Case 5: Kids Sharing Expertise
At sites that encourage the free movement of children between machines, expertise can be found not only in the official helpers -- undergraduates and young wizards assistants -- but also in roving kids with game expertise. At the Solana Beach 5th Dimension, kids can often be seen helping other kids more effectively than undergraduates who are generally new to the games. Often certain kids become established as experts at certain games, and are called on for help.
In this clip, "Chris," sitting at the computer, has been working with two undergraduates on a classification problem, where they have to identify animals as mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. They have been struggling for about ten minutes and are unable to make any progress with the problem. At this point, an older kid, "Andy," comes over to help out. Andy is an expert at the game they are playing, "The Island of Dr. Brain," and he quickly assesses the problem, makes suggestions, and provides answers, solving the problem in no time.
A = Andy, C = Chris, UG = undergraduate
1 A: It's a reptile.
2 UG: It is? OK.
3 C: (Moves thorn devil to reptile.)
4 L: Is an iguana...
5 C: What's that one?
6 UG: What's a spring pepper?
7 A: Toad is an amphibian. Toad...Toad...yeah L.
8 C: (Moves toad to amphibian.)
9 C: Do you know what that is? (Looks up at A, who has just arrived.)
10 A: Whale, stays there. What's this one?
11 C: Rat.
12 A: Oh, rat. rat is a mammal. Cow.
13 C: Cow is a mammal
14 A: Cow is a mammal. Those are right. Now show me the ones up here. Yeah, that's right. Yeah, what's the other one?
15 C: That.
16 A: Spring peeper, try an amphibian for spring peeper.
17 C: (Moves spring peeper to amphibian.)
18 A: Now try the A, to go up there.
19 C: (Moves caiman to reptile. They get a bronze plaque.)
20 C: There it is! We did it.
21 UG: Awesome.
22 C: (The bookshelf slides, and they enter another room.) Oohh! This is easy.
C has been working unsuccessfully with the undergraduates at the beginning of this clip (lines 1-8). When Andy arrives, Chris looks to him for help (line 9), and Andy immediately begins to give answers (lines 10 and 12) and suggest moves (lines 16 and 18). In two moves, the puzzle is completed.
With the ongoing help of the undergraduates, and the game specific expertise that Andy brings in, Chris is able to complete the entire game by the end of site period, something that he would not have been able to achieve on his own.
This case demonstrates how game specific expertise is shared among kids, and some of the quality of this sharing. Unlike the undergraduates, who appear each quarter new to the game and the 5th Dimension, kids may participate in the 5th Dimension for many months or years, acquiring expertise in the games and the confidence to share it. Further, unlike the undergraduates, who often hesitate to give the answers to problems outright, other kids are generally happy to dictate answers to a novice, as Andy does here. In this way, even without a formal "Young Wizard's Assistant" designation, kids contribute their unique forms of expertise and instruction strategies to the interactional mix, often appearing in the background of the interactions between the undergraduate and kid pairings.
Screen shots reproduced with permission from Sierra On-Line. The Island of Dr. Brain; copyright 1997, Sierra On-Line, Inc. All Rights Reserved.