Fanning the Flames:
Tenure and Promotion and Other Role-Playing Games

Janice R. Walker

University of South Florida

The Carnivalesque -- Circuses and MOO

According to Janet Cross, "Many individuals currently responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining educational MOOs do so without pay and with little recognition." The work many of us are doing in MOOs -- building, writing, developing, administering, programming, and teaching, as well as helping other teachers and students acclimate to the strange environment -- takes hours of work. Even more, however, and what is really problematic here, it takes hours of play. It is only by playing with the possibilities in MOOs -- playing with the code, with the other characters, with the objects -- that one can become comfortable and familiar enough with the environment to be able even to envision its uses beyond the mindset that sees them only as a replication of the traditional classroom. For instance, many teachers online still require students to use their real names and to "raise their hands" to speak in synchronous communication forums. While this is not necessarily wrong, it is an issue that I believe we at least need to consider as we design educational spaces online. Environments such as MOOs allow us to simply move our classrooms online with little or no change from real-life structures; however, they also allow us to explore alternative ways of constructing learning environments and new ways of perceiving written text.

But how do we "value" this work/play in the academy? MOOs are public spaces, and the coding, building, and talking is, in effect, published. But, I wonder, what would happen if I listed

"Kiwi #164." (18 Nov. 1996).

under "Publications" on my CV? It is easy enough to see how MOOs as spaces for pedagogy and online conferences can be made to "fit" within existing guidelines, but how do we get recognition for the many hours we spend in this kind of space learning to see beyond the use of MOO for cocktail party conversation?

In this CoverWeb, jesters Janet Cross and Kristian Fuglevik construct a scholarly publication in MOO that includes not only a static (i.e., print) article, but also an ongoing one. Online forums such as Rhetnet and MOOs and MUDs are, after all, conversations. Gary Olson says of traditional scholarship that it, too, is a "series of ongoing conversations," and, as such, "editors are . . . the 'gatekeepers,' helping to determine what is a legitimate contribution to the dialogue and what is not" (53). Mick Doherty sees both online and print scholarship as conversations, with the only differences between an online journal such as Rhetnet and a print journal such as Rhetoric Review essentially being differences in the media and the speed (Tuesday Cafe). However, online publications such as Rhetnet and other synchronous communications have one more important difference: the peer reviewers also become authors.

A traditional scholarly article, even one in hypertext, is somehow finished. It may be seen as a contribution to an ongoing conversation, yet it is fixed in time and fixed in space, it is thought out and developed, and it comes to some sort of conclusion. But in hypertextual forums such as Rhetnet, it is the process rather than the product that is foregrounded. Publications in synchronous communication sites and online forums, then, can be seen as the actual conversations, disclosing the process of development of the ideas and arguments, including the authors' errors and omissions and, ultimately, too, the corrections and additions written perhaps by subsequent authors to the text. In effect, there are no readers, then, but only authors. Since the conversation itself can be viewed as a collaborative text, then peer-reviewing can also be seen as part of the conversation. In print journals, too, the comments made by peer reviewers are addressed or incorporated in the finished text; however, with online forums, the peer review process is a visible and continuing part of the text itself. Thus, these forums are the epitome of the "ongoing conversation" that is scholarship. But a collaborative text without closure and without a formal review process does not fit within the language of the academy's guidelines.

In order to justify our work in these spaces, according to "Evaluating Computer-Related Work in the Modern Languages: Draft Guidelines Prepared by the MLA Committee on Computers and Emerging Technologies in Teaching and Research," we must use the language of the academy. However, as Roland Barthes writes, this may be the "spectacle of a terror which threatens us all, that of being judged by a power which wants to hear only the language it lends us" (48). Just so, our online work is only valued when it is in the language of the traditional (print) world, when we can accommodate what we do here to what is valued already. In addition, the work that we do -- learning to program, learning to write and explore hypertext, learning MOO commands and Java Applets, exploring the construction of the virtual world -- needs to be justified in language the tenure and promotion committees can understand. In effect, then, we can continue as we have been, morphing between the real world where we are traditional academics, writing traditional "papers" (some with hypertext tags thrown in for good measure), and the cyber-real world where we "play," and not expect it to be "valued" -- because it does not fit. Or we can attempt to justify what we do here on traditional academic grounds. However, ideally, what most of us who do work online would like to do is to change the definitions to include the new forms of scholarship we are now developing in cyberspace.


J. Walker, 1997.
Last modified 21 February 1997.