Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN



Ann K. Parsons


Bob Zenhausern


Dawn Martin


John Leone

GrassRoots, as the article's title implies, serves as a catalyst. Below are answers to the frequently asked questions (FAQs) we have encountered.

What Is GrassRoots?

GrassRoots is a Virtual World that has emerged from the integration of text-based virtual reality and the World Wide Web (WWW) to harness the Information and Communication potential of the Internet. GrassRoots is an experimental community that attracted talented people from diverse backgrounds, whose focus was on human service and learning.

GrassRoots provides a learning environment where K-12 children are creating their neighborhoods and students from four universities are involved in collaborative study and research. The Library of GrassRoots has a foundation of over 260 electronic forums directed to Education, Medicine, and Psychology, and Disability. GrassRoots contains a cultural center that features works such as the music of Wagner, the writings of Eliot and Whitman; it also contains museums dedicated to the 12th century, to Jerusalem, and to Brooklyn NY.

GrassRoots places a special emphasis on inclusion for those with educational and physical disabilities.

What Is the History of GrassRoots?

GrassRoots was started on a Pentium 100 computer provided by St. John's University. The core database of an established MultiUser Dungeon (MUD) that was Object-Oriented (MOO) was stripped of its individual features and the initial GrassRoots structure developed. On September 9, 1996, there was an official announcement of the creation of an L-Soft Listserv List called GrassRoots, one of over 260 such lists devoted to education, psychology, and support that are part of the GrassRoots Information Center at the St. John's University domain, STJOHNS.EDU.

Within 3 months of the initial announcement, children from Alaska, Canada, and Finland were creating their individual neighborhoods; students from New York and Tel-Aviv were building virtual university campi; a simulation of a Civil War battle was emerging, as was the Hall of a 12th Century Bard. During the next 3 months the actuality of GrassRoots was expanding beyond the original education orientation to embrace a Global Community with foci on education, culture, and support.

The only costs associated with GrassRoots are the use of the Pentium computer and access to the Internet provided by St. John's University. The Coordinators of the project are working on a volunteer level and no special incentives are given to participant teachers and students.

What Is the Mission of GrassRoots?

The overriding goal of GrassRoots is to develop a virtual community that will foster the growth and development of all its citizens. There are 3 specific objectives aimed at this goal. To:

1. Enhance teaching, learning, collaboration and research on an international level

2. Provide community support for those in need and foster universal inclusion

3. Use 21st century technology to develop the cultural components of community.

What Has It Done to Attain That Purpose?

The overriding goal of the GrassRoots experiment was to develop a functional community that encompasses education, culture, and support, where distance is not a barrier to cooperation and collaboration. There were 3 specific goals under the major objective and substantial movement to each of those goals was evident.

Objective 1: Learning and collaboration projects that span the educational spectrum

a. Three Virtual Communities--Alaska, Canada, and Finland--are currently functional. You can visit 5th grade children in Barrow, 9th grade students in New Brunswick, and 11th grade students in Finland. The students have created virtual representations of their neighborhoods in the MOO and are available for chat at specific times during the school day.

b. St. John's University, the University of Missouri Kansas City, Warsaw University, and the University of Tel-Aviv have each developed a presence on GrassRoots on the GrassRoots University Campus and are involved in several projects.

c. A representation of the University of Tel-Aviv has been created as a WebTree and it is possible to tour the campus in pictures and text as you attempt to solve a puzzle. This representation is mirrored in text on GrassRoots Text-Based Virtual Reality (TBVR).

d. A student at the University of Tel-Aviv has initiated research aimed at evaluating the use of TBVR for learning.

e. Graduate and undergraduate Students at St. John's University and at the University of Missouri are collaborating on a research project aimed both at individual differences in mental imagery and at the use of the Internet in collecting survey data.

f. The Schools of Education of St. John's University and Warsaw University are developing a collaboration to teach English to Polish students, to use distance learning to facilitate teacher education and staff development, and for research.

Objective 2: Provision of community support for those in need and foster universal inclusion

a. Community support for universal inclusion is a guiding spirit of GrassRoots and an ombudsman has been appointed to ensure accommodation to the needs of everyone.

b. The library of Email lists located on the SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU site is a major source of information on disability and rehabilitation.

c. Screen displays that accommodate voice synthesizers for the blind and for individuals with certain kinds on learning disability are being developed and are undergoing testing.

d. Graduate neuropsychology students at St. John's University are communicating through email and on the MOO with survivors of brain injury.

e. There is a close connection with Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI)

f. Support groups for children with Attention Deficit Disorder and for survivors of abuse have been developed both on Mailing Lists and in real-time TBVR.

Objective 3: Development of the cultural aspects of community and support for the creative uses of 21st Century technology. Unique cultural resources have been developed to provide alternative paths to learning. These include the:

a. Simulation of the hall of a 12th century bard, simulations of Brooklyn NY, and of Jerusalem

b. Milan as virtual museums. The music of Wagner's and the poetry of Whitman and Eliot have been transposed to the medium of TBVR.

What Makes This Project Unique?

Four factors make GrassRoots a singularity.

1. GrassRoots is unique because it is a prototype. Nothing like it has ever existed. This is not because GrassRoots is at the cutting edge of technology, but because it has integrated the most commonly accessible tools into a unique configuration.

2. The seed from which GrassRoots sprung is itself unique. St. John's University is the site of over 260 Electronic Forums based on an L-Soft Listserv, most of which are devoted to education, psychology, disability, and medicine, and serve as a pool for information for the developers of GrassRoots.

3. TBVR is educationally unique. It teaches reading and writing in a natural way, in the same way we learned to listen and speak. Students see a MOO as a game. Reading and writing become fun and the creativity of the student is unleashed.

4. GrassRoots is a community that has been planned from its inception with a universal inclusion perspective that stems directly from the seed of the electronic forums. Efforts are made to attract and accommodate to the needs of the physically and mentally challenged.

Why Has GrassRoots Been So Successful So Quickly?

GrassRoots has been successful because of the people who are creating it. The students, the teachers, the developers of GrassRoots are all responsible for its growth. This project has been successful because it is a truly grassroots community, launched by individual teachers and educators who were exploring the medium. They have pride in ownership that no preconceived "top-down" organization can engender. Key elements of the project include flexibility, growth, and change; the community is in constant flux as the pattern of the dance changes with new ideas.

How Do I Visit GrassRoots?

There are two ways to reach The GrassRoots Project. The best way to review GrassRoots

is to experience it in the form of a WWW guided tour. Point to

You can also telnet by using the following steps. First, telnet to: Then, log in as: grass. Use the password: changeme. This will allow you to have the advantage of the Tiny fugue client for easy screen reading. When you reach the login screen for TBVR, type: co guest

We look forward to seeing you on GrassRoots. If you have any questions, please send them to the Web Master via WWW, or write to one of the authors listed.

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 2/25/1999 7:38:47 PM. 20929 visitors since February 2000.