TWUMOO: The Female Collected, and, The Female Collective
TWUMOO is a web-enhanced, text-driven virtual environment for teaching, learning, service, and discovery. The MOO in TWUMOO stands for Multi-User Domain Object Oriented. Designed to enhance Texas Woman’s University’s (TWU) distance learning initiatives and supplement traditional classroom instruction, TWUMOO is a virtual space for conversation, work, and online exploration.
TWUMOO debuted in November 1998, as part of TWU’s Seneca Falls Celebration series honoring 150 years of progress for women since the monumental convention. Since then, the projects have grown at an average rate of one per month. Currently, most of the projects generate within the Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Languages. A current project involves two departments where graduate students have developed virtual "bots" that teach hearing-impaired public school children to read. However, as the only MOO in existence focusing on women and women’s issues, TWUMOO is in a unique position to take the lead in developing outreach programs for women and promoting scholarship relating to women in virtual spaces. Invitations are being extended to national, state, and local women’s organizations as well as volunteer groups to use MOOs for assisting women professionally and personally.
Before Texas Woman’s University created TWUMOO, there were many MOOs of varied purposes and diverse technologies. Some insight into how MOOs (Multi-User Domain Object Oriented) evolved from MUDs (Multi-User Domain) will give the academic user an understanding of the pedagogical function that can progress from this technology. Technology professionals have known for a long time that growth in computer usage owes a lot to the popularity of computer gaming. MOOs have a similar story.
Figure 1. TWUMOO Interface
In 1979, Essex University students Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle wrote the first MUD in Great Britain. Their MUD was a virtual fantasy world where one moved through locations and engaged in real-time chat in order to find treasures, kill monsters, and become a wizard. Ten years later, TinyMUD emerged from the mind of James Aspnes, a graduate student at Carnegie-Mellon University. TinyMUD focused on social interaction and introduced player-programmability. Participants could add, write, and alter their space now. Many offshoots developed from this, one of which became the first MOO in 1990.
Unlike IRCs, chat, and other synchronous interaction, MOOs allow users to manipulate objects like chalkboards, erasers, texts, lectures, virtual classroom contents, VCRs, and more (see Figure 1). Also, MOOs differentiate themselves from commercial online course solutions by providing a virtual community structure that encourages user customization. Better yet, a MOO core, or database, is free and can be downloaded easily. Once this is done, those familiar with MOO programming can create a MOO for minimal cost other than hardware, multimedia software, and backup peripherals.
Figure 2. TWUMOO User Office
The MOO is an open space for organizations and groups to come together electronically as well. Anyone interested in TWUMOO as an online source for conferences, meetings, academic study groups, counseling, and experimental studies is welcome to establish a virtual presence. Pedagogical and research tools are abundant inside TWUMOO. The following elements are key components of what is currently available (Grigar, 1998a):
Originally text-based, the new online architecture embraces the female intellect through various pedagogical venues. The relational binding of teaching, research, and discovery in this new virtual campus setting allows women to live, work, and play freely in cyberspace while forging a permanent imprint of their presence online. Women and men alike can bridge academics with community service. Those who work in MOOs attest to the humanizing quality of MOOspace. Commercial software packages that provide ‘fill-in-the-blank’ online course modules and real-time conferencing software have their place, yet, still offer the mere satisfaction of functionality for a specific purpose. MOOspaces emulate real world environments. One navigates through a descriptive space reflective of the personality which created that space.
Figure 3. TWUMOO "Who Browser"
Michael Heim, a noted scholar, developed seven levels of presence to describe virtual reality; simulation, interaction, artificiality, immersion, telepresence, full-body immersion, and networked communication. Currently, the MOO environment offers six of these. However, MOOspaces are now starting to utilize virtual reality technology to expand the dimension of object manipulation within a MOO. Full-body immersion may not be far away.
