Course Activities: Role Playing, Scenarios, and Simulations
Teachers identifying reading problems in emergent readers.
Emergency responders practicing disaster plans.
History students re-enacting famous events.
Through role playing, scenarios, and simulations, learners can apply course content to authentic situations.
Participants in role playing assignments adopt and act out the role of characters in particular situations. They may take on the personalities, motivation, backgrounds, mannerisms, and behaviors of people different from themselves.
Conversations and Interviews. Role-playing conversations is a wonderful way to practice foreign language skills, try out parent/child interactions, or conduct mock interviews. Ask students to take the perspective of a member of an organization (i.e., company, school, non-profit).
Debate. Students might be asked to take one of two positions or perspectives in a debate situation. In an online environment, the debate could take place live through chat, audio, or video conference. Working in pairs, students could create a collaborative presentation following the debate format. Each student would create every other slide.
Explore an example at Rhetoric.
Demonstrations. Students might audio or videotape themselves performing a task.
Improvisation. In an improvised situation, students play the role of their character in a free-flow environment. For instance, individuals might take on the role of a past President sitting at a take of other past Presidents. What might they say to each other?
Historical Re-enactments. Using an avatar in Second Life or describing their character in text, learners can design a virtual environment for historical re-enactments.
Mock Trial. Students take on a role related to a trial situation. The trial is acted out through an online discussion.
Response Preparation. Students might take on the role of a first responder and act out the steps they would take in a particular situation.
Outside Evaluator. Students may be asked to act as an "outside evaluator" or "consultant" on a particular topic. For instance, after watching a video called Self-Examination: How Accessible Is Your Campus? students might conduct their own investigation of a campus or other public place to explore the topic.
Creating Role-Playing Assignments
The instructor would set up the role-playing situation by:
- providing materials for role preparation
- providing guidelines for the simulated event
- setting up the situation for the exchange
- establishing a learning space (i.e., forum, wiki) for the exchange
- establishing a time frame for the exchange
- identifying background information about the character
- associating the character particular behaviors
- creating an outline, a concept map, or notes to be using during the role playing event
- contributing to the role-playing learning space for a specified period of time
Many role-playing situations involve a scenario. A scenario is simply a situation used to establish a context for learning. From a simple description of a setting to a full-blown case study, students are presented with information necessary to take on a role or solve a problem.
- Engineering Design and Rapid Prototyping - A hypothetical Indy race car manufacturer seeks bids for a new wing design
- Cinematic Storytelling World Scenario and Representation (PDF)
Ask students to imagine a set of circumstances:
- Character descriptions
- Setting descriptions
- Action and event descriptions
- Provide photographs to illustrate a situation
Then, ask students to take action:
- solve a problem
- discuss the options
- identify different perspectives
- bring the group to consensus
- respond to the situation
- identify a plan of action
- describe the steps in coming to a decision
- list the pros and cons
Visit Survival Scenario Exercise, a group dynamics team building exercise, and examine the various scenarios that are included.
Rather than simply providing text-based scenarios, begin with images, audio, or video. For instance, when teaching a course related to law and intercollegiate athletics, you might incorporate short videos with background information for the scenario such as Recognizing Sports Concussions: Keeping Youth Athletes Safe along with an article on health reporting.
Examples of Scenarios
If you plan to include lots of scenarios, consider a standard format for presentations such as
You are a blank. Your job is to blank. Provide questions to address: What would you do? What is your plan? Who would be involved? What strategies will be used? What resources are needed? What additional questions would you ask? What information do you need?
Here are a few examples of scenarios:
- You're the director of the XYZ organization. It's your job to nominate someone for the XYZ reward....
- Let's practice out Spanish skills in a real-world situation. You've entered a market in a small village in Costa Rica. You need to buy food including eggs, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables...
- A tornado has destroyed the wing of your building containing your library media center and the gymnasium. Somehow the rest of the school building survived. However your center will be closed for the entire year. The school board is thinking about eliminating your position for the rest of the year. What will you do? You must come up with innovative ways to keep your program vital. Be sure to include examples in the area of collaboration, leadership, and technology.
Simulations help students apply their skills to "real life" situations by providing an environment to manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions. This type of assignment is generally used after initial instruction as part of application, review, or remediation.
