August 2010 Archives

sparkpeople: social game mechanics applied to daily life

Over the past several years, I've been thinking a lot about the ways that game mechanics can be applied to day-to-day life-- giving the kinds of rewards that successful game environments offer, but for the "grind" of real life rather than virtual activity.

This week, I started listening to the book The Spark, by the guy who created the website, and I'm really impressed with how he designed his site to do exactly that. I'm also delighted to see how successful that implementation has been. (Generally I'm not a big fan of "change your life!" self-help books, but I found this one pretty engaging.)

If you haven't seen the site, it's worth taking a look at. It's based around a goal-setting and activity tracking model, but adds in the kind of point accumulation and leveling that can make games so addictive. It's also very focused on the social and community aspects of this process, another hallmark of good game environments.

In playing with it a bit today, I thought I'd try to accumulate points by clicking on emails I'd been sent since i first signed up a few weeks ago, and by reading some articles (which also generates points)--in Bartle's player categories, I'm a pretty typical "achiever." In the process, however, I actually ended up reading some excellent articles on "ideal" body weights (and body types), as well as watching an excellent video on how to peel, seed, and chop a tomato.

All in all, I'm very impressed--the site is useful to me both professionally (as an example of successful application of game mechanics to real-world activities), and personally (since I'm in the process of trying to lose weight and be healthier).

links for 2010-08-28

practicing what i teach

This fall I'm going to be teaching two large (120 student) lecture sections of our required freshman survey class "Introduction to Interactive Media." This is new for me--nearly every class I've taught at RIT over the past 13 years has been fewer than 40 students, and usually taught in a studio lab format.

I volunteered to teach the lecture sections this fall because I actually like the challenge of keeping a large group engaged in a topic. I do it all the time at conferences (or at least I try to...), but my conference style didn't translate well to a smaller classroom.

However, keeping 18-year-olds in a required engaged for two hours every week for ten weeks is a very different proposition from keeping a conference audience engaged for 45 minutes. So I've been spending some time thinking about how to best use the various social tools that I spend so much time talking about, and put them to use in the class.

I'm starting with a sanctioned "backchannel chat" for each lecture section, using the chat functionality built into our courseware (Desire2Learn). I'm going to have a TA monitor the backchannel and answer basic questions, and then have him forward to me things that should be answered/addressed in the lecture. The courseware automatically archives all the chat sessions, so I'll be able to review the sessions after class to get a sense of where I might have been unclear.

I've also set up a Facebook group for the class, which I'll encourage them to use to share relevant information, as well as to ask questions (which can be answered by other students and/or studio session instructors, not just by me).

Since I've always been intrigued by the kind of collaborative notetaking in conferences that tools like SubEthaEdit supported, I decided to investigate options that would work in a large lecture setting. Trying to get 120 students to collaboratively edit notes wouldn't be particularly helpful, but I liked the approach described last month in the Inside Higher Ed article "For One, For All." After discussing this with the instructors for the studio sessions, we've decided to break the students up into groups of five, with members of the group rotating weekly responsibilities for Google Docs notes on the lectures and the readings. We'll use those same groups for peer review of research paper drafts and Ignite presentations.

And finally, since we're not requiring them to buy any textbooks for the class (all readings will be online), I've decided instead to require the i>clicker student response system that RIT has standardized on. They can buy the clickers for less than $40 (via Amazon, at least; I doubt the bookstore price is much more), and it will allow me to do some fun in-class surveying (which, sneakily, doubles as attendance-taking).

I'm probably crazy to be trying to implement so many different social technologies in the class at once, but I'm pretty excited to see how it goes!

links for 2010-08-27

links for 2010-08-26

links for 2010-08-24

lexapro withdrawal symptoms

I wrote recently about the fact that I've been tapering off of my anti-depressant (Lexapro) this summer, and this week I stopped taking it entirely.

One of the symptoms that I've had every time I've tapered down my dosage or tried to stop taking Lexapro is a dizziness/tinnitus spike when I move my eyes quickly in any direction. It's hard to describe exactly what it feels like--it's a combination of buzzing/ringing/disorientation that lasts only momentarily but is very disconcerting.

It's hard to find any information online about this symptom. None of the standard medical or pharmaceutical sites talk about it. If you dig for a while, though, you'll find a number of blogs out there talking about "brain zaps" during withdrawal, which appears to be very much like what I'm experiencing. I particularly liked this description from Christine at "Watch me! No, watch me!", who experienced them when stopping Zoloft:

They are tough to describe. Essentially, for me, a Brain Zap feels like an electrical current briefly runs through my head, starting at the back of my skull. Not unlike a friction shock, but totally NOT like a friction shock in that it doesn't hurt at all. Just the fun part of the jolt. And yes, if you've had a Brain Zap you'd know there IS a fun part.

