Why after school?
    How much does this cost?
        What kinds of evaluations do you use?
            How old are the kids?
                What is the first step someone should take to start a 5th Dimension?
                    What is the wizard, no I mean really?
                        How is conflict approached?
                            Why are the computers all different?
                                What are the best games?
                                    What is a good ratio of children to undergraduates?
                                        Do the kids have to stick to the maze?

 

 

Why after school?

    We initially chose to focus on after school time for several reasons. First, our research had revealed a broad desire to increase the number of hours per day when children are engaged in academic tasks. Second, the changing nature of adult work has brought about significant changes in the organization of family life that make it difficult for adults to provide supervision for their children until five or six in the evening. Third, after school institutions are generally funded at a low level because they depend heavily on philanthropic giving at the local community level. This form of support works well for sports programs, where adults volunteer their time to supervise 25 or so youngsters a few days a week. But educational concerns don't fare too well.   
    Generally speaking, the core after school institutions, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Y's, Church Clubs, manage a loosely supervised, low overhead effort that provides a safe space, a few supervised special activities, and a great deal of free play. The turnover of staff is rapid because only a few members of the institution are paid a full time, albeit low, wage. Often teenagers who have coached in a sport league are hired to provide programming and supervise the children. These institutions do a great service to the community along many dimensions and the term, education, is likely to appear in their list of goals, but educational activity is only fitfully present.  It is expensive to maintain. The 5th Dimension seemed a likely way to increase the educational programming of such institutions without substantially increasing the costs of operation.
    Note that introducing education into the after school hours is not an easy achievement. After school is, traditionally, play time.  It is the space between schoolwork and homework (which currently amount to about the same thing). To be sure, where community values and sanctions demand it, formal schooling can be organized after school, Japan being an outstanding case of a country where such practices are deeply ingrained. But how, short of creating Japanese jukus to force-feed more formal education into children, can we arrange for children, as a part of their playful, after school hours, to engage in the kind of educational activity that might boost their chances of attending their local college or university?
    One obvious answer, made more potent owing to the revolution in computer-based games and telecommunications, is to arrange for them to learn while playing. Instead of learning fearlessness, strategic thinking, and social responsibility on the soccer field, children can now  sign up for a form of play in which they learn perseverance, the basic content of many valued intellectual domains, and the ability to organize  problem solving skills in collaboration with others.

How much does this cost?

    If you start with absolutely nothing, it costs roughly  $25,000-$40,000 per year (as of 1998) per year to run a site.  This would  include buying all of the computers, licensing software, establishing internet connections, hiring a site coordinator, paying a college or university instructor to teach a course that will provide the undergraduates to staff the site and to pay for research and teaching assistant salaries and administrative and technical support as needed.
    In our experience, no one has ever started from zero. Typically, partnerships are formed between community and university/college institutions that are already paying for, or in possession of, the necessary resources in one form or another. What develops is a product of partners reorganizing aspects of their routines in order to cooperate with the other so that both benefit more than they would independently.

What kinds of evaluations do you use?

    We have worked from the mandate of ecological validity in our project, evaluating the effectiveness of different sites using methods suited to local conditions and population characteristics. For example, where experimental conditions are present with the possibilities for control groups (a stable population of regular attendees, access to comparative data in the form of the school records of participants and non participants), we have developed instruments for measuring test-score improvement in those sites.   Where the use of language skills, bilingualism,   or mathematic skills is of interest, we have measured the effects of 5th Dimension participation on children in those domains.
    We have also looked at the qualities 5th Dimension as activity settings and as participation structures that organize opportunities for learning in particular innovative ways.   We study the journey from novice to expert as something that undergraduates and children both undertake and have conducted numerous analyses of videotape transcripts on this phenomenon of 5th Dimension participation.  For examples of successful evaluations, see the Annual Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the Supporting Materials (More) section of this home page.

How old are the kids?

    The 5th Dimension has been most successful with boys and girls in middle-childhood.  We have sustained the interest and involvement of older children, into early high school, by increasing their freedom and responsibility within the 5th Dimension, as authority figures and experts overseeing the learning and play of younger children.  Teens also show great interest  in the world wide web and in creating home pages, photographs and videos that deal with identity and community issues and with popular culture. Other colleagues are adapting the model and content for use with preschool children, for example in association with Head Start and Parents as Teachers programs in San Diego.  La Clase Mágica has offered a popular and successful adult computer class that is an important part of the local culture of its site.

What is the first step someone should take to start a 5th Dimension?

    Contact someone at the 5th Dimension Propagation Center in Boone,  North Carolina.  Visit their web page at: www.ced.appstate.edu/projects/5dClhse/ They can give you information about partnerships that have created sustainable 5th Dimensions, and answer your questions about designing, implementing and evaluating these programs.

What is the wizard, no I mean really? 

The Idea
    The wizard is the electronic entity that "lives" on the internet, has a number of different names and personas, depending on where the site is and what local traditions of "imaginary people" require and support.  The wizard concept  represents an embodiment of the flexibility and good will of a system of collaborators.  The presence of a wizard as a resource helps remediate power relations with undergrads and kids,  as the wiz adjudicates disputes, revises rules and materials,  takes the blame when things go wrong, has secrets and parties and puzzles and games that are offered as incentives in the play world of the 5th Dimensions.

