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New Site!

We’re still transferring parts of our old site over here to the new one.  Blog posts seem to be the smallest priority for now, so hold tight for all the blog.


Digitizing Everything

We’ve started digitizing all of our various boards that used to be made of foam board with sticky notes on them.  We’ve set up a Raspberry Pi computer hooked up to a giant flat screen TV that came with the other Black Mountain SOLE furniture we’ve been using since moving to OS AVL.


We’ve moved the schedule to Google Calendar (it looks different on our end), zooming in on today in for our Set The Day meeting each morning. This way reoccurring events can be easily set to repeat on that day, at that time. We don’t have location slots on the Google Calendar like we had on the foam boards, so instead we’ve been using colors to indicate where something is happening.


It’s been cool to see the schedule change now that we don’t have time slots; things can now be scheduled for as long/short as we want. This has been helpful for a number of meetings, meetings that really should only be scheduled for thirty minutes, but used to take up a full hour on the schedule – filling its container as predicted by Parkinson’s Law, and usually disintegrating into something entirely different by forty minutes in, a process that usually frustrates the event organizer and makes them feel disrespected.


Digitizing the schedule also makes it possible for participants coming late to be a part of the Set The Day meeting, since they can watch it happen in real time on their mobile phone, and even add their own offerings and events so that we can see them on our screen.

The digitized schedule at Endor


Our Community Mastery Board (CMB) has also been digitized, on Trello.

We found that people weren’t really ever looking at the physical board up on the wall, and that having it available for reference at all times online was more valuable. In our last Changeup Meeting the digitized CMB was projected on the wall, at about 8×10 feet which made it easier for people to see.


We also added another column for people to add their name once they had read and understood all of the new things in the Implemented column, so that those not present at the Changeup Meeting (physically or mentally) could look at the board later and find out what was decided. This column contains everyone’s name, and the participants add the current week’s label to their card to show that they’ve read and understood what’s been decided. There’s a different label for each week so that it’s easy to see what’s been added since the week before.


Putting the CMB on Trello also allows us to have conversations about each proposal in the comments stream of each card. We can also view its history, provide more in-depth explanations of the proposal, attach links, track votes and see when things haven’t moved in a while through the Card Aging “powerup.”


Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.02.42 PM
The digitized CMB at Endor


Already digitized, though not streamlined, is communication.

We have digitized communication but it’s a bit complicated.  We communicate via Email, but not everyone checks their Email.  We use a Facebook group, but not everyone uses Facebook.  I’ve started using the communication tool Slack in my other work, so I’m thinking of establishing that for next year.  It seems a little late in the game to set it up now – I don’t think we could all get in the habit of using it to the point that it would become effective.  So, next year.  (I have a goal of having a 1-to-1 computer/participant ratio next year, so we’ll start next year with an orientation in the tools we’ll use; Google Calendar, Google Drive, Trello, Slack, etc.)


Another thing I want to digitize is signing in and out.  Endor participants are free to come and go as they please – as long as they sign in and out with the time and a signature.  I’d like this to be streamlined to the point of ID cards with RFID chips in them so folks could just “beep” in and out.  Before we get to creating that, though, I want to set up a little Trello board for attendance.  Using another Raspberry Pi, I’d like to have a little display by the door for participants to move their card from “at Endor” to “out for lunch” to “gone for the day” etc.  This hinges on having another digital display, however.  The only ones we’ve got our giant flat screen TVs, so we’ll have to work on that one.  A perk of having this on Trello would be the ability for participants to let everyone know if they weren’t attending.  Say you wake up sick, so you get out your phone and move your card to “not coming today.”  It would take some getting used to, but I think it could work!  Participants are supposed to let an ALF know if they’re not coming, but this doesn’t always happen.  Partially, I think, because of the lack of streamlined communication, and partially because it’s a direct message.  I have it in my head that people don’t like sending direct messages to people, so moving a Trello card would have a much lower level of effort and thus be easier.  I’m curios to hear what Endorians think of this!  Thoughts?

Endor Welcomes Kyja Wilburn!

