II. The discrepancy between synchronous electronic and spoken discourse
II.1 Writing vs. speaking
II.2 Formality vs. informality
II.3 Turn-taking strategies in MOO discourse
III. The provision of corrective feedback in the Münster-Vassar project
III.1 Direct peer correction
III.1.1 Feedback on grammar
III.2 Indirect peer correction
III.3 Students’ inquiries after unknown vocabulary
III.4 The supervision of peer utterances
The authors of this paper want to contribute to an already wide range of discussions and analyses that have taken place (especially since the beginning of the 1990s until now) about the nature of computer programs and its relation with Foreign Language Learning. In our introduction, we first want to draw on the field of educational MOOs.
The upcoming of personal computers, it’s speedy with more advancing progress up to this date and the easy accessibility at home or in educational institutions such as schools and universities. Language Classes in universities for example, have already led the 1980s to an ever increasing awareness that there is an almost unsustainable and enormously large potential in its use for classroom purposes and other activities.
Although manifold, in the focus of our interest (for we are dealing with EFL learning in our seminar) we measured L2 acquisition and the learnability of a Foreign Language with the help of a computer program. We will thus narrow down several possible choices we could make relating to teaching/learning software and choose one of them. The program that we will thoroughly discuss in the next few chapters is one that already, from a technological standpoint, has a long history. We must look back to 1979 when the first virtual MUD (Multi-User Dungeon or Multi-User Domain), the predecessor of the MOO (Multi-User Domain, Object-Oriented) comes into play. MUDs do not crucially differ from MOOs, as becomes evident in their being virtually the same program based on a similar code, the MOO, however, evolved from the MUD as a more advanced version sporting some more additional and useful features and making it therefore better to use for classroom purposes.
First of all, what is a/the MOO? The MOO is a publicly accessible database, available and accessible from anywhere on the world via network systems like, most popular, the Internet. Users must log on to a server in order to gain access. Some of this works via telnet or clients include MacMOOSE, Pueblo or encore Xpress. Curtis and Nichols say that MOOs are “frequently referred to as text-based virtual realities” (own italics, K.M, D.B) (TBVRs), because they are based on unformatted text, rather than a colourful user graphic interface (UGI). The term object-oriented, hidden in MOO, means MOO players can add new spaces in the form of rooms or other objects to the classroom.
The main focus of a MOO is on computer-mediated communication (CMC) working on a similar basis as IRC chats. Users, when logged on to these environments, can directly talk with their peers in written form. Unlike CMC via e-mail, where a message is saved on a server and must be downloaded, communication between people in a MOO use real time electronic messaging, or synchronous CMC, i.e. the messages appear on the partner’s computer screen immediately after the author has hit the Enter key, provided, of course, that that person is connected to the MOO server at the same time.
Our research paper will illustrate how electronic discourse among learners from two countries having a different cultural background, and speaking different mother tongues takes place in a virtual online environment, how they communicate, interact, behave, develop distinct learning/teaching strategies, and which problems arise and so on. We chose transcripts from various MOO sessions between German students of English and American students of German as subject for our research. The project MOOssiggang is a cooperative effort between the University of Münster/Germany and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, under the supervision of Markus Kötter (Münster), Silke von der Emde and Jeffrey Schneider (both Vassar College.) These people set up and host the MOO for educational, cultural and research purposes. In these sessions, students were divided into groups that met in an electronic room in the MOO at a specified time. It was very common for two students from Vassar and two from Münster to meet in order to restrict the text flow on the computer screen and make sensible communication possible. We have analyzed these written transcripts recorded during the MOO sessions, which will, we dearly hope, clarify our questions raised and underlined in our arguments and explanations made in the following paragraph.
The transcripts were carefully analysed and evaluated under the following points of interest:
1. Does synchronous MOO discourse differ from spoken discourse? If so, how and why? How does this affect the turn-taking behaviour of the students? Which conclusions about the MOO as a tool for online teaching and learning can be drawn from this?
2. Step No. 2 will be the analysis of common patterns and strategies the participants frequently take. Since they should all be aware that they are learners on one side and teachers on the other, which attempts and strategies to correct others errors do they undertake?