A MOO’s creation begins the same way as a newly built house. There is a structure in place, however, it is empty. What builds a MOO? This is a twofold question which involves computer technology, namely servers, and human ingenuity, namely people. Servers and people take what is called a MOO database and technically configure it to work in binary form. Then, the process of interior decoration begins with customizing the user environment and setting up an ‘architextural’ space that anyone can use (see Figure 4). This unique space enables one to capture electronic communication as it is happening, archive it, and review, savor, or reflect upon it. A MOO is one of the few virtual spaces that encapsulate a moment of electronic communication and allow it to be shaped into a piece of information that fits an individual’s style of dissemination (Nolan, 1999). Then, this information is taken and ‘built’ into organized form for a specific purpose. Information architecture takes on new meaning as textual structures form within a web-based environment and offer new intellectual avenues for women at TWUMOO.
A MOO’s ‘architextural’ structure is open and dynamic, which leaves management of this space a subjective issue. The database, or core, is a very large ASCII text file which is programmable by the end user. This feature is what makes a MOO platform- independent and flexible. Simple programming commands make any participant a custom developer through a scripting language that allows for manipulation, creation, and customization of virtual objects. Giving the participant this level of autonomy also brings issues of accountability. The technology underlying a MOO is simple, however, the everday problems that confront a newly formed society are now imposed upon a virtual community floating innocently in cyberspace. An irony lies in the midst of this, as technology is often seen as the complex component of educational delivery.
All that is required to build a MOO is a server, the MOO database, internet access, telnet capability, and a port-specific network address. Once in place, the space is empty waiting for someone to start building inside. This space will have the indelible impression of its creator and eventually this will ‘seep’ into the community that grows as the MOO grows. In an educational setting, pedagogical principles are now implanted throughout the community as learning becomes the focus of activity. Unlike online courseware, this is not computer-based training, this is a learning community.
Figure 4. TWUMOO Architextural Space
At TWU, there is a MOO team dedicated to promoting, maintaining, and developing TWUMOO. The team is similar to a creative team structure at an advertising company or multimedia production house. The project leader and founder is Dene Grigar, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, at TWU. There is one person who designs the informational web site on TWUMOO, and, two graduate students who train users on MOO skills, communication, and customization as well as provide online technical support. Stephen Souris, PhD, Associate Professor of English, serves as liaison and coordinator for MOO projects. Finally, a systems engineer maintains the server, software, and technical development of the MOO. A chronology of the development of TWUMOO is found in Appendix I, which gives a good overview of the steps taken to start TWUMOO.
Knowledge flow and identity are two factors of MOOspace that constantly demand attention in academia. Setting boundaries in a MOO must not collide with intellectual development. This is probably the first time that technology and academia have become so inextricably bonded that new research must be conducted to truly analyze the long-term effects this will have on the learning process. Knowledge flow runs parallel with administrative boundaries. A site can skyrocket so fast that memory and space become genuine concerns. Without proper planning, participants are free to do as they wish. The first step to take is usually a periodic database clean up. Controlling the proliferation of buildings, rooms, and their contents is often a major path to overall memory and space management. Establishing a space quota for users as the MOO grows and developing a governing policy board to periodically review the site’s goals and progression are key to a happy community of ‘MOOers’. Also, the virtual representation of a self may not be the true self. People often choose to alter their true identities online when given the opportunity. This is usually due to the desire to escape into a different character every now and then, or, the need for anonymity so personal expression may flow more easily.
A MOO’s existence is often a product of three concurrent cycles of planning, creation, and maintenance (Haynes and Holmevik, 1998). There are many intangibles to address when working in this unique space and managing uncertainty is a crucial skill to have. Creation is a dynamic cycle that is constant as new participants build, explore, and alter these spaces. The ability to maintain order and minimize interruptions will ensure that all MOO users are maximizing their potential in the site. Many users, particularly the high-end technically adept person, will be concerned about development and the investment of time and energy in what has been traditionally a text-only environment, particularly if the site does not promote a steady cache of novel objects, spaces, and experiences. Computer users now expect a market that turns over technologies exponentially. Students and educators also will say that the desire for the newest, coolest toys has not been absent from academia. Most MOO-based sites are subject to that marketing logic, competing constantly for the attention and active involvement of participants.