Our new ALF (Agile Learning Facilitator) Kyja Wilburn is starting this week!  She will be facilitating each Wednesday.


Here’s Kyja’s bio from her awesome blog Oyaya – DIY and Cooperative Education for All.

Kyja Wilburn is a lifelong educator dedicated to joyful and healing educational experiences for all. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Critical Education Studies, an exercise in what Oyaya calls “institutional DIY.” She wrote her thesis about Black Students in Free Schools. Before Oyaya, she founded a leadership organization called Radical Leadership, for which she facilitated workshops around nonviolent communication and cultural competence. She has worked in schools and as a private tutor for almost a decade.




KyjaWelcome aboard, Kyja!

Endor Reboot

What a week!


We made some major progress this week and built up a lot of momentum for Endor as a whole.
Last Friday, March 20th, I was away for a family wedding, Rochelle was the only facilitator present. During checkouts that day, a number of people expressed dissatisfaction with the way things were going at Endor. From what I can gather, people were feeling unproductive, that they weren’t learning new things, and that they were spending a lot of time “hanging out.”


On Monday we revisited this discussion in the morning, spending over an hour going over everything those present had issues with. We went around in a circle and I wrote notes about what everyone had to say. Some of the things that came up included: We want more guest presenters; We have too many meetings and not enough action; People are using violent language; People are messing around too much; We can’t be allowed to do whatever we want.


I wrote a list of the issues that came up and then kind “responded” to each one after everyone had gotten a chance to speak.


Here’s a summary of what I had to say about the issues raised.


Guest Presenters

Participants said they wanted more guest presenters


My opinion is that if any Endor participant wants to have someone come in and present about anything, then that’s great! Have them come in! That’s why everyone has @liamnilsen.com Email address. If writing to or calling someone to ask if they’ll come in is too scary, or if a participant doesn’t know how to go about doing it, or if they need help finding someone in the field they’re interested in, they can go to a facilitator for help.


In a later meeting I made an example about a Getting into College workshop Rochelle had talked about a few months ago. I asked the crowd if this had happened. It hadn’t. I asked the crowd if anyone had talked to Rochelle and asked her to teach the workshop. No one had. So, someone did right there on the spot, and now that workshop will be happening this Wednesday. I used this as an example to reiterate for the 100th time that if you want something to happen, you’ve got to make it happen. And we’re here to make that easy for participants, but not to do it for them.


Endor is not a marketplace for content the way a school is, it’s a community that is participated in, where every community member contributes to making it a rich and fulfilling place to work and to learn.


The other point I had to make about guest presenters was that for us to have them, the presentation has to be an exchange that goes both ways, the presenter has to get something out of the experience too. Guest presenters take time out of their day to come in, take time to prepare material beforehand, and often times they walk away from the experience feeling unappreciated. This happens if people are doodling, having side conversations, walking away mid-class, or otherwise being disruptive. Again in a later meeting I made an example about people doodling “See, you’re doodling. I know that you can doodle and pay attention, but a guest coming in to teach doesn’t know that, and they’ll see that and feel disrespected.” I also pointed out that we had a community expectation that if a participant wishes to do something that doesn’t relate to the purpose of the event (doodling, eating lunch, playing mobile games, knitting, texting, etc), they have to ask the event host if it’s permitted at the event.


So, we brainstormed a list of fields to find presenters in. Brenna wrote them down and started reaching out to people right there on the spot.


Long Meetings

Participants felt that many of our group projects get caught up with long meetings that don’t lead to much action


To this point I had to agree wholeheartedly. Many of the meetings we have concerning group projects have long meetings where few decisions are made and where the group loses focus within thirty minutes. I pointed out that we have quite a number of facilitation techniques at our disposal that are mostly not utilized. Someone suggested that we just need to “step up our game!” Take things more seriously, and sometimes save humor for later.


Violent language

People were unnerved, insulted, and embarrassed by others language use


Back when we were at Studio Zahiya, someone brought up profanity as an issue, not an issue that they had, just an issue. We went around and everyone stated that profanity didn’t bother them, as long as it wasn’t discriminatory, racist, sexist, ablest, etc. It didn’t come up again until now.

Now we’re faced with the fact that we’re no longer in a space where everyone has stated that profanity doesn’t bother them, at OS AVL we’re constantly around people from outside Endor; including adults and children. When people at Endor use profanity, it reflects badly on all of us.

There was also an issue of violent language as apposed to just profanity. People (jokingly) threatened each other, yelled at each other, etc. So we decided to Step It Up and leave that behind.


Too much freedom

A participant suggested that they had too much freedom, which made it hard to sit down with just one thing and focus


I stated that I, as a facilitator, wasn’t going to tell people do with their time (as long as it isn’t hurting anyone), but, if someone wants to change their own behavior, I am more than happy to help them implement that. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons facilitators are present.

Several participants pointed to Endor 3.0 when we used to meet at different local businesses such as Mojo, Dobra, the Chocolate Lounge etc. as a time when, as a group, we were more capable of staying on point. With this I agreed, but stated that we can achieve this same level of focus at OS AVL, but it’s something we’ve got to work at and take seriously.


Other stuff from that meeting


Cian’s Happy 00:45

Cian started a weekly research group (this week’s topics are ISIL and You’ve Got a Friend in Me)


Video games

One of the things some people found they were spending a lot of time on without getting much of a return on was video games. Which I absolutely understand; I think video games are a cool art form, I have nothing against them, but they’re definitely not something I would go to a working/learning center to exercise on a regular basis. Some non-gamers expressed frustrations with the noise level sometimes emitting from gamers and the distracting nature of them. The more people gaming or watching people game, the less people at your discussion group.

The group decided to add video games to the “Dump” list.



I made a general statement about blogging and self-reflection in general. About how it’s extra important to reflect when you feel like you’re not spending your time well. Many participants had previously voiced not wanting to blog because they didn’t have anything to blog about. This, I think, is a super important realization because ideally that leads spending time differently in the future.

So, the community decided to make blogging a weekly expectation for everyone, every Friday. This I thought was great. We were planning on starting to use this part of the ALC practices in the fall, but starting already now will make us more agile, more faster.

I also wonder if this whole conversation would have happened earlier had we been blogging all along.


Overall Themes

The general themes were about needing more focus, and needing help finding things to work on. We’re addressing these by starting the Monday morning Set The Week meeting, using kanban boards to write good ideas for things to do later, to have weekly brainstorms for picking subjects, and to Step Up Our Game.



After we discussed the issues people had, Rochelle took over and led us in an exercise where we made three big lists. One for things to leave behind, one for things to keep, and one for things to create going forward.

IMG_0183 IMG_0184 IMG_0185


Changeup Meeting

On Wednesday, with higher enrollment, and with our official decision making procedure at the Changeup meeting, we went through the lists and “signed them into law” so to speak. We established a system to insure that everyone, present or not, could understand the new guidelines established, by adding their name to a separate column once they had read them each week.


Our Changeup meeting was really good. Everyone was really engaged, though after about thirty minutes the group started to lose focus, so our future Changeup meetings will happen in the morning each Wednesday, instead of in the afternoon.


We built up a lot of good momentum this week, and we can carry it forward, but only if every participant steps up their game and we manage to raise the bar for each other.

Open Space Asheville

We’ve moved!  Starting Monday, Endor is on the West side of Asheville at Open Space Asheville.  For the time being we’re in the smaller of the two buildings on the OSA campus.  It’s got a very open floor plan, so we’ve got some adjusting to do co-operating with other people and projects in the space.  I’m really looking forward to our Changup meeting later today, I expect we’ll have lots of fresh ideas for cultivating our culture now that we’ve moved location.


I think we’ve got a lot of good momentum what with the beautiful spring weather, extended hours, an improved schedule for 1-on-1’s, personal projects, and our new facilitator BRENNA!


