Mike Vigilant

Why I Game: Consoles

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While I am relatively new at playing PC games, I have been playing console games since I had the original Nintendo as a child.  I grew up during the explosion of console gaming, and since I got that first Nintendo, I have owned a console ever since. I went from Nintendo to Super Nintendo to Xbox to Xbox 360. And don’t think I’m not eyeing the new Xbox One.

The main appeal of console gaming for me is its ease. With consoles, you don’t have to worry about making sure your virus scanner is current, or whether you have enough system resources to run the game. Everyone has the same hardware. All you do is insert the game and start playing. Heck, now you don’t even have to have the game on disc; you can download it directly to your console. By and large, consoles just work.

To me, one of the most important parts of a good game is its plot. Some prefer the simplicity of a game where the only plot is “destroy everything that moves,” and I can certainly understand that. Games are an escape–maybe you don’t want to evaluate strategy or debate options.  But for me, a good, believable story is the best part of the game.

The best games I’ve played stick with me forever, mostly because I bought into the characters. I remember Sam from Splinter Cell, and the rage he felt when he learned his daughter’s death was faked.  Or Legion from Mass Effect, the robot who developed a soul, sacrificing his own life in order to give his developed awareness to his people. I cried when Legion died. And I wasn’t the only one.

Online gaming from consoles, such as Xbox Live, are maligned all the time as being hotbeds for hateful comments, swearing, and all the joys that come with unsupervised children unleashed on the internet. All of that criticism is deserved, and I wish Microsoft would get a backbone and deal with these folks who try to ruin the game for everyone. For the longest time, I completely avoided the online components from games. Who wants to come home from work and get cursed out by an anonymous child? Not me.

Two things changed that for me. The first is cooperative multiplayer. Unlike the more common competitive multiplayer, in coop games all players are on the same team and must work together. In my experiences with multiplayer coop games, people realize they are all on the same team, and tend to act more appropriately. You’re more likely to help me when you realize that our success is linked. Coop multiplayer can be enjoyable even when played with complete strangers.

The other thing that changed the way I feel about online multiplayer gaming is that some of my friends are on there now. One of my friends and I spent months playing a spy game together, chatting over the headsets while we sneak around an embassy or defend sensitive data from would-be hackers. After a long day at work, it can be invigorating to come home and save the world while dinner is in the oven.

As far as finding a way to merge my love for gaming into my professional practice, I truly don’t know how to proceed. I’m sure everyone loves gaming in their own unique ways. I want to tap into that and bring the greater sense of belonging that makes me love gaming so much into the school’s staff development program next year. I’m going to look at other gaming resources this month to see about making that happen.

Written by Mike Vigilant

April 10, 2014 at 12:15 AM

Posted in Personal, Uncategorized

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Why I Game: MMOs and PC Gaming

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I’m new to the scene. When I bought my laptop in the summer of 2011, I knew graphics didn’t matter. How much graphic power does Microsoft Word really need? Does it play YouTube videos? Those were my only concerns. I didn’t see myself playing any PC games, much less high-end titles.

I played a few PC games during the early 2000′s while I was in college. Most of the games I played were plagued with errors, bugs, and other funky problems. The game I enjoyed most had a habit of crashing in the most annoying way:  no error message, no warning; it just disappeared. Gaming was mostly a frustrating experience, and I questioned whether PC games would ever take off compared to consoles.

Last year, I randomly discovered Star Trek Online. It’s been around for years, but since I stopped playing PC games, I fell out of touch with what was going on. I never had any interest in World of Warcraft, but I grew up on Star Trek, so I was intrigued. I did my research, watched a few YouTube videos, and decided to sign up. Why not? It was free.

Within about an hour of signing up for a new account and designing my character (he looks like me, but skinnier), I was the captain of my very own ship. It was tiny, but it was mine. Not only that, I could explore anywhere in the Star Trek universe. No linear “go here, do that” missions, unless I wanted to do those. But I didn’t have to. Do you know how many summer afternoons I spent sitting on a bench at Earth Spacedock, amazed at watching the people (other human players) buzzing about, handling their errands before returning to space? I sat for hours, not playing, just taking part in the scene.

