How I Survived 8 Years of GLS (and you can to)

Last month I was deeply honored and touched to be invited to help close out the tenth annual Games, Learning and Society (GLS) Conference. I first came to GLS in 2005 (the third festival) and (except for the year I had to skip) I haven’t missed one since. It’s my favorite conference, hands down. It’s like the best learning playground, the ultimate reunion, and as Jessica Lindl, General Manager at the Institute of Play, just said, “like summer camp, but the food is great.”

As an educator/practitioner and youth development expert, I always felt like a more-than-welcome visitor to this University of Wisconsin, lake-side conference. So to be asked to join the impressive list of accomplished academics (and game designers) closing today’s conference felt like an important recognition of the cutting-edge work with games-based learning that is going on across institutional informal learning spaces (after school centers, museums, libraries, etc.).

Here’s the invite I received:

We ask you to entertain this question: “Looking back at the past decade of GLS conferences, what should games and learning become in the next one?” You can tackle that in whatever way you wish, based on your personal experiences with GLS as a community, your thoughts about games and learning research more broadly, and from within whichever of your many areas of expertise you’d like. We will be the final keynote session of the conference (Friday, June 13th at 1pm), and will serve as a great send-off before beer and brats!

And to keep us on our toes, we each had only 5 minutes and 20 slides, with each slide set for 15 seconds. Finally, all of our slides were loaded into the same deck and then, when the session was ready to begin, the relay race began, the race track of slides before us, and the Speed Run did not end until the last speaker finished their last slide.

And here’s what I did:

SpeedRun copy.001Good afternoon! Video Games as Icebreaker To A New Tomorrow.
17.5 Reasons Why Video Games Can Make Or Break Education in the 21st Century.
A dialectical resistance to dominant precision as anticipated by the Geecian and Jenkensian dialectical backlash…


SpeedRun copy.002No – wait! I can’t do it! If I was you, I couldn’t stand it. Are you ready for a confession? I can’t stand GLS. Sorry Constance! Wait, that’s not what I mean. I love GLS. I can’t stand LISTENING TO presentations. GLS – it’s not you, it’s me. I blame public school. I go out of my mind having to sit still, look forward, and just listen listen listen.

So instead, what I want to talk about is…

SpeedRun copy.003How I survived 8 years of GLS. Before every GLS I list every session I plan to go to… and then I somehow manage to miss them all. With apologies to all the amazing speakers, I’d like to now share some tips about how, never the less, I’ve been able to take advantage of all the awesome that is the Games, Learning and Society Conference and make it my favorite conference around.


SpeedRun copy.004GLS used to have wireless headsets for the spillover room. So I used to put one on and then go play guitar hero at the same time. That was awesome. Part of what makes GLS great is not just in the panels but the spaces in-between. Make connections and have fun doing it!


SpeedRun copy.005You don’t need permission to design Your Own Secret Panel. Create a personal mission to learn something before you come then don’t tell anyone what it is. Just do it. This girls mom just asked everyone for game recommendations the whole time. It was like she had produced her own perfect panel, designed for an audience of one. (I think Eric Zimmerman is teaching her kung fu).

SpeedRun copy.015
Sometimes these halls are too big for ONE conference.

The RezEd conference back in the day might have been one of the first, but now there are so many.

This year there was the CyberLearning Summit, GLS Playful Learning Summit, ARIS summit, and I think that’s not all.

So Lesson 5: Make Your Own Conference.

SpeedRun copy.006And if YOU are going to talk, for goodness sake: be awesome! Expect the same of your fellow panelists. Connect with the room. Challenge yourself. Take risks. Two years ago my coworker and I gave two presentations… AT The Same time. I even left a panel once because I was bored (I don’t think anyone noticed).


SpeedRun copy.007Have I told you yet about the Pterosaur Card Game? It’s like a trading card game and with the free app the pterosaurs fly off the cards. You can buy them online, download them for free, or pick one up at the GLS store. Get yours today!


SpeedRun copy.008Network Like There’s Only Tomorrow…

… and your path to tomorrow starts…


But… it’s hidden in plain sight.

You have to ferret it out, one person at a time.


SpeedRun copy.009I don’t need your information on a piece of paper, not in this day and age.

Instead give me something to remember you by – make an impression – or give me something to engage you around, that we can explore together.

I made these just for GLS at

Put your hand up if you’ve already gotten one from me.

(Btw, have you got your own copy of our pterosaurs card game yet?)

SpeedRun copy.010
I had no idea that night in 2008 I’d be belting Zeppelin in a near swamp.

Watch For Your Moment, Then Seize It.

[Note: the audience were then subjected to a cellphone camera video of my screeching…]


SpeedRun copy.011For the last three years we’ve had Minecraft meet-ups over lunch.

It’s not on the GLS schedule. We just make it up on the spot.

We organize through word of mouth, on the Twitter backchannel and by simply grabbing the mic and announcing it.

If GLS doesn’t organize you to talk about what you want then do it yourself.

Don’t be afraid to take charge and collaborate with others to organize what you need.


SpeedRun copy.012At the GLS party last year – I got me my bookshelf!

I met amazing people and made some great connections. But I also saw this great bookshelf – it was across the hall from Kurt’s office. So I emailed him afterwards and he told me where I could get one.

Lesson 5 is… [Go Shopping appears]


SpeedRun copy.013No, not shopping, but go to the parties, and be social when you feel like holing up and going to sleep.


SpeedRun copy.014Make a podcast.

Write a blog.

Then ask all the great minds you want to meet for an interview.

I’ve done this for the RezEd podcast, and my mooshme blog.

This REALLY works – no one has ever said no.

SpeedRun copy.016
Multitasking can help me focus, and backchanneling is great. Let’s see what’s going on in the live feed…

That’s me: “Look ma, no hands! I am live tweeting…”

From GLS: ” Who wishes @MMMooshme had stuck with his original…”

Um, “Who needs to share a taxi back to…”

Ah! “I was expecting more anecdotes about his children. What’s up with that?” Okay!


SpeedRun copy.017Yes, YOU are here, but what about your family, friends and colleagues back home?

What can you bring back for them?


SpeedRun copy.018Bring someone else!

I’ve chaperoned youth, like Jonathan and Angela here.

At the Digital Media and Learning Conference, mentors were set up in advance.

At the Games For Change conference, people signed up for speed dating.


SpeedRun copy.019So pick one.

Do it.



Make a decision and write it down.

Talk to someone.

Tweet something.


Do it now.


SpeedRun copy.020Stop listening to me.

Do it.

Now. Now. Now.

Make a decision.

Commit to it.

Make a connection.

Do it.

Now. Now.


SpeedRun copy.021Now…


in the end…

all we have is now.

Thank you GLS!

Here’s to another ten years of awesome now!


Here are some of the tweets from the session, in reverse chronological order:

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 2.02.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-13 at 2.01.37 PM

Finally, after all the Speed Runs were complete, we took a group selfie!Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 2.24.21 PM

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
This entry was posted in Conferences and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.