Teaching on the Internet in Real Time
One of my greatest concerns when I began teaching via the Internet was the concept of educational effectiveness. Would the online course I developed meet the needs of the learners? Was it possible to teach a fully online course and still accomplish all my course goals and objectives without any physical meetings at all? Back in 1994, when use of the Internet for educational purposes was just taking off, I challenged myself to develop a course that would meet my own standards of quality and course effectiveness.
Im sure everyone has his or her own interpretation of how course effectiveness is defined and how it relates to education. Personally, I felt, and to this day still feel that one size does not fit all when it comes to education. A course in a box cannot develop effective courses across the board, nor can it meet the needs of most learners participating in that particular learning experience. [this sentence is unclear]
In my mind, part of what makes a course effective is the ability to present knowledge in different formats to accommodate diverse learning styles. Each learner in a class may have a completely different learning style than another learner. Therefore presenting knowledge in diverse formats as well as utilizing diverse instructional strategies can be key to reaching most of the learners participating in your classes (Cross, 1976; Kemp, Morrison & Ross, 1994; Manning, 1976; McKeachie, 1991; and Tyler, 1949). One method of accomplishing this is to create online courses utilizing different Internet software applications combining synchronous and asynchronous communication with the addition of various instructional strategies.
Using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous software applications, I developed a course called Online Instructional Strategies. This course helped educators acquire the skills needed to either incorporate technology into their classrooms or develop courses to be delivered at a distance. It covered learning theories, curriculum development models, instructional strategies and technologies. In the design of the course, I included many different instructional strategies such as seminar, discussion, modeling, group and individual projects and debate. In order to facilitate these strategies in an interactive, synchronous manner, [The implication here is that asynchronous media are not or cannot be interactive. You need to explain why or how asynch modes such as email are not "interactive"; most would argue that email is highly interactive. -V] I needed a software application simple enough for a beginner user to feel comfortable in a short period of time, but powerful enough to create a virtual classroom. I found it in a Multi-user Object Oriented (MOO) environment. [You need to discuss other common options, such as WebChat, WebCT, IRC, etc. Compare and contrast: Why MOO over these alternatives? -V]
The Multi-user Object Oriented Environment
The MOO was developed from the Multi-user dimension (MUD), which enables users to interact in real-time (Ellsworth, 1994). The MUD permits users to participate in role playing games with other users at the same time in a text-based virtual environment. [You introduce the concept of MUD but do not make it clear how a MOO differs from a MUD and it is unclear as to why you bring up MUD in the first place. Can you elaborate?]
A MOO is made up of two components, the server and the database (Speh, 1994).
The server is a program, written in a standard programming language, that manages the network connections, maintains queues of commands and other tasks to be executed, controls all access to the database, and executes other programs written in the MOO programming language. The database contains representations of all the objects in the virtual reality, including the MOO programs that the server executes to give those objects their specific behaviors (Speh, 1994). [this is about as clear as mud (so to speak)] [Avoid these long direct quotes. Summarize and simplify. -V] [Definition of client-server system probably not needed in this publication. A short in-line quote would be fine. -N]
Both the server and the database exist on the Internet at the same telnet address. In order to connect to the MOO environment, the user must be connected to the actual software. Use of a special number called a port number, connects the user to the MOO software rather than the actual server. [still about as clear as mud]
According to Evard (1993) the MOO is software that has been programmed to represent a particular environment. It is a place where people can socialize, participate in educational activities and "meet and collaborate on various projects" (p. 1). Bonefas describes the MOO as a "virtual space where multiple users from anywhere in the world can log on simultaneously and interact" (1996, [please verify this link; I couldn't open the page] 2nd paragraph). The MOO
is a text-based virtual reality where descriptions of your surroundings and the consequences of your actions are fed back to you as text. The actions and messages of other students are also sent to your screen (Macdonald, 1994, p. 195). [Summarize and incorporate into the text of your paper -V] [This introductory definition should be moved up to the front of the exposition of what MOO is. -N]
Rather than just viewing lines of conversational text as displayed in a chat room, the MOO enables the display of a richer environment for interaction between participants. [can you provide a link to an example of a "richer environment"? I don't know that you can, but it would be neat to have an example.] [A link isn't enough. You'll need to incorporate into this paper a detailed simulation of the logon process and MOO environment. -V]
