So just what is a MOO?
A MOO is a type of text-based virtual reality
that exists on the Internet. MOO stands for Multi-user
Object Oriented, which refers to the object-oriented
programming language in which MOOs are created. The first MOO
was LambdaMOO, created by Xerox PARC.
MOOs originated from MUDs (Multi-User
Dungeons or Dimensions), which were based on a role-playing
adventure game called "Dungeons and Dragons." Not every
MUD contains the element of gaming; some exist for purely social
reasons. MOOs, on the other hand, are more likely to have an educational
or academic purpose. (To add to the confusion, you may also hear
the terms MUSE, which stands for Multi-User Science
Education Network, or MUVE, which stands for
Multi-User Virtual Environment.)
MOOs rely on the power of imagination to create a virtual world
through either text description (as in traditional text-based
MOOs) or three-dimensional graphics (as in the avatar worlds).
A text-based MOO contains a narrative description of all the
places, buildings, rooms, furniture, and other objects within
the rooms. In fact, everything in a MOO is an object with a name
and an object number. You can explore and "look at"
everything there by reading about it. But perhaps the most important
aspect of a MOO is its real-time communication potential. You
take on the role of a character and use special commands to interact
in synchronous chat with other characters. You use special commands
to communicate and create or interact with text-based objects.
Some MOOs have functions that are well integrated with the World
Wide Web. This type of virtual environment is sometimes referred
to as a WOO (Web-based MOO). WOOs have certain
advantages over plain text-based MOOs: they can incorporate multimedia.
This may include a whiteboard or a Web projector on which slides
can be displayed, audio (sound effects or music), and even video.
For more information about WOOs, see "WOOs: Multimedia Collaborative
Learning Environments That Support Different Learning Models"
in the International Journal of Educational Telecommunications
(Vol. 5, No. 1, 1999).
What is an avatar virtual world?
nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high
noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George
and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls
began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed,
and presently an African veldt appeared in three dimensions;
on all sides, in colors reproduced to the final pebble and bit
of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot
yellow sun.... And here were the lions now, fifteen feet away,
so real, so feverishly and startlingly real that you could feel
the prickling fur on your hand, and your mouth was stuffed with
the dusty upholstery smell of their heated pelts, and the yellow
of them was in your eyes like the yellow of an exquisite French
tapestry, the yellows of lions and summer grass...." -
Ray Bradbury, "The Veldt" (from The Illustrated
Man, New York: Bantam Books, 1951)
Some of the newer MOOs have more than just text. In these visual
MOOs, called avatar virtual worlds, you choose
a visual representation of your character called an avatar. The
word avatar comes from a Hindu word for a god taking
mortal form on Earth.
You can actually see what the different rooms and places look
like in either two or three dimensions. There may be sound effects
and music as well. You must have Real Audio to experience the
music. When you type what you want to say, the dialogue appears
above your character's head. You will probably need to download
special software to enter the virtual world. The avatar worlds
typically require having a PC with Windows and will not run on
Virtual worlds have primarily a social or commercial function,
but some have an educational function. Perhaps the most interesting
aspect is their potential to develop a virtual community. For
example, AlphaWorld, a three-dimensional virtual world available
from Worlds Inc., currently has more than 100,000 virtual citizens.
An excellent description of avatar virtual worlds appears in
the January-March 1999 issue of WebNet Journal (Vol.
1, No. 1), published by the Association for the Advancement of
Computing in Education. The article is titled "From Flatland
to Spaceland: Spatial Representation, Enunciation, and
Interaction in 3D-Virtual Worlds." Flatland
was an 1884 book by E.A. Abbott about a world that exists only
in two dimensions and the adventures of the hero who finds himself
in the bewildering, incomprehensible third dimension!
Like chat rooms, MOOs or avatar worlds allow real-time interaction
among teacher and students who are at distant locations. They
provide a means for students and teachers living anywhere in the
world to "sit" down together for a lecture or discussion.
