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The MOO: A Virtual Reality Learning Environment

If you think a MOO is just a soft sound emanating from a barnyard, then you haven't visited the exciting virtual learning environment of an educational MOO -- where teachers and students hold conferences, collaborate on projects, attend sessions hosted by experts, and build virtual learning environments. Isn't it time you dropped in? Included: Tips for successful MOOing.


What is an educational MOO?

MOO stands for multiuser, object-oriented environment. A MOO is a text-based environment where users can hold conferences and discussions, open an office, create objects to decorate the office, and even adopt an office pet.

At an educational MOO, or eduMOO, teachers and students can collaborate on projects, attend sessions hosted by experts, and build virtual environments. An educational MOO can accommodate a variety of teaching styles through the use of internal e-mail, documents, whiteboards, and virtual classrooms that offer a student-centered learning environment.


Where can educators find and explore an eduMOO?

Not all MOOs are appropriate for students. But a few with educational themes are suitable. Education World has checked out four we think are most likely to be useful to the K through 12 educational community.

The first, Tapped In, is a community of educators who engage in professional development programs and informal collaborative activities. This MOO's After School Online series offers teachers the opportunity to interact with special guests and to participate in professional development discussions.

Tapped In also features a Student Activity Center, where teachers and students can engage in collaborative projects. To explore this MOO, click Guest Login. A friendly Help Desk guide is usually on duty and happy to show you around. Be sure to read the guidelines for use as well.

Diversity University was the first MOO to be designed specifically for classroom use. The Main Campus is a real time, virtual reality educational environment that's Internet accessible. It allows the addition of graphics, sound, movies, and textual objects. To explore the MOO, follow the directions for login. DU is used primarily by those in higher education, but it offers the basic commands in its free Classes in MOOing.

Rainbow MOO, a division of DU Main, allows K through 12 teachers to bring students online for interactive experiences.

"[Rainbow MOO] was originally started to provide a safer, more controlled environment than DU Main could be for children," Michel Lavondes, Arch Wizard of Rainbow MOO, told Education World. For that reason, Rainbow allows no guests and has taken care that classes experience no interference. Student visitors must be involved in a MOO project under the direct supervision of an adult. Teachers must complete a training program in basic MOO usage -- provided by the MOO -- before bringing students.

"So far, [Rainbow MOO] has been used mostly for class activities for students in grades 7 through 9 and for discussions between Canadian and Russian children," stated Lavondes.

SchMOOze University was created especially for students studying English as a second language. Students practice language skills through individual and group conversations. Access to language games and an online dictionary is also provided. Anyone interested in cross-cultural communication is welcome. There's also a Collaborative MOO Project that can be used with students in grades 9 through 12.


How do educators use the MOO?

How can students from California collaborate with students from Brazil? For teacher Linda Ullah, from Edenvale Elementary in San Jose, California, a MOO was the answer.

Ullah used Tapped In as a meeting place where students and teachers from California and Brazil worked together on projects and got to know one another. The teachers also used the MOO to preplan the discussion questions for student sessions. Planning with teachers who were separated by thousands of miles was made easy by creating a virtual office space for meetings. The teachers could leave notes or share the whiteboard during online discussions.

"It wasn't just any MOO I had the knowledge that Tapped In is a safe environment and that there is a facilitator who is also an educator," Ullah told Education World. "[The students] loved it and took to it naturally. Comfort was not a problem for either my kids [grades 3 through 6] or the Brazilian kids [high school level]. They seemed to adapt easily," said Ullah.

From the project's transcripts, Water Pollution in Brazil and California, it's obvious that students helped one another, followed "Netiquette," discussed the topic of water pollution in their communities, and had fun in the process.

In addition to the educational benefits for her students, Ullah uses Tapped In for her own professional development. "I love the ability to meet with other teachers to discuss curriculum, innovative teaching practices, assessment, copyright, and ethics," said Ullah. "It has made me a better educator."

Education World writer Walter McKenzie has also used the MOO successfully with students. While working on the President's Project, he and middle school teacher Andrea Myers used the synchronous environment of the MOO to give students the opportunity to collaborate on researching Thomas Jefferson and constructing a Web page. Each student was provided with an individual name and password, which allowed him or her to work in the Student Activities Center of Tapped In.

McKenzie and Myers arranged students into small groups that worked in individual study areas. A tape recorder recorded the sessions, so teachers were free to circulate and facilitate discussions. McKenzie took care of the technical questions, and Myers facilitated the discussions and kept everyone on track. "It was great!" said McKenzie. "We got more accomplished in one session than we ever accomplished asynchronously."

Michael Hutchinson, a social science teacher at Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana, took his freshmen students to the MOO to participate in a Student Online Civil Rights Forum with students from Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco. Students prepared for the forum by creating a Web page or a PowerPoint presentation on a minority group. Based on that experience, Hutchinson would prepare for future MOO projects slightly differently.

"I would have the students more prepared and have my kids provide a more in-depth perspective," Hutchinson told Education World.

"My experience [with the MOO] has been much greater in professional development than in bringing students in," Hutchinson continued. As a member of Tapped In, one of the more popular MOOs for the educational community, Hutchinson often hosts sessions that provide an opportunity to show the site to anyone who drops by.

"We can project notes and text messages we create ourselves, and we also project Web sites that visitors can see on their browsers at home," Hutchinson said. "Using a recorder, we can maintain a record of all the activity in a MOO room." Hutchinson sees the value of Tapped In as "giving teachers a great sense of community that is just as important as the flow of information."


What do educators need to know before visiting a MOO?

Education World offers these tips for successful MOOing:

  • Become familiar with the commands before you introduce the MOO to students.
  • Consider the time zones of each participating class.
  • Have an alternate plan in case Internet connections are not working.
  • Teach your students MOO Netiquette.
  • Give students plenty of time to practice and to become familiar with the MOO before beginning a project.
  • Be sure students have at least average keyboarding skills.
  • Expect to learn with and from your students.

Article by Hazel Jobe
Education World®
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