Jesters Get Serious

Janet Cross
Kristian Fuglevik
Feb 27th 1997
The apologists, still in the Kantian scheme, associated art with play because both seemed, from the standpoint of utility, purposeless. But in an age when "work" was becoming one of society's catchwords, art could not very well be associated with play without some loss of prestige.
-- Kenneth Burke Counter-Statement (64) .

We chose this quote from Kenneth Burke, this counter-statement, because Burke was first of all critiquing the "literary" art world as an outsider. For Burke, every statement necessarily implies its own counter-statement. But more than that, Burke pointed to rhetoric as a way to understand the "purposiveness" of the arts. He felt Kantian esthetics led to an "arts for arts' sake formalism which lifted art from its context, its human condition. Burke proposed "literature as equipment for living." This is how we hoped to ground this project: MOO as equipment for education. By naming this project "Jesters," by naming ourselves Jesters, we name our situation within the academy and without. We offer a Burkean "conversational parlor" where statements of the "utility" and "purpose" of educational MOOs, and those who work and play there, will engender counter-statements.

We set the context with this call for participation:

We are court jesters, we who design, administrate, and teach on MOOs. We oscillate between play and work. We play on MOOs and MOO for work. We take our educational MOOing seriously, yet often languish outside the high court circle of influence. In addition, many individuals currently responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining educational MOOs do so without pay and with little recognition. Dr. Eric Mercer, an administrator at Diversity University MOO, maintains, "Everyone who works on MOOs for educational purposes should have the opportunity to be paid."

From the beginning, we wanted to focus on MOO play as serious work in research, service, and teaching. However, many of us doing the research, providing the service, and training faculty, staff and students, are students, part time instructors, untenured faculty, and at times, some of us may not even be directly related or connected to an educational institution in any respect. In these cases we truly have little control over resources, little control over grant writing, and even less control over decisions in which we are directly involved. All too often we learn of yet another department, college, or university meeting held, discussing plans for future development in which we have little or no voice. We, in actuality, are quite often the best resources the institution may have: our experience in the "trenches" could and should help to inform the decision making process; we should be heard, but all too often as we are providing the services, as we are teaching our students, as we are deeply immersed in yet more research, we are overlooked as the people who not only get the job done, but also know where future problems lie.

We took our broad general questions to the MOO community, hoping to get a better sense of where folks are at, what they have been doing, what we can do, as a larger community, to bring our respective institutions up to speed on the possibilities of MOO for educational purposes. In the process, however, we chose not to leave the play behind. More often than not, it was the play that brought us to our respective MOOs; it was the play and the possibilities that play has to offer us as educators we found most attractive about the MOO environment. At the same time, while we know that play for play's sake has its own rewards, we also acknowledge the purposiveness of play. So we would amend Burke's statement to read something like, "play with <insert your own discipline here > is equipment for living."

Table of Contents

Janet Cross

Kristian Fuglevik