|Playing In The MUD /Introduction cont'd||Conclusion|
|Imagination and Reality||Works Cited|
|Our Community and Its Future (Dis)Course||Useful Links|
We think that writing is an important form of discourse that has earned our approval as academicians. We must, therefore, have the foresight to ensure that it continues to be part of a common culture of communication. It is with this in mind that we may employ technology such as MUDs to keep our students engaged with the written word and to include the rapidly-expanding community of technology users, those who daily use computers for information retrieval and communication, in our academic discourse. If we fail to incorporate technology as a medium for communication and decline to adapt our methods for teaching writing within that technology, we run the risk of creating a cultural elite here in academia, an act we have been accused of many times before. If technology is left behind, we may fail to communicate with those who do use it, causing a rift in the transmission of knowledge that may separate us as groups of people. If the "real" world demands our use of technology, we must protect the worthiness of our project by adapting our pedagogy to those demands. The adaptation will be tricky; it will require us to find effective uses of technology in order to maintain our pedagogical goals, all while finding new ways to diminish the inevitable negative aspects that technology brings with it. I hope that with this study we may consider all of the above, and to begin to look at how "playing in the MUD" can bring the communities of learners and teachers of writing together.
Defining what exactly a MOO and a MUD is entails an understanding of their origins. The term "MUD" stands for Multi-User Dungeon (or Domain) and is the overarching designation for all of the subsequent "domains" that follow; all MOOs are MUDs, but not all MUDs are MOOs. The use of the word "dungeon" reflects the fact that the origins of MUD technology are firmly in the world of games (Serious Uses 1994). The computer games on which MUDs are based were text-based adventures where players would individually "venture" into a computer "world" to slay randomly generated dragons, "find" certain items, and score points. Goals are not definitely defined in a "Dungeons and Dragons" game; one plays for a variety of different reasons, whether for the excitement of using learned "skills" (internal to the game) to slay dragons, find treasures, rescue maidens, or to maneuver one's way around the computer "world" by employing the right commands. As a former player of these games, I would always be fascinated by the intricacy of the imaginative "worlds"; finding different "passages" that opened up new texts on the screen was captivating, like turning the pages of a fascinating book.
A basic way of describing a game is that it is a reader-response activity; you read the context of your "situation" in text-based language and respond, textually, in order to "manipulate" your situation. An important aspect in which to regard these games is the notion that one must use language in order to get a response. The better one uses language, the more favorable the response, no matter what your goal might be. This aspect of gaming will be considered in detail later.
Game programmers such as Alan Klietz, Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle decided text-based adventure games would be more fun if multiple participants could play them while interacting with each other over the Internet (Serious Uses 1994). It is here that the "gaming" MUD was born. It came later that James Aspnes decided to see what would happen if the gaming aspects were removed. His removal of many dungeons and dragons features led to a new system called "TinyMUD," the progenitor of what we now call a MOO (Multi-Object Orientated). Since Aspnes' unique program, subsequent programmers "included programming languages so that users could extend the world, creating new objects and places" (Serious Uses 1994). MOOs then became virtual "worlds" that multiple users share and interact in, without its application as a "game."1 All "players," whether in a MUD or in a MOO, are connected to these "worlds" (the networks that store the programmed environment) by computer. They have the ability to interact with other players and create the world in which they exist by programming (or writing) objects into the environment.
It is at this point following the creation of the "non-gaming" or social MUD, where MUD technology had proliferated a great deal in terms of creative "density" and popularity, that educators and project-oriented companies begin to examine whether MUDs can be used as tools with which to teach and complete collaborative projects. The formation of "serious" MUDs is a real phenomenon in our society, as Richard Bartle points out in his lengthy bibliographical reference (including studies by Kort 1991; Bruckman and Resnick 1993; Curtis and Nichols 1993; Evard 1993; Fanderclai 1995; Clodius and Riner 1995; Moock 1996). This is due to the number of "interesting qualities" that MUD social interaction has come to exhibit, including the "bring[ing] together of people with common interests from a wide geographic area, the "promot[ion] of casual collaboration," and "the use of spatial metaphors to create a context for interaction" (Serious Uses 1994). It is these qualities that we as composition teachers should focus on, asking the question whether we can take advantage of these qualities to use MUDs as an efficient medium to teach writing.
Prewriting | Drafting | Responding | Revision
The use of MUDs may be seen to enhance what we attempt to achieve in the composition classroom due, in part, to the "textual base" of these technological spaces. Use of these spaces involves communication by writing, an activity that speaks well to the first of our six informing assumptions for the writing program at Lehigh University: first year writing courses should prepare students to use writing as a tool for learning, inquiry, and critical thinking" (Informing Assumptions 1, emphasis added). Claudine Keenan reminds us that "[f]or a writing class, the MOO is more beneficial than the conventional lecture or the open verbal discussion because a MOO is writing (Keenan). MOOs and MUDs get students' hands on the keyboards to use the written word to convey thoughts. The benefits begin as we use the technology to get the students writing more often. Expertise in writing comes with practice; the students need to write more to become better writers.
In addition to the added practice for students, communication with computers, especially in a synchronous environment such as a MUD where there is a "real-time" exchange of written ideas, assists in making students see that writing is an activity based on process. This leads us to consider our second informing assumption to our writing program: "students should learn to work at all stages of the writing process, in particular at the invention and revision stages" (Informing Assumptions 6). Since "[c]omposition scholars have successfully proven that computers complement the writing process, facilitating prewriting, drafting, responding, revising, and editing" (Keenan), we may look at how MUDs in particular involve students in each of these parts of the writing process.
"Since the most valuable forms of learning are those in which students are fully engaged, the first-year writing course should strive to involve students in issues and ideas presented" (Informing Assumptions 3). This statement, the third of our writing program assumptions to consider, fits well in the discussion of prewriting because it is crucial to involve students before they take pen to paper (so to speak) so that their writing is informed. A case study conducted by Claudine Keenan in which she used a MOO to enhance her English 015 class (freshman composition) reveals that MOOs were successful in carrying out prewriting activities such as independent and partnered freedrafting and collaborative invention exercises. She concluded that "[e]very one of these technology-assisted activities in English 015 is an enhanced version of a familiar composition classroom practice that many writing instructors will recognize instantly" (Keenan, emphasis added).
Two of these familiar and important activities that begin the writing process are brainstorming sessions and discussion groups. Brainstorming is "an interaction strategy used to generate ideas or to help determine the exact nature of content to be discussed. This approach encourages group members to think creatively and to expand upon ideas of fellow group members. The primary purpose of brainstorming is to create a pool of ideas on a topic" (Fellenz and Seaman 1989, 134). The use of computer-mediated communication in a MUD may enhance brainstorming in a variety of ways.
Hiltz and Turoff suggest that a computer conferencing system "designed to optimize brainstorming would probably limit text items to a small size…utilize stored profiles on individuals to suggest group members…[and] also use automated indexing techniques to group and organize items" (Hiltz and Turoff 1978, 300). A MUD is an optimal instrument that can achieve Hiltz and Turoff's model system. It is a space where communication is text-based and invites ideas to be exchanged in small, readable "chunks" (as the nature of computer-mediated communication warrants). Collaborative brainstorming sessions that are text-based may make a more lasting impact on the students as they can "see" the item to react to (or absorb) rather than hear it in face-to-face discussion. "Visual" brainstorming interaction may have an advantage of a spoken conversation as "MUD speak" may allow time for the student to react to the brainstormed idea either as it is presented or at a later time, as we will come to see. Spoken brainstorming sessions run the risk of other ideas being presented too quickly so as to lose the initial string of ideas, or they may suffer the reverse: the conversation "dies off" and the presented ideas are soon forgotten, not to be used as stimuli for further ideas.
