Making dots move.

February 2, 2011
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When I used to go to technology conferences in New York City, I always stayed at a hostel named the L Hostel. It was located in a cool part of Harlem, a couple of blocks away from a great Jamaican vegan restaurant, was fun and had a lot of other people my age. I was recently supposed to go to New York City with a friend but when I went to L Hostel’s website, I found out that they had closed. Something had happened between the hostel and the New York City government. What had happened was not explained but from the brief but slightly cryptic message on their website, it was clear that they were upset with the New York City government. Government + small business + an area that is recovering from blight and economic depression = a similar situation to parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

So I gave this some more thought. I often liked Harlem because I viewed it as a parallel universe to the one I had just flown out of. I love seeing areas coming back to life and seeing and studying why they are changing. I have heard more conversations than I could possibly remember about what will bring my region back to life.

I thought about what I had done when I found out that my favorite hostel had closed. I looked around online for some more hostels, tried to use Google to find out why it had closed and then went on to something else. I still haven’t gone back to New York City. In fact, part of my favorite part of being there was the hostel. Does that sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But it’s true.

So now I haven’t been back to NYC and when I do go back, will I make time to visit Harlem again? What will push me to take that chunk out of my schedule? It might be the Jamaican vegan restaurant or maybe just to look around.

And I have to wonder if this is a modern day explanation of how Pittsburgh has suffered and how it will come back to what it used to be. Don’t hit that comment button yet, I’m not suggesting that we build a lot of hostels — although we really do need one.

I thought about this idea as if it were one of those density maps. My dot just moved out of Harlem and hasn’t moved back yet. But I hadn’t intended to move my dot, a disagreement between small business and government had resulted in my dot moving. Then I realized that that’s what our game pretty much comes down to. It’s about figuring out how to move a lot of dots to your location. In fact, even our logo has dots in it.

I wonder how Harlem’s doing without the hostel. How much money did the neighborhood just lose? Who owned the hostel? Did they lose money and if so, will they reinvest in Harlem in the future? Why were they shut down? Where are the other hostel guests now staying? How were other businesses in Harlem affected? Where are the majority of other hostels in the city? I wonder how many dots just moved out of an area that needed them.



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The new CivicsLab logo!

December 24, 2010
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We have two new logos and thought we would share them!


We hope you like them!

The CivicsLab Team

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Thank you!

October 2, 2010
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Ben and I would like to thank everyone who voted for us in the Public Allies Changemaker Awards competition. We won the private sector award and have all of you to thank! The requirement for a private sector award was, “a local private-sector business (small, medium or large) that has shown a commitment to the region through the five core values, with particular focus on collaboration, diversity and inclusion and integrity.”

Thank you!


Ben Gelt and Laura Staniland

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Gaming Levels vs. Puzzles

May 20, 2010
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I have been having discussions with various technology, gaming and child development experts about the differences between games with levels and puzzle games without levels. I will post more about this soon but I wanted to put this out there to see if anyone had comments about it.


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Poll Working 2.0

May 19, 2010
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Earlier this year I was invited to be majority clerk of my ward and district by a mentor of mine (Liz) who also lives in the ward and district. I happily said, ‘yes’, because I have spent past election days helping with the group, “Election Protection”; this would be a change of pace. I wasn’t sure if I had made a good choice as 5:45 am reared its ugly head and I (literally) fell out of bed. “It’s 5:45 am”, I repeated to myself as I tried to remember what happens before 8 am in the morning.

I wasn’t the only young person working at a poll yesterday. Three friends my age were also working at polls. However, we were all spread out throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, tweeting at one another for twelve very long hours. My friend tweeted, “Woooo awake. Let’s rock the vote. Errr or something like that. It’s gonna be a long day.” Another friend tweeted, “Doing my civic duty as majority inspector. I bring the average age of my board of elections down to like 60.”

Spirits were about as high as they were going to be before 7 am.

