The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 5, No 1 (2001)

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Alice's Academy

Elizabeth L. Pandolfo Briggs, editor

Well, in our usual quest to bring you, our readers, quality referreed articles in Alice's Academy, I'm afraid that this issue we lack a new article. We've had a great deal of interest in Alice's Academy, and many wonderful submissions. Some articles you'll see in upcoming issues are on the children's poetry of Richard Wilbur and on George MacDonald's The Day Boy and the Night Girl. We also plan on introducing a new column to Alice's Academy profiling current research projects in children's literature. One of our first columns will be on a Canadian picture book project. However, we are always looking for scholarly submissions on any aspect of children's literature, and now are looking for submission proposals on children's literature research projects. Please send them in!

Not to leave you disappointed, though, I thought I would take this opportunity to speak to you on a subject rapidly becoming a major issue: technology and children's literature. This pairing, I'm sure, conjures up different images in your minds. I'd like to talk briefly about how technology is changing how we teach children's literature at the university level. There's also a proposal for a new addition to Alice's Academy at the end.

(Elizabeth L. Pandolfo Briggs, editor)

The MOO and You

In universities classes are being taught online in a couple of different ways. The model I've participated in has a team of teachers, across disciplines, working together to teach courses online with real-time class meetings. Web sites contain all course material, assignments, and necessary auxiliary material for lectures. Assignments are handed in electronically. For a children's literature survey course I participated in, teachers came from the English and Education departments. During class discussions, students were divided into small groups of no more than eight with one to three teachers facilitating discussion. We found that this was essential to effective discussion. Unfortunately, this model is fairly rare. Most universities seem to use technology in a self-serving, economical way rather than truly to improve educational quality. Teachers design courses that the universities then own. The universities can then utilize technology to allow one teacher (often a different, lesser-paid one) to teach that course to many students online. In this case technology allows students to attend class at their own convenience and work on their own to complete a course. More effective is when technology brings together a diverse range of students (and even guest lecturers and authors) who normally would never even meet each other. It is important to recognize that technology creates an alternative learning environment; it is not a gimmick, nor a way to save money off teachers and make more money off students (Fanderclai 1).

Essential to online courses is the real-time discussion. This takes place via software in text-based virtual spaces called MUDs ((Multiple User Dungeons/Dimension/Dialogue) or MOOs (MUD Object Oriented). MOOs are actually one of many types of MUDs. They are "organized around the metaphor of physical space" (Turkle 182). Participants convey actions and feelings through emotes. One can whisper to another person in the MOO too, so that only those two see the conversation (when the command is typed correctly!). What seems at first like a solitary learning environment, therefore, is really a social one (Curtis 2).

MOOs represent a new kind of writing and social interaction "somewhere in between traditional written and oral communication" (Turkle 183). In MOOs interaction is synchronous and immediate, unnervingly quick and nonlinear. Conversation must be typed, which creates a disjointed pace and permits many simultaneous discussion threads (Curtis 13). Interruptions are common, but they generate few problems; a tenuous continuity exists among discussion threads in a MOO. MOOs provide an opportunity for more equitable communication between sexes (and sometimes among races) because there are no overt physical or social status clues online, although studies show that subtle gender differences do manifest themselves (Cherny 1). The absence of many physical clues and social cues online coupled with the more collaborative learning environment MOOs encourage seem to serve some students' needs better than traditional classroom environments. Women in particular take advantage of the physical anonymity online, and participate far more in online classes than in traditional ones.

MOOs alter traditional methods of learning in several ways. It is questionable whether the online medium breaks down traditional hierarchical differences in communication (Cherny 1). However, it does break down the hierarchy between instructor and student, creating a more decentralized and egalitarian learning space. MOOs, by their very nature, encourage collaborative and holistic learning (Bruckman 1, Bruckman & Resnick 10). Students have more freedom and encouragement to be active learners. Students often get more one-on-one attention from instructors online. A great deal of "incidental learning" also takes place online (Fanderclai 1).

As well as encouraging more active students, MOOs empower students by giving them responsibility for their learning. Students in MOOs are generally more confident, ask more questions, and are often more open to exploring challenging ideas. The multiplicity and fragmentation in MOOs allows students to explore and express themselves in ways not possible in the traditional classroom environment (Turkle 185). Due to the physical anonymity of the online environment, students feel less risk and exposure online, which encourages participation and creativity (Curtis 9). During the children's literature online course I participated in, students, all of whom happened to be local, decided they wanted one class where we all met in person. The change in class dynamics was dramatic. Lively talkers online were withdrawn in person. What had been a class of lively, eager discussion online became virtually silent in person. Many students said later that they had trouble accepting the physical appearances of their classmates, because they had formed such different impressions from their online interaction. Students also said later that they themselves felt tension between their online personas and physical appearances; this tension made them uncomfortable and inhibited them from participating as fully in person as they normally did online. Students themselves often prefer MOOs: they have more input into and freedom in the class, and MOOs are very convenient.

I hope I've been able to introduce to many of you some new information about using technology to teach children's literature. I was also wondering if any of you would be interested in having a MOO to discuss other topics related to technology and children's literature: how technology is used in K-12 education and children's hypermedia are two that come readily to mind. Please email me if you're interested (there's a link at the top of this section). I'm also open to other topic suggestions. If there's enough interest, MOOs could become regular events.


Works Cited

All online works cited came from The Lost Library of MOO, which is no longer available.
However, Amy Bruckman's work can be found at

Bruckman, Amy. "Programming for Fun: MUDs as a Context for Collaborative Learning." 9 pp. Online. Internet. January 1999.

Bruckman, Amy and Mitchel Resnick. "Virtual Professional Community: Results from the MediaMOO Project." The Third International Conference on Cyberspace in Austin, Texas (15 May 1993): 12 pp. Online. Internet. January 1999.

Cherny, Lynn. "Gender Differences in Text-Based Virtual Reality." Proceedings of the Berkeley Conference on Women and Language (April 1994): 14 pp. Online. Internet. January 1999.

Curtis, Pavel. "Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities." (3 March 1992): 21 pp. Online. Internet. January 1999.

Fanderclai, Tari Lin. "MUDs in Education: New Environments, New Pedagogies." Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine 2:1 (1 January 1995): n. pag. Online. Internet. January 1999.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.


Volume 5, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, 2001

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"The MOO and You" © Elizabeth Pandolfo Briggs, 2001.
Send general correspondence regarding The Looking Glass c/o The Editor

The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680