Most importantly, a MUD is a database, an area that "contains" objects that are available for students to "look" at. Brainstorming ideas may become "concrete"; they may be grouped and organized easily within the MUD's realm. The grouping of information may take the form of a "book," "list," or "database" (or whatever the imagination can generate), that remains in the MUD space to be revisited and reconstructed at the whim of the user. This creation of something permanent would seem to give the brainstorming activity, for the user, a concrete goal for which to work toward rather than passing around ideas that may not ever take shape. The ideas eventually will be molded by the users into permanent objects of the environment. A system constructed as such may invite more freewheeling association, a larger "quantity" of brainstormed ideas, and more opportunity for real combination, improvement, and initial "shaping" of ideas.
Discussion groups are a critical part of how we teach students to learn to be critical thinkers and better writers.2 Computer-aided communication, whether in a MUD or another synchronous environment, again may have advantages over face-to-face communication because of the attributes of the medium: writing/reading versus speaking/hearing. Writing allows for everyone to be heard (potentially), and MUDs gives the student an area in which to speak. Following their experiences of using computer-mediated communication in their writing and literature classes, Cooper and Selfe confirm this: "because entries in computer conferences are written, students do not have to compete for the floor and can say as much as they want to without being interrupted, although they still must be responsive to the interests of their classmates if they don't want to be ignored (Cooper and Selfe 1990, 848). This area of "freedom" should facilitate the exchange of ideas in a classroom prewriting exercise and give instructors a viable alternative to spoken classroom discussion. Johnson-Lenz and Johnson-Lenz concluded "that many people found it less frightening to share their inner feelings and thoughts via computer conferencing than to do so face to face. In this way, technology may facilitate valuable human interaction between people who feel comfortable with the medium…[t]his virtual circle concept encouraged everyone to express opinions and avoid reticence" (Johnson-Lenz and Johnson-Lenz 1990 as qtd. in Paulsen).
An added benefit of the use of a MUD for the exchange of student ideas is that small, "break-out" sessions, a staple of the social epistemic classroom may be better "monitored" (and, if needed, subsequently facilitated) in a MUD. Kuehn , Phillips and Santoro point out that "the instructional staff can increase their monitoring efficiency to effectively advise more groups than in noncomputerized group performance courses" (Kuehn et al 1988 as qtd. in Paulsen). The key to this benefit is not the opportunity to monitor in a "Big Brother" fashion so to better assess the individual student when it comes to be grading time, but to monitor prewriting discussion so to be a "participant/facilitator" when one needs to do so—at times when the discussion deadens or diverges from the task at hand. This, of course, happens in any of our class activities, but it is our goal to prevent it from happening frequently. A MUD's greatest benefit is that it is a space that needs less facilitation then traditional break-out groups. It is a space that everyone can be involved in, and because each and every student can contribute or introduce ideas or emphasize the issues that interest them, they share responsibility for the direction and quality of any group discussion or prewriting activity. Because they share responsibility for the direction and quality of any group discussion, "they can introduce ideas or emphasize the issues that interest them"(Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995). This responsibility gives the students both purpose and agency with which to work when constructing a rhetorical document from their discussions.
As students prepare to write for the first time, it is important that they have some initial grounding in the writing community; they should know, as early on as possible in the process, that they are truly "writers." MUDs begin the process of allowing the students to self-generate their own writing "persona" as they position themselves as members of a community of communicators. This identity creation is carried out to greater extents in a virtual environment as students, by being able to visually "watch" their own and others text generation on screen (and how their text reacts with others), develop their own voices and styles in MUD play. One planned technique to facilitate this in a MUD is to have the students "fishbowl" (used here as a verb). The "fishbowl" technique was explained in this way by Fellenz and Seaman: "The fishbowl strategy involves group members in observations of one another. It derives its name from the analogy of people observing the activities of fish within the controlled environment of an aquarium or bowl. While some group members discuss a topic or perform a behavior related to the assigned task, other members observe them.... After the active group members have completed their activity, the observers will provide feedback to the group" (Fellenz and Seaman 1989, 130). With a MOO as her "fishbowl," her controlled/contained environment, Keenan found that her English 015 students "established their own personas, their own identities as writers" much easier. The first step for students considering themselves as writers is to prove to that they have the ability to generate text. Keenan goes on to remind us that students, when using a MOO for discussion, have "visible proof of their ability to generate text, and lots of it…recorded evidence of just who said what about which idea…." This is indeed "a luxury that most collaborative classes do not have once the verbal discussion has ended" (Keenan).
Our ability to use a MUD to make students view their output as writers, even in the discussion/ invention stage, goes beyond the establishment of persona and the building of confidence in the individual writer. Davie tells us that "one of the main advantages of a computer conference is that the medium provides a complete transcript of the course interactions" (Davie 1987, 14). The logging of transcripts of invention discussions can be printed out and reviewed. This activity, in both the drafting and revision stage, can be very rewarding. In the drafting stage the students now have a "roadmap" of ideas to rely on when they go to create their papers. They will no longer have to create papers out of a vacuum, as we know many of them do, even following verbal brainstorming exercises. Using a transcript, students can be asked to pull together all the comments related to a particular topic and to write a final essay discussing which comments they agree with and why or to critique the comments from the perspective of a particular theory. Or they may retrieve all the comments they authored during a invention session. An preparatory exercise assignment could then ask the students to reflect on their contributions and provide a statement of the overall framework or perspective embodied in them (Davie and Wells 1991, 21). Having a "printed" approach to their future writing, especially one that they will most likely share a large part in creating, has proved to be beneficial.
Teaching students to respond in writing to other opinions, thoughts, and ideas, whether originally conveyed verbally or through the written word, is another goal of our writing program. "Since writing is by its nature a rhetorically and socially interactive process, students should learn to write within an ongoing social exchange" (Informing Assumptions 5). This means, in part, to help students become aware that they have an audience for their ideas (and, conversely, that they are part of an audience for others). We have discussed earlier how the MUD can be seen as a contained area that makes it easier for the student to see that they are part of a writing community whose audience is aware of the activity that comes across on the computer screen. MUDs can provide a "neutral forum for a heated debate" (Keenan), even in the "worst" of circumstances when an emotionally charged topic comes up and students begin "shouting, " tending to forget both the purpose of their diatribe and that there is someone actually listening to them. MUDs allow students to "relay their ideas as they occur, in real time, rather than waiting to be called on or waiting for other students to finish their points first" (Keenan), all while keeping in mind that they have an audience that needs to consider their points, and an instructor that may not tolerate unsubstantiated "flaming."
MUDs make another pedagogical impact by expanding our students audience through the MUD's non-verbal (written) medium. The fifth of our six assumptions for our program states, "[a] writing course should make students aware of the ways in which qualities of expression (including standard conventions of written texts) can either foster exchange of ideas or interfere with readability and reception" (Informing Assumptions 2). As seen in Keenan's above example, MUDs can make student writing more important, giving students more reason to spend time on examining the quality of their expression when responding to others. In the interchange of ideas in a MUD, students are given real-time opportunity to view how words communicate ideas, and how choice and giving of form to those words is crucial in getting one's ideas across to another. Again we may use Keenan's experience as a basis to support this claim: "Using the MOO within our own small group strengthened students' awareness of the absence of nonverbal communication cues when we rely upon straight text to make meaning clear. Students learned on their own how important precise word choice becomes in a fast-paced, text-based environment devoid of audible tone and visible facial expression. They taught each other" (Keenan).
Having the students teach each other how words come to make communication and how one might go about being a better communicator is an achievement that we all strive for in our classrooms. It is at this point when students become most engaged in the writing process as responders to others’ ideas and writings. We must remember that the most valuable forms of learning are those in which students are fully engaged, and full engagement is consummated when students become responsible for their own learning. Hiemstra and Rohfeld suggest that technology such as MUDs available in the electronic classroom "encourages students to take responsibility for their learning, both by the philosophy underlying computer discussion and by the tools it provides. Because helping learners take increasing control over personal learning is a goal for most educational endeavors, computer-mediated conferencing can be supportive of such fundamental educational values" (Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995).
