Research and Development

Advancing Character Education with Interactive Storytelling and Adaptive Instructional Systems


Interactive stories can be utilized as classroom and homework exercises and activities for character education programs. Types of interactive stories include: guided play, role-playing games, the case method, decision games, simulations, literature and literary discussions, story-based items, digital gamebooks, interactive films, and serious games. The latter four types of interactive stories (story-based items, digital gamebooks, interactive films, and serious games) can be administered by computer and, accordingly, it is straightforward to record and to analyze learners’ decisions and responses. For this reason, these four types are considered herein.

Adaptive instructional systems are technologies which select and sequence these types of interactive stories to provide learners with individualized and optimized instruction and assessment. Types of adaptive instructional systems include: intelligent tutoring systems, recommender systems, and intelligent media.

The modeling and assessment of learners and their progressions, along with the measurement and evaluation of interactive story items, can enhance educators’ understandings of what works and why, allowing educators to continually improve character education exercises, activities, and programs.

Interactive Storytelling

Interactive stories are those stories enhanced with interactivity. Opportunities for learners to interact can be presented before, during, and after story content, with learners’ responses potentially shaping the stories as they unfold. In addition to interactive stories varying as a result of learners’ responses, they can also vary as a result of: models of learners, mental states of learners (e.g., affect, mood, attention, motivation, engagement, or flow), response times, random numbers, settings and configurations, data, variables, and program logic.

Interactive stories can be utilized as classroom and homework exercises and activities for character education programs. Interactive stories can be of use for both instruction and assessment. The instructional value of interactive stories greatly surpasses that of ordinary stories as learners can be presented with choices and, subsequently, consequences of their decisions. The decisions and responses that learners provide for the choices presented to them are of use for modeling and assessing learners and their progressions.

In (Arthur, Kristjánsson, Harrison, Sanderse, & Wright, 2016), the authors state that “rather than remaining satisfied with eliciting self-evaluations of virtue, an Aristotelian approach would ideally explore how people do in fact react – attitudinally, emotionally, behaviorally – to morally-charged situations. Could this perhaps be done by exposing them to scenarios involving moral dilemmas and recording their responses?” The authors note that it seems plausible “to conceive of dilemma tests that would attempt to home in on the virtues.”

Psychometric instruments for measuring moral development, moral judgment, and moral reasoning include: the moral judgment interview (MJI; Colby & Kohlberg, 1987), the sociomoral reflection measure (SRM; Gibbs & Widaman, 1982), the defining issues test (DIT, DIT-2; Rest, 1979), and the intermediate concepts measures (ICM; Bebeau & Thoma, 1999). Most of these instruments utilize story-based items, describing complex situations or moral dilemmas and subsequently presenting questions about what story characters ought do next.

In addition to presenting learners with choices such as “what ought character X do next?”, learners could be presented with after-the-fact questions resembling “did character X do the right thing?” and with follow-up questions resembling “why or why not?”. Interactive stories could unfold as a result of all of these varieties of choices and questions. Not every choice or question presented to learners need have one simply correct answer. Some choices or questions may have more than one correct answer and others may have none.

Beyond strengthening moral knowledge, moral reasoning, moral sensitivity, and moral judgment, interactive story items and classroom discussions can support moral literacy. “If we want our children to possess the traits of character which we most admire, we need to teach them what those traits are. They must learn to identify the forms and content of those traits” (Bennett, 1988). The abilities of recognizing character traits in oneself and others in situational contexts – and the related vocabulary skills – are essential components of cultural and moral literacy. These abilities and skills, too, can be strengthened by character education programs.

Some interactive story items can instruct and assess with respect to moral literacy and related vocabulary skills by asking learners which particular traits were exhibited by characters in depicted scenarios.

Adaptive Instructional Systems

Adaptive instructional systems are technologies which select and sequence interactive story items to provide learners with individualized and optimized instruction and assessment. Types of adaptive instructional systems include: intelligent tutoring systems, recommender systems, and intelligent media.

Horace Mann, a pioneer of public schooling and modern education, felt that “one of the most important concepts for teachers to understand and implement pertaining to character education is the correct use of instructional timing, as well as the proper implementation strategy, when considering moral development in students” (Watz, 2011). Adaptive instructional systems can optimize the instructional timing of interactive story items’ instructional strategies.

Interactive story items should be administered to their intended audiences so as to be both appropriate to age and stage of development. During stages of human development, changes occur in terms of moral schemas (Narvaez, 2002), social cognition, theory of mind, and imagination. With respect to the development of imagination, in (Gajdamaschko, 2006), it is indicated that, according to Vygotsky, the imagination undergoes developmental shifts which profoundly impact learners’ cultural, intellectual, personality, behavioral, and sensemaking capabilities. According to Vygotsky, the development of personality, identity, and thinking also occur in imaginary worlds of heroes, boundary testing, behavior rehearsal, pretense, and play.

Adaptive instructional systems could have amongst their item selection criteria that selected items be thematically relevant to the topics under discussion in character education courses. To enhance the thematic variety of educational exercises and activities, interactive story items could be interspersed which are relevant to previously encountered as well as to as of yet unencountered course topics.