Classrooms can be provided with "tables" where conversations
are "heard" only by those at the same table so that
before or after a lecture the class can be divided into groups
for discussion of the topic at hand. It is also possible for the
teacher or any student to move to another table to join a discussion
there, or to "speak" to the entire class.
Students can also meet in virtual groups to plan and discuss
group projects. It is easier for virtual groups to make decisions
in real-time interaction than in asynchronous (not real time)
newsgroups or listservs as students don't have to wait to get
other's responses. Teachers or students can keep a record of the
entire class discussion by copying and pasting it into a word
Any type of environment can be created by the teacher or
students. In creating or exploring such environments, students
could experience them in a way that might reinforce what they
were learning in the classroom. The ability to create an environment
reflecting any historical period, provided with appropriately
furnished rooms and objects, would be an interesting way for a
drama class to act out roles together.
Throwing students into a virtual environment might bring out
skills and abilities that had not found expression in the ordinary
classroom. Certainly some students would find this more interesting
than the classroom, and this could perhaps give them an incentive
and an advantage that they would not ordinarily have. Students
could be given building privileges and participate in projects
in which they work together to create their own environment, based
on their research on the assigned topic. For any educator with
a constructionist orientation (i.e., students create and negotiate
reality rather than just memorizing content), MOOs and virtual
worlds offer a huge potential for learning.
There are drawbacks, however. Students who have more experience
with television than reading might find virtual environments cumbersome
and slow. A slow modem connection can create considerable lag
time while waiting for someone's response to appear on the screen.
As with any real-time chat situation, the chat may get chaotic
unless the teacher sets up some ground rules initially with a
specific topic for discussion and a purpose to be accomplished
during the interaction. Learners may initially find commands to
be confusing, although these commands are not difficult. As with
any new skill, becoming comfortable in navigating your way takes
some practice. While some younger learners may find that they
prefer the avatar worlds to the verbal ones, older adult learners
may find these visual representations of reality to be somewhat
disorienting at first. The shifting of perspective as you move
your avatar character takes some getting used to, as does flying
and moving through walls. There is also a potential problem of
Diversity University contains the first MOO ever
built for classroom use. Developed by the non-profit educational
organization DU Educational Technology Services, the DU MOO is
available to teachers and students worldwide. Anyone may visit
without charge. Classes can be brought online for virtual tours
of the MOO (ask for permission first). The DU MOO contains educational
projects created by the community (such as simulations of a rainforest,
biology labs, history simulations, and enactments of plays). There
are dedicated virtual buildings for most major academic subjects.
To receive a permanent MOO character, you must
submit a request and explain the reason for your interest. You
are also strongly encouraged to use your real name for your character.
If you are interested in doing research at DU MOO, your project
must be approved by Diversity University's Institutional Review
Common educational uses of MOOs have included
writing composition, foreign languages, and literature. MOOs are
also used for groups of researchers or professionals around the
world to meet for online discussions or conferences.
Avatar Virtual Worlds
is an ongoing project to design a virtual university in three
dimensions using virtual worlds technology. This project was begun
by the Contact Consortium, a not-for-profit organization in California.
Recently, a global architecture competition took place to design
the virtual university. Eventually, students and teachers will
be able to navigate the virtual campus and use avatars to communicate
Virtual University of California at Santa Cruz
(V-UCSC) is an experimental virtual campus. Students have been
working in partnership with designers around the world to build
this campus through storyboarding and online communication. Prospective
students (and other curious visitors) can stroll through the virtual
campus and talk to students and staff in real time. To quote Bonnie
DeVarco, director of the V-UCSC project, "When you don't
know the limits of a medium you aren't constrained by them. Each
member of the V-UCSC team pushed the limits of what was possible
as we tried to understand what this immersive medium would allow"
(from a press release).
(suggestions for visitors)
Will MOOs or avatar worlds do away with the physical classroom?
Probably not. But their use will become more common, especially
in distance education. We think that avatar worlds are just in their
beginning stages. The graphic environment, however, holds the most
promise for educational uses, and it will be very interesting to
see how their descendants develop. Once the technology
advances, the experience may be very different than it is now.