Godzilla Can MOO, Can You? MOOs for Construction, Collaboration & Community and Research

Writer(s): 
Lawrence (Larry) B. Davies*, Lesley Shield**,and Markus J. Weininger***

*aka Godzilla at schMOOze University
**Open University, U.K.
***Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, SC-Brasil


Ways in which the Internet can be used for teaching and learning are currently under investigation, especially in distance learning circles. Many of the available tools, such as e-mail, the World Wide Web (WWW), and newsgroups, provide a forum for the discussion and exchange of ideas in a way which is obviously adaptable for distance learning purposes. Such a forum is, however, asynchronous in nature. Multiple Object Oriented interfaces (MOOs), a system by which Internet users may converse and "move" around a virtual world, on the other hand, allow for more spontaneous, synchronous exchanges, thus facilitating the rise of virtual realtime learning.

In an interMOO (a MOO-conducted interview) on the use of MOOs in educating learners, Bruckman (1996) pointed out "By providing a supportive social context for the tools [that are available in a MOO], you can help to communicate the spirit with which they were designed."

A MOO's potential to be another learning tool has been demonstrated by, among others, Bauman (1997), Gibbons (1997), Harnack and Tallis (1997), Higgins (1997), Inman (1997), Kirkpatrick (1996), Larocque and Faucon (1997), McCarty (1996), and Tyrer (1997), who focus on the how of using a MOO, that is, the social, political, and cultural aspects of learning via a MOO. This article briefly examines MOOs and advances the argument 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. The current article is a manifestation of this educational philosophy, having been coedited and co-revised by the authors and their collaborators, both native and non-native English speakers (NS & NNS) in several sessions on schMOOze (and by e-mail).

The Three COs --A Teaching Philosophy

The following three terms, all of which begin with co, describe our teaching philosophy. We must 1) construct our own knowledge through liberal use of our imagination, which as Vygotsky has noted ". . . is play without action." (1978, p. 93); 2) collaborate with others on projects that build these bases of knowledge and understanding; and 3) foster a sense of community with these others as an essential element in creating a learning-centered environment for ourselves and our students. Taken together, MOO use enhances what we call our "3CO" philosophy.

What is a MOO?

Developed to enhance role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons via the Internet, MOOs are distinct from other popular real time ("live") teleconferencing applications: CHAT (realtime, text-based conversation), CUSEEME (realtime videoconferencing), or THE PALACE (a graphically enhanced MOO). The Neteach-L session log in Appendix A demonstrates this difference; within a text-based MOO, virtual objects can be programmed and employed in real time. The use of the virtual OHP object, as illustrated in the log (lines 10 & 18), is neither possible in a simple CHAT program, nor technologically feasible in CUSEEME. THE PALACE's "gee whiz" graphical interface is well beyond the technical ability of most classrooms in Japan as of this writing. In short, many educational MOOs simulate and replicate today's existing classrooms, allowing access to NS and NNS participants worldwide at very low cost.

Milking the MOO Cow

Essentially, a MOO is a database of information responding in real time to commands entered by a user (or player) accessing the server on which the MOO resides. The user needs certain skills in order to use a MOO competently. These may be a challenge for most teachers and learners who are not from computer-based backgrounds. The effort to overcome any difficulties, however, is the first example of using MOOs for 3CO, as the new user can almost always get help from more experienced "MOOers" about how to employ the more essential commands (see Appendix B). With patience and practice, the MOO's possibilities reveal themselves, and its usefulness as a tool to promote learning and knowledge-building becomes more apparent.

Chewing the Cud

As users begin to MOO, many notice that "chatting" seems to be the only available activity. However, most MOOs have their own purpose and focus. While many do exist simply for socializing and playing games, educational MOOs, such as schMOOze University, offer a variety of learning activities and projects that move well beyond this. For example, schMOOze University comprises a virtual campus, complete with classrooms and self-study tutorials, dormitories, libraries, a graffiti wall, a games room, and much more. All these features were designed and programmed by the "residents" of the MOO.