In my opinion, the MOO environment is the closest representation of the traditional classroom that we have available on the Internet currently. A classroom in a MOO could virtually be designed to be an exact replica of a traditional classroom if the educator wishes. The classroom can contain virtual chairs, tables, recorders, blackboard, an overhead projector as well as many other tools found in the traditional classroom. Most importantly, the MOO permits synchronous communication with other users who are connected at the same time. [You're assuming that the standard for online education is the traditional classroom, i.e., the closer it approximates the f2f (face-to-face) environment, the better it is. The implication is that online can never be as good as f2f. You need to discuss this standard, putting it up against the notion that f2f and online are two different media that require very different standards. -V] [I agree completely. Most educators are exploring the use of ASYNCHRONOUS web-based education, myself included. Without explaining clearly (and early on) why you are ignoring asynchronous alternatives, you run the risk of losing your readers very quickly. I'm also struck by the descriptions of "text based" interaction this concept is rather passe, and again you run the risk of losing your readers, many of whom will view text-based tools as out-of-date. -N]
Scheduling For an Online Synchronous Course
Now that I had my synchronous environment, I found myself faced with a completely new set of problems. [Revise: Now that I had a synchronous environment, I was faced with... -V] [Sorry, but I still don't have a good idea of what actually happened in your instructional environment. What types of instruction were delivered, how were students evaluated, what were the instructional outcomes? -N]
Since we were meeting in real time, I was now responsible for creating a schedule that would work for learners from many different time zones. Just as an example, one semester, participants from South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia, Midwest United States, Eastern and Western United States and Canada registered for the course. Scheduling for participants from across the United States was easier since it was only possible for a total of three hours difference. Including participants from literally all over the world took a lot more creativity.
The course met for two to three hours each week in real time. The first step I took was to email everyone registered for the course requesting a minimum of three alternative times they could be available to meet online. Converting all available times to GMT helped me organize time grids where I found a few alternative times that would work for most of the group. I then emailed all the participants of the class to see if that would work for everyone involved. Typically, this process would take approximately two to three tries until we could all come to an agreement.
Sometimes it would just be impossible for everyone to agree on a time to meet. My fall back plan then would be to divide the groups into smaller sections. Rather than organizing participants into time zones, I would organize them by their most available times. This enabled me to keep a multi-cultural mix of participants. Their diverse insights into education proved to be an invaluable learning experience for us all.
Course evaluations received back from participants over a period of three years confirmed the value of mixing both synchronous and asynchronous communication software applications. Approximately, ninety-five percent of the evaluations returned confirmed my belief that I was able to present these learners with an effective learning experience. [Show figures indicating that the MOO--and not asynch communications--was the factor that made the learning "effective" for students. -V] [The following sentences are not related to the topic sentence. They seem to fit better earlier in the paper where you describe why you selected the MOO.] According to Nalley (1995), "The opportunity to work and have discussions with other students is, possibly, as valuable an activity as class attendance itself" (p. 12). He feels this interaction between learners is a part of what is meant by a "community of scholars" (p. 12). Selfe and Eilola caution that the process of creating this community of scholars among learners depends on their freedom to meet "with other students to work, to discuss, and to create meaning from their common needs and experiences" (Selfe & Eilola in Nalley, p. 12). Students who have schedules that permit this type of freedom therefore have access to "continued opportunities for intellectual growth" (p. 12). Nalley feels students who have not had this type of access, can now do so through the use of computer-mediated conferencing (CMC). [What is the purpose of this sentence? Can you elaborate the relationship of CMC and MOOs? If not, consider deleting the sentence.] Utilizing a synchronous communication software application, a MOO, I was able to create a worldwide community of scholars. [None of these quotes exclude asynchronous modes such as e-mail; they don't point exclusively to synchronous modes such as the MOO. -V] [I agree with the general comments here. Your quotes could just as easily justify the use of asynchronous tools. Suggestion: if your article in actuality is an argument for synchronous learning rather than asynchronous learning, then I think this should be stated up front. If that is not your intent, then some work is needed to re-work the article so it does not SOUND like an argument against asynchronous tools. Would be helpful in the conclusion to discuss your own findings, observations, and next steps. -N]
Consider concluding with a summary where you summarize the advantages of using a synchronous communication tool in addition to asynchronous software applications in a distance learning situation.