The personal projects I’m especially excited about.  All the one-on-ones I’ve had so far have been great, with everyone setting really great short term goals.  Soon enough we’ll be seeing super interesting stuff coming out of everyone’s blogs on the ALC network site.


It’s pretty cool being right in West Asheville, has a very different feel to it than downtown.


We’ve had a couple hiccups with the new hours and starting on time, but I expect that’ll be ironed out soon enough.


We’ve now got access to lots of the equipment from Black Mountain SOLE, including a digital display!  For the Raspberry Pi!  Which we had yet another hour of troubleshooting with.  Eventually, and with a little help from Nick Rake of the Makers, we managed to reformat the chip and load on the operating system.  It’s great being in the same space as the Makers folks!


Reinventing Education/What If Conference

Last weekend I attended the Reinventing Education What If 360 conference at UNCA.  Check out the What If and Reinventing Education websites.


At the conference I got to meet lots of interesting educators from around the country; a principle that runs a network for teachers using Star Wars in the classroom (he was pretty psyched about Endor believe it or not), some interesting folks from Next high school, and more.  I also got to talk a lot about Endor, which led to some good connections.


I was fortunate enough to get to talk at the conference.  All talks at What If conferences are pitched as what if questions, so my question was “What If We Dropped the Concept of Education.”  The talk as about learning by doing, and re-framing our mindset to not condescend to the important work of young people.


I would really feel like this was egotistical if it wasn’t for the fact that this is all about Endor.  Here’s a transcript of my talk:



What if we dropped the concept of education?


What if I told you to open your textbooks to page 156 and to read the chapter on attending conferences.  You probably wouldn’t want to be here – we all know full well that top-down non consensual compulsory education is not the way of the 21st century.  (otherwise we wouldn’t be here.)


So what if we dropped that, that concept of education.  Something that young people do for a while and then grow out of.  Let’s drop it.  Let’s instead pick up the concept of lifelong learning.


We’ve got lots of different kinds of learning, there’s learning things that can be taught.  Things that already exist; languages, history, etc.  Let’s call this learning about things.


Then there’s other kinds of learning, learning things that only you can teach yourself, things that have yet to be done; going places no one else has gone, writing things that’ve never been read, creating new music, having an idea and starting a company.  Like work.  It’s the kind learning by doing things.


In adult life, both of these kinds of learning are happening all the time, so why pretend they come one then the other? School then work.


We’re addressing that question at Endor.


Endor is a self-directed learning center for 14 to 20 yr old human beings here in Asheville.  At Endor we have participants, not students.  Endor is an education space, and a work place.  The participants at Endor decide how they spend their own time, and take part in the governance of the project as a whole.  We make a schedule together each morning, setting the day as a community.  The participants and facilitators have equal ground in directing the things that we do.  Endor is all about learning.  The about kind, and the doing kind.




We use learning about things to help us with work.  All of us.  You buy a new oven, you read about how it works, then you do some baking with it.  We’re doing this kind of learning-then-doing all throughout our lives, learning how to do things as they come up.


So why are our schools filled with things that have no relevance to what the students in them wish to achieve?  Because it will one day become relevant?  Well why don’t we teach kids about retirement?  What it’s like to be put in a nursing home?  Because those are adult things that adults will learn how to deal with when they need to.


Now that we live in an age with such constant change, it seems much more productive to let young people grow up in a system of learning things as they become relevant, because that’s what their whole life is going to look like.


What if we respected the things young people want to do, the doing of young people.  Giving them space to fail, and a community to support them when they do.  Giving them access to other things to work on when their project falls through.


That’s what we aspire to do at Endor.  Endor is about to go through a major transition.  On Monday actually, we’ll be moving across town to be a part of a new project called Open Space Asheville.  OSA will be filled with all sorts of different projects: entrepreneurs’ coworking offices, a makerspace, a tool library, an arts space, various meetings and events.  When we’re there, we’ll really be blurring the lines between adults there to “work” and teenagers there to “learn.”  Everyone there will be working with and learning from eachother.