Here at Lehigh we focus on having our students work at all points of the writing process, but particularly at the invention and revision stages. Revision, first and foremost, means having students read their own work in a responsive and reflective manner so that they may revise and improve their own writing. One of the ways we try to get them to do this is to have them first read material other than their own work, whether it is a magazine article, professional essay, or another student's work, so that they may learn to model. "Because reading is a basic mode of inquiry in the first-year writing class, students should be asked to read, responsively and reflectively, as part of most of their projects and assignments" (Informing Assumptions 4). At Lehigh, peer-revision work has become a staple in the composition class in order to supplement our use of professional readers and rhetorics to achieve this modeling. MUDs can be used to conduct peer-revision sessions for content, logic, organization of student work and as spaces where papers are exchanged to edit for grammar, style, and punctuation accuracy. The advantage of doing this in a MUD centers on the ability to document the actual revision work so that it may be used as a further tool; the documentation of the revision reinforces in the student that it is a necessary part of the process of writing. Again Keenan's experience proves helpful in reasoning why MUDs may be a better way to accomplish the tasks of revision that do not necessarily require the use of computers: "Although these [revision] activities are common to process-oriented composition classrooms throughout the nation, the technological enhancement makes them more accessible and more tangible for students…Because we can log our conversations in the MOO, we produce written texts that document each stage of our writing processes. We can easily refer back to log files to find ideas, to cut and paste them into new files for drafting, and to refine them in a subsequent MOO session. In this way, we reinforce writing-as-a-process through our use of writing-as-technology" (Keenan).
Transcripts of peer-reviewing sessions created in MUDs may be used as assignments that help develop a student's analytic and writing skills with regards to revision. As Davie and Wells acknowledge, "[t]oo often, students write to please the teacher. This contribution is graded and then ignored by both parties. Instead of this dead-end process, students can be asked to retrieve an earlier note or assignment and rewrite the work either to make it more effective, or to reflect the current state of learning. This kind of recursive learning can help the student to build skills in a way that is simply not feasible in the face-to-face classroom" (Davie and Wells 1991, 21). Criteria for effectiveness or a different direction for the essay's argument will originate in the peer group and will be logged in transcripts for easy retrieval. The method for peer revision that I employ presently, passing out "peer review" questionnaires that the students are required to answer after reading another student's work, somehow falls short in the results I would like to achieve. I think this is due to the dynamics of the activity. A questionnaire is a closed-ended, teacher-generated document; the students, hardly inspired, rarely elaborate beyond the specific question, leaving the writer very little feedback with which to work. This may be due to a number of factors, but I sense that it is due in part to the too rigid guidance of the instructor in an activity that would benefit most from unrestrained feedback. Another problem I have encountered with traditional peer-review is when a session is completed, it is over; there is never any carryover interaction of review or revision between students. In a MUD, revision feedback is more likely to be an open-ended, dynamic exercise where the students are less inhibited to criticize, to say what they sense is wrong with what they are reviewing. And the space, the MUD, is available outside of the classroom space, "virtually" existing on a computer network for the conversation of review and revision to be carried on outside of class. By using a MUD we can better assure that the student learns that they are not merely writing for the teacher, but for their peer audience as well; we do this by giving the students more control of their learning and skill building within the process itself.
The idea that students cannot learn in a vacuum is not foreign to us. Here at Lehigh we have adopted a social epistemic strategy to teach writing to our undergraduates. Our pedagogical goals match those of our university at large; our students "must engage in discussions and assignments that encourage probing, questioning, and evaluation" (Lehigh Plan). We believe, in general, that better critical thinkers make better writers as they are able to "formulate objectives, develop sound arguments, identify fallacies in reasoning, avoid contradictions, and recognize stated and unstated assumptions in the arguments of others and in their own" (Lehigh Plan).
Social epistemists who deal with composition theory and theorists of computer-mediated communication are both of the belief that learning is fundamentally built up through conversations between persons or among groups, involving the creation and interpretation of communication (Schegloff and Sacks 1973; Schegloff 1991). What students learn is established and negotiated through sequential turns of communication (Goodwin and Heritage 1986; Schegloff 1991). Conversations, therefore, are the means by which people collaboratively construct beliefs and meanings as well as state their differences. These conversations provide a common ground or mutual knowledge about beliefs and assumptions during conversation (Brennan and Clark 1991).
If a MUD is then an area to be used a common ground for communication, how specifically will it enhance our efforts to get our students to think more deeply and critically on what they encounter in conversation? To begin with, the MUD is a road leading outside of the classroom, an area where the student writer will be exposed to different student's and different teacher's points of view, methods of writing, and critical thought. If we as academicians are indeed using the academic environment and its discourse (a la Bartholemae) as a model to which students are to become acclimated, we have, in our own classrooms, a limited number of models from which students can use to learn. It has been my experience that students tend to focus on the authority figure (me) as their primary model. We attempt to give students back that authority in order that they may learn from each other. When this is not entirely successful with every student (as I think we can all safely say it hasn't been), when students will only look to an authority figure, an expert as the source for their modeling, we may lessen this singular authority by exposing students to other "experts," conveniently done within a MUD. Keenan employed her MOO to allow her students to "interact with teachers from other states, so that different points of view from other experts broaden students' exposure to the critical thinking experience" (Keenan).
The act of communicating, the synthesis of (critical) thought and writing, is impacted positively with use of a MUD. MUDs, since they force students to write their thoughts in a timely fashion, are sometimes thought to be vehicles for rushed, chaotic, unthoughtful jabber. Many instructors, however, found that use of MUDs prove otherwise. Hiemstra and Rohfeld found that "the very process of writing comments required participants to reflect, and those given to speaking out hastily in class recognized the benefits of having to think before speaking. At the same time, it gave a stronger voice to the reflective student who found face-to-face communication too fast and who now had time to compose a thoughtful contribution" (Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995). The feedback from their students indicated that they "felt their comments were more thoughtful because they could not just blurt out whatever came to mind" (Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995).
The theory that "[a] MUD requires a user to organize thoughts to a greater degree before making an utterance" has also been confirmed by those that use MUDs in private industry as virtual training environments (Lewis and Mateas). Michael Mateas and Scott Lewis of the Tektronix Co. studied the benefits and drawbacks of using a MUD to train employees. They concluded that the time spent organizing thought before writing "is probably due to the lack of prosodic cues which allow a speaker to make corrections and change course in mid sentence" (Lewis and Mateas). The intangible benefit that a MUD may provide is that it helps to make clear to the beginning writer the importance of thought as it applies to writing, whether that thought involves choosing the right word, organizing words into a more effective and intelligible structure, or deciding on what content of one's thought is to be communicated (what items are relevant, which "themes" given the direction of the conversation should be focused on, etc.). How students write (and react to their own writing) in a MUD then, in a sense, may be seen as a microcosmic example of how we would like them to think about their "larger" writing, traditionally assessed in essay form. Getting students to stop and think about their writing on the basic level of communication (in a MUD) may assist them in thinking about their writing in any form. It is in a MUD they may first learn to formulate objectives, develop sound arguments, and avoid contradictions in writing, something that may come more naturally to them in spoken communication. Generally, in classes and conferences, students can "say" what they want to "say"; that is, they can communicate their ideas verbally with little trouble. The MUD may be the seen as the translator for the common problem that we encounter in our classes: "I know what I want to say, but I am having trouble putting it on paper." With a MUD, they are communicating in a seemingly colloquial manner, but they are also writing with some thought behind it, with some sort of beginning structure.
