I've written several articles on MOOs (Multi-user Object Oriented programs), but the acronym "MOO" tends to scare people away. Indeed, there are quite a few commands to master in a MOO, and that complexity also tends to make people shy away from using them. So in this article, I will discuss MUVEs, because people have a better feeling and understanding for "Virtual Environments." There are a number of types of MUVEs, some with very simple interfaces and commands, that operate on very little bandwidth (MUDs, MUSHes, MUCKs), and some will find good use for them. Indeed, if all you need is a secure place to hold a text based conversation, a simple "talker" is all you need. If however, you have grander schemes in mind for teaching, then you will need to step up to the more modern MUVEs, with sophisticated GUIs (Graphic User Interfaces), that incorporate the WWW into their programs.
Currently there are a number of programs and systems out there for delivering CBL (Computer Based Learning) information both synchronously (real time) and asynchronously (non-real time). Some handle PowerPoint, Real Audio (and Video), have flashy interfaces and virtually "all cost money". Furthermore, except for perhaps getting help with the initial setup, once you install the system, you will be pretty much on your own. MUVEs are (for the most part) not only free to use, but also free to own, plus, you can get help from a number of sources. They aren't as flashy as some of the systems out there, but you can't beat the price.
MUVEs "evolve with time". They adapt to changes in Net technology - seven years ago they were completely text-based, and used primarily for Dungeons and Dragons type games. Now, many have sophisticated WWW interfaces, allowing for URL projection, PowerPoint and RealAudio presentations and many more useful features. All allow for both synchronous and asynchronous usage. MUVEs act as intranets in some ways, with in-house mail, conversing in private rooms or on channels, creating rooms with interactive robots (for when you're not online), mailing lists, projection devices and a large array of other useful (educational) features.
MUVEs offer something more important than the technological, however, and that is a community for collaboration and educational development. Each MUVE operates a little differently than others, has its own theme and purpose (type: help theme or help purpose when connected). Here are a few of my favorite MUVEs and what I like about them:
Diversity University (http://moo.du.org:8000 login: guest connect with integrated interface). DU is the premiere Educational MUVE, and has a number of tools and features to facilitate bringing classes online. One of these is the Visiting Student Parent Object (VSPO), which allows teachers to create passworded accounts for their students, move them from room to room (there are literally several thousand rooms on DU alone) and even hush them up if needed (every teacher's wish!) There are also a number of useful online tutorials, but perhaps the best way to get help is to type: page help (your question). There are always a number of helpers logged in to help you learn the ropes. DU's core is also downloadable for "free" to those schools and/or districts who would like to have their own MUVE. It takes experience to maintain a MUVE, however, and I recommend getting your feet wet for some time before attempting to create your own.
Tapped In (http://www.tappedin.org/info/guests.html) is a MUVE dedicated to teacher collaboration. It has a calendar of events with a number of staff development projects and real time meetings. It also has one of the best (most user friendly) GUIs. Going to Tapped In is a little bit like being part of a global faculty lounge; you will meet educators from all over and everyone is interested in helping.
Lingua (http://lingua.utdallas.edu:7000/) is the University of Texas Rhetoric Department's MUVE. Its founders developed the "Encore Express" client, which is a fantastic GUI, also downloadable for educators for free (http://lingua.utdallas.edu/hw/encore.html). Along with their book "High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs": (http://www.press.umich.edu/titles/09665.html), those ambitious enough to create their own MUVE would do very well to download Encore Express and purchase High Wired.
There are a number of academic articles written on MUVEs, and many can be found linked from my "MUVE Links" page, in addition to tutorials (running the gamut from basic commands to VSPO, cut and paste, and moomail). (http://pages.ivillage.com/cp/edmoo). There are also links to sites listing the large number of MUVEs available (I recommend Rachel's Super List of MOOs).
How long does it take to learn how to use a MUVE? I like to analogize using the card games Bridge and Go Fish to MUVEs and chat rooms. I can teach you to play Go Fish and how to use a chat room in five minutes; in both cases you will reach your limit of expertise and become bored within an hour. On Bridge and MUVEs, it takes some time to learn (please see my MUVE LInC Project linked from my MUVE page), but you can spend your entire life enjoying them and improving along with them. MUVEs are interactive dynamic environments that allow you to grow along with them. If you are looking for a secure environment to bring your students (for whatever subject or purpose), you cannot go wrong using a MUVE. Please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a demonstration.
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Last Updated: January 2006