Pragmatic uses
    It is rumored that the wizard role is enacted by humans who access a wizard email account and communicate with kids in real-time chats, web page documents, email exchanges and so forth.  It is further rumored that this wizard concept was created during a moment of stress in the system some years back when the adults did not want to let the kids down when something went wrong with the computers, and a wizard appeared as a source of blame and correction of the problem.

The wizard's power
    It is important that the identity of the wizard be a mystery, and that the wizard is not identified as a man or woman of any determinate age, in keeping with the idea that we are breaking down scripted roles for kids and adults in relations of expertise, subjectivity, status, and the mysterious identity of the wizard allows kids to imagine the wizard however they want to.

Potential concerns about the wizard
    Several visitors to the project have inquired if the  wizard could have  a quasi-religious quality or possibility,  given the above mythologies. Occasionally, we hear questions about the potential for people in communities with strict Christian or other religious traditions to have a problem with promoting or participating in something that involves playful belief in wizards, fairies, etc.  Might a wizard discourage some people's involvement with the program?
    Other concerns about the role of the wizard have centered on the idea that perhaps having the wizard to blame for things, or a source of Magical solutions to problems people (kids, undergraduates, adults) to be irresponsible and flaky and arbitrary in ways that are not exemplary models for kids if you are trying to build a pro-social community of shared work and play. (Matusov, email, 1996)  Third, there have been concerns that the forms of inquiry  that conversations that the undergraduates and kids engage in with each other and with the wizard about its gender and age merely re-inscribe stereotypes about sex roles  and never go so far as to actually question those roles, only the wizards seeming transcendence or escape from "being positioned".  (Taub, 1996).
    Our responses to these concerns are that they are valid, but that as with any aspect of the design, some features may not go over well with community members, children, undergraduates, etc. for reasons that can be difficult to anticipate or address, and that people are a lot more flexible than they may seem to the would be implementer, and that some metaphor for a helpful . The model is designed to be adaptable to the values, uses, needs of a community.

How is conflict approached?
    What do you do about kids who don't share  the computers, bully others, call names, etc. ? In so far as possible, participation in the 5th Dimension is voluntary.  Consequently, implementers have resources for promoting prosocial interaction that differ from those of schools or other obligatory activities.
    The wizard often writes note to children who behave badly to remind the child of the point of being a citizen of the 5th Dimension.  Each site coordinator develops  a sense of the need for being formal or informal about policies of conduct with individual children according to local institutional norms.  The site coordinator can also intervene as the person in charge. The undergraduates working with the children should always strive to support interactions that involve introverted and extroverted (or reluctant and dominant)  children equally in the task at hand.
    The basic reason we have a different kind of play world (with a wizard who is neither male nor female, with undergraduates as peers rather than authority figures, where cooperation is valued over competition in many cases), is to offer alternatives to the roles, scripts, and interpersonal dynamics that are damaging or exclusionary and which erect barriers to children's opportunities to learn. 

Why are the computers all different?

    We support materials and have accumulated artifacts and knowledge about different platforms and vintages of software and hardware in the 5th Dimension.  This is in keeping with the principle of building on what the community has.  Some of the most enduring games we have in existing sites run on an Apple II, while many of our sites also have enhanced Power Macs with CDROMs next to 386 IBMS.

What are the best games?
   
    There is no simple or single answer to this question. The educational content of many average games can be enhanced with a good task card and with a good partner to play with.  We pass over some (but not all) arcade type games that offer little opportunity to improve, share, reflect on knowledge outside the game world, or that don't seem to have transferable principles to other content domains. These are sometimes referred to as "twitch games" because when you see children playing them, what you see is a solitary silent child or a dyad staring at a computer screen and displaying great hand-eye coordination, and competition for "kills". Little reflection and communication is generated in the talk around the screen.   Lists of popular games covering a wide variety of curricuar content,  and inventories of taskcards developed for these games are maintained at the 5th Dimension Propagation Center in Boone, North Carolina.

What is a good ratio of children to undergraduates?
   
    Ideally, two children, one undergraduate and one computer make a good set, but more children can be involved in certain games and at certain levels.  There should be enough time and opportunity for each child to take a turn at the keyboard or mouse and not only to watch others.  There are many activities which naturally call for groups of 6 or 7 children who all participate actively.

Do the kids have to stick to the maze?

    The maze-concept is tied to the idea of the 5th Dimension being a place of exploration of many paths.  It is an essential tool for coordinating individual children and available resources.  At the same time, it offers a way of organizing the relationship between a child's achievements and the concepts of progress, choice, chance and consequences.  Moving through the maze and getting a sense of the differences between beginner, good and expert levels across content domains allows children to experience being  proficient/or less proficient at different things while preserving the value that they should always try again, that risk and failure are parts of learning for everyone, and that asking for and giving help are good qualities.