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Adjusting to MOOs

It's likely that when you first visit a MOO, you might not see its relevance to becoming a better writer. It might seem like nothing but play, which could well be true since some MOOs exist only for gaming.

However, there is something to be said for play. Writers need to be able to write freely. In our literary tradition, we expect to see finished and polished writing; yet we know we don't always see that. And when we do see polished work, it's because writers have had help polishing their words. Editors of all kinds of publications—books, magazines, newspapers, journals, newsletters—often receive copy that needs attention, and writers benefit from the work those editors do. Writers also get help in workshops. Students, if they are lucky, can show their teachers and classmates drafts that are in various stages and degrees of readiness, or they can simply talk about what they might want to write about. Sharing writing—sometimes even before the actual drafting has begun—is part of the writing continuum. MOOs can be integrated into that continuum. MOOs are places of verbal creation, both in their interface and the spontaneity that ensues when players converge in a room and begin to talk.

In online discussions students create and discover new thoughts at a rapid pace. This is because they are thinking and writing quickly, rather than pausing to edit at every turn. They are engaging in a complex group brainstorm or discussion. MOO discussions have a distinct advantage over regular verbal discussions: they can retain a transcript of all that was written during the session.

Owing to their shorter messages, quicker response time, and frequent word play (puns or the serendipitous typo that unveils a new meaning), MOOs provide wonderfully creative and sometimes poignant moments. Does this happen all the time? No, nor should we expect it to. Does every student perform equally well? No, but in what medium or learning situation does that ever happen? Do all students go on to use the MOO writing in other forms—email messages, essays, and hypertexts? No, not always. Some download the transcript and save it in their journals. Others delete the whole thing. Others let it stand as is. The choices are what matter. Students decide how to use the writing done in a MOO, the degree to which they will use the new insights generated in the MOO. Students learn important writing skills that combine sociocognitive awareness with the physical act of putting words to page and screen.

At a more elemental level, MOOs help make writing fun. They bring some pleasure back into language. For students who have trouble staying motivated, MOOs are an excellent way to get them excited about writing.

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