In an article published in February of this year, Davies, Shield, and Weininger (1998) argue that "language educators who profess an educational philosophy of constructivism, collaboration, and community, and who want to further their own professional development would be well advised to consider using MOOs" (n.p.). Indeed, judging from the discussions on a number of listservs (notably, TESLCA-L and NETEACH-L), the number of foreign language teachers who are interested in MOOs is growing. Are MOOs poised to move from the relative marginality of their origins in the gaming environment of MUDs to take a more prominent position in second and foreign language instruction?
Email (as an example of asynchronous communication) is probably the most widely used Internet tool today, while text-based chat, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Multiple User Domains (MUDs) or MUDs Object Oriented (MOOs) have for a long time not been considered appropriate for educational purposes, as many of them originated in adventures and role playing games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons). Video and audio conferencing using the Internet have been quite popular with the media and at presentations, but so far have failed to fulfil [sic] the promise of a reliable tool, especially for institutions working on a low budget. Schwienhorst (1997, n.p.)
Whereas Web-based, graphical synchronous environments such as The Palace require computing power that is beyond the capabilities of many users (Davies, et al., 1998), by contrast, because MOO software is inexpensive or free, is cross-platform, and can run reliably on machines with limited power (e.g., 386s or Macintosh Classics), the potential for MOOs to be integrated into curricula around the world are enormous. Schwienhorst (1998) writes: "In contrast to most proprietary systems that use 3D walkthrough systems and allow for chat facilities, the modular nature of the MOO interface (including increased redundancy of representation), its wide distribution and reliability, its participatory nature even for students, and its recent option to integrate other interactive Internet development tools within a common interface, makes it a powerful tool for any subject area" (n.p.).
Turner (n.d.) gives the following rationale for using MOOs in language instruction:
- A MOO has potential as a teaching tool, providing the students with the opportunity for authentic conversations with people from outside of the classroom.
- MOOs offer a 'safe' zone in which the less extrovert students can practice the target language without any risk.
- Because of the 'text-based' nature of the MOO database - the descriptions of areas and people - MOOs also provide an opportunity for reading and writing tasks.
- Once the students are 'inside' the MOO, there is a sense in which they are no longer in the classroom - they have room to manoeuvre autonomously.
- It's fun and useful and gives the students the opportunity to be creative.
- In a situation where access to the InterNet is easily available, introducing the students to synchronous talk zones and other 'Net facilities is an opportunity to bring a 'real world' tool into the class curriculum.
Students may access a MOO individually, where they will encounter other students or teachers, native speakers and non-native speakers to interact in their target language (I know of MOOs for ESL, French, German, Spanish; and other languages are probably also represented.). As such, the MOO can be a readily available second language resource.
The main hurdle to be overcome still remains: the opacity of the MOO environment. In a personal interchange with one of the programmers at SchMOOze University, Greg Younger ("Gregor"), when I suggested that it was difficult to get all the information I required to operate comfortably in the MOO, Gregor's response was that perhaps MOOing was not for me. While the spirit of his reply was to simply make an observation, I believe that, if MOOs are to become more mainstream, such an attitude is counterproductive. Mateas & Lewis (1993) citing Dibbel's (1993) "A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society," write "long term use of MUDs is very engaging for some users...but initial exposure to the environment is consistently less compelling" (p. 8). The difficulty that first-time users experience with MOOs, is seen as an advantage by Davies, Shield, and Weininger (1998). Seeking help from other experienced MOOers is considered part of the social experience of the MOO. This ignores what Higgins (1997), in his description of "transitional technologies," points out: "...many of the second generation adopters [of technologies like MOO] will still find some of our interim technologies complex and incomprehensible in terms of their use for education" (n.p.). Tallis and Harnack (1997) cite one user of MOOs:
The creation of arcane names and rooms and verbiages to obfuscate, confuse, and corral the uninitiated is all a great deal of fun. Sort of reminds me of board games and games like Dungeons and Dragons. But I have yet to see where any of this has any relevance to writing.
(Vanner, 1997, cited in Tallis and Harnack, 1997)
Such confusion is still all too common in new users of MOOs. Until ways are found to make MOO interfaces more userfriendly, the technology may be destined to remain a marginally used tool in second language education.(1)
For users who do not mind or who can overcome the initial opacity of the MOO, one of the most effective pedagogical uses of MOOs however, as Schwienhorst (1998) suggests when he writes "its recent option to integrate other interactive Internet development tools within a common interface," is in the use of MOOs in combination with other Internet media such as email and Web pages. One project that undertakes such an integrated approach has been organized by Shield & Weininger (n.d.). The aims of their "Collaborative MOO Project," are:
...to provide participants with:
It is my belief that such integrated projects may prove to be the most pedagogically powerful use of MOOs.
(1) I am currently preparing an article in which I address the "opacity" issue and make suggestions for overcoming this hurdle.
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Davies, L., Shield, L., & Weininger, M. (1998). Godzilla can MOO, can you? MOOs for construction, collaboration, & community and research. The Language Teacher Online, 22,(2). Retrieved 10 August 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/jalt/pub/tlt/98/feb/davies.html
Higgins. (1997) Milking the MOO Cow: Combining Interim Technologies for Learning in Cyberspace.The Second Annual TCC-L Conference. Retrieved 8 September 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/higgins.html
Mateas, & Lewis (1993). A MOO-Based Virtual Training Environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2(3) Dec 1996. Retrieved 12 October 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://jcmc.huji.ac.il/vol2/issue3/chen.html
Schwienhorst, K. (1997). Modes of Interactivity–Internet Resources for Second Language Learning. In D. Kranz, L. Legenhausen, & B. Lüking (Eds.), Multimedia - Internet - Lensoftware: Fremdsprachenunterrricht vor neun Herausforerungen? (p. 105-110). Munster: Agend Verlag. Retrieved 16 November 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://www.tcd.ie/CLCS/assistants/kschwien/Publications/coconstruct.htm [Access via "Publications" at: http://www.tcd.ie/CLCS/assistants/kschwien.html]
Schwienhorst, K. (1998). Co-constructing Learning Environments and Learner Identities–Language Learning in Virtual Reality. Paper presented at the ED-Media/ED-Telecom, Freiburg. Retrieved 16 November 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://www.tcd.ie/CLCS/assistants/kschwien/Publications/coconstruct.htm [Access via "Publications" at: http://www.tcd.ie/CLCS/assistants/kschwien.html]
Shield & Weininger (n.d.) A Collaborative MOO Project. Retrieved 20 August 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://halley.yadata.com.br/schMOOze/MA/overview.htm
Tallis, C., & Harnack, A. (1997) Seven Principles for Effective Educational MOOing.The Second Annual TCC-L Conference. Retrieved 8 September 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/harnack.html
Turner, J. (n.d.)SchMOOze Project. Retrieved 15 October 1998 from the World Wide Web. http://elicos.qut.edu.au/moo/
Younger, G. (1998). Personal MOO exchange at SchMOOze University. Access via telnet://schmooze.hunter.cuny.edu:8888.
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