Case 3: Educational Value in an "Edutainment"  Game


    One of the challenges in the 5th Dimension is to manage the tension between the children's primary interest in play, and adult interests in creating more opportunities for "educational activity" that is school-like and aimed at intellectual development. 


    Because the 5th Dimension has been designed as a voluntary activity for kids to associate with fun, the games in the 5th Dimension often incorporate entertainment oriented idioms that can sometimes overshadow the educational goals of the club.  Adult tutors need to be engaged in the interactions, and having fun with the kids, while at the same time looking for opportunities to maximize the educational content of the activity.  The task cards are often helpful tools in this, by pointing out valuable game goals, and motivating the kids in relation to the overall activity system in the 5th Dimension.  The undergraduates also develop their own moment by moment strategies for initiating conversation around educational content, especially when the game itself doesn't demand this engagement.


    In this brief case, an undergraduate is working with a child on The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body (MSBHB).  Based on a picture book and a TV series with the same name, MSBHB is a CD-ROM multimedia application that allows kids to explore the human body from the viewpoint of a tiny school bus traveling through body parts.  The kids often explore the graphical features and sound effects of the game, without engaging substantively with the subject of human anatomy.


    In this instance of play, "John," the child, is working with two undergraduates, "Peggy" and "Elaine."  John is controlling the mouse, and has been exploring various parts of the human body. 


    Throughout the interaction, John clicks around the scene, as the undergraduates work to engage him through the subject of anatomy.  For example, they might suggest exploring an area further before zooming off to the next body part, or they might ask him if he knows what an intestine is.  In this strip from the video, they are all observing an animation of the bus traveling through an artery, and both undergraduates work to create a dialog on blood and blood cells, specifically invoking school learning in the process:


P = Peggy;  E = Elaine;  J = John;  C = Computer

  1  P: What do you think these things are? (referring or disc-like flying objects) Those red things.

  2  J: Um, they're um, blood.

  3  P: Yeah, blood cells.

  4  E: OK now, if you click on that, I think it might tell you something about the kidney.

  5  C:  Many people can live with one kidney. If one of the kidneys is damaged, it can be removed and the remaining kidney will do the work of both.

  6  P:  Try exploring.  Click around all over the place.

  7  J: (Clicks on another place, and animation of traveling on veins starts.)

  8  P: So where do you think he's traveling in if those are little blood cells? How is he getting from place to place? What are these tunnels? Do you know what those are?

  9  J: Those are your water input right?  (Gestures along throat.)

10  P:  OK. What do you have right here?  (Points to J's hand.)

11  J:  Veins.

12  P:  Yeah, veins. And you have arteries.  That's what carries the blood.  Have you learned about the human body yet?  In school?


    Upon seeing the animation, which includes representations of flying red blood cells, Peggy asks John if he knows what they are (line 1), and he responds with a partial answer (line 2).  The interaction is akin to a student-teacher interaction.  Elaine suggests clicking on an icon (line 4), which brings up an animation and a narration describing the functions of the kidneys (line 5).  After John clicks on another icon, and they see the animation of the arteries again, Peggy resumes her questioning (line 8), and after one incorrect response (line 9), gets the correct answer from John, and asks him if he has learned about the human body in school yet (line 12). 


    This strip of activity displays a common interactional dynamic at the sites, which is related to the persistent and productive tension between educational and entertainment values in the 5th Dimension.  Peggy displays a concern for school-like subject matter, as well as school-like interactional modalities.  While John seems willing enough to engage in these interactions with Peggy, he is also orienting to the entertainment potential of the game, as well as the functionality of the game as pointed out by Elaine.  The flashy animations and attention grabbing sounds and graphics capture John's interest and attention, while also pulling him away from sustained dialogue on school like content.