed card game called Phylo. This project has been especially interesting of late, with a variety of new elements being launched via a number of great open collaborations (AMNH, GSA, Muse, Keeling Lab, etc – see the Phylo blog for more details).
But there is also this “Voyage of the Beagle” deck (or just the “Darwin Deck, #darwindeck” as some have been calling it), that was talked about a couple months back. This is still a work in progress, but we have a list of cards (beta deck with commons images can be seen here), and most of the art has already been commissioned. It actually looks like we’ll need one more commission* (of about 8 images at $200 each), but I thought it would be cool to show you what the other amazing artists have done so far.
* If you’re interested, leave a link of your portfolio in the comments.
Robert I actually came across by way of his very cool work on superhero drawings (I actually have his Avengers print on my home office wall). His first two pieces are below, but he’s also planing to link his 8 pieces into a final panoramic montage.
(click the below to enlarge)
Diana (see below) did a great job of referring Golly to the project. These are Golly’s first drafts, but you can already tell that they’re going to look extraordinary.
Rachel has this great whimsical style (and some of her art has been shown here previously). She’s actually completed a couple already as you can see below!
And finally, we have Diana. I’ve been a big fan of Diana’s work for a while now, especially since she worked on a picture for a piece at the SCQ. In any event, her lovely artworks (which were just finished) are shown below.
Anyway, I hope you are all as excited as I am for this #darwindeck. I’m thinking that it should be ready by late 2014 or early 2015. And don’t forget, it looks like we will need one more artist in the mix, so leave a link to your portfolio if you’re interested!