Co-Co-Cock-a-doodle-DOing

MOOs embody elements of constructivism, an educational approach spearheaded by -- amongst others--members of the MIT Media Lab's Epistemology and Learning Group (and MOO) including Papert and Resnick, and based on the work of educational psychologist Vygotsky, as well as Piaget and the educational philosopher, Dewey.

In its simplest terms, constructivism advocates, as a 1995 summary of Piaget's ideas states, ". . .understanding is built up step by step through active involvement" ("Classroom Compass,"1995). Resnick (1996), suggests that project work is one of the more ubiquitous forms of building understanding of mathematical principles, and Papert (1980, 1993, 1996) points to children's learning to program computer games as an alternative way of successfully mastering practical mathematics. While MOO participants mostly chat, there are still untapped possibilities for creating a learning-centered environment through creation of projects. (See below for examples).

The second co is collaboration. In general, MOOs are built up over time, mainly through the sharing of knowledge and the constant planned and unplanned activities that take place between MOO users. SchMOOze University has, for example, treasure hunt and grammar maze activities for students. The games room contains online versions of Boggle, Scrabble, Hangman, and Yahtzee, all of which were programmed collaboratively by the "Wizards" (MOO administrators) and players. Each of schMOOze University's dormitory rooms contains the personal touch of its "owner," but almost every owner has sought help from others to program the entry and exit messages to rooms. Messages are automatically generated as players move through virtual space. This seeking and giving of help leads naturally to the third co: community.

By their very nature, MOOs are developing microcommunities, with distinct cultures and social policies. A visit to schMOOze University is unlike a visit to DaMOO, which is unlike a visit to Diversity University MOO, and so on through the many hundreds of MOOs that currently exist. Each MOO has an administration, a distinct definition of acceptable behavior, and a distinct chance to change one's persona. In our opinion, this is the most undervalued aspect of most MOOs. For, in the final analysis, MOOs are made by the people who "inhabit" the virtual space. The stated philosophy of schMOOze is that it is a place for "Learning English, meeting friends, and cross-cultural communication."

It is worth elaborating other potentials because MOOs are different from chatting and real world classrooms in several ways. They are disinhibiting by their relative anonymity. There is no phonetic difficulty disturbing the communication. There is a real possibility to interact "naturally" with native speakers--comMOOnication is real, despite the virtual interlocutors, whereas the target language interaction in a classroom is very often unreal, despite the real interlocutors. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the target language switches focus within any MOOing activity: language is no longer a goal but an instrument to pursue other (real) goals; integrating into the MOO's Community is socializing in the target language, one of the highest ranking activities in foreign language learning.

Is MOOing a Sacred Cow?

In order to examine some issues that instructors will need to address while engaged in MOOing, it is necessary to look at some of its less desirable aspects.

Apart from the obvious need for reasonable typing skills, players' linguistic competence strongly influences the quality of MOO communication. Those who lack communicative or lexical competence may find themselves excluded from much of the online interchange. Indeed, even advanced learners may, on occasion, be unable to follow exchanges between native speakers.

Further, there is the sociolinguistics of MOOing to consider. Text-based MOO communications lack non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, thus making the discourse more challenging for the language learner. One command, emote (see Appendix A, Log, Lines 8, 12, 41, 43, 44), attempts to bridge this gap, though its use is entirely dependent on the players.

Examples of 3CO MOO Projects

Two MOO projects illustrate the kind of 3CO work suitable for instructors new to MOOing. The planning and construction of a virtual bar, subsequently dubbed MOOrrey's at SchMOOze University, and the Teaching in the Community College's Conferences (TCC) at DaMOO, bear further investigation.

MOOrrey's

This project was the brainchild of a 22 year-old Swede, "Jarek," at schMOOze, working mainly with "Markus" (one of the authors of this paper) and the support of several colleagues. The two met regularly on the MOO, discussing ways to program some of the various aspects of MOOrrey's, a virtual bar. They collaborated with each other for more than 75 MOO-based hours in total, and with other players, both native and non-native English speakers, to encode MOOrrey's behaviors, including room descriptions, food, drink, and song selections.

In its entirety, MOOrrey's consists of three rooms for socializing including the bar, restaurant, and dance floor, two restrooms, and four "bots" (a waiter, bouncer, bartender, and DJ), virtual beings who react to simple commands (shown when a user types: HELP HERE). For example, Manuel will take your virtual order and serve you from the menu, Kumiko is quick to eject unruly or drunken patrons, Iona will either mix you a drink or learn to make one for you, and Youssou can play any song you may request.

You can read room and bot descriptions, as well as the food and drink menus, and order virtual food and drink such as burgers, fries, and cola. MOOrrey's is learner-customizable with players' favorite drinks or songs.

"Jarek" and "Markus," both nonnative speakers of English, recognized the complexities involved in anticipating users' responses, and finished constructing the bar, which currently serves as the focus of several teachers' language activities on schMOOze. It is now possible to meet an EFL/ESL class that has logged in from somewhere in the world and is socializing in MOOrrey's. The database of this project continues to expand through users' input.

Teaching in the Community College's Online Conference.

One of the more practical uses of MOOs for professional research is to hold a conference entirely online. The University of Hawai'i sponsors the TCC conference, usually held in the first week of April. This year's second conference was a three-day event, and registered over 1,700 virtual colleagues from over 45 different countries, with around 100 logging in to DaMOO for the realtime discussions.

The MOO-based TCC had two distinct advantages over a "real" conference: every session could be recorded for posterity, and it was also possible for proficient MOOers to attend and participate in up to three different sessions at the same time. Though not for everyone, this type of multitasking is obviously physically impossible at a real conference.

A staff of over 30 volunteers worked together to fashion a conference area, complete with three conference rooms where concurrent sessions were held, an abstract room, where abstracts of the 66 papers presented were posted (the papers are still available online--see References and Appendix B), and several meeting places for "quiet conversations," including "the Coconut Cafe" (see Kirkpatrick, 1996; or McCarty, 1996). They proofread all of the papers, organized and led temporary listserve discussion lists as a supplement to the various interest areas of the participants, and helped less proficient MOOers learn the commands needed to participate fully.

Online conferences also provide the possibility of carrying on several conversations at the same time without disrupting others. Using a page command--the MOO equivalent of a whisper--the proceedings can be discussed with colleagues, while at the same time the user can continue to participate in the general discussions.

Unanswered Questions

As MOOs continue to gain acceptance as another (language) teaching and research tool, there are many questions worthy of further consideration. Among the most pertinent are:

  • How do we educate instructors who continue to focus on the negative aspects of this enabling technology?
  • How can we get over the relatively high initial learning curve of the technology, so that we can get down to the business of learning to learn and building our knowledge base?
  • How do we get students to focus on the content of the instruction and not on the bells and whistles of the technology? Is it possible, or even feasible, to link teachers at different schools together for 3CO projects given various school term schedules around the world?

All We are Saying, is Give MOOs a Chance

Brookman (1996) noted: "the tremendous success of these [MOO] environments points to the power of helping people to be creative and actively involved with technology . . .people will surprise you if you just give them a chance."

As in every exciting new endeavor, there is undiscovered territory to explore. MOOs bring this excitement to teachers and learners in real time, with real colleagues spread across the globe. MOOs are an ideal tool to assist project-focused work and to foster learning-centered collaborative associations. Language learning in particular undergos a transformation from textbook-based, theoretical learning about disparate elements of languages, to immediate, need-to-communicate-and-use-the-language-to-learn-something spheres fostered by MOO.

The authors believe that this is the future of language learning and look forward to additional research in this area to bear out the assumptions that this article has expressed.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the following MOO colleagues for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this article both by e-mail and within the MOO.: Mex Butler (Australia), Greg Matheson (Korea), Steve McCarty (Japan), Dale Pobega (Australia), Orly Yankelevsky (Israel).

 

References

Aoki, K. (1995). Virtual communities in Japan: Their cultures and infrastructure. Asia-Pacific EXchange (Electronic) Journal, 2(1). University of Hawaii-- Kapiolani Community College.

http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97

Bauman, M. (1997). Online Learning Communities [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/bauman.html>

Bruckman, A. (1996). InterMOO with MIT's MUD Wizard Amy Bruckman - "People will surprise you if you just give them a chance."[Online]. Kairos Journal. 1(2). <http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/1.2> Classroom Compass (1995). Building an understanding of Constructivism. 1.3., Winter,1995. <http://www.sedl.org>

Davies, L., and Weininger, M. (1997). Neteach-L MOO session. Available: <http://spot.colorado.edu/~youngerg/log9-a.html>. April 18, 1997.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: The Free Press.

