The Incredible Machine - Children Collaborating on One Machine


The following is a summary of a paper titled Give and Take: Children Collaborating on One Computer, by Kori Inkpen, Kellogg S. Booth, Steven D. Gribble, and Maria Klawe.


Many researchers have found significant benefits in achievement resulting from co-operative learning activities, both with computers and without. When working in groups, students talk about the task they are completing, increasing their enjoyment of the task, and reinforcing the learning process with each other. In spite of this, most classrooms today use computers only as a tool for individual use.

This is due, in part, to the fact that computers do not usually provide for more than one controller (usually a mouse). The focus of the research here is to examine alternative ways for groups of children to interact with a single computer.


One hundred and thirty-two children (132) between the ages of 9 and 13 volunteered to take part in this study at Science World BC, during August 1994. The children were placed in same-sex pairs, and instructed to solve at least the first three puzzles of The Incredible Machine , a puzzle solving game by Sierra that features a wide variety of simulated tools used to construct machines to solve problems.

A modified two-mouse version of The Incredible Machine was used that allowed the children to pass control between the two mice using one of two protocols: Give and Take . The left button of the mouse was used to play the game, and the right mouse button was used to exchange control of the mouse.

In the Give condition, either partner could pass control of the mouse to the other partner by pressing his/her right mouse button. In the Take condition, either partner could seize control of the mouse by pressing his/her right mouse button.

The results of this study were compared to earlier results for children playing together on one computer using a single mouse.


For a complete discussion of the results of this study, please download the complete paper.

The results were gender dependent: girls solved more puzzles in the two-mouse Give condition than in either the Take condition, or with only one mouse. Boys solved more puzzles in the two-mouse Take condition than in either of the other two conditions, although the difference between the number of puzzles solved in the Take condition and the on-mouse condition was not statistically significant.

It is also interesting to note that all children in all conditions average approximately 30 exchanges of mouse control per session, except for boys in the Take condition, which averaged 46 exchanges.


This study suggests that the addition of a second mouse to a single player game can affect achievement in the game. The type of protocol used to transfer between the mice had very different effects based on gender. This suggests that careful planning should be used when dealing with interactions between students using one computer.