Language learning MOO theory and practical application

Lonnie Turbee                        TESOL ‘99

"Hi! I am very excited that I had to write to you right away. I have never thought that I was going to feel so good by entering a MOO. I did it with some kind of eskepticism but it has turned into a beautiful experience. I really believe that this media can function as a wonderful teaching resource, but at the same time you have to learn to control yourself because it truly can *swallow you up*." (Rodriguez, 1994)

What is MOO?

A MOO is a program running on a machine. It is also the type of online community that Licklider and Taylor (1968) predicted thirty years ago: one "not of common location, but of common interest." It is an ever-growing virtual space created solely through the lines of text and programming contributed by its inhabitants. It is a place where imagination, individual power and sociability blend; it transforms and is transformed by its creators.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Sociology of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states, "The writing on MUDs, because it is spontaneous and alive, is often rich in texture and emotion. Unconstrained and unconventional, it is a writing through which one encounters the self. MOOs blur the boundaries between self and game, self and role, self and simulation." (Turkle, 1998, p. xi)

You already understand all this:

MOO as MUD as role-playing game (RPGs)

MOO as social environment

MOO as virtual community

Language learning in MOO

Educational MOO

…the essence of the coming integrated, universal, multimedia, digital network is discovery-the empowerment of human minds to learn spontaneously, without coercion, both independently and cooperatively. The focus is on learning as an action that is "done by," not "done to," the actor. (Perelman, 1992, p. 23)

Five working hypotheses

Omaggio familiarizes us with "five working hypotheses" (Omaggio, 1986, pp. 44-53) which have been the building blocks of proficiency-oriented language curricula for nearly two decades. We will have ample opportunity to refer back to these hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1. Opportunities must be provided for students to practice using language in a range of contexts likely to be encountered in the target culture. Corollary 1. Students should be encouraged to express their own meaning as early as possible after productive skills have been introduced in the course of instruction.

Corollary 2. A proficiency-oriented approach promotes active communicative interaction among students.

Corollary 3. Creative language practice (as opposed to exclusively manipulative or convergent practice) must be encouraged in the proficiency-oriented classroom.

Corollary 4. Authentic language should be used in instruction wherever and whenever possible.

Hypothesis 2. Opportunities should be provided for students to practice carrying out a range of functions (task universals) likely to be necessary in dealing with others in the target culture.

Hypothesis 3. There should be concern for the development of linguistic accuracy from the beginning of instruction in a proficiency-oriented approach.

Hypothesis 4. Proficiency oriented approaches should respond to the affective needs of students as well as to their cognitive needs. Students should feel motivated to learn and must be given opportunities to express their own meanings in a non-threatening environment.

Hypothesis 5. Cultural understanding must be promoted in various ways so that students are prepared to live more harmoniously in the target-language community.

MOO as immersion experience Learning in community Learning theories The four skills and MO What the various levels of learners can do MOO as interactive reading environment

Janet Swaffar et al state that "L2 teachers who want their classes to interact with texts have to be facilitators of the reading process rather than monitors of performance." (1991, pp. 70-71) Also, that they must:

What your students can do in a language learning MOO Integration into the curriculum Assessment in MOO-using classes Overcoming challenges

Notes from other sources

Interaction with text

L2 teachers who want their classes to interact with texts have to be facilitators of the reading process rather than monitors of performance. They have a fourfold task: (1) to activate reader schemata, (2) to guide students to an awareness of text structure, (3) to assist in strategy development, and (4) to promote relaxed interaction between students and text. Beyond these four functions, the teacher’s challenge is to choose tasks for different students’ backgrounds and language competencies." (Swaffer et al, 1991)

The "flow" experience

We have seen how people describe the common characteristics of optimal experience: a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 71)

A learner of Spanish on the addictive nature of MOO

I'm really enjoying the Moo. I haven't figured out all the commands, but I keep playing with it. When I first started I was hooked. I almost forgot to go to class and another time I was late to a class because I was on Moo. Whenever I get into a good conversation I like to stay and chat. Its great to see how fluent Spanish speakers speak or in this case write. I had to cut down my time on it just because its so addictive!!! I could easily spend an hour on it a day, but I have four other classes to think about! Sorry I was late! (Hughart, 1995)

The "shipboard syndrome"

…If any of you have exchanged email or actively participated on an electronic list, you may have anecdotally noticed that confidences are exchanged much more readily than in face-to-face relationships. This tendency toward increased intimacy was documented in a study done by Hiltz and Turoff entitled The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer. This is even more apparent for the inhabitants of a virtual space such as a MOO. Because of the perceived proximity, a type of 'shipboard syndrome' develops and for the time they are logged on, the MOO becomes a virtual community. In a modern world where even children make play dates, this is an important factor for our students, especially those who are studying English in a country other than their own.

Although being on a MOO is disinhibiting, it does not mean that chaos reigns. Like a real life community, people on MOOs are enmeshed in a web of social rules and regulations. These rules are formulated by the MOO inhabitants. For example, one does not go to another player's room without sending a message requesting permission. Foul or abusive language will quickly lead to shunning by other members of the community. Conversely, being helpful and friendly will raise one's status. (Falsetti, 1995)

Anonymity and the affective filter (Lonnie Turbee)

It is desirable to have the affective filter as low as possible. One way this is accomplished on MOO is through user anonymity. While many educational MOOs require that users be easily identifiable, such as through use of their RL (real life) name or the display of their email address every time other users use the "finger" command (see Haynes, 1998, p. 163 for some very good reasons for this), at MundoHispano we do our best to maintain that anonymity so that it is not the language learner who is the one making all the errors necessary for language acquisition, but rather, in effect, the learner's "playing piece," his or her online character.

When first entering a foreign language MOO, the experience can be less than pleasant for some. In terms of language learning, the "affective filter" can be high.

The affective filter hypothesis states that comprehensible input can have its effect on acquisition only when affective conditions are optimal: (1) the acquirer is motivated; (2) he has self-confidence and a good self-image, and (3) his level of anxiety is low. When learners are "put on the defensive" …, the affective filter is high and comprehensible input can't "get in." (Omaggio, 1986, p. 30. See also Krashen, 1982, pp. 9-32)


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Falsetti, Julie. (1995). What the Heck is a MOO? ESL in Higher Education Newsletter, 14(2)

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Hughart, Victoria. (1995, September 30). Re: your opinion needed [e-mail to Lonnie M. Turbee], [Online].

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Rodriguez, Maria. (1994, August 12). Re: MundoHispano [e-mail to Lonnie M. Turbee], [Online].

Siembieda, Kevin. (1995). How to Play a Role-Playing Game. In Carlos J. Martigena-Carella, (Ed.), Nightbane, a Complete Role-Playing Game. Palladium Books, Inc., Taylor, MI (p. 31)

Swaffar, Janet, Arens, Katherine, and Byrnes, Heidi. (1991) Reading for Meaning: An Integrated Approach to Language Learning. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

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Environments or "MUDS". Presence, 6(5) (pp. 590-595).

Turkle, Sherry. (1998). Foreword: All MOOs are educational - the experience of "walking through the self". In C. Haynes and J.R. Holmevik, eds. High wired: On the design, use, and theory of educational MOOs. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Turbee, Lonnie. (1997). Educational MOO: Text-based Virtual Reality for Learning in Community. ERIC Digest, ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse, NY. (also

Warschauer, Mark (Ed.). (1995). Virtual Connections. Second Language Teaching and
Curriculum Center. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Manoa, HI. (pp. 229-244).

Copyright 1999 Lonnie (Turbee) Chu
Last updated 7/07/01