The Consensus is my current flagship. It has a crew of 1,000.

The U.S.S. Consensus is my current flagship. It has a crew of 1,000. Here it is over the northern U.S.

Before long, I joined a fleet.  A fleet is a group of up to 500 players who align themselves and work together to meet common goals. Chatting with the fleet gave me an avenue to ask basic questions about the game.  Fleet members went on missions together. We donated the resources we earned towards big projects to help improve our facilities. I spent much of my time working on improving our embassy, because I loved the idea of diplomacy and having a beautiful space to negotiate with alien races.  While I was working on graduate school work, I would find a quiet place to sit in the game, and let the background sounds keep me focused. I split my time between a large arm chair near the embassy aquarium and the lounge across from the conference room on our starbase.

Being part of the fleet has given me a purpose greater than myself, and I now feel obligated to contribute my portion to the fleet, as well as attending social events and meetings. I also manage the crew of my own ship, as well as its equipment and supplies, and the other ships I own as well. It’s also so much fun! This feeling of intense camaraderie among a select group of people around a shared purpose is exactly what I want to create in my school next year. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to do that.

Maybe I’ll sit in the cargo bay and think about it for a while.

Written by Mike Vigilant

April 5, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Posted in Personal, Technology, Uncategorized

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Daily Review

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It was a busy day today, with several hours of instructional planning before my class at 12:30.  This is my first week of having class three times in the same week, and it’s going to take me longer to get prepared.  It’s draining, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Tomorrow morning, I have a brief training session at the county office.  I really like having to go there and get trained on new things, so I’m looking forward to this opportunity, even if it’s only for two hours.  Hopefully the information will be useful.

They’re calling for snow and ice tomorrow night, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much about missing school on Wednesday, but it makes me so excited I can’t stop thinking about it.  I love snow days.

Written by Mike Vigilant

January 27, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Posted in Daily Review

The Week(s) Ahead

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I’ve enjoyed the winter break, the snow day, and the holiday last week.  Now we’re heading into a stretch where we work the next several weeks without a single day off.

It’s easy to compare teaching to other professions, where working several weeks without a single day off is the norm, and it’s easy to make fun of teachers for the perceived time-off we get.  But time away from work is important to me professionally.  When I’m looking at new ideas and concepts, thinking about something I’d like to show my teachers, or planning for more than the next twenty-four hours, it’s probably because I have the day off of work.  Over the summer, I love attending conferences, webinars, online chats, and catching up on professional reading, from blogs to books.

Don’t get me wrong; I love doing all of that while sitting on the couch in my pajamas with a cup of coffee.  I enjoy the rest and relaxation that comes with time off, for sure.  But there’s something to be said for taking a step back and viewing the battle from the watch tower, not just the trenches.  I find it professionally rejuvenating to have time to do these things.

I did save all three of my personal days this year, so it’s not like I’m going to go from February to May non-stop, and we do have Spring Break, but I think it’s going to be a long battle from here on out.

Luckily, I stocked up on coffee.

Written by Mike Vigilant

January 26, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Daily Review

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It was another long day today, but at least things went more smoothly. I only had a free report cards to reprint. I have fixed the outstanding issues with all but one teacher, whose students shouldn’t be getting report cards anyway. I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Class went fairly well. We are starting work on our Media Festival projects so we reviewed group roles today. I am feeling a little more structured this time around. I have one student who refuses to participate in anything, and I just don’t know what to do with him.

There was some discussion about grades and faculty policies. I am hopeful I can turn this into an opportunity to use the new social platform on the district portal. We will see.

I can’t believe tomorrow is only Wednesday. It seems like it should be Friday.

Written by Admin

January 14, 2014 at 10:57 PM

Posted in Daily Review

Daily Review

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Today is one of those days I can’t wait to forget.  Luckily, it won’t take me long.

