Bowers, E. P., Hilliard, L. J., Batanova, M., Stacey, D. C., Tirrell, J. M., Wartella, K., & Lerner, R. M. (2016). The Arthur Interactive Media Study: Initial findings from a cross-age peer mentoring and digital media-based character development program. Journal of Youth Development, 10(3), 46-63.
Summarized by Matthew Hagler
Over the past 20 years, both researchers and practitioners have devoted increased attention to the development of youth’s character virtues. Concurrently, the role of digital technology and media has become increasingly important in children’s development and education both inside and beyond the classroom. The technology has successfully implemented in promoting children’s cognitive development and academic success, but less research has examined how technology might be used to enhance children’s character development. The current study evaluates one such effort – the Arthur Interactive Media (AIM) study, a cross-age peer mentoring program that uses stories involving characters from the television show Arthur to facilitate learning and discussion about character-relevant issues, such as friendship and bullying, and virtues, such as honesty and humility.
The current study included 27 cross-age pairs, in which teachers matched first and second graders (“Little Buddies”) with fourth and fifth graders (“Big Buddies”). The students, recruited from a public school in the northeastern U.S., were culturally diverse (26.6% White) and predominantly from disadvantaged economic background (83% on reduced lunch). The program consisted of four classroom sessions, each lasting between 30 and 40 minutes. The first two sessions consisted of introductions and getting acquainted. In the third session, buddy pairs viewed an Interactive Graphic Novel (IGN) on the PBS hosted Arthur website. The pairs viewed the story and answered questions that appeared at various points throughout. In the fourth session, all pairs met in a single classroom, and teacher facilitated a discussion, allowing for discussion within buddy pairs and sharing with the whole class. Buddy pairs then collaboratively created a poster of their favorite theme (e.g., “treat each other nicely”).
Teachers completed a questionnaire about satisfaction with the program and student engagement. Researchers recorded and analyzed conversations between Big and Little Buddies. They coded the conversations for the discussion of character virtues that have been linked to positive development and prosocial behavior in previous research.
Teacher-rated satisfaction was high, with 94% of teachers reporting they were “very satisfied” with the program. On average, teachers reported that students were engaged 88% of the time across the program, with engagement highest during the third session. The program promoted substantial conversation between buddies, and 94% of conversations were directly relevant to character. The most frequent character virtues discussed were humility (78.4% of all conversation), future-mindedness (33.5%), and forgiveness (7.5%). Beyond the character virtues, students frequently identified and labeled ‘bad behavior.’
These results provide preliminary evidence that the Arthur Interactive Media program showed high usability and promoted meaningful character-relevant conversations between cross-age peers. They also suggest that the use of digital technology might be a promising tool for education related to character development and virtues. The ease with which the program was implemented suggests that similar platforms can be utilized in settings beyond the school, such as after-school and at-home. The specific character virtues identified in the children’s conversations were influenced by the content of the specific unit used in this pilot study. Future research should examine units with a range of content as well as evaluate the effect of participation in the AIM program on children’s actual prosocial behavior.