Furthermore, new code, new projects, new interfaces to other resources, and new users all offer course modifications that keep a MOO functioning relatively smoothly. Innovation can shake up a whole site just as new discoveries in the real world cause people to rethink theories that have long been the norm for centuries. Public discourse about development not only helps to redefine and solve problems, but, can clarify individual perceptions in a way that may help create consensus and reduce conflict. Keep in mind also that this spirit of innovation is good for the administrator. The dynamics of a MOO demand that the ‘keeper of the space’ stay up on new skills and constantly monitor the purpose, status, health, and direction of the site. These challenges are also fun and exciting as revolutionary uses are developed within MOO sites. As mentioned earlier, TWUMOO is truly breaking conventions with new approaches to education. Administrators will respond positively to gradual changes in routines, to the introduction of innovation and to the notion that their efforts are in good faith.
With the spirit of innovation comes the chance for less desirable elements of development in a MOO. How does one discriminate between usefulness and frivolity? Simply providing free reign can be extremely detrimental to a site when a server begins to buckle under the pressure of increased usage. It is natural to begin tightening the creativity curve until it starts to hinder MOO activity. Then, the administrator either enhances the physical server to accommodate the increase of activity, or revises the database to streamline the fixed elements in order to provide options to the users who wish to expand on the variable elements of a MOO, namely the objects (programming and editing) and spaces (rooms, buildings, etc.).
Quite often innovation replaces purpose and direction for these sites. This can be attributed to the unstructured nature of MOOs, which subsequently invites creative input and free-thinking. As educational institutions adopt more of the corporate culture model, they begin to respond to these values and priorities. MOOs still offer the element of ‘unbridled’ learning as long as users are willing to invest their intellect and time in fostering this approach. Even corporations are starting to see the benefits, both economically and functionally, of MOOs for internal information sharing and human resource-related purposes. Storytelling has become a trend for management as they use this centuries-old form of discourse for training and professional development. A new organization, the Knowledge Management Consortium, has created a journal for this purpose. Society is now seeing a merge of academia, business, and humanities as people begin to realize that ancient practices can fuse with future progress to mold a solid foundation of virtue, intellect, and creativity for generations to come. MOOspaces are part of this, as they have grown as the internet has grown and bring with them the seedlings of technology that were planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s. MOO sites are proliferating as organized clearinghouses for more than just the written word; they have become the new place to bridge the past with both the present and future.
Teaching, research, and service are three aspects of academia that blend together seamlessly in the TWUMOO environment. As a participant in the MOO, whether scholar or student, it is not apparent that one is being ‘taught at’, ‘researched on’, or ‘serviced’. Just as a professor goes to class and teaches, this individual also goes to an office, takes a book off the shelf and begins the research process. MOOspaces provide a rare opportunity for everyone to actually look at the academic world from an omniscient perspective. A student almost never witnesses the research methodology used by a professor for a new project, or even for class. MOOs, however, offer a student a chance to look beyond the scope of his or her class and see if any new research is being conducted in that subject. The professor may leave a virtual abstract of a developing research paper on his or her virtual desk, allowing students to drop in and read it at their convenience. Students might even be invited to edit or comment on the paper, or, provide logo designs for the cover sheet. A relational binding of lecture, research, and discovery ensues that rarely takes place anywhere else, either in a real or virtual world.
TWUMOO’s mission to empower women in technology and promote female writers in cyberspace could have a profound impact on the presence of women online. Until now, women have lagged behind men statistically in computer usage and technology adoption (ACM-W, 1998). Although few comprehensive research studies have been done to produce a concrete cause-effect solution model for this issue, many believe that women lean toward technology that fosters a social element similar to real life. MOOs humanize the binary sterility of the online world. The history of MUDs and MOOs brings to light the future potential for women in technology, and paves the way for TWUMOO to build 'The Female Collected' that will permanently archive female scholarship and creativity.