MUDs, as a pedagogical tool, are multi-faceted; they are easily "[a]daptable"
for diverse pedagogical strategies, whether one uses scientific inquiry,
lab approach, a facilitator-modeling-
demonstrator mode, or collaborative problem solving as their approach for teaching learned skills (Berge 1996). MUDs are also "economically-feasible"; there is little additional cost to a department that has computer labs with Internet access. There are no modules to purchase, no site-licenses to obtain. A good deal of MUD programming software is available for free over the Internet. Cost merely begins the discrimination between computer-mediated environments such as MUDs and Daedalus.
What begins to differentiate MUDs, in pedagogical practice, from other synchronous environments is that MUDs can give students the opportunity to see that a writing community is not limited to the composition classroom; the act of writing does not lose its importance once the student leaves the halls of academia. Within a MUD space, students can interact, through writing, with others across the world, whereas with Daedalus they are limited to communication through the LAN (Local Area Network). Our pedagogical goal at Lehigh of an "ongoing social exchange" is expanded to include a global community of writers who will provide the student with critical responses to their own ideas as well as "real-world" listeners that gives purpose to their creation of ideas through written texts. Taking our students writing out of the classroom through technology will help in making students aware that the skills they develop in composition class are skills needed in whatever career they pursue. Keenan tells us that her "students' awareness of the entire global community as a potential audience affect[ed] the value they place[ed] on their papers. In their peer groups, my students frequently discuss[ed] the importance of defining key terms and broaden[ed] their appeals to reach this expanded audience" (Keenan). They can be used, as Keenan reminds us, as a "common database" that connects a classroom to distant writing partners "regardless of the platform or software package they are using," giving all students the freedom to write on whatever word processing program one has at their disposal (Keenan). I anticipate using MUDs to collaborate with other college students from different cultural backgrounds to "make real" the diverse experiences that we are reading about in our classroom readers. I hope to find other classrooms from different geographical areas with either different, more homogenous student populations (for example, Howard University or Wellesley College are the obvious that come to mind) or diverse, more heterogeneous students (community colleges in metropolitan areas, etc.) to discuss issues such as race, gender, wealth/class, and education (to name a few). I will also use a MUD space to invite "experts" around the globe that will share their perspectives with my students to provide more expertise than I am capable of giving them. For example, I think of how our traditional, first-semester "interview" unit can be greatly enhanced using the MUD. I may easily invite a journalist as a guest speaker for our students to interview and from whom they may learn about interviewing (something a colleague of ours has successfully done via the traditional route). As we move our classrooms out into the limitless world the possibilities seem, to use the cliché, endless.
This section will continue to differentiate MUDs from other forms of CMC and further the argument "Why use a MUD?" by demonstrating that MUDs, in themselves, are forms of games, and that the connection between writing and game-playing should be utilized to maximize benefits in the teaching of composition. Though this paper will not deeply explore the reasons why, it generally may be understood and accepted that games are part of our life. Whether fantastic or realistic, humans find game-playing compelling, challenging, competitive, and creative. Consequently, we are drawn to games and find time to play. As a composition teacher, I would posit that rhetoric and composition are forms of games also; in writing, one is always trying to accomplish a goal, whether it is to inform (a form of gaming "simulation"), delight (a form of gaming "fantasy"), or convince through argument (win a competition). Game play in the composition classroom will make the task at hand (learning how to write and think deeply) more inviting for the student. It will involve the imagination in the writing and thinking process. Use of the imagination will help deconstruct some of their narrow notions of reality with which our students come to class. The writer can then go on to find a new writing "self" that needs to begin to negotiate with its audience through newfound methods of communication. The use of "games" such as MUDs can facilitate this imaginative play and will make this play both compelling and comfortable for students. With that said, I must recognize that all games entail risk, and MUD play in the composition classroom is no exception. I will delineate some of the dangers of game-playing in MUDs so that we may fully consider the ramifications of bringing new technology in the classroom, furthering exploration of the negatives to better avoid their consequences. As you will see, the positives will outweigh the risks and, if I might add, it is the presence of risks that make our game of teaching writing all the more exciting and worthwhile when we are successful.
To anticipate the resistance to my introducing the word "play" in a paper dealing with pedagogy, I would like to begin with a (brief) excerpt of the Tektronix study mentioned earlier. Lewis and Mateas encountered opposition to the use of MUDs as a training environment by the trainers asked to use MUDs for instruction:
Again, I remind us of one of our program's guiding assumptions: "Since the most valuable forms of learning are those in which students are fully engaged, the first-year writing course should strive to involve students in issues and ideas presented" (Informing Assumptions 3). Play, then, is a means by which we can accomplish our work, a way that we can excite our students into engaging new modes of thought and communication. New communication technologies such as MUDs challenge the assumptions that play and work do not mix. We should consider the prediction that "the line separating work and play will blur as mediated environments become more common" (Lewis and Mateas).
MUDs encourage play while providing a comfortable environment to do so. As is always the case with exposure to something new, using MUDs may be resisted at first by both student and teacher. Lewis and Mateas have found that "initial exposure to the environment is consistently less compelling" for beginning users (Lewis and Mateas). Yet Dibble finds that with increased usage by users, MUDs do hold one's interest: "The success of MUDs on the Internet indicates that long-term use of MUDs is very engaging for some users" (Dibbel 1993). Part of that enticement, believe it or not, may involve the ability to communicate with others in a text based format. The users in the Tektronix study, when asked if they would prefer a graphical rendering of the environment, "replied that the textual description was preferable because it was more compelling!" (Lewis and Mateas)
The MUD, as a structured place for play, allows users to "build structures within this space that can contextualize and give meaning to human interaction just as physical structures do" (Langham 1994). The MUD, being a constuctivist environment where people create objects as well as communicate, is likened by Don Langham to one of Anthony Giddens "locales," an area where imagination, the virtual reality of a MUD, can help the instructor "contextualize and direct the activities" within that room (Fanderclai 1993 as qtd. in Langham). Students can create environments within MUDs that will allow them to feel comfortable to interact, not only with the environment but with others found in the environment. Giddens' theory reflects this notion in explaining that "locales are typically internally regionalized, and the regions within them are of critical importance in constituting contexts of interaction" (Giddens 1984 as qtd. in Langham). Locales become contexts for human interaction and behavior, "physical structures that encourage the replication of certain behaviors over time" (Langham 1994). Langham concludes (in a manner that lends itself well to our examination) that "the 'realism' of virtual reality systems is not a product of how well they mirror the 'real' world, but rather the extent to which they create structures that allow for a sense of a routinized existence, a sense of fixity we generally associate with ordinary, repeated, commonplace behavior" (Langham 1994).
This "fixity" provided by a MUD space that students have a hand in creating will encourage students to think (albeit unconsciously) of this area as a place where fruitful interaction takes place. The MUD, then, has a built-in mechanism for assisting the new user in getting comfortable with the technological space. That mechanism is the MUDs virtual environment. A MUD can be made to look like any place that one wishes. A programmer can make the MUD space a classroom, an office, a living room; whatever will help the user feel comfortable and inspire the user to new ideas. Judy Pratt, an instructor who employs MOOs in her classes, describes how this works: "As in the physical environment, pleasant conditions on line include your surroundings. In the MOO, I have described my office in a warm, welcoming manner…I do this to help people feel more comfortable by having familiar objects around them…which helps people feel special that they are invited in" (Berge 1996). Leslie Harris when asked about the differences between IRC, Daedalus, and MUDs responded in this way, focusing on the MUDs virtual aspect as an aid in instruction:
Lewis and Mateas also found the virtual aspect of MUDs to be rewarding, making users relaxed so as to promote productivity: "By virtualizing this environment, groups of engineers have a safe environment within which to experience common mistakes…" (Lewis and Mateas, emphasis added). The MUD can be designed to make students feel at home when not at home; the virtual classroom can retain the qualities of reality while it transforms into a playground for the mind.
