• Issue 102 / November - December 2014

    Animated Vignettes in Character Education

    Namik Top

    It is obvious for many people that to ensure a safe school environment for students, it is needed to realize the early detection of problematic behavior through school violence prevention or reduction programs. J. Bowen, Jenkins, and Clark (2004) express that "[Five] to 16% of children in the United States are identified with some form of behavior or mental disorder" (p. 28). Moreover, when these problematic behaviors occur within class, it could be harmful for other students listening and trying to focus on that class. Disruption, disregard, and aggression within the classroom are some of the most frequent disciplinary referrals in elementary schools (Algozzine, Christian, Marr, McClanahan, - White, 2008). These problem behaviors could influence the relationship between students and teachers (Henricsson - Rydell, 2004). Teachers reported negative opinions about children who have externalizing problem behaviors. Parents also reported these negative relationships between teachers and students (Pace, Mullins, Beesley, Hill, - Carson, 1999). In addition, Freeman et al. (2006) stated that if problem behaviors are not addressed properly, it is possible that students model them as a pattern.

    The importance of character education programs

    There are some programs that are called character education for detection of problematic behavior and school violence prevention or reduction. Was, Woltz, and Drew (2006) underscored the need for character education programs through utilizing statistics concerning school violence, absence, and dropout percentages. Bohlin, Farmer, and Ryan (2001) utter that in the US, there is a rising demand in schools to provide effective character education, whose purpose is to increase moral values, respect, citizenship, social skills, etc.

    One of the most significant goals of character education programs is to decrease the bullying and peer-victimization that pervade many schools (Batsche - Knoff, 1994). Hence, character education programs should be taught effectively to prevent behavior problems and help students solve their own problems, since effective character education programs can alter the climate of a school by influencing the behaviors and attitudes of the students. That is, when appropriately implemented, character education programs encourage a positive school climate, thus improve academic performance and learning (Sherblom, Marshall - Sherblom, 2006). In addition, Leming (1993) expressed that "teachers in the program classrooms reported a statistically significant two-and-one-half times reduction in problem behavior in students" (p. 68).

    The need for computer-based animated vignettes

    In order to cope with the aforementioned problems such as bullying, victimization, unwanted behaviors within schools, etc., character education institutions can hire more teaching staff, or teachers can work more than they have done before. However, neither hiring more staff nor working harder is an appropriate solution to help students deal with the problems encountered in schools, because students should learn to cope with the problems by themselves. Thus, they need to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to overcome inappropriate behaviors. It means that the implementation of the character education programs is crucial in terms of their effectiveness.

    In this respect, there could be some efforts to facilitate social competence within the classroom and to lead to positive behavioral outcomes (Kam, Greenberg, - Kusche, 2004). Therefore, as an alternative solution, computer-based animated vignettes utilized in character education programs such as Clover, which "is a multimedia tool that empowers students to construct their own animated vignettes that meaningfully express personal experiences" (Baily, Tettegah - Bradley, 2006, p. 802) can be part of these efforts to solve students' problems in moral and social situations by stimulating them to engage in problem solving (Bailey et al., 2006).

    It is important for these programs to be computer-based, since, as Bers (2001) underscored, computers are influential tools for self-exploration. Computers are also beneficial for children in terms of socialization. Heft and Swaminathan (2002) mentioned in their study that children could interact with one another because instructors want them to work in pairs. This provokes them to ask questions to each other to solve problems. Furthermore, in the study done by Nastasi and Clements (1992), it was revealed that a computer-based program, Logo, could foster cognitive development by stimulating cognitively-based resolution of cognitive struggles.

    Definitions of animated vignettes

    Tettegah and Anderson (2007) describe Animated Narrative Vignettes (ANV's) as "concrete examples of people and their behaviors, and stories about individuals, situations, and structures that can make reference to important points in the study of perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes" (p. 51). Some researchers, Zhou et al. (2003) define vignettes as ''emotion-evoking stimuli presented via audiotapes, videotapes, or realistic enactments that aim to make participants believe that the events and people involved in the stimuli are real, not hypothetical." As understood through the definitions, animated vignettes are related to either behaviors or real visual events. Therefore, animated vignettes may be utilized in character education classes to make them more effective to reduce behavioral distortions.

    Animated vignettes in character education

    Bailey et al., (2006, p. 796) pointed out that when technology education is integrated within learning activities that are meaningful to students, it could be more effective. Therefore, they aimed to seek to link the delivery of technology and character education through the utilization of animated vignettes. In this process, students can gain and exercise technological skills and learn how to figure out concepts within a learning activity that is important to them while also building the vignettes via computers (Bailey et al., 2006, p. 796). Vignettes have been utilized to instruct Mathematics and Science, management skills, problem solving, and character education (Bailey et al., 2006,p. 797). In the sense of character education, Vignettes are typically used to facilitate some techniques, such as reflection, role-playing, problem solving, and ethical thinking and positive social behavior among students (Bailey et al., 2006,p. 797).