However, those spirits began to decrease pretty quickly. We weren’t all greeted by some of the older folks with the warm greeting we had thought might happen when a young person offers to help with poll work on election day- especially a day that was projected to have low turnout. When I turned up with Liz, the other women there didn’t even know you had to be elected to be an elections official. They then said there were too many people and we might have to go. We called downtown and they had to let us stay because we were elected. It was awkward, to say the least.

I was working in a neighborhood that is known as “Little Italy” in Pittsburgh. My full name is Laura Margaret Theresa Staniland, I speak Italian almost fluently and my Mom has always shopped at one specific grocery store in the neighborhood. Truth be told, if I wasn’t going to be working in an uber-liberal, tree hugging area, this was probably the second best place I could be working in terms of being able to get along with people.

Someone commented on a t-shirt my friend gave me as a joke that said, “Rustbelt Rockstar”. “Is that a band?”. “Errr, no…it’s a joke. “  Luckily, a minute later someone else commented on my watch and I quickly changed the topic to the bracelet I was wearing- I found it in my room recently and it was given to me for my First Communion. We then moved on to the tensions between the Immaculate Conception church and St. Simon and Jude. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus would have taken a nap right then, too. But I was determined to make friends and quickly began looking interested when someone asked whether the crossing guard would stay or leave. I, too, don’t know what will happen with that nice crossing guard should St. Simon and Jude  close…or maybe it was Immaculate Conception…

8 AM.

I turn to twitter, things weren’t looking too exciting for anyone else. A friend in the rural area tweeted at me, “don’t you find it odd that the machines used for our democratic process are made in a country without one?” Good question.  He then told me that he’s tired and bored. Welcome to the club. An hour later he too encountered the issue of being both young AND elected to work at a poll. “We just cracked 200 [voters]. I’m not only out of place but I was elected to do this…”

The woman sitting next to me turned to me and whispered, “This is going to be the longest day of your life. They are the only people I know who can talk for twelve hours straight.” That was some serious motivation if I’ve ever heard any. I excuse myself and wander into the hall. A person handing out literature for a candidate begins talking to me. She then asks me if I’m old enough to vote. I inform her that not only am I old enough to vote but I am also working at the district 11 polling table. I once again excused myself and wandered further down the hall.

I really needed some twitter encouragement. There wasn’t much to be found. However, I took consolation in the fact that I wasn’t being criticized repeatedly like my friend in the city. He tweeted, “number of times I’ve been in the presence of people who said I shouldn’t be allowed to take the appointed j.o.e.’s position: 2 tbc….”. I tweet back, “What has my life come to?”. Spirits on Twitter have dropped faster than Obama’s public opinion ratings.

10 am.

I had updated my Facebook status the night before asking people to stop by my polling station with food. Suddenly, the wife of a friend from the Duquesne Democrats appears with bagels for everyone. My campaign to make friends with the old timers is moving along- slowly but surely.

11 am

My friend from the rural area tweeted that he got a text message from a friend in another rural area that said,  “There were dogs in our municipal building by the voting machines.” Ouch.

I turned back to the conversation to consider just who should be eliminated from Dancing with the Stars. Later someone asked me how I got involved in this. I explained that I used to volunteer with Election Protection and then explained what they do. They asked how much I was paid to do so and I said “nothing”. After a pause they asked if it was for school credit, when I say “no”, they stare at me in disbelief. I didn’t feel like elaborating and just sat there silently staring back at them and shrugged. We went back to discussing Dancing with the Stars.

The afternoon finally appears!

A woman turned to me and told me that signing in voters is something that older people do. I bite my lip before saying, “Oh really? Because I am pretty sure I am sitting here doing just that.” “Be nice, Laura. Be nice.” , I recited in my head.

A friend from a campaign in John Murtha’s district excitedly texted me saying, “My mom got pictures of (the opponent) campaigning in a polling place! The pictures are online!”. I excitedly told the people surrounding me about this exciting use of cellphone camera technology but they din’t seem as excited as Liz and I.  Although photography is illegal in a polling place, so is campaigning in a polling place.

