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Teaching TWL via MOO

I got an automated email from Google the other day that notified me of
a newly found link to my website.  The webpage that Google found
discusses teaching "The Waste Land" using networked computers.  I pass
on the URL and a copy of the first few paragraphs to give you an idea
of what's in the "paper."

URL:
    http://slatin2.cwrl.utexas.edu/currents/fall04/barndollar.html


The Waste Land In, Not Of, the MOO: A Case Study
   by David Barndollar 

    1. Students  in  my  course  "Poesis:  The  Making  of Literature," a
       lower-division  introduction  to  poetry  for  English majors, are
       usually  surprised  to  find that it meets in a networked computer
       classroom.  They  tend  to  be  skeptical  about  the value of the
       technological  setting  for  learning  about poems, especially the
       students  who come in with a poetry-writing background. By the end
       of  the  course,  however,  they almost unanimously agree in their
       course  evaluations  that  the  electronic component of the course
       added  a  great  deal  to  their  experience, and recommend that I
       continue  to teach it in that setting. Over the semester, students
       in the course are engaged in a number of computerized assignments,
       including  communications, Web-based message forums, and real-time
       electronic  class  discussions,  in  addition  to  submitting  and
       peer-critiquing  all  their  traditional  writing  assignments  in
       electronic  form. But the assignment that they all report enjoying
       the  most,  and  wish  they  could  have  spent more time on, is a
       hypertext  annotation  project  on  T. S.  Eliot's The Waste Land.
       Through  completing  this  assignment,  they learn more about both
       poetry  and electronic texts than they ever bargained for--which I
       consider a pedagogical success. In this essay, I will describe the
       nature  and  origins of this assignment, present a few examples of
       exemplary student work, and then consider the significance of this
       project  not  only  in  my  course specifically but also for other
       courses  whose  instructors  might  find  useful ways to adapt the
       assignment  for  their  own purposes. I will also put forward some
       thoughts  about how this assignment changes the way we think about
       hypertext  as well as how hypertext changes the way we think about
       poetry and literature.

    2. The  hypertext  environment  in which the Waste Land assignment is
       conducted  is a Multi-User Domain, Object-Oriented--a MOO.  As
       the  term  "multi-user"  indicates,  the  MOO  facilitates  online
       interaction  because  each class member can be logged into the MOO
       server  simultaneously. However, a MOO differs from other kinds of
       real-time   (or   synchronous)  multi-user  discussions  (such  as
       internet  relay  chat [irc] or America Online's chat rooms) in two
       main ways: (1) the environment uses a conceptual metaphor of space
       and  time--like  real  life--for  its textual contents (unlike the
       more abstract discursive spaces of irc or chat rooms); and (2) the
       users  of  a  MOO  can  modify  the environment, which retains the
       modifications  for future users. For the Waste Land project, these
       two   differences   (to   paraphrase  Gregory  Bateson)  make  the
       difference.

    3. The first difference--the spatial metaphor--initially attracted me
       to  the  MOO  as  a medium for the Eliot hypertext assignment. The
       group  of instructors who developed the Poesis course decided that
       we would include The Waste Land as well as Eliot's famous critical
       essay  "Tradition  and the Individual Talent" as prime examples of
       Modernism.  To help students make sense out of these two works, we
       settled  upon  an  annotation  assignment  as  a  suitable  way of
       engaging  them  in  researching  and clarifying the myriad obscure
       allusions  in  the  poem,  as  well  as  in working with a body of
       critical  scholarship  as  preparation for upper-division literary
       study.  Since  Eliot  himself  provides notes to his own poem, and
       since  the more popular anthologies that include the poem also add
       their  own  footnotes  (often  to  the  point  where the notes, in
       miniscule   type,  take  up  more  space  on  the  page  than  the
       larger-type,  lineated  words  of  the  poem), the poem explicitly
       invites  exploration and annotation of its references. And indeed,
       as  George  Landow and others have observed, a footnote annotation
       is a kind of hypertext: