Educational MOOs

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Introduction

MOOs have become a vastly popular form of communication and learning. They serve a variety of functions, both social and educational. MOO stands for “Multi-user domain, Object-Oriented”. His origins can be found in early Multi-User Domains, or "MUDs," began as net-based dungeons-and-dragons type games, but a  MOO can be thought of as a text-based virtual reality environment, housed on computers connected to the internet, where people gather to chat with friends, meet new people, and help build the MOO.

MOOs can be divided into three main groups:

  1. Educational and research MOOs (to see a sample, click here);

  2. Gaming MOOs;

  3. Social MOOs (to see a sample, click here).

These categories are in no way mutually exclusive. Often social MOOs, and sometimes educational and research MOOs, are set in a science-fiction (sci-fi) or fantasy setting, much like a gaming MOO. All MOOs have social aspects and are programmable, and could thus be considered research MOOs. An educational MOO has an academic theme and uses a variety of MOO communication tools such as internal e-mail, newspapers, documents, blackboards, and classrooms to accommodate a variety of teaching styles.

 Here you can see a sample of the first MOO designed specifically for classroom use

 

Users (sometimes called players or characters) connect from anywhere in the world and are able to communicate with others in real time (as opposed to the delayed communication of e-mail).

    

Benefits for Teachers and Students

MOO environments provide innovative approaches to learning.

Teachers can use these tools in harmony with the goals for the class while exploiting the nature of MOO as a student-centered learning environment.

Educators have a new way of encouraging students to write (see a sample), they can connect classes worldwide, and they can help student overcome fear of the internet. CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) offers a new way of examining language and communication.

Students can explore the exciting and challenging world of synchronous Internet writing and learning environments. Classes can use the MOO to meet as a full class or in small groups, to work on projects, to meet people from other classes, an so on. A group or class can create a realm with its own building theme. Students and teachers write to learn with each other and with new friends from around the world. The text shows students how to use the dynamics of real situations to evoke authentic writing in which collaborative and individual learning are enhanced through conversation, research, real-time events, multimedia presentations, and other interactive activities.

Pedagogical background

MOO uses written descriptions to create a virtual environment somewhat analogous to the kind of virtual world produced in the imagination when we read novels. Rather than creating a "reality" from graphical images, MOOs create their virtual reality out of textual descriptions similar to those used in novels to create in the reader's mind the world in which characters interact. The big difference between the MOO experience and the experience of printed text is that the characters in a MOO are controlled by real people who interact with each other and their textual environment in "real time." That is, in a MOO people from all over the world can talk to each other via their computer keyboards and video monitors as if they were assembled in the same physical location. Unlike the chat programs, which only facilitate synchronous communication, MOO is a structured environment in which people move about and manipulate objects as well as communicate with each other. The very important aspect of a MOO is that it is not a static, but a dynamic environment. The user (or gamer) could actually build new parts of it, new "rooms". The ability to create objects, "messages," and programs gives the user a sense of ownership, an outlet for creative writing, and motivation to return. Users come to know one another, forming friendships and a sense of community. These relationships can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the MOO experience.

Tools

Users can create rooms, objects, and programs that recreate in text anything the user might imagine. Everyone who gets a character is able to build and program.

Guests have the ability to "talk," send messages across the MOO by "paging," use MOOmail for sending messages, and move around the MOO. They cannot make any permanent changes in their guest "character," nor can they create objects.

Permanent characters can name themselves, describe themselves, and set their gender.

Builders are users that have programming permissions for creating rooms, exits, and objects which they can describe in any way that is consistent with the MOOs theme. They can also write customized, durable "messages" that automatically appear when certain commands are used.

Programmers are those who learn the MOO programming language and are able to create more elaborate features.

Wizards are at the top of the hierarchy. They create new characters, monitor connections, teach new users, and deal with problems, often with the help of teacher-administrators. They also do deep-level programming and uniquely have access to information such as the users e-mail addresses.

Archwizard, in most MOOs, is the one who founded the MOO, is the systems operator of the MOO server (computer on which the MOO resides), and is considered the director and ultimate decision-maker.

A core set of  Education Tools includes:

  1. writing tools: 'note', 'MOO mail'

  2. standard communications features: 'say', 'page', 'emote' and 'think'

  3. exploration tools: 'look', 'read', and 'exam'

  4. manipulation tools: 'get', 'grab', 'drop', 'move'

Added to these, are 'generic' tools created by individual programmers, especially wizards.

Here you can see a sample of a MOO environment

Technical requirements

It is possible to connect to the MOO via telnet, and doing it in a user-friendly way using a MUD client program.

Given that MOO is a program that runs on a remote computer, it is accessed by opening a telnet program, typing in the server name and port number, and then connecting at the log-in screen of the MOO. If you connect without using a MUD client, you will find that the lines of text you are writing are interrupted by incoming text from others. This can be most disconcerting. For this reason, it is recommended to use MUD clients. A MUD client is a program written especially for connecting to MUDs (a MOO is a kind of MUD).

You can download and install some MUD clients that are freeware, and some that are shareware. Among the most common clients, you can find:

tkMOO-light: It is available for Windows, Mac, and Unix platforms. That makes it especially useful for classes, since no matter what platform a class member uses, s/he will see the same interface, making it easy for the teacher to give instructions for using the client. tkMOO-light offers local editing, logging, and many user-configurable options. Freeware.

 

  1. SimpleMu: It is available for Windows. Easy to install and very nicely done. It's shareware, but it isn't expensive and it has an unlimited evaluation period.

  2. Pueblo: A long-time favorite of many MOOers. It is available for Windows. Freeware.

  3. MUDDweller: One of the most commonly-used Mac clients. Freeware.

  4. Savitar: It is available for Mac. Its page offers tons of documentation. Inexpensive shareware.

  5. TinyFugue: An old standby for Unix users; works on Linux. If you need a Unix client for a class, see if your site admin will install this on the system rather than having each individual install a copy in his/her home directory. Freeware.

  6. mud.el and some variants: If you want to mud from inside Emacs, try mud.el or one of its variants. Warning: these are mostly not well-documented. Freeware.

Target age

For learners of high school age and older.

Acknowledgements

The above informative material is adapted from:
MUDs in Education: New Environments, New Pedagogies  by Tari Lin Fanderclai; Educational MOO: Text-based Virtual Reality for Learning in Community by Lonnie Turbee; The Common Place MOO: Orality and Literacy in Virtual Reality by Don Langham; The Purpose of MOOs by Rachel Rein.

Click on the names below if you want to submit a presentation:
patrizia corasaniti
maria rosaria chiummo:



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