In building 'The Female Collected', the feministic elements of MOOspace were explored through a graduate-leve feminist theory class conducted by Dene Grigar, Assistant Professor in English, Speech, and Foreign Languages at Texas Woman’s University. Grigar took her class into the emerging field of technofeminism, which is developing as a serious field of study for women's studies scholars. Towards the end of her class, she did an interesting online experiment by having everyone meet in TWUMOO as a character other than their true self. A few excerpts from the MOO log of this particular session were chosen to illustrate how powerful a MOO can be for documenting experimental studies in gender:
--Start log: Tuesday, April 20, 1999 4:05:19 pm TWUMOO time --
Various stereotypes emerge here as well as the gender-less choices made, such as cardinal and Tenara. Each student made a choice, some of which reflected their true personality while others were actually the very opposite. GynGyr was the typical ‘cheap sleaze’ while Mrs. Cleaver embodied the ideal of the conservative 1950’s homemaker. The male character of Chance projected the chivalrous male in his dialogue while Heathcliff displayed that macho, indifferent, male psyche that did not want to discuss feminism.
What is truly fascinating about this MOO session is no one knew beforehand who belonged to whose character, nor, what characters were going to exist during this online experiment. Even more coincidental is that each character was representative of a very stereotypical personality and each character was completely different. Mrs. Cleaver was the only conservative 50’s homemaker, GynGyr was the only ‘sleaze’, Tenara was the only alien, Chance was the only charming male, and Heathcliff was the only macho jerk. There were no two online characters alike in personality or physical description. Grigar’s students, however, shared similar backgrounds, interests, and approaches to their work. What a fascinating dichotomy between online personae, and, face-to-face interaction.
Furthermore, the more introverted students chose the ‘animated’ extreme characters while those more outspoken chose the middle-of-the-road type characters. This experiment and many more lend themselves beautifully to a MOO environment. No other online medium could capture the students’ spontaneity so completely. MOOs allow people to navigate, converse, collaborate, build, archive, and most of all, discover themselves in a virtual environment. This process of discovery is captured and beautifully 'packaged' for feminist scholars to use and research for years to come. This is the essence of 'The Female Collected'.
Who would have thought even a year ago of fusing performance art into academic scholarship? While virtual reality and microscopic cameras are mainstream technological marvels within the medical diagnostic and imaging process, who would have thought one could fuse medical ethics with medical practice in a virtual environment? As illustrated in these two ideas, MOOs have the revolutionary potential for binding diverse disciplines together in what would otherwise seem quite discordant collaborations. Thus TWU has also created the 'Female Collective', an ongoing online continuum for women's intellectual discourse. TWUMOO is the treasure chest for learning at Texas Woman’s University. 'The Female Collected' will be a permanent repository for women's writing, and, the 'The Female Collective' will be a continuing online conduit for the female voice.
Community outreach fuses with academic discourse through a unique program in TWUMOO. Currently, graduate students from the Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Language at TWU teach hearing-impaired public school students in Oklahoma how to read using "virtual bots" programmed by these graduate students (Crowson, 1998). The student will write a sentence, and, the "bot" will respond according to the input from that student and offer advice, a correction, or prompt the student for more information. TWU’s online writing center, OWL, may adopt this approach to assist Freshman English students beginning Fall 1999.
A formal Call for Materials this year will encourage universities, academic institutions, research centers, and publishing professionals to use TWUMOO as the cyberspace resource for writing and scholarship. Also, online courses in Women’s Studies and English as well as the pilot program for the new Master of Arts in Teaching will take place in TWUMOO. Besides teaching and learning, cyberspace users also have access to electronic-based archives, like the Women’s Collection of Electronic Texts (WCET). This growing collection of email narrative, webtexts, databases, MOO logs, and more serves as a permanent online complement to the nationally-renowned Women’s Collection on the second floor of TWU’s Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey Library (Grigar, 1998b). These texts will be accessible both on TWUMOO’s web pages (http://moo.twu.edu) and in the Woman’s Institute inside TWUMOO. All of these works will be backed up and physically archived inside the Blagg-Huey Library on the main campus.