So went the day. Some of us made friends while others couldn’t wait to go home, fall asleep and never return. It turned out that being young and civically-engaged wasn’t actually something that all of the older folks really wanted.  Perhaps it’s just “because that’s how things have always been done”– as they repeated to all of us many, many times.

Thank god for Twitter.

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CivicsLab quoted in Forbes Magazine!

March 26, 2010
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The article begins by saying:

“Women are increasingly eager to ride the game wave. Many find gaming helps them increase their comfort level with technology and assist their career advancement. “The average age of gamers in the U.S. is 35,” says Phaedra Boinidiris, founder of and product manager for IBM‘s ( IBM news people ) Serious Games Group. “In fact, 38% of console gamers and 43% of PC gamers are women. The stereotype of a gamer as a 14-year-old boy couldn’t be further from the truth.”


“Games are a good space for women to grow more comfortable in being assertive decision makers and leaders,” says Laura Staniland, co-founder of CivicsLab LLC, where she leads game creation.”

Full article here.

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Health Care Class

March 24, 2010
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This morning I was late to a class where we are learning how to use Adobe After Effects. After sitting down, I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to catch up during class, so I signed on to twitter (shhh don’t tell). The first thing I saw was the White House’s tweet saying that they were about to live stream the President signing the health care bill. I looked around, realized the TA wouldn’t notice, muted the computer and clicked the link that the White House had sent out. There I sat for the next twenty minutes watching this historic moment live from a computer in class. “Who is the little kid standing next to Obama?”, I tweeted. A friend quickly tweeted back, “The little boy at the signing lost his mother to cancer I believe. She couldn’t afford health insurance and/or got denied”. It occurred to me that I witnessed history by clicking my mouse a couple of times.


-Laura Staniland-

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Ride the Wave

March 24, 2010
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Last night I was part of a Google Wave webinar. However, I was also tracking the results of the Veon court case on twitter. On top of that, I was text messaging a friend with the results of the court case while also IM-ing important pieces of information from the Google Wave webinar to Ben. Through it all I kept thinking the coverage of the Veon court case was a really spectacular use of new media. There were descriptions of the emotional environment in the room and peoples’ reactions as well as the verdicts. Even one of the people involved in the case tweeted when he was pronounced not guilty! I’m still trying to fully understand the impact of all these technologies and their uses on the world.


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Trending topics, C-Span?!

March 24, 2010
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On Sunday, I sat down and watched C-Span for longer than I ever have in my life. I don’t know about anyone else but watching “C-Span” rise as a trending topic on twitter made my heart go pitter-patter (a historic once in a lifetime event?). I have been talking to some friends about the effect new media had on public opinion regarding this legislation. I will post more about that in a couple of days.

What do you think?

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Back from a break

March 24, 2010
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It has been a funny four days for me.

If you don’t know, I have epilepsy. After months of being just fine, I suddenly had a seizure at a coffee shop on my way to the Fred Forward Innovation Showcase in Pittsburgh where I was looking forward to seeing cool technology and social media being used for the benefit of children. Instead, I awoke to find myself in the hospital…without a cell signal and *only* a newspaper. A newspaper with headlines I had read the night before! I sat there for hours without a cell signal wishing with much of my being that I could access ubertwitter. That feeling reminded me how much information I have at my finger tips all day and night long. Not just any news, either. But news that happened within the past hour, half hour, fifteen minutes, or sometimes 30 seconds. No wonder newspapers are struggling!


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About author

Focusing on the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, CivicsLab puts elementary and middle school students in virtual control of decision-making in their communities to encourage civic participation, critical thinking, and sense of place. In CivicsLab, players will assume positions of power in the community from an urban, suburban or rural perspective and explore how decisions-based on social need and demand, proper planning (as defined by our civic experts), political pressure, and most importantly, their imaginations-might impact the community. Through manipulation of real mapping information and current data sets, students navigate social and political pressures to explore the cause and effect of civic investment and public policy as they attempt to create a sustainable future for their region.