traci's lists of ten

Traci's 38th List of Ten:
Ten Tips for MOO Administrators

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. 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.

  2. 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 content inappropriate.

  3. 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.

  4. 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]

  5. 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.

  6. 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 goes wrong.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 MOO.

  9. 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 harassing.

  10. 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 students — LinguaMOO and Connections, 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!

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