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 decades.

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:

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.

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Last updated: June 8, 1996 by Claudine Keenan
Send any comments to cgk4@psu.edu