Just recently, the online portion of TWU’s "Emerging Rhetorics" Symposium for 1999 was held in the MOO. Future plans entail more online conferences, such as the 1999 "Feminisms and Rhetoric" Conference and 1999 Women Military Aviators annual conference, and continued development of a cyberspace component to the nationally-renowned Blagg-Huey Library Women’s Collection. The collection started with the induction of seven authors as the first contributors to the new WCET, Women’s Collection of Electronic Texts, at TWU (Grigar, 1999a). These seven esteemed hypertext writers are listed in Appendix II. These writers bring literature to a new juncture of existence for women, and men, which could sprout new modes of literary expression.
Next, two potentially ground-breaking developments are currently in consideration at TWU. One is the creation of a virtual medical center by nursing professionals which would involve TWU’s College of Nursing, other academic institutions, and health-related organizations (Olson, 1998). Next, MOOs also allow for ground-breaking experimentation in performance literature. From this new art form comes the concept of performance theses and dissertations from graduate students majoring in the creative or performing arts. For example, dance students could provide an alternative means of defending their dissertation by using the instrument of their chosen profession - their body. Dance students may collaborate with MOO writers in displaying their dissertation online while onstage, and, create a choreographic work based on their writing. The writing itself would become part of the performance, interweaving theatrical display with movement while simultaneously providing research discourse. Finally, these projects will have originated from a university predominantly for women. Women are now in a position to take many ‘firsts’ in innovation, invention, and, the Internet.
As the history of MOOs unfold in this writing, one sees that three momentous events are occurring as these unique sites progress into the new millennium. First, MOOs are functioning as the ‘shape shifter’ of technology. They are built from simple ASCII text and have now mutated beautifully into web-based environments while still retaining their original database structure. MOOs now serve as a pinnacle into the future as these incredibly simple databases, or cores, are being used in revolutionary ways. TWUMOO is one such site, as mentioned earlier. Another such site is ATHEMOO, a site devoted to theatrical discourse in an online environment (Haynes and Holmevik, 1998). Secondly, MOOs are the perfect place to blend unlike disciplines together. Performance art can work in harmony with academic research while theatrical dialogue partners with poetry, art, and mixed media. Health Science utilizes state-of-the-art virtual reality in a space built for the purpose of ethical review. Where else can one find these contrasting fields of work blending so synergistically together? These alliances are being realized in MOOs. Some are in place, others are still in development.
Finally, women are realizing their place in the technological kingdom as MOOs and the Internet gather these various disciplines together in organized, yet very different ways. Some of these disciplines have traditionally been female dominant, such as health sciences and dance. Now these fields can work seamlessly with technology as MOOs progress into new dimensions of purpose and take women along with them. Women are now part of a turn-of-the-century revolution in technology. This was unheard of coming into the Twentieth Century. Technology reform, the redesign of disciplines, and the key role of women in this marriage of technology with non-technical vocations all serve as ‘shape shifters’ for the educational institution of the twenty-first century.
The following Chronology was prepared from information contained in various sources (Nolan, 1998, Grigar, 1998c, Grigar, 1999a, Grigar, 1999b, Grigar, 1999c, Holmevik, 1999, Nolan, 1999, and Souris, 1999)
April 1998: Began research and specification evaluation for a server to install the MOO core on. The specifications are as follows: Sun Enterprise Ultra 10S server, 300 MHZ UltraSPARC-IIi 64 bit RISC processor, 512 KB external cache, 256 MB RAM, 2 HD - 4.2 GB each, 8 mm tape backup drive, CDE and OpenWindows desktop environment, 12 speed CDROM drive
May 1998: Ordered the server and planned/scheduled formal training on EnCORE 1.0 - the MOO database that runs TWUMOO.
June 1998: Attended two-day training session conducted by Jan Rune Holmevik at Texas Woman’s University. MOO team is officially established for the first time. Members are; Dr. Dene Grigar and Dr. Stephen Souris, both professors of English at TWU; Ann Marie Olson, PhD candidate at TWU; Pat Nolan, systems engineer at TWU; Susie Crowson and Carl Clark, both graduate teaching assistants of English at TWU; and, Jan Rune Holmevik, PhD candidate at University of Trondheim at Norway.
September 1998: Sun Enterprise Ultra 10S arrives and is installed, tested, and configured for network and web.
November 1998: TWUMOO has grand opening at Seneca Falls 150 year Celebration Ceremony at TWU on November 12, 1998.
