Presented at the Computers and
Writing Conference, May 17, 2001,
in the Workshop "How to Set Up and Administer an Educational MOO Using Minimal
Amounts of Mustard" in Whitinger Business Building 213, Ball State University.
Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on May 26, 2001.
- Check Your School's Policies Thoroughly and Have Your Documentation Ready.
First, check to see if your school has a policy for gaming
and educational use of computers. Because MOOs share their
heritage with online Dungeons and Dragons gaming, your school
may have a specific policy that forbids such online tools.
You need a statement of the goals for your MOO that outlines
its educational use and indicates the policies that you have
in place to guard against misuse of the online space. If
relevant, relate the information to your school's Honor Code.
Your netiquette policies should be an addendum to this
documentation and goals, and you might also attach a
bibliography that lists pieces that explain the pedagogical
value of using MOOs for educational purposes. Since MOOs can
easily be compared to IRC and online chat spaces, be prepared
to explain how your space is different from #hottubs and why
it serves the pedagogical goals of your institution. And you
need to do all this at the approval stage before you begin
downloading tools. Once you have your statement of goals and
policies, spread it around. Make sure that your
administrators have a copy and post it online. If you do all
this beforehand, you won't be flustered by day-to-day
questions about why you're doing what you're doing and/or how
it's useful to the educational program that you're building.
- Have Netiquette Guidelines in Place.
Outline the basic rules of behavior that those who visit your
MOO are expected to follow, and post that information online
as well. General guidelines are typically enough, and there
are many models
already available. At a minimum, you need to
deal with situations where discussion becomes abusive or
harassing, where online ownership is not respected, and where
behavior is not conducive to an educational environment.
Realize that your rules need to address not only what
characters might say in real-time conversation, but also the
names, descriptions, and programming that they might do. Is
there language that is inappropriate on your MOO? Is it ok
for someone to build a room called "The Hidden Brothel"?
Adding a simple sentence like the following to your
netiquette guidelines can help you in situations that you
don't anticipate but need to take action to stop: xxxMOO
reserves the right to reject or remove material, including
characters, objects, and programmed verbs, if we find the
- Publicize What Happens When the Rules are Broken.
In addition to establishing guidelines for behavior, you need
to talk about what will happen when someone violates the
rules do the violators lose the privilege of visiting the
MOO? Do they get a warning or a second chance? Whatever the
rules, get them in writing, and put them online with your
other policy statements. Even more important, once you set
the rules, enforce them. Unenforced guidelines are useless.
- Give MOO Teachers Guidelines that Explain What They Can/Cannot Expect.
The more specific you can be about the obligations that you
and other educators on the MOO share, the better. Provide a
list of what
you expect teachers on your MOO to do so that
the distribution of responsibilities is clear. By creating a
shared agreement, you can help avoid time-consuming
misunderstandings during the term. Set up the systems that
are necessary for managing character requests, reserving
discussion space, and managing building and programming, and
share that information with teachers who will be using your
MOO. You might urge teachers to create a similar list of
obligations for their students. [Also consider sharing the
Tips for MOO Teachers]
- Have Procedural Details in Place and Determine Who Will Be Responsible When Something Goes Awry.
Make sure that everyone knows what will happen when things
don't go according to the guidelines, policies, and
procedures that you've established. If your MOO's guidelines
require that every student character needs to indicate a
sponsoring teacher's name, state that fact but you'll save
a lot of headaches if you also talk about what happens when a
student fails to follow that guideline. Do you simply reject
the application as incomplete? Do you just delete it and do
nothing? Do you try to figure out who the teacher is from the
student's email address? Do you email the application to all
the teachers currently teaching and expect them to have the
student reapply? What happens when a request is rejected
because the student has chosen a character name that violates
your netiquette policies? Try to think of the major
situations that you're likely to encounter, and tell teachers
what to expect.
- Make Back-ups!
It can't be said enough. Have back-ups of your MOO. Know
where they are and how they work. A back-up is good only if
you know how to use it. If you need to try to retrieve an
accidentally deleted description, for instance, can you?
Most servers that run MOOs can be set up to automatically
backup all their files at regular intervals. Your MOO
database lives in memory and will dump to a file as you've
scheduled (usually on an hourly basis). It doesn't hurt to
go beyond the server backups though. Make a file copy of the
MOO database FTP it to your local hard drive, copy it off
to a ZIP cartridge, and carry it home. Be sure that you have
more than one option if (ok, be realistic, when) something
- Have Information in Place to Deal with Technical Problems.