Gibbons, W. J. (1997). From dungeons to degrees [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/gibbons.html>

Harnack, A. and Tallis, C. (1997). Seven pedagogical principles for effective educational MOOing [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/harnack.html>

Higgins, R. (1997). Milking the MOO cow: Combining interim technologies for learning in cyberspace [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/higgins.html>

Inman, J. A. (1997). Towards MOO programming guidelines for writing teachers: Modeling a synchronous learning environment. [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/inman.html>

Kirkpatrick, J. (1996). MOO mai tais in the shade of the coconut cafe: AKA the birth of the coconut cafe at DaMOO and other stories--A virtual conference with MOO as a mediator. Kairos. 1(3). Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/~kirkpatr/kairos/>

Larocque, D., and Faucon, N. (1997). Me, myself and. . .you? Collaborative learning: Why bother? [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/larocque.html>

McCarty, S. (1996). The Internet for educator development. The Language Teacher, 20(9), 17-18.

Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books.

Papert, Seymour (1996). The connected family: Bridging the digital generation gap. Marietta, GA: Longstreet Press, Inc.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Resnick, M. (1996). Distributed Constructionism. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Learning Sciences. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University: July, 1996.

Tyrer, P. (1997). De-centering the classroom through online technologies: The creation of cybercity, a case study [Online]. Available: <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf97/pres/tyrer.html>

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

MOOs

The Palace <http://www.thepalace.com>

DaMOO <telnet:lrc.csun.edu:8888>

Diversity University <telnet://moo.du.org:8888>

schMOOze University <telnet://schmooze.hunter.cuny.edu:8888>

Teaching in the Community Colleges Second Annual Online Conference. <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc-conf>


APPENDIX A

Log of online CGI Tutorial at

schMOOze University -- NETEACH-L Session

The following is an abridged excerpt from an online presentation given by the authors (Davies and Weininger) to colleagues discussing the benefits and drawbacks of using the World Wide Web in their language teaching. Though at times the give and take of this entire session had its participants clarifying information and discussing problems and desires, as in a "real life" [RL] exchange, there was a major difference; while the RL locations of the two presenters and the members of the group were geographically widely distributed - "Markus" was in Brazil, "Godzilla" (Larry) in Japan, "Gregor" in the U.S., "Mike" in Korea, "Pete" in Greece, "Chrissy" in the United Kingdom, and "Francesco" in Italy--they were all in the same virtual space at the same time. This points to the extraordinary times we are living in, since this Neteach session occurred in real time at schMOOze University.

Transcript - Line numbering has been added for easier reference from the article. Line numbers do not appear on MOOs. Some of the text has been altered (using rounded parenthesis) to better illustrate some of the commands available in MOOs. The text is largely as is, that is, errors appear as they did online.

  1. Markus says, "Ok, our subject today is CGI use for Language Learning sites."
  2. Gregor [to Markus]: Would you like us to have your webpage open now?
  3. Markus says, "Yes that can help"
  4. Godzilla says, "Does everyone here have WWW capability?"
  5. Markus says, "Let me show you first the program for today"
  6. Mike [Guest] says, "Which webpage?"
  7. Godzilla says, "If so, it would help to look at our page in your browsers now."
  8. Francesco nods.
  9. Markus is going to show something new on the (OHP) screen. . .
  10. On the screen you see. . .

---------------------------------------------------------
NETEACH session CGI (Common Gateway Interface)
---------------------------------------------------------
1 - INDEX OF trANSPARENCIES
2 - Welcome to this NETEACH - Session
3 - Introductions :-)
4 - What is CGI (Common Gateway Interface)?
5 - What is it good for?
6 - How can I start? (examples)
7 - Comments or questions?
8 - Reminder ;-)
---------------------------------------------------------
For today's NETEACH session you should look simultaneously at this URL:
http://halley.yadata.com.br/schMOOze/neteach/

---------------------------------------------------------

  • Markus says, "we suggest that you open the indicated page in your browser but come back here and only switch to the browser when we discuss some detail there"
  • Gregor (looks) all set.
  • Francesco says, "already done, looks fine"
    . . .
  • Markus [to all]: can you please tell me if you have the page open in your browsers?
  • Mike [Guest] says, "yes"
    . . .
  • Markus says, "Ok I think we can move to the first point: What are CGI scripts. . . "
  • Markus is going to show something new on the screen. . .
  • On the screen you see. . .