December 1998: Perform beta testing of the new enCORE Xpress web interface proposed as the upgrade for current enCORE 1.0.
January 1999: Begin official project planning. Projects for the Spring 1999 semester were development of the Women’s Collection of Electronic Texts (WCET), Gallery of Women Rhetoricians, and virtual bot development (project co-directed with Communication Sciences) for teaching hearing-impaired students how to read.
April 1999: Conducted first conference presentation on TWUMOO at the Texas Distance Learning Association annual conference. The new enCORE Xpress web upgrade for TWUMOO becomes official. TWUMOO hosts its first online conference for the 1999 "Emerging Rhetorics" Symposium hosted by The Federation of North Texas Area Universities.
May 1999: Conduct second conference presentation on TWUMOO at "Computers and Writing 1999" national conference in South Dakota. TWU is announced as the host for the "Computers and Writing 2000" conference in Fort Worth, Texas with TWUMOO as the online supplement for the conference.
This list was prepared from information contained in Grigar (1998d).
Cynthia L. Selfe
Humanities Department, Michigan Technological University
1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49331 USA
Tel: (1) 906 487 2447
Fax: (1) 906 487 3559
Professor Rhetoric and Composition at MTU, co-editor of Computers and Composition, EDUCOM Medal Award winner, past chair of NCTE Committee on Instructional Technology, Program Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication; has published extensively on use of computers in the teaching of English and composition.
Gail E. Hawisher
Professor - Department of English, Center for Writing Studies
608 South Wright Street, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801 USA
Tel: (1) 217 333 2989
Fax: (1) 217 333 4321
Director for the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and co-editor of Computers and Composition; has published widely in computers and composition studies, is co-founder of Computer and Composition Press, and past chair of NCTE Committee on Instructional Technology.
Assistant Professor of Literary Studies, University of Texas at Dallas
School of Arts and Humanities, P.O. Box 830688, Richardson, TX 75083-0688 USA
Tel: (1) 214 883 6340
Assistant Professor in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas where she teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in rhetoric, composition, and electronic pedagogy. As Director of Rhetoric and Writing, she manages a networked computer classroom and directs the first-year undergraduate Rhetoric program. Her publications have appeared in Pre/Text, Composition Studies, The Writing Center Journal, and Writing Lab Newsletter. She is co-editor of the book "High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs". Additionally, she is guest editor of a forthcoming special double issue of Pre/Text on "Virtual Rhetorics". She is a member of the executive committee of AEE (Alternative Education Environments) and co-founder of LinguaMOO, a web-integrated, text-based virtual synchronous learning environment for UT at Dallas students and faculty.
Assistant Professor, College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0280 USA
Assistant Professor of Computing at Georgia Tech. She is the founder of MediaMOO, a MUD designed to be a professional community for media researchers, and MOOSE Crossing - a children’s virtual environment, as well as the developer of MacMOOSE, a MOO client software for the Macintosh platform. She has written numerous articles books and journals, such as "High Wired" and "Convergence".
156 Massapoag Avenue, Sharon, MA 02067 USA
Since February 1993, Judy has worked for Harlequin, Inc. doing Lisp and Dylan programming, in particular interfacing both of these languages to various SQL servers, and lately, writing in C++. She is also administrator of LambdaMOO and is a resident of JHM, OpalMOO, MediaMOO, DhalgrenMOO, and Waterpoint. She has published in the book "Wired_Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace", edited by Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, editors.
9505 Royal Lane, #2144, Dallas, TX 75246 USA
Writer of "Speaking of the MOOn", published in the online electronic literary journal, Kairos.
Jan Rune Holmevik
P.O. Box 830688, Richardson, TX 75083-0688 USA
Tel: (1) 214 883 6340
Co-founder of LinguaMOO at UT at Dallas and co-editor of the book "High Wired". He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Trondheim in Norway and studying the history of infomatics. He is considered one of the premier designers of object-oriented technology and is the developer of EnCORE, the MOOcore that drives LinguaMOO and TWUMOO, as well as other MOOs and MUDs in the United States and overseas.