    So far, this paper has discussed the importance of character education programs, the need for animated vignettes, and their definitions. Next, this paper will present the effectiveness of animated vignettes and how they can facilitate learners to recognize and reduce problem behaviors.

    The effectiveness of animated vignettes

    Vignettes are beneficial and effective as a teaching instrument; this is because they can provide real representations of situations, helping students solve problems (Bailey et al., 2006). In the article of Bailey et al., (2006), it is sought to link technology and character education through constructing and utilizing animated vignettes. Researchers illustrate that animated vignettes could be more beneficial when they provide three important features: meaningfulness, personal experiences, and having a dialogue.

    a) Meaningfulness

    Thanks to these computer-based animated vignettes, students will be able to learn via some activities that are meaningful to them. To provide effective character education, vignettes can be used as a significant tool (Bailey et al., 2006, p. 796). For example, in the study implemented by Tettegah and Anderson (2007), animated vignettes were used for gathering data. Vignettes showed an interaction between two children - "Scott, a 9-year old Caucasian boy, and Jamilah, a 9-year old African American girl; or Jamal, a 9-year old African American boy, and Erin, a 9-year old Caucasian girl) - and one teacher (Ms. Litts), and one parent (Mr. Young)" (Tettegah - Anderson, 2007, p. 52).

    The vignettes were counterbalanced to determine if responses given by pre-service teachers are different from one another about the race of the victim and perpetrator. A child told the animated vignette; thus, the characters in these vignettes symbolized real people in real life. Ms. Litts (the teacher) was working with the class on a supportive learning activity, such as making paper puppets or building bridges. However, there was no difference between activities in terms of vignettes. That is, the same performances were represented in each vignette. In these processes, making paper puppets or building bridges, the teacher wanted students to work each other, like "Scott with Jamilah in the puppet making activity or Jamal with Erin in the bridge making activity, depending on the vignette" (Tettegah - Anderson, 2007, p. 52). In each scenario, the boy (Scott or Jamal) told the girl (Jamilah or Erin) that they did not want to be in the same group with the girls because of their skin color. They added that their skin color might influence them. After that, the girl's fathers reported the event to the teacher, Ms. Litts, and the teacher was surprised, since they had talked about Martin Luther King Jr., which she believed was relevant to the topic.

    After watching the vignette, participants were asked how they would respond if they were in the teacher's position, and they wrote down their responses. In this example, participants were asked to put themselves into another person's position through animated vignettes. As a consequence of the study, participants could place themselves into another character, and could try to consider helping their children solve the prescribed problems.

    b) Personal experiences

    As a solution, computer-based character education programs could be effective if animated vignettes are "based on personal experiences rather than on artificially constructed circumstances" (Bailey et al., 2006, p. 794). Students can improve both self-awareness and interpersonal skills by practicing some skills shown in vignettes. That is, they can also incorporate theory and practice in a personally related way (Barter - Renold, 2000). Thanks to this process, students are able to engage in their own ethical and social thinking. This allows students to become more engaged in their own moral and social thinking (Tappan, 1991).

    To illustrate, consider this example: in the study implemented by Tettegah (2005), there was a real experience of a father, daughter, classmate, and teacher developed in the animated narrative vignettes and told by a real person. After viewing the vignettes, the educators wrote some responses for problem solving to questions like, "Who does the participant express empathy with? In whose position does the respondent imagine himself?" (Tettegah, 2005, p.383). Thanks to these questions, teachers could better understand peer conflicts related to classroom education. Responses were to involve educators and students in sharing with others to help them to be aware of conflicts that are both peer and teacher-related (Tettegah, 2005, p.383).

    c) Dialogue opportunities

    Through using animated narrative vignettes, it is possible to have a dialogue that will allow educators to talk over and also foster a better understanding of bullying and victimization (Tettegah, 2005). Computer-based animated vignettes are beneficial tools for discovering relationships between people (Fong - Woodruff, 2003). For instance, well-known educators are brought together to discuss issues about oppression and discrimination in their classrooms through cultural portals. In these meetings, they try to figure out how to cope with the problems in the classroom and within the school's social environment. Using computer-based tools to find the cause of complex behaviors in the class is very useful (Tettegah, 2005). Although this seems to affect students' problem behaviors indirectly, it may be effective in comprehending the problems and discovering some solutions to reduce problem behaviors.


    Implementing computer-based programs to help recognize and solve problematic behaviors could be very beneficial to many schools. As emphasized above, researchers have shown that there are problematic behaviors observed in schools. Therefore, character education programs could be effective to reduce and solve these problems. Making the programs more beneficial as a means of computer-based animated vignettes helps students notice and reduce problems. They can be more effective if they are meaningful to students and if students can put themselves into the real characters in the vignettes to recognize the problems. The personal experiences underscored in the vignettes trigger students' awareness through practicing the skills showed in the vignettes. And the vignettes can assist in generating a dialogue between educators and students to understand the issues and help develop some solutions together.

    Namik Top is a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A-M University.


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