Role Play (Ground)
It is this portion of the paper that I find most compelling and that I hope will designate MUDs as unique tools to expose creative thought and facilitate good writing. Before I begin, I must explain that I rely heavily on Elizabeth Reid's study on IRC, which stands for Internet Relay Chat, a synchronous communication system that is very much like a MOO with the exception that there are no "virtual" surroundings or "objects" that are available to "frame" the space as you would have in a MUD or MOO. Nevertheless, what she has to say is pertinent to communicating with technology that is being used to further self-exploration and learning.
It was Reid's aforementioned study Electropolis that first introduced me to the idea of play and started me thinking of the possibilities for play in the composition classroom. As we try to get students to see the "other side of things," to consider other possibilities and perspectives, MUDs can provide freedom for students to think and communicate outside of their constructed self. Of course, this would mean that the student must become aware that their self is constructed through cultural constructions and that communication (theirs and others) validates these constructions. MUDs can be used to illustrate this idea to students. Reid states that IRC allows users freedom "to experiment with different forms of communication and self-representation." Communication within a MUD or IRC "involves a deconstruction of traditional assumptions about the dynamics of communication, and the construction of alternative systems" (Reid 1991). As teachers, we can use the MUD to institute role-play activities and simulations to get students to "deconstruct aspects of their own identity, and of their cultural classification, and to challenge and obscure the boundaries between some of our most deeply felt cultural significances." MUDs can give students "the chance to escape the assumed boundaries of gender, race, and age to create a game of interaction in which there are few rules but those that the users create themselves" (Reid 1991).
Rather than just merely "talking at" our students (through lecture, reading assignments, etc.) about how others may think, feel, react, and behave, we can reinforce their learning with action, getting them to "be," as closely as possible, other people, enabling them to crawl inside someone else's being, so to speak. Two "playful" activities well suited for our electronic medium that can accomplish this easily are simulations and role-plays. Simulations can be explained as an "imitation of interpersonal or other dynamics, often using materials and roles, to help participants feel as well as understand the dynamics of a complex situation" (Knox 1987, 89, emphasis added).
According to Rothwell and Kazanas, role-play is "a range of methods in which trainees put themselves in dramatic situations and act out scenes like actors in a play.... There are essentially two kinds of role-play: structured and spontaneous.... Structured role-play is based on a case study.... Spontaneous role plays are based on momentary experiences." (Rothwell and Kazanas 1989, 415)
MUDs not only provide the opportunity to run effective simulations but will also promote "[a] willingness to accept this phenomenon, and to join in the games that can be played." This sort of playing of games is "an aspect of the culture" of computer-mediated communication (Reid 1991). Besides validating the use of simulation for teaching purposes for the student, MUDs make better spaces for simulation to take place. In the MUD, we may make the environment more realistic for the role-play, providing the virtual scenery to make the production realistic. All that impacts events (and, consequently, communication) during a simulation, including (but not limited to) the passage of time, the physical appearance of the speaker, room, listeners, the presence of particular objects (I think of Chekoff’s "gun" hanging on the wall), can be programmed into a MUD. Hiltz and Turoff posit that "[t]he major defect that most games exhibit, especially educational ones, is that the communications actually used in the face-to-face game environment usually do not reflect the real world. By putting the game into a computerized communications environment, we can program the structures for communications that the game implies" (Hiltz and Turoff 1978, 308).
In their 1978 book, The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer, Hiltz and Turoff argue that games and role playing are "one of the most promising exploratory subjects" for computer conferencing (Hiltz and Turoff 1978, 307). Examples abound of how computer role-playing can be used to reinforce what we attempt to accomplish as technology becomes more prevalent in the classroom. In The Tall Pines fantasy role play, each student assumed the role of one of the authors presented in the class readings and defended the author's positions. In comparing this type of computer role play with face-to-face role play, Davie and Inskip argued that "the extended time in CMC courses allowed the role plays to be more comprehensive. In addition, the simulated discussion between the "authors" helped the students to understand the represented theoretical positions" (Davie and Inskip 1992). The Planet Project was a role-play where students invented the topography, mythology, etc. of their "world" and shared experiences, problems and decisions with "planeteers" from other schools. Clifford and Warren argue that the children stretched their use of language and form because they had to use their language to create the reality of the planet (Clifford and Warren 1993, 151). Though these particular students used e-mail to communicate with each other, a MUD would be a more effective area to role play as the user can use language and form to create a virtual world that will remain as a "personally meaningful artifact" (Programming for Fun) for others to indulge in.
We also should consider using MUDs to carry out these types of activities because "role playing could probably be done more realistically through the computer than in some of the face-to-face acting games used, especially if the student were not able to tell which of the other players were students, faculty, or real-life jobholders playing at their convenience from their own terminals" (Hiltz and Turoff 1978, 308).
Complete anonymity is a key for role-playing. MUDs will allow students to remove physical barriers in their becoming someone else and thus removing any residual effects we may read from the role-play (for example, if my students knew it was me playing a role they would read that role differently than if it was a student role-player). An example of the possibilities for role-play hearkens back to the "Battle of the Sexes" game I created in the classroom. With that game I was trying to have the students gender-switch, to reproduce the "other" as closely as possible. I even toyed with the idea of having students physically change their appearance so as to "dress" like the opposite gender in order to demonstrate how physical appearance is important in our perceptions of gender roles. Logistically, this could not have been accomplished as the players would still have maintained their gender presence no matter to what extent they were physically changed. In the virtual reality of a MUD, however, how one "'looks' to another user is entirely dependent upon information supplied by that person. It becomes possible to play with identity" (Reid 1991). Reid goes on to provide support for an idea that I immediately felt MUDs could be used for in a unique, profitable manner: "The boundaries delineated by cultural constructs of beauty, ugliness, fashionableness or unfashionableness, can be by-passed on IRC. It is possible to appear to be, quite literally, whoever you wish" (Reid 1991).
As we concoct methods in our social epistemic classrooms to decenter the instructor's authority and empower our students to construct knowledge among themselves, MUDs should be considered a viable supplemental tool to enfranchise our students. Keenan's sessions "taught the class how to use Computer Mediated Communication to express their ideas and opinions in discussions that, in the traditional classroom, may have stifled or repressed students' thoughts and feelings" (Keenan). This may be due to the freedom that anonymity provides a student in a MUD session, a tool that may not only help the student construct knowledge on his/her own, but adapt socially as well: "For the shy and socially ill-at-ease, computer mediated communication can provide a way of learning social skills in a non-threatening environment" (Reid 1991). With use of a MUD, the traditional hierarchy of a classroom may be challenged in such a way to promote individual responsibility for learning. When Reid paraphrases F.R. Ankersmit's assertion that "users of IRC do not shape themselves according to or in conformity with the conventions of social contexts external to the medium, but learn to 'play' their 'cultural game' with them" (Reid 1991), we should not be concerned or afraid of the possible results of this. If we, as academic role-models, are to represent or provide the "conventions" of social contexts with which students will role "play" in a social epistemic environment in order to construct new individual paradigms which, in turn, will be shared socially, modeled, and subjected to further deconstruction, then so be it. For that is what we intend to do—at least that is what we profess. Social education is a cultural game that is circular, rhetorical strategies are tools in which to exchange both knowledge and power, and MUDs can be the virtual playground where this is all exercised effectively in a fashion that practically reinforces a basic tenet of ours: knowledge, through writing, is power.
Before we jump in the MUD and get dirty, we need to examine the negative aspects of the technology in order to circumvent any problems in using it to teach.
Techn-overload: using the technology
The Tektronix case study referred to earlier confirms a fact that many of us encounter when introduced to new technology: the emergence of fear and apprehension due to unfamiliarity. With MUDs in particular, we are confronted with a technology that provides a new, virtual world in which we can interact, one that may be seen as complex as reality. Users, even with the brief exposure afforded them in such a study, "commented that they were overwhelmed by the richness and depth of the MUD," naming the complexity "content overload" to describe how they felt (Lewis and Mateas). Lewis and Mateas believe that "the MUD provides subtle cues that it is a complex environment, with the potential to match the complexity of a real environment" (Lewis and Mateas). It may be this what initially causes neo-luddite fright; these clues may steer an instructor away from attempting to use a MUD for instruction. Skeptics may cite the dislike of, incredulity about, or impossibility for the translation of our reality in an imaginative computer realm such as the MUD.
