KUAT's 'Desert Speaks' opens season

Janis Leibold
Jan. 27, 1999

by Brooke Sherrill
Lo Que Pasa Reporter

Learning while producing work that contributes to the community is what students in Roxanne Mountford's English 102 class are doing.

Mountford, an assistant professor of English and the winner of the 1999 University of Arizona Foundation Leicester and Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award, is making the most out of a teaching tool that dynamically enhances student creativity. In turn, students are uncovering and documenting the intriguing history of Tucson.

Examples of particularly outstanding and interesting student projects are "Stories Behind the Boneyard," a tour and oral history of Davis Monthan's airplane graveyard, by English Lecturer Bill Endres' class, and "The Bar is Open," a look at the legendary Tucson Press Club, by Mountford's class.

To uncover history, the students are doing their research in an online learning environment called the MOO. The University of Arizona's first educational MOO, (Multi-User Domain, Object-Oriented), the OldPuebloMOO is a very elaborate chat room based on the Tucson environment. Students and educators use a telnet connection or log on through a browser to interact with other users in real time.

After Mountford discovered the MOO program was available at no cost via the internet, she wrote a grant in 1998 to use the MOO as a classroom tool to promote collaborative learning. A team of researchers, administrators, and tech supporters was formed to create the OldPuebloMOO Team. These users originally built the MOO and continue to add to and enhance their creation.

The primary goal of English 102 is for students to read and research course material at a deeper level than previous course levels. Because this class involves so much student collaboration, the MOO is ideal. The unique learning environment allows all students to have equal opportunity to contribute to the group projects. An added feature is the convenience of a course without walls since groups are able to meet almost anytime or from anywhere, thanks to the MOO.

Mountford organized her course around the history of Tucson including its folklore, oral, written and pictorial histories. She insists that her students uncover original research.

Students first analyze how histories are written and what they reveal about the people in that region. Then, in small groups, they select a topic they will research and uncover new information about. Finally, students write a community-based history to learn more about the Tucson area.

"I want to enrich the students' knowledge of Tucson's very rich culture," said Mountford. "The University developed along with the community. They are integral to each other."

Groups of four or five students work together to produce a web site containing history, pictures and research done in and around Tucson. The students interview local people to record oral histories, tour areas that relate to their study and find or take photos.

Mountford and graduate student Danika Brown taught the first two sections of this Tucson-based course in fall, 1998. It has since been taught by Endres and Scott Denton in the Composition Program.

"Students are extremely resourceful at finding original research, going through archives and finding photos," said Mountford. "They always rise to the occasion."

Several of the finished web sites will appear on the University Library Web Exhibits, linked to the Sabio home page and devoted to Tucson's community history.

"This is what teaching should be about," said Mountford. "We should be aiming for students to produce work that contributes to the community."

The OldPuebloMOO was originally funded by a grant from New Learning Environments and Instructional Technology in 1998. The UA will assume support of the MOO after May. The OldPuebloMOO Team will continue to be involved in its development.

The MOO is a University-wide resource and is open for use by all students, faculty and staff. Members of the community are also encouraged to use the MOO for online meetings.

For more information about or for a virtual tour of OldPuebloMOO, log on to www.fcii.arizona.edu/oldpueblomoo.

Mountford earned her doctorate in rhetoric and composition at Ohio State University. She joined the UA in 1996 and has served as director of English 102 and project leader of OldPuebloMOO. She and the original MOO team (including Danika Brown and Richard Hansberger) also received the Faculty Center for Instructional Innovation Creative Use of Technology Award for OldPuebloMOO in 1999.


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