Simulations can be used to prepare students for a field trip or real experiment. For example, a frog dissection simulation can be used to prepare students for the face-to-face lab situation.
While some simulations have a specific “mission” to accomplish, others are intended to help students explore a particular situation or environment.
In most cases, simulations should be used as a culminating activity after students have basic skills in the concepts being addressed in the software. Otherwise it is difficult for them to make informed decisions during the program. Without background skills, the simulation may become an unproductive game rather than a meaningful learning experience.
When selecting or creating simulations, consider activities that are difficult to duplicate in the classroom other ways. For example, activities that involve dangerous situations, time consuming processes, spending money, or "impossible" projects like an interstellar flight are good applications of the technology.
Read Instructional Simulation at Wikipedia.
Types of Simulations
There are many types of simulations.
- Physical simulations involve students in using objects or machines such as microscopes or airplanes.
- Procedural simulations involve a series of actions or steps such as medical diagnosis or frog dissection.
- Situational simulations involve critical incidents within particular settings such as interactions with customers.
- Process simulations involve decision making skills related to topics such as economics, genetics, or geology. Students must choose among alternative paths.
Explore examples of simulations:
- Cybernations - A popular persistent browser-based nation simulation game on the Internet. Create a nation and decide how you will rule your people by choosing a government type, a national religion, tax rate and more.
- eLECTIONS: Your Adventure in Politics from Cable in the Classroom - Inspired by the classic board game "The Game of Life," players will role-play their own virtual candidates running for President.
- Johnny Money Classroom Game from the Young Entrepreneur Foundation, National Federation of Independent Business.
- Modified Monopoly: Experiencing Social Class Inequality by Morten G. Ender, United States Military Academy.
- The Neuron Connection
When selecting simulations consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program. Some simulations can be time-consuming if done well. Also consider the grouping of students. Ask yourself:
- Will students complete the simulation as individuals, in small groups, or as a class?
- Does the simulation support the activities you are doing in the rest of your unit? In other words, does the simulation match your vocabulary and instructional approach?
- Is the content realistic enough to involve the students?
- Will they really "get into" the simulation or simply treat it like a game? For example, does it make a difference that the students aren't responsible for real money or lives.
Explore the following ideas for creating simulations:
- Recreate a situation
- Provide materials for preparation
- Provide guidelines for the simulated event
- Establish a learning space for the exchange
- Establish a time frame for the exchange
In an online course, use a series of discussions to play out your simulation.
- Course: Spanish 2 Mexican Road Trip Simulation
Our Mexican Road Trip will give you the opportunity to practice your Spanish in both written and oral forms. You'll be working both independently and as part of a small group.
- Simulation Discussion 1: You've arrived at the market in Nogales, Mexico. You must buy three gifts for your friends. Each person in your group will take on the role of both a shopkeeper and a buyer. Hold your Spanish conversation in the chat room, then share the chat archives in the forum.
- Simulation Discussion 2: Let's have a picnic. Your group must discuss the lunch menu, choose items from the market and meet back at the park. Write the script in Spanish as a collaborative document, then record the audio conversation in Audacity and piece it together, use VoiceThread, or other audio sharing software. Post the audio recording on the forum.
- Simulation Discussion 3: You've got some time to yourself. Write a brief description in Spanish of what you do during your personal time in Nogales. For instance, you could visit a historic site, listen to a music group, visit a museum, or go to the park. You can write it as a story, journal entry, or in whatever format you wish. Provide illustration(s) to support your activity. Share the results in the forum.
- Simulation Discussion 4: We're at the border crossing a Nogales. Members of your group need have a conversation with the border patrol. Post your script and group audio recording on the forum.
To find more examples, do a Google search for your topic and add the word "role playing", "scenario", or "simulation".
How might you involve students in creating / developing a simulation?
In role playing assignments, students take on the role of a character in a particular situation.
In scenario assignments, students react to a situation poses by the instructor.
In simulation assignments, students are immersed in "real world" environments where they manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions.
Classroom Simulations: Proceed With Caution (Spring 2008) at Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center.
Explore examples of role playing, scenarios, and simulations.
List the pros and cons of using this approach with your content.