traci's lists of ten

Traci's 37th List of Ten:
Ten Tips for Teachers Using MOOs for Teaching

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.

  1. Become Completely Comfortable with the Basic MOO Commands and the Client Your Students Will Use.
    The amount of time necessary to feel comfortable with a MOO and a client will vary, but as a general guideline, you can assume you'll need at least a month, perhaps as much as a semester. In that preparation time, be sure to learn the general commands necessary for communicating and moving around the MOO. Further, be able to do whatever you want your students to do on the MOO — if you want them to build rooms, you need to be able to build rooms. If you want them to program their own verbs, you need to be able to program your own verbs. You need to know precisely what technical know-how is required, and be prepared to provide the technical support that your students need.

  2. Be as Knowledgeable as Possible About the Basic Workings of the MOO Where Your Students Will Work.
    Learn as much as you can about the MOO itself: what special places does it have for students to visit, what features are available, how can students learn more about what's available, and so forth. For instance, on MediaMOO, you might ask someone to visit the Library (room of features) so that they can add special verbs which will allow them to use big signs or to paste in text. Essentially, spend some exploring to find out as much as you can before you bring classes to the MOO.

  3. Deal with Local Technical Issues Before Taking Students Online.
    You'll want to think about the mechnical details of taking students to a MOO and plan accordingly. You'll need to think about the client students will use, how they will get it, and about the local resources which are available to you — do you have the network resources to connect your entire class to a MOO? Do students need to download something? Are any special settings required in their web browsers? Do the lab machines need settings changed or software added? Work through all the needs with the technical support folks before you take students online.

  4. Deal with Local Political Issues Before Taking Students Online.
    Check very carefully into your school's policy for gaming and the educational use of computers. If your school has a non-gaming policy, gather material which proves your use of the resource does not fall under the "gaming" definition. Get permission to use the resources before you take classes to the MOO! Further, make sure that your department knows of your plans and supports you. It's tragic to find out half- way into a project that your school does not approve of the tools that you're using — it's better to find out ahead of time than to have to rethink and redesign your course completely in mid-stream because the tools that you're using are no longer available.

  5. Deal with the Managerial Issues of Real-Time Collaboration.
    Consider the details of bringing students to a real- time environment, especially for distance collaboration. The problem with real-time communication is that you have to find real times when groups can meet. That task isn't very difficult if you're just connecting students on your campus, but it becomes increasingly complicated with distance collaborations. Think carefully about time zones and academic calendars. Is it reasonable for your students to meet with students half-way around the world — would they even be awake at the same time? What midterm breaks and other constraints might affect students' abilities to meet and work together? Don't forget that network problems can complicate matters further. Give your students guidelines to follow in situations such as finding that their local internet access isn't working, that their partner school's network is disabled, or that the MOO is down for some reason. Planning ahead for all the possible problems you can think of will help make the collaboration smoother. If relevant, be sure you plan with the collaborating teacher to make the technical and managerial aspects of the project as smooth as possible.

  6. Think About the Appropriateness of the MOO You're Considering For Your Class.
    Make sure that the MOO is right for your classes. Does the MOO even allow classes? Are there any restrictions on the size of classes or on the kinds of characters students can use? Perhaps students aren't allowed to build on the MOO you planned to use — if building important to your pedagogical plan you need to find out whether your students will have the access that they need before you take them to the MOO. Do you need to schedule large class meetings in advance to insure that there are enough connections available? Does the MOO fit your pedagogy? Part of the time you spend preparing to take students to the MOO should include getting to know whether the environment is one that can accommodate your needs for resources (for characters and for group work) and one which really fits the kind of project you want students to participate in.

  7. Explore the Netiquette and Guidelines of the MOO You're Considering For Your Class.
    To make sure that your students fit in as smoothly as possible, be sure to find out what policies the MOO has for manners. Further, talk to others, especially other teachers and wizards if you can, to find out how students usually work in the environment. The MOO might be one where students are expected to collaborate in specific rooms, or it could be one where students can meet anywhere. The wizards might be willing to answer any page, or they might prefer that students page only if they are in an emergency situation. Players might wander about freely on the MOO, or it might be appropriate to "knock" or "page" before joining other groups. Is there a building policy that students must follow? The more you learn of the unwritten rules, the better you can prepare your students.

  8. Discuss Netiquette with Your Students.
    Begin by discussing netiquette with your students so that they will know what behavior is and is not acceptable. Share all the information about the MOO which you learned in your preparation including how they should interact with characters they don't know, what they should do if they need help, and how they should respond if someone interrupts or bothers them. Make sure that your students think about all the possible situations they might encounter before they visit the MOO. Do some role-playing in your face-to- face classroom so they're prepared for a wide variety of situations when they do go online. Here are some sample situations you might examine:

    1. You need to know how to do something and can't find the information in the online help. How can you find out what to do?

    2. Another character has interrupted your small-group meeting and refuses to leave the room that you're using. The character is using offensive language. What can you do?

    3. You see a really cool dune buggy in the common area. Is it ok to take it for a ride?

    4. Someone has accidentally dropped a talking robot in the room that your using. It's interrupting your conversation. You can't ask the owner to move it because she is no longer online. What can you do to keep it from interrupting you further?

    5. A really nice character keeps asking you questions. You didn't mind explaining how things worked at first, but this character doesn't seem to know how to do anything, and it's getting annoying to have to explain everything. What can you do without being rude?

  9. Teach Students the Basic MOO Commands.
    You'll also need to teach students all the basic commands for communication and movement as well as introduce them to the various places in the MOO which they might want to visit. Giving students help sheets with the basic commands and with lists of rooms on the MOO they might visit is a good idea. It's perhaps best to demonstrate the commands and show students the features on the MOO using an LCD projector to keep them from being overwhelmed and so that you can control the conversation a bit. Once everyone is online, it can be difficult to have the entire class follow your instructions. Additionally, be sure that they have instructions available for whatever tasks you want them to complete. If they are to create their own feature object, be sure that they have all the instructions necessary to program verbs, for instance.

  10. Give Your Students Time to Practice.
    Most important, give your students plenty of time to practice and become accustomed to the MOO before you expect them to do any major projects. Students need to get used to both the speedy nature of real-time communication and the commands used in MOOs. Ideally, they should practice locally, holding class meetings before moving to distance group meetings. These meetings might be structured so that students might progress over the period of several classes from simply holding a discussion in a single room to visiting several rooms, working in smaller groups, and using commands to page or mail other characters. Students should have a chance to try all these MOO activities in practice with one another before they need to use them as part of a collaborative project to give them the background necessary to make the project a success.

Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on May 26, 2001.

NOTE: This list is revised from Traci's "MOO Teacher's Tip Sheet," which was originally available on the Daedalus Website.