The Research

The Arthur Interactive Media (AIM) research study is being conducted by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) at Tufts University. This research is supported in part through the support of grants from the John Templeton Foundation.

The research evaluates the AIM program which was developed by IARYD in collaboration with a team of children’s media experts from the WGBH Educational Foundation. The program capitalizes on cross-age peer mentoring (i.e., little and big buddies) and interactive media (i.e., comics, digital stories, and games based on the PBS children’s series ARTHUR) to promote children’s social, emotional, and character development. Based on the relational developmental systems (RDS) model of character development, the study hopes to inform both research and practice about the promotion of character through innovative and interactive digital media, such as the five comics, stories, and games that are foundational to the AIM program. In particular, we want to know whether buddies’ joint media engagement, or “spontaneous and designed experiences of people using media together” (Takeuchi & Stevens, 2011, p. 9),” can enhance their individual character development.

The AIM program is being implemented and evaluated in elementary schools within districts across Massachusetts throughout the 2015–2016 school year. Our theory of change posits that the program will enhance students’ character virtues (e.g., humility, generosity) and related attributes (e.g., empathy, self-regulation). In addition, we expect that the program will positively impact the social relationships (e.g., involving peers, teachers, and parents) and attitudes and behaviors of participants, (e.g., school belonging, reduced bullying/victimization, and more proactive bystanders), changers that may reflect an improved classroom/school climate. To test our theory of change, we are conducting both impact and process evaluations involving student and teacher reports. The impact evaluation also includes parent reports of general attitudes and behaviors as well as specific character-relevant ratings of their children.

To further test whether children’s positive outcomes are a function of the program content (i.e., the material that is contained in the Teacher Guide) and, more specifically, the buddies’ joint engagement with the interactive media, we are comparing buddies in the AIM program to buddies participating in the MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program (developed by the WGBH Educational Foundation and based on the PBS children’s series, Martha Speaks). The Martha Speaks Reading Buddies program also uses buddy-pairing and media-based components, but focuses on promoting oral vocabulary and literacy in young children. If we find that students in the AIM program have significantly better outcomes than students in the Martha Speaks program, then we would have reason to believe that over and above the buddy-pairing component, the interactive media is a useful tool for enhancing or promoting students’ character development.

In addition, we are comparing schools using either program to other schools operating without these tools. We are using child- as well as teacher- and parent-reports, along with process evaluation measures. These latter measures reflect ongoing feedback, observations, and interviews, and will enable us to collect data affording a comprehensive assessment of children’s development and of program effectiveness within and across all schools.

The “Big” Questions

  • Please use the pull down menu and click on the tab “The ‘Big’ Questions” to read the questions at the focus of our AIM research study.


    1. Lerner, R.M., & Calina, K.S. (2014). The study of character development: Towards tests of a relational developmental systems model. Human Development, 57, 322-36.

    2. Takeuchi, L., & Stevens, R. (2011). The new coviewing: Designing for learning through joint media engagement. In New York, NY: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

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