Monday, December 3, 2007

Learning about virtual role play

Yesterday I attended a workshop at the 2007 ASCILITE conference about virtual role play. The scenario was a university where an academic manager was consulting with various people (staff and students) about a new policy being developed about plagiarism. I was Dr Lily Nguyen, who was the student learning and language adviser. My particular interest was in supporting international students whose first language was not English. I got particularly upset with several people who took the stance that international students were mostly to blame for plagiarism and thought the university treated them as a special case ie did not penalize them adequately. My view was that they required support to overcome language difficulties and also to address cultural attitudes to learning; to think critically and come up with their own views.

The workshop facilitators Ann Davonport and Judi Baron quoted Garrison and Anderson (2003) by saying that there are three elements to a community of inquiry: teaching presence, cognition and social interaction. To get cognitive development, role play requires:
a trigger - news or an intervention
exploration of the topic
integration of learning into the scenario
resolution once the role play is completed.

Clearly, there has to be a lot of planning and preparation to come up with a scenario that will address learning outcomes - good design of the role play is vital. Good teacher presence is vital which doesn't necessarily mean attending the activities but making sure that the participants are well supported and informed. Thorough briefing before the interaction is important, as is debriefing afterward. Debriefing is particularly important if the participant is acting contrary to how they are in the world. Resolution is also important so that the students do not feel left high and dry following the completion of the role play. Role selection can be either pre-decided according to participants' personalities and experience or random, depending on the topic that is being explored.

Assessment must reflect the learning outcomes and take into account that role play is as much about personal insights as the topic of the scenario. Assessment may take the form of reflective pieces recorded in journals or e-portfolios; quizzes and/or peer assessment. A rubric for grading is very helpful and it may be appropriate that learners are encouraged to develop their own rubric for assessment.

From a personal point of view as those who know me will attest, I am a drama queen at the best of times, so I relish any opportunity to get involved with role play. However, I initially questioned how easy it would be to engage with role playing in an asynchronous online environment; how would those creative juices get stimulated in a very artificial environment? But I found it to be a lot easier to get into role than I thought - I was just warming up and the workshop ended, which probably is just as well because I do have a tendency to get carried away at the best of times!

I didn't like BlackBoard as the instrument for the delivery of material and communication - it felt very clunky and it was very time-consuming working my way around to find information. New users of BlackBoard would have found it very off-putting. I would like to know more about other platforms for role play such as blogs, wikis, and even SecondLife.

An unexpected outcome for me was that I started to think about how international students learn and how their cultural identities impact on their learning, especially with regard to plagiarism. Whilst I have little to do with international students, I will be a lot more aware of their learning needs in the future.

For educators who are interested in role play as a teaching tool, the Situational-learning Community of Practice for Educators (SCoPE) project has been created to share ideas and resources about role play in education. This project is affiliated with the EnRoLE project which also aims to support educators working with role play.

Reference: Garrison, D. & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. RoutledgeFalmer.

Image: 'Ran Yaniv Hartstein The valkyries walk to battle with their god Odin'

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