The optimal duration of interactive story items, per age and stage of development, is a matter for empirical study. Some items could require more time to complete than others. For efficiency, to avoid having to spend time introducing characters, collections of items could reuse characters or ensembles of characters.

Adaptive instructional systems can intersperse interactive story items intended for use across multiple character education programs, e.g., standardized assessment items.

Modeling Character

In (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), the authors present a universal catalog of character strengths and virtues. This catalog is inspired from a collection of many dozens of historical and contemporary inventories of strengths and virtues. This catalog can be of use when designing character education programs and learner models.

Harvard’s EASEL Laboratory’s Taxonomy Project indicates that the field of social and emotional learning is structured around “a large number of organizational systems or frameworks that often use different or even conflicting terminology to talk about a similar set of skills.” The Taxonomy Project seeks to “create greater precision and transparency in the field of social and emotional learning and to facilitate more effective translation between research and practice”, providing “information and tools that summarize and connect the major frameworks.”

Modeling Learners

Modeling learners is how adaptive instructional systems can best select and sequence interactive stories for individualized learning. Adaptive instructional systems can use the decisions made and responses provided by learners as they play interactive stories to model their personality traits, intrapersonal values, interpersonal values, and civic virtues.

In (Paradeda, Ferreira, Martinho, & Paiva, 2017), the authors describe the use of an interactive storytelling scenario to identify personality traits according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator theory. In (de Lima, Feijó, & Furtado, 2018), the authors describe a system which models traits according to the Big Five model. By extracting the decisions made and responses provided during the play of interactive stories, personality traits can be modeled and predicted.

In (Cutler & Montgomery, 2014), the authors describe adaptive personality inventories, techniques for including large personality batteries on surveys while minimizing the number of questions that each respondent must answer.

Just as collecting the data from decisions made in interactive stories can be of use for modeling and predicting personality traits, so too can it be of use for modeling the character and values of learners. Just as techniques from computerized adaptive testing can be of use to the efficient measurement of personality, so too can they be of use for measuring character and values.

Open learner modeling is encouraged for character education programs. Open learner modeling provides learners with access to systems’ models and assessments of their performance and this often has a positive effect on learners’ progress. Open learner modeling can promote reflection, encourage self-assessment, support planning and monitoring, and allow learners to take greater control and responsibility over their learning.

Modeling Exercises

Modeling exercises and activities, interactive story items, can be of use to adaptive instructional systems.

There are expected to be different kinds of interactive story items – items designed to instruct and assess differently with respect to different things – to be interspersed by adaptive instructional systems.

Interactive story items may be similar, or even isomorphic, to one another. There may be a number of ways to interrelate interactive story items to one another – an ontology.

Exercise modeling topics also include item metadata, e.g., descriptions of items’ intended audiences. In these regards, existing learning object metadata formalisms can be of use.

Research into the computational modeling of narrative can be applied to the modeling of the narrative content in interactive story items. As envisioned, interactive story items will often be branching narratives. Narrative content will precede choices presented, contributing to the context and framing of the choices, and branches of narrative content will follow choice points, presented as consequences or outcomes of learners’ decisions or responses. These narrative outcomes, in turn, can precede subsequent choices.

Modeling Choices

Modeling the choices presented to learners in interactive stories can be of use to adaptive instructional systems.

In (Mawhorter, Mateas, Wardrip-Fruin & Jhala, 2014), the authors describe choice models as consisting of the framing of, options presented for, and outcomes associated with choices.

Situation models are relevant when modeling the framing of choices presented in interactive stories. In (Wyer, 2003), the author indicates that situation models are additionally relevant when modeling social cognition and moral judgment.

Modeling Decision-making Processes

Adaptive instructional systems can better model learners by also modeling their decision-making processes.

In (van den Bos, 2019), the author indicates that intuitive and deliberative processes may operate in parallel with respect to moral judgment. This suggests that multiple, parallel models of decision-making, along with response timing data, could be of use.

Adaptive instructional systems could, for instance, model how competing values or principles were ranked or weighed by a learner when making a decision.

Modeling Learning

Understanding that multiple types of interactive story items – items designed to instruct and assess differently with respect to different things – can be interspersed by adaptive instructional systems throughout character education courses, the modeling and measurement of learning, as it pertains to multiple, simultaneous, interrelated, granular educational objectives, is a topic of interest.

In addition to collecting the decisions made in interactive stories by learners, mental chronometry, the utilization of response time data, may also be a component of modeling some learning processes.

The models of learners and learning formed by adaptive instructional systems can be of use to educators when grading character education courses. Other potential components for course grading include: the study of the history, theory, and philosophy of character and virtue, classroom discussions and participation, individual and group projects, essays, effort, and overall progress.


Regarding the traits and virtues versus situationism debate, a topic pertinent to both the modeling of learners and choices, how can learner modeling best generalize across a set of observations of decisions occurring in choice contexts to attribute learners with, or to provide scores for, character traits or virtues?