Another thought: could you provide some information about how a person could obtain the software? You could inform our readers if you described how you got the tools.
Bonefas, S. (1996). The MiamiMOO project. [Online], Available: http://miamimoo.mcs.muohio.edu/moodesc.html
Cross, K. P. (1976). Accent on learning: Improving instruction and reshaping the curriculum. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Ellsworth, J. H. (1994). Education on the internet: A hands-on book of ideas, resources, projects, and advice. Indianapolis: Sams Publishing.
Evard, R. (1993). Collaborative networked communication: MUDS as systems tools. Proceedings of The Seventh Systems Administration Conference (Lisa VII), 1-8.
Kemp, J. E., Morrison, G. R., & Ross, S. M. (1994). Designing effective instruction. New York: McMillan College Publishing Company.
Macdonald, R. (1994). The Globewide Network Academy: Part 1 Enrollment: A virtual freshers perspective on the Diversity University. Computing and Information Systems, 1, 192-197.
Manning, W. H. (1976). Commentary: Consequences of individual differences for higher education. In S. Messick (Ed.) Individuality in learning (pp. 294-300). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
McKeachie, W. J. (1991). Teaching tips: A guidebook for the beginning college teacher. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath.
Nalley, R. (1995). Designing computer-mediated conferencing into instruction. In M. Collins, & Z. L. Berge (Eds.) Computer mediated communication and the online classroom volume two: Higher education. (pp. 11-23). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.
Speh, M. (1994). GNA course: Introduction to object oriented programming using C++. [Online]. Available: http://uu-gna.mit.edu:8001/uu-gna/index.html
Tyler, R., W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
I found nothing to recommend the article. The author appears to be an instructor who is intent on recreating the traditional classroom on the Net. To wit: "The classroom can contain virtual chairs, tables, recorders, blackboard, and overhead projector as well as many other toools found in the traditional classroom. Most importantly, the MOO permits synchronous communication with other users who are connected at the same time."
The key to his/her thesis therefore appears to be the importance of synchronous communication. He/she then admits that it is extremely difficult to schedule synchronous communication, especially across multiple time-zones. Having successfully scheduled synchronous communication across time-zones, the author then gives us no real evidence of the importance of synchronous communication to the article's introductory thesis that serving different learning styles is the key to a quality course.
It seems to me that what is described by this author is hardly the best use of the Net.
The topic is a good one: online educators need to incorporate synchronous modes of communication such as MOOs. However, this write-up is superficial as it stands. The author needs to get deeper into the pedagogical functions of both synch and asynch media in the online classroom. He/she also needs to dig deeper into the idea of evaluative standards that are appropriate for online efforts. Crucial to this subject is a clear, vivid, detailed description of the MOO process: What is it and how does it work? Readers need to "see" it in action in order to understand it. Another important point concerns the development of a sense of community online. The author needs to avoid the impression that the writers he quotes are somehow exclusively equating "community" with synch modes such as MOOs. A last point: the writer needs to review other synchronous media--I've listed a few in my comments.
I'm rather skeptical of this article's value for Technology Source readers. As far as I know, MOOs seem to have come and gone; I don't see much about them any more. The author's references mostly come from MOOs' heyday in the 1994-1996 era before the Web really took off, and neither of the article's links worked for me. I would consider publishing this article only if the author can provide some current references on this topic and show that MOOs are presently being used somewhere else besides his course.