Report cards are finished–mostly.  I spent more than four hours on Saturday working on them from home.  I even printed all the report cards to a giant PDF, so that I could come in on Monday morning, just print the file, slap them in teacher mailboxes, and call it a day.  After investigating a problem with one of the report cards not having updated grades, I was wondering what was going on.  Shortly thereafter, the district office sent an e-mail saying that no changes since Friday afternoon were kept, and that they were updating their records and should be done soon.

This meant that I lost all the work I did on Friday and Saturday, had to destroy 1150 report cards, wait for the all-clear e-mail, and then fly through the process again to get the report cards out.  I got it done, but not without spending the entire day on it, getting really frustrated and upset, and ignoring everything else around me.  I even went to far as to put a picture of Oscar the Grouch on my door telling visitors to scram or talk to me later.

There are still problems with our three self-contained special education teachers, who shouldn’t even have to be giving a report card, much less trying to come up for grades for nonsense classes like Algebra (for severe and profoundly disabled students, that’s ridiculous).  I am beating myself up for not being able to solve that problem today and feel guilty for having to work on it tomorrow.  I don’t like making them feel second-class like that.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed with all the other support issues going on at school, and I left some big ones untouched today, including “I am seeing another teacher’s gradebook.”  Having big open issues always makes me feel guilty, sorry for the other teacher, and like I’m not doing enough.

On top of all that, grad school started today.

And I don’t have a lesson plan for tomorrow.  Or a technology plan for this year.  Or…

I promised myself that this semester would be different.  I wasn’t going to burn myself out by working every night and all weekend, and I was going to be OK with leaving some work at school and not worrying about it.  This was day 4 of the semester and I’m already feeling guilty about those choices, and if it weren’t for all that “first day of school” stuff they even make online graduate students do now, I’d be hammering away furiously.

I just don’t know where to get started.

Written by Admin

January 13, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Posted in Daily Review

Understanding by Design

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I told myself that, over the winter break, I’d read Understanding by Design.  I told myself that it was important, that I needed this professional development for myself, and that I would really benefit from the material.  I told myself this was a worthwhile use of my time and I have plenty of time to get it read.

So, with only a few days left in the winter break, I’m on page 85.

It is interesting, but not a fun read at all.  The book is so huge that the pages take forever.  I had to force myself to get as far as I did.

I’m going to try to force my way through the rest of it before Monday.  I’m trying to imagine it as cough syrup or antibiotics–not delicious when taken but ultimately good for me.  Wish me luck.

Written by Admin

January 1, 2014 at 11:59 AM

10 Days Until Thanksgiving

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We only have two weeks of school until the Thanksgiving break–an entire week off.  I just missed three days last week to attend GaETC, and I’m going to miss part of Thursday to attend a meeting, but I already can’t wait. I am thinking of reading Understanding by Design, and that would be a perfect time to do it.  I am hoping to be done with most or all of my graduate classes by Thanksgiving, so I can really focus on reading for professional development and creating innovative lesson plans for next quarter based on what I learned at the conference.

10 days.

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November 10, 2013 at 10:45 PM

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Hey, Microsoft! Where Were You This Week?

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Dear Microsoft:

Wasn’t GaETC13 a fun conference?  Over 3,000 influential and intelligent people from all over the region, all gathered in Atlanta to talk about using technology to enhance education.  Just the number, three thousand, is inspiring.  We came classrooms, charter schools, and board offices; from near and from far; from affluence and poverty.  Even the vendors were great–some are truly inspired to offer brilliant products to help educators on their mission.  I had a blast.  Did you?

Oh, that’s right.  You weren’t there.

You didn’t have anybody in the exhibit hall.  No representatives directly from Microsoft.  You had a handful of resellers or other vendors there offering a few Windows computers, but nobody flew the Microsoft flag at this conference.

Apple and Google didn’t have anyone at the conference, either.  Know why?  They didn’t have to.  99% of the tablets I saw (and everyone brought a tablet to this thing) was an iPad.  A sea of iPads at every session.  And the MacBook rate was just as impressive–I’d say 90%, easily.  As for Google, while I only saw one or two Android tablets, guess what everyone was talking about and using for presentations and notes?  Google Drive.  Presenters presented on it, audience members took notes in it.  The many uses of Google Drive continues to be one of the biggest themes of this conference.  Google Apps for Education is real.

