Wading Through the MUD:
Why Teach in the M**?
As teachers, like many other professionals, we are always searching for better ways to
accomplish our goals, and we are always searching for methods and materials that improve upon
our delivery, especially of writing instruction, which has redefined itself several times over to
readjust to paradigm shifts in our views of what composition is over the past several
Basically, we can all agree that writing is the tangible expression of ideas, concepts, and
abstractions. In most writing classrooms, we teach our students to use oral discussions and to
use ink and paper to construct their writing--to ultimately create an object (the essay) for
communicating their ideas. Often, we share our students' frustration at the amount of time and
intense labor that is required to create these objects in relative isolation, and we also recognize
the shifts in student populations that have increased the average age as well as the number of
external commitments (such as jobs or families of their own) of "traditional students," all of
which constrain the writing processes of our writers. We wish for teaching methods that could
somehow capture the collaborative process of idea
exchange through discussion and synthesize these conversations with written texts to create
objects more quickly, more comprehensively, and more easily, while at the same time, extending
the boundaries of the traditional classroom to include students who may not be able to make it to
campus because of a sick child, or a business trip, or a physical disablility, and to include
audiences who are not part of our traditional classroom. We long for communications
technology that will answer all of these concerns:
- allowing students to discuss ideas with each other and with "outsiders" in real time
- including students who may contribute from remote locations via modem and pc
- having these discussions recorded as text, and
- incorporating concepts from these exchanges into their essay-objects.
Recently Lester Faigley, and many other leading rhetorical theorists, have begun to address the
impact of the "Digital Revolution" upon ourselves as writing teachers, and its ability to answer
our pedagogical needs; so we have all turned our attention across campus, to the contributions
that computer science departments have made to their discipline, which have the potential to
dramatically improve the work we do on our side of the campus.
Remy Evard, a computer systems administrator, in his address to the Seventh Systems
Administration Conference in Monterey, CA, noted "that MUDs had several features that would
make them a useful communications tool" (1993).
To writing teachers, these findings suggest that MUDs have the potential to facilitate
collaborative learning, not just within the classroom, but way beyond it. MUDs obliterate the
traditional constraints of time and space that stifle collaborative discussion. In addition, MUDs
capture and preserve collaborative exchanges for later use in writing assignments. We are
excited by these pedagogical possibilities, and as newbies, we look to the experiences of other
instructors for more information on fulfilling these possibilities, predicting that MUDs will open
up communication between our students, give voices to previously silent writers, and redefine
the boundaries of authority in writing instruction.
- MUDs are interactive in real-time. When one says something on the MUD, all the
intended recipients see it immediately. They can answer in the amount of time it takes to type
- MUDs are a networked service. Clients and servers simply need to be on the same network
in order to connect to each other. Thus one need not be logged into the same computer as the
people with whom one is communicating.
- MUDs are multiuser capable. A large number of people can interact with each other at
- MUDs are extensible. Any decent MUD server will have an embedded programming
language that may be used to extend the database of server objects and to create new commands.
If the tool is to be adapted to new uses, it must be flexible.
- MUDs, in conjunction with most clients, have a history mechanism. Even though the
interaction on a MUD happens in real-time, it can be recorded by a client that is connected.
Thus one may read a conversation that happened when one wasn't actively involved. Clients also
have the ability to save transcripts to files, allowing for a permanent archive of important
Last updated: June 8, 1996 by Claudine Keenan
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