Brain Zaps were always my cue that I was behind on my Zoloft. If I missed a day, and went too long the next day, sure enough...zzzzzzzzzzztttttt. Oh, right, gotta take my Zoly.

The strangest thing about this (and yes, the strangest part is yet to come), is the physical action that would proceed the BZ. It seems BZ's require, again, at least for me, a quick eye movement. Not a simple annoyed eye roll (if that were the case, I'd pretty much have them constantly when running low on Zoly).

No, it requires a faster motion than that.

A quick over the shoulder glance.

Eyes darting to the other side of the room because I think one of my kids is trying to sneak some cookies.

A sudden look upwards after opening our hall closet because something is about to fall on my head from our overstuffed hall closet that I keep nagging my husband to sort through because I am not tall enough to reach the upper shelf otherwise I'd do it myself.

Thank goodness for the anecdotal descriptions out there--they let me know that it's not just me, which is hugely helpful when you're experiencing weird symptoms!

links for 2010-08-21

links for 2010-08-19

i've looked at clouds from both sides now

Long time readers of this blog (as well as many who have found it through searches) know that I've had my battles with depression, and that the cyclical nature of my depression means that I often need antidepressants to restabilize my brain when it gets seriously out of whack.

Since it's been a pretty good summer, I've been working on slowly weaning myself from my current medication. Why? Because while the benefits the meds provide by lifting my depression are incredibly valuable, they doesn't come without a cost--primarily in the form of side effects. Manageable side effects, and worth the tradeoff, but not something I want to deal with if I don't need to.

The problem with going off anti-depressants, however, is that one side effect of withdrawal is--you guessed it--depression! And it's hard to know if the resulting dark moods are short-term withdrawal symptoms or an indication that I shouldn't be going off the meds at all.

Now, my depression doesn't manifest in immediately recognizable ways. I don't sleep a lot, or even eat a lot. I do, however, snap at other people a lot--especially my family. And, oddly, I become compelled to clean house! As a result, I've spent the past few days tackling the clutter and dirt in the house, with significant results. The resulting improvements in my surroundings actually help to lift my mood, creating the opposite of a vicious circle. It's all good.

Add to that the fact that we're eating much healthier food these days, and that I'm exercising regularly, and I'm optimistic that I'll be able to push through the next week or two of moodiness and come out the other side happy and healthy.

In the meantime, however, if I don't respond to your emails, or if I seem unusually snappish--it's not you. Really.

micro-fundraising for lane's adventure

8/9/10 Update: Wow. I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity that this post generated. Thank you so much to those of you who donated; it meant the world to Lane, and it's going to enable him to really make the most of his trip. He's having a really wonderful time there; he's fallen in love with the Bay Area already, and is figuring out which schools besides Stanford he should apply to this fall :)

If you were one of the people who donated, please know that he's more than willing to do some work for you in return; for those of you who are local, he's available for physical labor as well as technical support, and for those of you who are remote, he can do web, coding, or even boring data entry work.

This also will serve for him as a great example of how generous people can be, and I hope that he'll be able to pay it forward himself in the future.

Again, my thanks to all of you.


Lane left Wednesday for a two-week trip to San Francisco and Palo Alto. It's his first trip on his own, and while we paid for tickets and arranged for places for him to stay, spending money was up to him. He put away some money over the summer, but wasn't able to find a job (despite applying at multiple places)...the economy and the influx of college/hs students home for the summer made it tough for a 16-year-old to get his application noticed.

Despite the fact that we gave him some spending money for the trip, it's only taken him three days to realize that (a) San Francisco is a lot more expensive than Rochester, and (b) if you don't pay attention, your money can disappear awfully fast into food, drink, admission fees, public transportation, and more. Unfortunately, he's come to this realization at a time when our monthly budget is already stretched a little tight because of the trip Alex and I just took, along with some other unexpected expenses.

To make matters worse, he managed to spill liquid on his laptop, so he's computer-less right now...and thus unable to post his own plea for digital piecework or advances on wages for local chores.

So, I'm helping him out with this post. If you've got some work that you'd like him to do here in Rochester, or something that he could do for you remotely, he's available for hire at whatever you consider to be fair wages. Or, if you just feel some sympathy for a 16-yo who's learning some hard life lessons this week, you could chip in a couple of bucks to make his vacation less stressful.

Donation button removed;
see update above!

Thanks! (from both of us...)

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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