Role Play as a Teaching Method: A Practical Guide
By Dr. Kanokwan Manorom and Zoë Pollock
Produced with support from: The Mekong Learning Initiative and the Mekong Sub-region Social Research Centre, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University.
Preface This manual is intended as a guide for teachers wishing to utilise role play as a teaching tool. It is based on a workshop held by the Mekong Learning Initiative (MLI) in March 2006 in Lao PDR. The MLI utilises a linking and learning approach to facilitate reflection, sharing and new activities in support of a Mekong ‘body of knowledge and practice’ on the social science of natural resource management. The project includes partners from eight universities within the Greater Mekong Subregion, including the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University.
Introduction: Why role play? Learning to participate is an important skill for humanities and social sciences students to learn in today’s multi-stakeholder world. The role play method develops a greater understanding of the complexity of professional practice and enables students to develop skills to engage in multi-stakeholder negotiations within the controlled environment of the classroom. Role play in the classroom can be implemented in a number of ways. It can involve online elements as well as face-toface interactions. The length of the process can also vary according to the aims of the activity. This guide will outline role play techniques found to be most useful for the social science classroom at a tertiary level. Role play in the classroom involves students actively in the learning process by enabling them to act as stakeholders in an imagined or real scenario. It is a technique that complements the traditional lecture and assignment format of tertiary level social science learning. In a role play, the teacher selects a particular event or situation that illuminates key theories or may be of importance to the topic of study. Students are given detailed background readings and assigned stakeholder roles as preparation. The format of interaction between stakeholders can be varied and may depend on time or resources available. The role play is concluded with a debriefing or reflection stage which reinforces the concepts introduced by the role play. According to Brierley, Devonshire and Hillman, the role play technique develops functioning knowledge: “a combination of propositional knowledge (knowing aboutthe academic knowledge base), procedural knowledge (knowing how – having the skills) and conditional knowledge (knowing the circumstances in which to use the skills).”1 The role play creates a stimulating environment that simulates reality enabling students to intensify their understanding of the situation or event being reenacted. Students gain a deeper insight into key concepts by enacting issues discussed in the classroom. They also develop practical skills for professional practice. Hirsch argues that role play consists of the key elements of experiential learning. David Kolb defined learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”2 The role play technique allows students to apply concepts and problems that have been introduced through lectures and readings to a situation that reflects reality. As students are directly active during the role play it is more effective in “embedding concepts” into their long term memory.3 Role play is a hands-on approach to learning as opposed to more abstract forms of learning such as lectures or essay writing. In role-play students learn through active involvement and therefore personal experience. They also have the opportunity to reflect on this experience. Role play also introduces concepts that are important in professional practice such as understanding how knowledge is developed and produced, in particular the use of 1
Brierley, Gary; Devonshire, Liz and Hillman, Mick; “Learning to...
Bibliography: Alden, Dave; “Experience with Scripted Role Play in Environmental Economics”, in Journal of Economic Education, Spring, 1999, pp. 127-132. Brierley, Gary; Devonshire, Liz and Hillman, Mick; “Learning to Participate: Responding to Changes in Australian Land and Water Management Policy and Practice”, in Australian Journal of Environmental Education, vol. 18, 2002, pp. 7-13. Fisher, Bob; “Role play as a teaching method in multi-stakeholder natural resource management”, report on Mekong Learning Initiative workshop held 21-26 March 2006, Lao PDR. Hirsch, Philip; “Teaching geography on the Mekong: experiential learning in practice”, printed in ??? Hirsch, Philip and Lloyd, Kate; “Real and Virtual Experiential Learning on the Mekong: Field Schools, e-sims and Cultural Challenge,” in Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 29, no.3, November 2005, pp.321-337. Ip, Albert and Wills, Sandra; ”Online Role Play: Designer’s Template”, published by the University of Wollongong and Edith Cowan University on the Learning Designs website, ??????, November 2002. Meyers, Wendy; Teacher Guide: Online Role Play; published online by the University of Wollongong at ?????????, 03/10/06. Norman, Heidi; “Exploring Effective Teaching Strategies: Simulation Case Studies and Indigenous Studies at the University Level,” in The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 33, 2004, pp.15-21.
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