MOOs are promulgated as almost ideal writing environments for several reasons, always however, with the caveat of the steep learning curve. We would suggest that the steep learning curve has more to do with the fact that individuals don't understand MOOspace rather than outright technological problems. The MOO can be as simple or elaborate as one wants. People can learn to talk to others in a MOO in a matter of minutes. Whether they stick around long enough to learn to MOO is another matter. MOOing once a week or so will not allow the individual to understand the realities, social conventions, or capabilities of MOO spaces. Traci Gardener of The Daedalus Group offers excellent advice in MOO Teacher's Tip Sheet as does Tari Fanderclai in her seminal paper, MUDs in Education: New Environments, New Pedagogies. However, our experience tells us that many teachers either are not aware of these help guides or miss the point that one must become proficient in MOO oneself before dragging a class onMOO. This is not to say that everyone must be a programmer, but a basic understanding of the social mores, the inMOO text editors, and security issues is vital to the success of teaching on MOOs. The MOO is not for everyone, teacher or student. Teachers must be aware of this before they commit themselves and their classes to work on MOOs.
In "Contexts for Lingua MOO" Haynes and Holmevik share their MOO experience and design strategy: "One thing that we wanted to instill in our design of Lingua was the kind of community we were seeing at these and other MOOs. The key seemed to lie in the design and administration." We agree with H & H in that the purpose of the MOO -- the intended goals and targeted user population, the designer's vision -- is what will shape the future of the MOO. Just as the key to designing a MOO is informed by rhetorical principles, so is the use of MOO informed by rhetorical principles. In other words, the key to good MOO design is sound rhetorical practice; the key to good MOO teaching is also making informed rhetorical choices between the different flavors of MOO. Just as teachers make informed decisions about the textbooks they choose for their classes, so should they make informed decisions as to which MOO will best support their pedagogical practices. One of the most powerful features of MOO is the enactment of different flavors of pedagogical practice. Designers provide a certain framework for that particular MOO, mindful of the intended user "audience" or community. The users themselves enact their own "realities," extending and developing the MOO. H & H explain the rhetorical purpose of LinguaMOO:
We wanted to distance ourselves from the social and gaming MUDs while at the same time fostering a playful learning environment. We wanted to use the expertise of other educational MOO administrators whose generosity allowed us to reproduce many of the teaching and research features found on other MOOs. Still, we hoped that Lingua MOO would fit the needs of a particular niche of users, namely, those teaching and researching at the intersection of arts and humanities disciplines and technology.We, on the other hand, wanted to foreground the gaming nature of MOOs, framing the MOO structure from a different context. Communities onMOO are built by the players for the players, where "authority" is a slippery issue, constantly changing and being re-negotiated by the players. Authority onMOO is earned largely by the expertise H & H mention above. Earned authority may be wielded by a member of academia, but it is far more likely that such authority and expertise belong to a 15 year-old. This destabilizes notions of authority, and that's where we wanted to start.
Designing, setting up, and administering DaMOO put us very much in the same situation as H & H at Lingua MOO. "We found that more and more guests and players at Lingua MOO were hoping to create their own educational MOO at their respective institutions for their specific needs." Like H & H we too found people hoping to create their own MOO space. This is what happens when one designs and sets up a MOO. During the planning stages, we tried to keep this in mind, building help files and documents not only for MOObies, but also guidelines for teachers and administrators. Our effort was meant for the online community of users. High Wired , an important contribution to the literature on MOOs, will offer the expertise of many notables in the MOO community to offliners. We designed DaMOO as a space where students and other not_ so_ notables in the MOO "social" community, the builders and shapers of MOO just as surely as those in academia, can continue to do what they have always done... extend and develop MOO possibilites.