What if we replaced education with cycles of learning how/why and then doing?  Sure young people would likely spend more time on the how/why, and lots of adults who have “figured it out” would spend more time on the doing, but this cycle is a lifelong process that we see in every age group.  We could call this cycle “work” because that’s something we can all respect.  And it is work.  After all, you put all your work hours in the same resume you put your educational hours in.  And what’s the resume for?  Work!


If young people learn the why behind putting long hours into learning the about in a real and tangible way through cycles of “work,” they will continue to benefit from that throughout their whole lives.


Having a purpose in mind for what they’re learning seems to be crucial for self directed learners – that being said, it’s important for them to be able to learn new things outside of their scope, things they don’t yet see benefit in.  But growing up with these cycles of “work” would exercise their curiosity, since they see the benefit behind the “abouts” in everything else they’ve done on and have reason to know everything they know.


The ideas behind schools with age segregation and constant instruction and evaluation start to seem absurd.  So the question becomes What If our schools were replaced with all ages learning/creation spaces?  Well that’s what we’re asking and and trying to answer at Endor and Open Space Asheville.


If children grow up this way, then the patterns they develop will go on serving them all throughout their lives, living as people who do what they love.


Thank you,



Liam Speaks at conference

Cellphones at Endor

Last week we had some really great discussions about device use during events. Some people were getting frustrated with others loosing focus and getting distracted using their cellphones, so naturally it came up for a couple people at our checkouts.


We came up with a process for avoiding this by making it explicit before an event starts if cellphone/device use is permitted at the event by marking it on the event sticky-note on the schedule.


A few weeks ago we started using a 1-to-5 seriousness/focus rating represented by dots on the event-sticky. This seems to be working well, as it gives people a better idea of what to expect at the event. It has also helped event organizers keep people on topic having the focus rating to remind people of; “Hey come on, this is a focus lvl 4 meeting guys.”


We started with scheduled events having just the name of the event, then we added a second note for the name of the event organizer, then the seriousness rating, and now device use.


We have a whole set of expectations for event hosts/attendees which include the guideline of event attendees to ask event organizers if they can do something with their hands during the event. The examples we’ve used when talking about this have been: eating lunch, doodling, doing origami, knitting, or playing games on a laptop. It’s interesting that using a cellphone doesn’t seem to fall under this category for most people. There is a broader culture of people pulling out their phones in more or less every other social situation, so at Endor it seemed necessary to make a separate note about this.


I was really glad that this concern came from participants spotting issues within our culture.  The process works!


Cellphone use differs at each event
Cellphone use differs at each event

Open Space Asheville Blueprint Meeting

Steve Cooperman came in today to talk with us about Open Space Asheville, the community space where we’ll be moving March 1st.  OS AVL will be using the Blueprint of We process to govern participant-interaction with the space, so this meeting was a kind of clarifying conversation which comes from BoW.


Everyone got  to familiarize themselves with the process a little bit.


One of the big things we’re figuring out is how Endor participants will interact with the space during Endor off-hours.  OS AVL will have plenty going on in its own right, so those who want to come early, leave late, or be around on off days to use the space/resources will have the opportunity to become members – and we’re still figuring out what that’ll look like.


This is an ongoing conversation, so there’s lots more to come.


Open Space Asheville clarifying conversation.


February Newsletter update – We’re Moving!

Here‘s a link to the newsletter.


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Follow @GuessAsheville!


In a project brainstorming session on the 21st of January we started a project called @GuessAsheville.  @GuessAsheville is an Instagram account that posts a picture of somewhere in Asheville each day, and the followers comment their guesses on where it is.  The first winning guess wins a dollar!  Redeemable over Paypal.  The idea is that each month a different local business sponsors the account and funds the giveaways.  Endor is sponsoring for the first month as @GA builds its followership, but starting in March the outreach team will start looking for new sponsors in the local business community.


It’s been really great to see the excitement this has built up with great ideas around marketing and graphics and lots of stuff.  I don’t want to give away too much at this point, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing this project flourish.


@GuessAsheville’s first picture!




Here’s a draft of a sticker designed to promote the project.