---------------------------------------------------------
What is CGI (Common Gateway Interface)?
---------------------------------------------------------
. . . CGI scripts are programs that are running on a web-server, processing input users of a site send to the server from a page.

CGIs generate specific output events, according to the users input.
. . .
Simple examples are 'guestbooks', where users can easily create their own messages on a page that is edited automatically and instantly by the CGI script.
---------------------------------------------------------

  • Markus says, "Do you have any questions, doubts or comments about that?"
  • Godzilla says, "Or about anything you've seen on the page?"
  • Gregor says, "No doubts at all. :o) I may be deluded, but I think I've been missing out on something not-too-difficult by not getting started with CGI earlier."
  • Mike [Guest] says, "I need some way to introduce my students to the computer, this may be too advanced. . . "
  • Markus [to Gregor]: hmm I started not long ago too. . .
  • Markus [to Mike [Guest]]: not at all. . . because CGI can help you making their first contacts easier. . .
  • Gregor [to Mike [Guest]]: Maybe so, but check it out. . . this could give you ideas to use later when you feel more adept with using the web with your students.
  • Mike [Guest] says, "ok ok you talked me into it"
  • Markus [to Mike [Guest]]: for instance CGIs can help you to let them put stuff on the web even knowing little about computers
    . . .
  • Godzilla says, "If you look at our page you will see several forms. . . "
  • Gregor [to Godzilla]: Click on "examples?"
  • Godzilla says, "For instance, the COFFEE form. . . "
  • Godzilla says, "Student's (such as Mike's) only need to fill in the information asked on the form."
  • pete [Guest] says, "I like anything that will save me time."
    . . .
  • Godzilla says, "Please try it out."
  • Markus [to pete [Guest]]: I desperately need anything that saves me time. . . By now I can't edit any students' or teachers' web pages myself any more. . . and they don't know how to do this. . . CGI is an intermediate solution for this problem. . . I set it up but they do their pages later. . .
  • Godzilla [to Gregor]: Yes, Gregor the example we have is this coffee form. Please everyone, order coffee through the form. It's ok to experiment with different combinations, too. . .
  • Markus says, "If you have any questions, just go ahead, please"
    . . .
  • Chrissy [Guest] says, "I want a coffe, but order it in the form of "later". Nothing happens. The button "order now" is OK. Is this the normal reaction?"
  • Markus [to Chrissy [Guest]]: Sure!
  • Chrissy [Guest] [to Markus]: Thanks
  • Markus [to Chrissy [Guest]]: . . . order later resets the form :)
    . . .
  • pete [Guest] needs extra sugar in his coffee.
  • Godzilla says, "Any other questions or comments so far?"
  • Godzilla peeps around expectantly.
    . . .
  • Markus looks at his watch.
  • Markus says, "I am afraid we are out of time for today. . .

Appendix B

Most Basic MOO commands - A glossary

note: "xxxx" refers to the first four letters of a player's name.

emote - When you want to give a non-verbal cue, type this first then the cue. eg. <emote smiles.> will have the server return "Godzilla smiles."

knock xxxx - Netiquette dicates that you should knock on the door of a players private space before joining them. You must also wait for them to permit you to enter.

help - If you are stuck at any time in the MOO, either page someone or use this command.

look <object> - Helps you to view various objects and players on the MOO.

page xxxx - When you want to whisper to someone in the same MOOspace, or in another space on the MOO, use this.

say - type this when you want to say something. e.g. say hello will have the server return "Godzilla says hello."

to xxxx - When in the room with several people, you may want to direct a comment to one particular person. Typing <to Game Hi there!> will return "Godzilla [to Gamera]: Hi there!"

Website developed by deuxcode.com