When the task came of collecting relevant literature on educational MOOs we can say that we could choose from a whole body of literature, both in conventional book form and online resources, covering a broad variety of dissertations, papers, journal articles etc. on the subject, written from different perspectives. Literature can be found which falls into various psychological, philosophical, educational and linguistic categories. However, we found that it is necessary to differentiate carefully between recent and older literature on the subject, and thought that it is better to remind everyone to consider that older material sometimes lacks in consistency simply because of being out of date.
II. The discrepancy between and synchronous electronic and spoken discourse
This chapter is designed to bring to mind and clarify some major characteristics of real-time CmC and spoken discourse. We believe this is essential for a better understanding of communication between people when first distinguishing between electronic communication, written on keyboards and read on computer screens, and face-to-face communication. In other words, we raise the question if there is anything that might differentiate the ways people use language in electronic communication from those in face-to-face settings?
By doing this, we draw on a field of discourse analysis, first and foremost because discourse analysis is multifaceted and suitable for the task of describing and analyzing text. In this chapter, we use the term electronic discourse instead of computer-mediated communication because it emphasizes our concern to go beyond the sentence level and to focus on language as utterances and meaningful communication as it is part of an exchange of ideas between at least two people. Electronic discourse in general can either be written or spoken, depending on the technology with which the messages are transmitted such as computer, telephone. We restrict ourselves here, when talking about electronic discourse, to computer and written messages as they appear in the MOO, exclusively.
II.1 Writing vs. speaking
Chafe points out the basic differences between speaking and writing when he states that “in […] the speaking mode, people do things with their lungs, throats, and mouths to make noises that pass through the air and strike the ears of others, typically in the immediate vicinity. In the writing mode people manipulate pens, pencils, brushes or keyboards to make marks that are likely to be seen by others at times and places quite distinct from when and where the marks were made.” Electronic discourse exchanged by university students is rapidly written keyboard composition that reads and acts, to a certain extent, like spoken conversation. According to Davis and Brewer, “writing is often seen as space-bound, static, and permanent, whereas speaking is viewed as time-bound, dynamic, transient. Electronic communication […] has many characteristics of both speaking and writing.” English, in the introduction of his dissertation observes the following: “Though synchronous conferencing engages students in typing language in a written form (like essay writing does), the communicative situation is actually closer to speaking than traditional writing, because it features immediate communication with others, speaking in a few sentences, phrases, or words at a time as opposed to paragraphs and longer chunks of discussion, and little opportunity for revision of text. Though online discussion directly involves an audience (like useful, rhetorically-situated writing), the audience is far more direct than that of an essay—the audience is listening, responding, changing, and effecting the writer’s ideas and presentations while the conversation is happening. […] Synchronous online conferencing might be closer to speaking than writing, or it is at least somewhere between the two media […].”
 To provide the reader with a complete history on MUD/MOO environments would by far exceed the length of this paper. For a complete history, see Holmevik, Jan Rune; Haynes, Cynthia: MOOniversity:a student´s guide to online learning environments. 2000. p. 1 ff.
 Curtis/Nichols 1993: n.p.
 see http://www.vassar.edu/~german/ for information about the Münster-Vassar program or http://babel.uoregon.edu/yamada/interact.html for general info on educational MOOs.
 see Markus Kötter, Tandem learning on the Internet. (Frankfurt am Main: Lang., 2002) 85 ff. for information on project design and data collection.
 cf. Deborah Schiffrin, Discourse markers. (Cambridge: CUP, 1994) and Markus Kötter, Tandem learning on the Internet. (Frankfurt am Main: Lang., 2002) 132.
 Wallace L. Chafe, Discourse, consciousness, and time: the flow and displacement of conscious experience in speaking and writing. (London, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1994) 41.
 Boyd H. Davis, and Jeutonne P. Brewer, Electronic discourse: linguistic individuals in virtual space. (Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Press, 1997) 2.
 English, in the introduction of his dissertation. http://courses.lib.odu.edu/engl/jaenglis/diss/ .