Not only will hints of insight into the structure of a MUD (what we do know about it) contribute to our trepidation, what also frightens us is what we don't know. One common complaint is that our students and instructors do not know how to use the different applications available with computers, and that there is not enough time or resources to help overcome our apprehensions—that is there is no time to teach both composition and how to use the tools to teach/learn composition. This, as we know, is a valid concern. Hiemstra and Rohfeld tell us that "learners will come to the conferencing classroom with a wide variety of capabilities and prior experiences with technology." Brochet (1986), Eastmond (1992), Florini (1990), and Harasim (1989) are among those who "describe the necessity for ensuring that learners obtain a certain level of competency in using computers to be successful in conferencing. As participants attempt to learn and use new software features, they will continue to need support" (Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995). Providing this support is not easy. There will be initial barriers to overcome. Users in the Tektronix study found the MUD interface difficult to learn as well. "As new users, they often knew what they wanted to do but did not know how to do it" (Lewis and Mateas).
It seems as though, given the last statement, that using the technology is something that may take practice but can and will be learned over time. There are certain commands with MUDs that a new user must learn in order to negotiate through the space. These commands initially may seem daunting, but the "commands" are usually somewhat basic, describing in most cases what users will generally want to accomplish in a MUD, commands such as "say," "look," "touch" to speak to someone, view the room, or pick up an object. In time, these commands will become natural for the user to internalize when negotiating in a MUD. We may liken this learning to word processing technology. Not so long ago word processing technology and the skills to go along with it were generally not known by our students (and some of our instructors). A decision had to be made by the composition instructor and a particular tack was taken: time was either spent teaching students (and themselves) the technology and skills or word processing was ignored as a tool. Eventually (in a rather quick fashion, I would note), word processing was universally accepted as a technology that assisted in the writing process. As a result, the majority of our students come to us with rudimentary word processing skills that take little time to develop as they continue using the technology.
Like the adoption of word processing, students are rapidly learning how to use computers for communication in chat rooms and MUDs. The need for knowledge of commands is lessening as this develops. Other complaints, however, involving the use of MUDs need consideration. One criticism of computer communication is that it is too fast; the "constantly scrolling text was a problem" for the Tektronix users who "found it difficult to follow all of the activities in the MUD" (Lewis and Mateas).
Because of this, the instructors in the Tektronix study "did not think that the MUD would be an appropriate training environment." They found it "difficult to express oneself" and "engag[e] in conversations," while "the multithreaded nature of MUD conversations was difficult for them to follow" (Lewis and Mateas). The quick, almost chaotic form of the dynamic reproduction of text of many users can be disconcerting. My students, while using the Daedalus synchronous communication software, initially experienced the same difficulty of reading text. Over time, however, my students felt more comfortable using computers to communicate and were able to adapt their reading skills to the new environment. MUD communication is chaotic, but it is no more chaotic than human communication. In fact, it was interesting to find my students develop a general contentment with the computers from a position of initial dislike, all in a short period of time. This echoes Lewis and Mateas's comparison of their disgruntled first-time MUD users to "more experienced MUD users, who generally find multithreaded conversations a positive feature" (Lewis and Mateas). With experience comes comfort for the user that can then allow the positive aspects of the technology to be effectively utilized.
There still, however, is no doubt that "[t]he interface to most MUDs needs improvement." As Lewis and Mateas point out, "[t]he problem of formatting MUD text is a superset of the problem of formatting hypertext; a MUD is a dynamic hypertext" (Lewis and Mateas). "How a dynamically changing page should be rendered" is a question that programmers are continually working on. As the technology develops, we will find that the "[f]ormatting [of] the text and providing clickable commands" will be a paramount change in the evolution of MUDs, "improving the readability of MUD text and providing more affordances on possible actions in the world" (Lewis and Mateas). New advances in the technology will provide ease of use, much like the Windows interface has reduced our need to learn those overwhelming number of MS-DOS commands. This technology will, in turn, alleviate the prevalent response to MUDs (and computer technology in general), the response that has been described as "content overload."
The technology using us (?)
I have attempted to extol the many virtues of using the electronic space of a MUD, including its provision for a more efficient method of collaboration and an expanded pool of collaborators. This paper is part of "an avalanche of work supporting the virtues of telecommunication-based collaborative work environments" (Acker). After reading Stephen Acker's article "Space, Collaboration, And the Credible City: Academic Work in The Virtual University," an exploration of "the cost of collaboration as it moves into multiple work spaces" (Acker), I am compelled to caution the new user of technology to consider how technology, when not controlled, can begin to use the user. The warning here is how technology itself can have a negative impact on faculty’s use of time. Technology, including MUDs, has its place in the classroom, but should not dominate it or replace it. We, as instructors, must be careful facilitators and technicians; we must ensure that we use the MUD as a supplemental tool rather than an instrument that merely creates more (unproductive) work for us.
Acker warns us that "[r]ather than buying time with our efficient technologies, we find new ways to sell it in overlapping parcels. Constant activity in simultaneous work spaces is the cost we bear for uncritically accepting the "distributed work environment" (Acker). As a result of our adoption of technology, "the capacity of space to buffer the work load of individuals dramatically lessened. Although we still do not know how to make more time in the day, our culture of urgency is splitting space into time" (Acker and McCarthy 1990). Acker laments that this has eradicated the necessary "down time" associated with the physical space that affords "rest" that all humans need, "unbalancing the thought and action cycle that drives creative human behavior (Grudin 1990; Schon 1983; Ghiselin 1952 as qtd. in Acker).
Whether Acker is right in theorizing this negative aspect of using technology, as it denies us our much needed rest, we here at Lehigh do participate in what he deems "the culture of urgency" in our use of "various strategies to allow people to be in two places at the same time" (Acker). These strategies include improving "on-line access to a university's libraries, Internet point-of-presence, and individual class resources (faculty-student e-mail, bulletin boards, web pages), typically using modem pools and client-server technologies." I would add the use of MUDs to promote synchronous communication between people that inhabit different physical spaces, allowing them to share one computer "space." The academy is "focusing large amounts of resources and energy on the electronically-engaged university (Annenberg/CPB Project Guidelines 1995; Arms 1990 as qtd. in Acker). IBM estimates that American institutions of higher education have spent 20 billion dollars on teaching and learning technology over the past fifteen years (Reinhardt 1995 as qtd. in Acker).
What exactly is the goal of this? Acker claims that "[t]hrough networks, students, faculty, and staff are to evolve work habits that increase efficiency, broaden scope, allow individuals to better manage their personal time and financial resources. The appropriate integration of physical and electronic space is central to what it means to be an academic community" (Acker). Though it seems that Acker believes that most universities are running fast into technology without looking hard at its disadvantages, I believe that institutions such as Lehigh are carefully considering the ramifications of technology, their goal to determine what the appropriate integration of physical and electronic space should be. There is a larger question attached to this issue of whether technology will cause the physical space of the university to be eliminated completely; the "birthing of this new work space will have its most pragmatic manifestations and fiercest battles in defining what is an accepted education" (Acker). As we expand our classrooms bringing in other audiences and experts to assist our students in constructing knowledge, the question remains as to whether we, as instructors, will expand ourselves right out of a job. People are afraid that instructors will be no longer needed once computing work space expands without boundaries, creating in some people another fear of combining the physical and electronic spaces. An example of this is outlined in the recent situation at the University of Maine. The New York Times reported on the resignation of Maine's Chancellor Orenduff for proposing an "eighth campus, this one without buildings or professor" (Honan 1995, A8). The resignation came about due to a vote of no confidence from the University of Maine's faculty as complaints about the use of technology and job security surfaced. Acker goes on to theorize that "[i]t is very likely, that collaborative education will be cast as competitive education from the perspectives of many institutions and their faculty"(Acker).