So where were you?  You guys left your conference presence in the trust of a handful of dedicated teachers and an Office 365 reseller who presented on–wait for it–how awesome Office 365 is.  Other than a handful of sessions, you were largely ignored in the discussion on technology in education this week.  Doesn’t that bother you?  Does it bother you that a lady in a totally random session went off on how they switched to Office 365 and she hates it, and nobody said anything different?  Does it bother you that many of these teachers only use your products because their district’s IT department makes them?  Does it bother you that districts are starting to stop that practice in the face of BYOD?

What frustrates me the most is that Microsoft makes some great products.  I love SkyDrive, and for the way I work it works better than Google Drive for me.  I swear by it for my important documents.  Office 2013 has some very cloud-friendly features as well.  Sync my OneNote notebook between my work and home laptops, and my phone?  Yes, please!  Opening files from SkyDrive right in Office is a killer time saver.  And more people still have Office than Google Drive, so maintaining the integrity of my files is effortless and makes life easy.  They just work.  I love the modern new look, love Windows 8 and its new features, and of course OneNote is my organization headquarters, no matter what device I’m using.  I am pinching my pennies, desperately saving up so I can get a sweet new Surface tablet, and I can’t wait until Sprint gets its pathetic Windows Phone act together so I can ditch this dumb Android phone.  I’m a fan of Microsoft!  And I want you guys to do well, because I enjoy and use your products.  You deserve to be successful.

I saw you already registered to exhibit at the national educational technology conference (ISTE 2014) in Atlanta this summer.  I’m excited to go to my first ISTE conference, and right in my backyard!  And I’m excited that you guys are showing up, as least to the exhibition hall.  I hope you’re sending trainers or teacher/ambassadors to teach us innovative strategies to educate students using your products.  I want you guys to get a lot of attention, and hope you can play a positive role in the discussions.  I’ll certainly be stopping by your booth.

But showing up to ISTE once a year and hooking everyone up with Surface tablets just isn’t enough (how disappointed I was that I couldn’t afford to go last year–that alone would have made the trip worthwhile).  You are losing the buzz battle.  When teachers think “Microsoft,” apparently they are thinking about bulky, ugly boxes in noisy computer labs.  Why are you letting this image get promoted?

I’m hoping next year will be different.  I’m hoping next year I’ll see Microsoft at GaETC, and see Microsoft-savvy teachers presenting captivating and informational sessions.  I want to talk about what Windows 8 brings students, what Office 365 brings employees, and what SkyDrive can bring everyone.  Let’s talk about everything and anything.  Let’s just talk.

Your fans are out there.  We’re ready to push for you.  But you have to be willing to push for yourselves.

Hope to see you soon.

//Mike

P.S.:  Rough count of number of sessions at GaETC13 dedicated to each company:
Microsoft:  4
Google:  9
Apple:  14

GaETC Day 2 Reflections

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I left a little bit later for GaETC and wound up getting stuck in a little rush hour traffic.  I arrived at the convention center around 7:30 and took the ATL SkyTrain over to the airport to hit up the Starbucks for breakfast.  When I got back, I checked the conference schedule and realized that there was a concurrent session that started at 8 and I didn’t have anything lined up for it.  I found a session by Diana Laufenberg, whose session I attended yesterday, and decided to attend.  It wound up being a great session on visualizing data and I was feeling pretty good about it.

After that I stopped by the exhibit hall briefly to talk to a few vendors I had been Tweeting with and hadn’t seen during the conference yet.  That was highly productive and fun.and I’m glad I did it  Then I went to a couple more sessions before taking a session off to eat lunch.  I enjoyed my BBQ sandwich in the exhibit hall (they needed more seating) and then went to a couple more sessions.  I went to several sessions on online learning and found them very interesting (and packed).

It was a really productive and fun day and I enjoyed it even more than yesterday.  I’m looking forward to sitting down this weekend and processing everything I’ve learned.  And to catching up on my sleep!

Written by Admin

November 7, 2013 at 10:43 PM