Moral knowledge and reasoning versus moral action is a complex topic as, while exercises and activities can strengthen moral knowledge and reasoning, learners must determine to habitually apply these with respect to their real-world behavior.

In 2009, a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences was released (Person, Moiduddin, Hague-Angus, & Malone, 2009). Despite studies indicating benefits of character education programs, and after decades of visibility as a national educational priority, only 13 programs made the evidentiary cut established by the report; only 5 of those 13 were at least potentially efficacious in influencing knowledge, attitudes, and values; only 3 in influencing behavior; and just 1 program in influencing academic achievement (Sojourner, 2012). Enhancing character education and social-emotional learning programs with computer-administered exercises and activities can provide a paradigm shift and a renewed rigor called for in the 2009 report.

Multimedia-based interactive story items, interactive films and serious games, are expected to outperform text-based items, story-based items and digital gamebooks.

Computer-aided and Automatic Item Generation

In (Stefnisson & Thue, 2018), the authors indicate that manually creating interactive stories is inherently difficult and that there is a need for advanced authoring tools. This difficulty is further pronounced when the matter is, beyond one of creative writing, one of evidence-based and efficacious interactive story design and engineering.

In (Carstensdottir, 2020), the author describes tools for design support and for computer-aided and automated interactive story analysis and evaluation.

Artificial intelligence technologies can be of use for both the development and evaluation of interactive stories, screenplays, storyboards, and production schedules.

The first automatic story generation system was Automatic Novel Writer (Klein, Aeschlimann, Balsiger, Converse, Court, Foster, Lao, Oakley, & Smith, 1973) followed by TALE-SPIN (Meehan, 1977), Author (Dehn, 1981), Universe (Lebowitz, 1983), Minstrel (Turner, 1993), Mexica (Pérez y Pérez, 1999), Brutus (Bringsjord & Ferrucci, 1999), and Fabulist (Riedl & Young, 2010).

In (Riedl & Young, 2006), the authors describe techniques for generating, beyond linear stories, branching or interactive stories such as those found in digital gamebooks, interactive films, and some serious games.

Interactive drama systems include: Oz (Bates, 1992), DEFACTO (Sgouros, 1997), the Virtual Theater Project (Hayes-Roth, van Gent, & Huber, 1997), I-Storytelling (Cavazza, Charles, & Mead, 2002), Façade (Mateas & Stern, 2003), IDtension (Szilas, 2003), Mimesis (Young, Riedl, Branly, Jhala, Martin, & Saretto, 2004), NOLIST (Bangsø, Jensen, Jensen, Andersen, & Kocka, 2004), OPIATE (Fairclough, 2004), the Interactive Drama Architecture (IDA; Magerko, 2005), FAtiMA (Aylett, Dias, & Paiva, 2006), IN-TALE (Riedl & Stern, 2006), U-Director (Mott & Lester, 2006), SASCE (Nelson, Roberts, Isbell, & Mateas, 2006), Bards (Pizzi, Charles, Lugrin, & Cavazza, 2007), PaSSAGE (Thue, Bulitko, Spetch, & Wasylishen, 2007), DED (Arinbjarnar & Kudenko, 2008), GADIN (Barber & Kudenko, 2009), and Erasmatron (Crawford, 2012).

Utilizing reader models while generating stories is discussed in (Mawhorter, 2013) where the author states that, while non-interactive story generation systems have explored reader modeling for discourse generation or presentational purposes, several interactive drama systems, such as IDtension and U-Director, have utilized formal models of their users to evaluate narrative possibilities. The author notes that IDtension, in particular, has a formal model which “addresses the users’ perceptions of ethical consistency, motivation, relevance, complexity, progress, and conflict.”

In (Barber & Kudenko, 2007), the authors describe a system which adaptively models users to generate interesting dilemma-based stories, noting that such stories require “fundamentally difficult decisions within the course of the story.” In a 2009 publication, the authors present the GADIN system (Barber & Kudenko, 2009).

Contemporary approaches to generating stories also include neural story generation (Alabdulkarim, Li, & Peng, 2021) as well as hybrid, or neurosymbolic, techniques.

Related Work

Artificial intelligence systems for ethics education include: PETE (Goldin, Ashley, & Pinkus, 2001), AIENS (Hodhod, Kudenko, & Cairns, 2009), Conundrum (McKenzie & McCalla, 2009), and Umka (Sharipova, 2015).


Interactive stories can be utilized as classroom and homework exercises and activities for character education programs.

Adaptive instructional systems are technologies which select and sequence interactive stories to provide learners with individualized and optimized instruction and assessment.

While administering interactive story items to learners at scale, adaptive instructional systems can measure and evaluate the interactive story items. These items will seldom be administered in isolation from other components of character educational strategies. Overarching character educational policies, plans, and strategies will often contribute to the complex contexts in which learners encounter items.

By utilizing interactive stories for classroom and homework exercises and activities, character education programs can be more precisely evaluated.

The modeling and assessment of learners and their progressions, along with the measurement and evaluation of interactive story items, can enhance educators’ understandings of what works and why, allowing educators to continually improve character education exercises, activities, and programs.


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