Commentary on MOOspace

This past semester, West Texas A & M University took the plunge into cyberspace by offering a totally online second-semester freshman literature/composition course. I was excited-- and terrified. Our students are much like you and I, not overly computer literate and generally suspicious of the benefits of learning using computers. Moreover, egomaniac that I am, I was terrified of offering a course in which my only contact with students would be via email. After all, all the information I could provide via the Internet could never measure up to what I could provide in person. What would they do without constant contact with and feedback from--"moi"? MOOs provide an ideal way to bridge this gap, allowing for real-time communication, the creation and use of teaching tools analogous to those we currently use in traditional classrooms, and spaces that allow the use of many of those pedagogies we know to be sound.

When I took my first steps into MOOspace, I discovered I was quite the realist and a conservative to boot. I felt I needed--and my students would desire--a space that resembled a traditional classroom as much as possible. So I spent the better part of 3 months creating a space that contained tools analogous to those one finds in a traditional classroom. There were six tables with chairs to sit at, a blackboard and notice board, a teacher's desk, a bookshelf, and a projector. The five small tables had six seats at them--five for the students and an additional one for me. There was a sixth large table with a capacity to seat 26 for when we met as an entire class. The bookshelf held copies of readings not available in the textbook, and the projector could be used as a typical overhead projector. I lovingly spent hours writing and formatting lectures to display on the MOO. I learned the ins and outs of MOO line editors; I practiced for days using the slide projector to ensure that just the right amount of lecture material would display on the screen at the precise moment. I created reams of handouts on using MOOs for my students--never mind the fact that all MOOs have extensive help indexes. The semester was just about to begin; I was ready, the room was perfectly designed. The students were registered. But did they "wanna MOO?"

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