No matter what tools are used to facilitate shared learning, collaborative education will always seem as a risky venture when compared to a traditional "banking" system (as described by Freire) that has dominated education for quite some time. Here at Lehigh, we have adopted collaboration as our guiding pedagogical principle (as articulated by our informing assumptions and writing program policy guidelines) because we believe that the benefits of collaborative learning outweigh the limitations of "banking" education. It is true that the use of technology in a collaborative environment can make an instructor feel overburdened because, in a sense, the use of technology allows the student to constantly pursue his/her own learning. We must remember that a goal of ours is to make students become responsible for their own learning. We, as authority figures (those in the current academic paradigm responsible for the student's education) may be asked often to mediate the "extra" learning, but this is necessarily a part of what we signed up for as educators. Let us hope that we can always be counted and called upon as mediators of the collaborative learning environment, to continue to use technology to bridge the gap between our discourse that champions the never-ending quest for knowledge through communication and a "real-world" discourse that has embraced computers to satisfy a full spectrum of human desires while mediating the fuzzy, postmodern boundaries of space and time, work and play.
The Emerging Technocracy
The use of the computer outside of the academy, both to instruct and entertain, is rapidly developing. As this paper demonstrates, computers are currently being touted in academia as a medium to enhance instruction and learning through shared activity, and to engage students in the same intellectual and cultural activities that sustain practicing scientists and engineers in knowledge building (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1993, as qtd. in Gay). The key idea here is that computers are being used successfully in the "real world" to carry out communication between those engaged in the construction of knowledge. A fear of this writer is that by not finding use for computers in the academy, the specific academic space of the composition classroom may quickly become its own vacuum. Brown, Collins, and Duguid argue that "learning involves making sense of experience, thought, or phenomenon in context." They hypothesize that "our representation or understanding of a concept is not abstract and self-sufficient but rather is constructed from the social and physical contexts in which the concept is found and used" (Brown et al 1989). Brown et al have emphasized the importance of implicit knowledge in developing understanding rather than acquiring formal concepts. In an era that is moving rapidly toward a complete use of computers in our lives, where our cars and coffeemakers contain microprocessors, our watches control electronic scheduling systems, and our television sets are now World Wide Web browsers, we need to consider that the computer is fast becoming a medium of communication, an area where our students are experiencing concepts outside of academia and forming their own discourse communities with its own standards and rules to exchange these concepts. It may be essential to provide students with technology in order to recreate for them "authentic experiences" to deal with the concept(s) that we wish to expose. Students can and should have the opportunity to converse and learn in multimedia environments such as MUDs and "chat rooms'' with which they are beginning to become experienced. Our use of these technologies will allow participants to construct new understanding in familiar environments that will eventually lead to conceptual change as we teach them how to think and write. The opportunity to unite our academic discourse with that of the computer-using society’s should not be missed.
Successful mediation between our discourse community and that of our students may depend on our knowledge of their community and its rapidly-changing characteristics, rules of communication and laws of behavior. Elizabeth Reid reminds us that "[u]sers of IRC share a vocabulary and a system of understanding that is unique and therefore defines them as constituting a distinct culture. . .[t]he symbolic identity—the virtual reality—of the world of computer-mediated communication is a rich and diverse culture comprised of highly specialised skills, language and unifying symbolic meanings" (Reid 1991). Can we and will we invite this new vocabulary to be mixed with ours? Can we and will we all speak the same language in the future?
Ironically, we find that we have much in common with the typical technological user; that is, the technological user has, like most of those involved with the academy, easier access to technology, education, and wealth: "individuals who use IRC will be in an economically privileged position in their society. They have access to high technology. Due to the nature of the computer network on which IRC runs, the Internet, they will most likely be members of an academic community, often students of computer science" (Reid 1991). Reid goes on to comment further on this homogeneity of users: "This 'equality' is not intrinsic to IRC, it is a by-product of the social structures surrounding computer technology" (Reid 1991). I point out this not to bring about another possible disadvantage of the use of technology (that is, its work in keeping class division intact, work in which we are all involved in some way), but to highlight the idea that users of computer communication have a distinct community, one with its own culture.
By culture I mean that this community has its own standards (set by the group) for communication and interpretation. John December tells us that "[t]he bottom line is that the activity that happens in an Internet-based CMC isn't a series of discrete events, rather acts online have antecedents and outcomes and take place within a context. . . .Online, people might…continuously participate in forums for communication that begin to exhibit characteristics of community—including a shared sense of purpose, norms for behavior, and traditions" (December 1996). Will we be teaching "out of context" if we do not use technology in our classrooms? What will the world look like five years from now? Just how large in numbers will the CMC community be? Do we run the risk of excluding this community from ours if we do not adopt technology at least part time to teach communication? Will we exclude a multiplying number of people who use computers to communicate in an attempt to maintain our discourse as somehow superior to theirs, an act some may accuse of cultural elitism? Or can we successfully have the two discourse communities meet somewhere at a comfortable center, taking the positive aspects from each to further learning?
One of these positive aspects of this "other" community that uses IRC and MUDs as ways to communicate is that it is a community that promotes exploration, one that is predisposed to learning new concepts. "Cyberspace, in its present condition, has a lot in common with the 19th Century West. It is vast, unmapped, culturally and legally ambiguous, verbally terse (unless you happen to be a court stenographer), hard to get around in, and up for grabs.... In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone... .It is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for both outlaws and new ideas" (Barlow 1990, as qtd. in Reid). We may note that cyberspace is "hard to get around in" because it is a text-based arena; it demands that one knows how to communicate effectively with words. It is here that we as writing teachers can make our impact. We can use the technology that is being used outside of the academy in order to make users better at what they already do by incorporating academic pedagogies into their discourse. We can employ a MUD user's sense of "freedom" inherent in the ambiguity of virtual reality to work to our advantage. If we can somehow expose, channel, and control this virtual world, the possibilities in teaching students to critically think and communicate more effectively are endless.
There are a number of positive aspects of this community that mirror that of our own. This text-based community "shares a concern for care in nuances of language and symbolism, a realisation of the power of language and the importance of social context cues, that are hallmarks of postmodern culture" (Reid 1991). Being aware of the importance of language is one step closer to learning how to manipulate it for effect. The cross-cultural, international nature of IRC can also "create a sense of empathy and tolerance for differing cultures" (Reid 1991). Amy Bruckman, in her case study, finds that the online community of MUD users functions as motivation for learning, emotional support to overcome technophobia, technical support, and an appreciative audience for a user's work (Programming for Fun). Bruckman notes that the constructivist environment of the MUD, where objects are "conversation pieces" (much like a student essay becomes a "conversation piece"), motivates users to want to build objects "rather than simply admiring someone else's work," combining "a desire for personal mastery…with a desire to contribute to a society he has benefited from" (Programming for Fun).
There are a few negative aspects of the community that necessarily go with the positive. One of the more obvious is that the less-restrictive medium that provides anonymity and empowerment for a user can also allow for "uninhibited expression of racial hatred" (Reid 1991), intolerance, and offensive speech not appropriate for the classroom. This negative behavior may or may not be controlled by those other students who are part of the discourse community. Though it may be our goal to have student users self-govern the MUD space, this may not happen. Technology is not to be a license for free-for-all behavior; language is a tool that must be moderated and manipulated with great care (and this is a point that our students should become accustomed to as we teach them how to write effectively). The freedom that MUDs offer must be channeled toward a pedagogical goal; the instructor, as mediator, must continue to impose some authority to ensure that this happens. If improper behavior gets out of hand, proper facilitation by the instructor should be used to control the situation. These situations, if excessive "flaming" (the use of offensive language toward others) occurs, may be used as a learning tool to show the power (and harmful aspects) of the use of language. With careful moderation, the freedom of MUDs to empower the shy, spur on the imagination, and facilitate collaboration can outweigh the potential negative opportunity for the student bent on disrupting the class.
Another criticism of CMC is that "[m]ost, if not all, of the conversations among learners and between learners and facilitators take place without the benefit of face-to-face speech, vocal tones, nonverbal expressions, and other social-context cues that can support the process...The lack of face-to-face interaction also may retard the building of group identity and cohesion" (Hiemstra and Rohfeld 1995). This is a well-founded concern, but we are not asking for instructors to give up the very important face to face communication, to solely use CMC in a MUD so it "may also provide a crutch and an excuse not to develop [verbal] social skills that can be implemented in the 'real world'" (Reid 1991). We here at Lehigh, given the make-up of our program, should/would never give up face-to-face communication. MUDs should always be seen as a supplement that will keep what we do—teaching writing, rhetoric, and critical thought—in touch with the real world, not against it.
To demonstrate that there can be different levels of agreement and enthusiasm for this topic, I would like to end this paper with a long excerpt from a paper that unreservedly champions the use of CMC in academia:
Yet it was the purely physical restrictions on access to scholarly authority (whether medieval monk or Oxbridge professor) and to the written and printed word that necessitated the creation of bricks-and-mortar centres of learning: a subject expert could only ever be in one place at one time, and if you wanted to benefit from his knowledge and expertise you had no choice but to be where he or she was. In the—and it has become a clichéd expression—constantly and rapidly changing world in which we now live, with new technologies relentlessly redefining the way we work and live, it may not merely be an anachronism to continue to embrace the model of the traditional residential university as the primary locus of learning—it may arguably be an impediment to appropriate learning and ultimately a threat to growth, both economic and personal. (Hutchison)
We must somehow stand in the middle, to refocus and redirect new areas and methods of communication so that we may "insur[e] that humanistic values continue to inform education" (Lanham 1993 as qtd. in Langham). Welch believes that "a renewed focus on delivery is critical if humanistic education is to survive," arguing that our refocusing on delivery in the education of rhetoric "will empower students to be aware of how the media [of classical literature, rhetoric, and new technology] are integrated and how they work to shape our understanding of life…revitaliz[ing] classical rhetoric…mak[ing] the arts and humanities relevant once again to the world by allowing them to address real problems" (Welch 1990 as qtd. in Langham).
Making the technology applicable to what our students have faced and will come to face in the world outside of academia includes keeping intact the opportunities for students to generate and communicate knowledge on their own once their skills have been honed—keeping the potential for empowering students alive. This includes not only our adoption of the new technology to teach but using it to add to, not mimic, the traditional pedagogy that takes place in the classroom. MUDs are areas for "freedom," but areas that are structured, places "for self-directed learning, learning that blends work and play, that often looks chaotic but that is uniquely effective" (Fanderclai 1995). In a social epistemic environment such as ours, we, implicitly, are committed to the idea of letting students learn on their own when possible. As Fanderclai tells us, this can happen when using a MUD, especially if we are committed to providing students knowledge of the methods, tools and "clear goals" for the use of these tools—that is, we must not use the MUD as an area of control, but one of structure (Fanderclai 1995).
We here at Lehigh have agreed that learning is an open-ended life-long process; we must now learn how to teach with technologies such as MUDs that our students will carry with them, in one form or another, for the rest of their lives. We can then only hope that they will take the writing and rhetorical skills (along with their expanded methods of thought) along for the ride, skills learned while "playing in the MUD," the work that came about because we had the foresight to bind to these technologies with our discourse during their training.
The challenge for us, as I see it, will be to find MUD spaces for our instructors who wish to venture into this area to use. There has been much talk on listserves such as Epiphany List of the inability for instructors to find "rooms of their own," spaces where they can bring classes in. Part of an e-mail transcript reveals, what seems to me a more and more typical complaint, the frustration of finding MUD space for educational use:
MUDs are organized around the metaphor of physical space. You can "talk"
anyone in the same virtual room. When you connect to MediaMOO (our MUD at the
Media Lab), you see the description:
Okay,... guest is in use. Logging you in as
*** Connected ***
The LEGO Closet
It's dark in here, and there are little crunchy
plastic things under your feet! Groping around,
you discover what feels like a doorknob on one wall.
Obvious exits: out to The LEGO/Logo Lab
The core of MediaMOO is a virtual representation of the MIT Media
"out" gets you to the "LEGO/Logo Lab," a central work area for the lab's Epistemology and Learning (E&L) research group:
The LEGO/Logo Lab
The LEGO/Logo Lab is a happy jumble of little and big computers, papers, coffee cups, and stray pieces of LEGO.
Obvious exits: hallway to E&L Hallway, closet to
The LEGO Closet, and sts to STS Centre Lounge
You see a newspaper, a Warhol print, a Sun SPARCstation IPC, Projects Chalkboard, and Research Directory here.
Amy is here.
You say, "hi"
Amy says, "Hi Green_Guest! Welcome!"
The Thin Blue Line arrives and slows to a stop. The conductor of The Thin Blue Line cries, "Next stop is Ballroom Foyer."
The conductor of The Thin Blue Line cries, "All aboard!"
The Thin Blue Line moves out slowly, gathering speed as it vanishes into the distance.
In this transcript, a guest connects and speaks with a real person
(me). Each person could be anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
Although I live in Boston, there are people in California, England,
Austria, and South Africa who are part of my daily life. As Green_Guest
and I were talking, a train came through. If Green_Guest were to type "enter
train," it would give
him/her a tour of interesting places around MediaMOO." (Programming for Fun)
2 Although this paper does not specifically deal with this idea, I (along with many other scholars) am of the opinion that discussion groups in MUDs must be properly facilitated by the instructor in order for them to be effective and accomplish specific pedagogical goals. Facilitation of group discussion, whether live or in a computer medium, is no easy task. It is for this reason that I would like to offer some strategical guidelines that one might use in a MUD discussion. As pointed out in Paulsen's report, Eisley (1991, 38), based on his experiences from a graduate program offered through computer conferencing at Boise State University, described the following thirteen discussion formats for CMC that could help to keep discussions focused, productive, and interesting:
The critique. The students could be asked to point out the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal and then suggest improvements. It is possible to ask the students to restrict their contribution to one or two comments so that the critique is not exhausted before all students have commented.
The group report. A group of students could work in a restricted conference. A summarized report from the work could be presented in a public conference and followed by questions from the other students.
Twenty questions. The moderator could act as a client and ask the students to narrow down the client's needs through an interview.
The poll. The moderator could pose a question and ask the students to register their votes on the issue by posting an e-mail message to the moderator.
Timed disclosure. The students could be asked to review an article or comment on an issue and post it to the teacher via e-mail before a deadline. At a certain point in time, the teacher could share all the comments with the class. In this way, students could make their first contributions without too much influence from dominant peers.
The assigned debate. Students could be assigned to affirmative and negative positions and asked to debate an issue.
Free association. The students could be asked to express their thoughts and ideas on a subject without too much structure of the discussion format.
The hot seat. One student could be asked to "sit in the hot seat" and the other students could be asked to pose questions to him or her on a specific topic.
The Socratic dialogue. First, the teacher could ask a question, then one student could answer it, and then the teacher could ask a new question. In this way, every other comment would be from the teacher.
The shot gun. The teacher could post a number of related questions at the same time. Then, each student would be asked to answer whichever ones appeal to him or her.
Go around the circle. Each student could be asked to respond to the same question, and when all students have contributed, the topic could be closed.
Guided discovery. The class could be asked to pose questions about a research report so that the teacher could reveal the results when the students hit on questions that were addressed in the research.
Blind man's bluff. The moderator could pose a purposely misleading statement
and let the students discover the false premise through discussion.
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