No matter how hard you try, something will eventually go
wrong. It may be something completely beyond your control say they've decided to install an A/C unit in the room
where your server is and the machine has to be down for a
day. Be prepared to let the teachers using your MOO know
what's going on. If the situation in question is one that
you have advance notice on, spread the details around early post them on the Website, add them to the login message,
include them in the MOO Newspaper, and so forth. If the
problem comes without warning, there's nothing quite so
valuable as the email addresses of everyone who teaches on
your MOO. Send them an email message that indicates what's
going on, and ask them to pass the information along to their
students if appropriate.
- Be Prepared for Seasonal Rushes (and Lulls).
It's obvious, but it's easy to overlook At the beginning
of a semester or quarter, you'll have a rush of things to do
such as responding to character requests, answering questions
about policies, and fielding queries about reserving teaching
space. Your workload will dip toward the middle of the
semester, and you'll typically become busy again toward the
end as students scurry on last-minute projects. Due dates
that students are trying to meet are also likely to be busy
moments so around mid-term you may notice another spike of
activity. Be ready for the extra load clear some extra
time on your calendar to be sure that you can take care of
the requests and still get a good night's sleep. You may
need to allow two to three hours a week early in the semester
if many classes are registering at once. If you're teaching
classes as well, remember to set up your own class's due
dates so that they don't overlap the heavier times on the
- Set Standard Times to Deal with Basic MOO Maintenance,
and Plan "Personal Time" for Yourself.
A MOO is just an online chat area ok, it's a souped-up,
turbo-charged chat area where you can program your own robot
and build a set for A Raisin in the Sun. It has super
abilities. It's wriggly and demanding. It can be needier
than a colicky newborn. Nonetheless, a MOO is still just a
program that brings people together on a server the
technical stuff is the easy part; it's the people part that
can get burdensome. Don't trick yourself into the mindset
where the people on the MOO set off your co-dependent, "I
wanna be a paramedic" gene causing your to rush out and
administer constant and immediate care every time someone
complains about the online parallel to a hangnail. Set
standard blocks of time when you'll be available to answer
questions and solve problems. Let the teachers using your
MOO know, for instance, that you are online doing maintenance
(creating characters, dealing with quota requests, etc.)
every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 2:30, for instance.
Just because a needy guest character who can't provide an
email address wants a new password and has begun hailing and
paging you with requests does not mean that you have to drop
everything, look up the appropriate commands, and solve the
problem. Tell the guest when you handle such requests, tell
the guest what needs to be done for the request to be
fulfilled (e.g., get a working email address and MOOmail the
request for a changed password), and go about whatever you
were originally doing. You deserve personal time and space and if you don't plan it out for yourself, you'll grow to
hate the MOO. Set boundaries and stand by them. There's
nothing wrong with just ignoring those "emergency" pages.
The only exception I'd make would be when there's a
legitimate problem with a character being abusive or
- Don't Set Up Your Own MOO Without Darned Good Reason!
Finally, the point that few people are willing to say to you.
Unless you have a darned good reason to go through all this
management, administration, and extra (typically unrewarded)
work, don't do it. There are plenty of MOOs that welcome
for starters. You
don't need your own MOO to have class meetings, and you can
avoid a lot of overhead if you just hold classes elsewhere.
Now perhaps you do have a good reason for instance, you're
trying to set up a MOO where students from the local high
school can collaborate with students at the local college and
you want to limit the participants to those two groups.
Maybe you're setting up a graduate program with a specific
emphasis on technology and you want your students to have
experience managing online spaces. If you have a good
reason, go for it. But don't set up a MOO just because
Professor Jones is doing it over there at The-Grass-Is-
Always-Greener University. Before you go any further, think
about all this work do you really have time to fit it into
your schedule and still fulfill your other obligations? Is
your department willing to give you credit for the service
and research work that you are doing on the MOO? Is the work
absolutely necessary to your pedagogical goals and/or to the
goals of your institution? Are there any ways that you can
combine effort with someone else (even someone at another
school) to make the task more manageable? And the
unmentionable question Is this really necessary? What
would happen if you simply took classes to another MOO rather
than building your own? Until you can answer these
questions, you're not ready!