In collaboration with other Roles, the student must Research,
React, Resolve, and Reflect on a scenario
- Online role-play provides a scenario and a set of roles
that students adopt in order to solve a problem, create
something, explore an issue, etc. Role-plays are not simulations
of physical systems. Role-play simulations are for modelling
- “Participants assume roles in a hypothesized social
group and experience the complexity of establishing and
implementing particular goals within the fabric established
by the system. The differences and potential conflicts among
the roles set in motion the dynamics of the simulation.”
- The learning activity involves more than one learner
interacting with other learners. A role-play needs about
8 – 12 roles to be effective. It involves several
"stakeholders" and these stakeholders have different
points of view. None of the points of view are black and
white. The participation is NOT "acting" out as
in drama or play in which part of the message is embedded
in the body movement, nor is it therapy, but more cognitive.
- The learning setting involves 4 tasks which generally
follow in sequence.
1. In the first task, students are required to research
a role and understand the scenario in which the role is
2. In the second task, students are required to interact
with other roles, react to their varying
viewpoints, and respond to news/events which might be
inserted by the moderator to further the scenario.
3. In the third task, students are required to resolve
the issues via negotiation with the other roles and the
moderator brings the role-play to a close via an event
such as a peace conference, or student publication of
a position paper.
4. The fourth and final task is debriefing and reflection
about what occurred in the role-play in order to outline
findings of both a personal and general nature. This can
be done either as a presentation, discussion or paper,
individually or as a team.
There may be many variations to the implementation of each
task and emphasis on each task may also vary depending on
the intended outcomes for the role-play. Some of these variations
can be explored in the Comparison Matrix (PDF) which compares
and contrasts the characteristics of seven exemplar role-plays.
What is significant about the activities?
- Research a role and scenario: The focus
of the task is the development of empathy with the role,
i.e. understanding the events that have brought this person
or organization to where they are now in the scenario; their
values and political stances; their public (and maybe private)
goals in this role-play and their probable strategies for
achieving those goals; their allies, enemies and network;
delineating the differences between this role and the student’s
- React: The aim of this task is to better
understand the positioning of their own role, to better
understand the arguments on each side of the issues presented
in the scenario and to forge alliances with those who may
contribute to their role’s goals.
- Resolve: This task provides direct practice
in the generic skills of communication and collaboration
as well as presentation and justification of an argument
based on evidence or the art of persuasion. Like debating,
the significance of the format of this task is that the
student must present a compelling argument even if their
own personal viewpoint differs from that put forward by
their role. However, in contrast to debating, they must
convincingly step into someone else’s shoes.
- Reflect: Many role-play designers would
claim that if handled well then this is where the real learning
occurs. After playing a character for two weeks or more,
the student will be thinking and behaving in a role in the
online role-play. Key objectives of this activity are to
help the students disengage and re-engage in the real world
and then to translate the specific things learnt in this
scenario into general principles that can be applied in
How to design the activity?
The scenario is the driving context for the learning to happen.
It is made up of:
- a story;
- stakeholders and roles;
Story: The story that sets the roles in
context must contain sufficient conflict to spark debate among
the stakeholders but the scenario must be manageable and the
conflicting issues to some extent resolvable. There should
be some possible resolutions in mind in case students are
not forthcoming with their own resolutions.
Basing your role-play on an existing story saves a lot of
work as long as copyright permits and if the existing story
is available to the learners. The characters, the time and
the environment are described in the story but you can adapt
the characters and put them in different circumstances to
create the role-play. Although it is useful to model role-plays
on real situations there is an argument for keeping them slightly
divorced from particular examples because irrelevant facts
may be introduced; defensive behaviour may occur if the main
characters can be identified; participants may want to duck
out of responsibility and maintain that the faults lie outside
the role-play situation (van Ments, 1999).
Stakeholders and roles: Stakeholders are
not the same as roles as there may be more than one role allocated
per stakeholder. Start designing stakeholder positions first.
The danger of starting role-play design by working on characters
first is that an over-emphasis on characters may develop and
the generalized lessons to be drawn from the problem situations
may be lost (van Ments, 1999). Depending on the learning outcomes,
it may be sufficient for your role-play to go no further than
stakeholder positions rather than fleshed out human characters.
Usually the stakeholders in that case are organizations or
countries rather than people.
Providing a role with both a public agenda and a private
agenda can give the role compelling reasons to act. Such actions
should allow the role to experience the kind of situation
referred to in your learning objectives. Your instructions
to the role should encourage them to think about these agendas
themselves as part of the learning process, to publish the
public agenda and to send the private agenda to the moderator.
If your aim is to emphasise co-operation and collaboration
then suggest in the private agenda some possible points for
negotiation. Another technique for creating a need for authentic
communication is to create information gaps between the roles.
Events: A role-play, like any other human
activity, develops in stages. The obvious stages are: formation,
During formation, players get to know the system, the characteristics
of their roles, understand the goals of the role-play (not
necessarily the same as the learning objectives) and start
the communication process.
The development stage may consist of several episodes, each
triggered by some events either created from communication
in the previous stage or injected into the role-play by the
moderator (and designer). As a designer you should try to
create in advance a number of “kick start” events
that you and/or your moderator can choose from depending on
which direction the participants are taking the role-play.
We call these events “kick start” because sometimes
discussion in the role-play flags or peters out and a controversial
event can serve to kick start discussion again. A lot of learning
occurs at this stage. Usually, this is the longest-running
The closure stage (or debriefing stage) is equally important.
Closure here does not mean an end to the activities in a role-play.
In fact, most role-plays never end. But at some point, the
moderator has to ask the learners to stop, step out of the
role-play, reflect upon the experiences in the role-play to
draw conclusions, and compare the outcomes with academic theories
and conceptual frameworks. It is true that the students will
routinely reflect upon their actions during the role-play
in all stages but it is the closure stage that formally
consolidates the experience into concrete understanding.
A fuller description of how to design an online role-play,
including examples from our Online Role-Play Expert Reference
Group can be found in the Online
Role-Play Designer's Guide and Online Role-Play Designer's Template
Examples of tasks
Collaboratively propose solutions to the twin related
problems of starvation and thieving in the newly established
colony of Port Jackson.
- Read role description. Research more about the
role and about the camp in which your role sits, i.e.
Convict Camp or Officers Mess. Understand the role’s
strategic goals (including both public and private
- Publish a public role description (could be an
optional activity but most students comment that this
assessment task really gets them into the role firmly).
- Read other learners' public role descriptions (if
the above task is not done by the students then the
teacher/designer will need to ensure that public role
descriptions are available to all).
- Make contact via email with other roles that may
be useful to furthering the role’s strategic
- Read, research and understand the kick-off scenario.
React to any kick-start scenarios that the moderator
- Convicts as a group negotiate to publish a petition
to the Governor and officers negotiate to publish
- If any students are in Governor’s role, they
publish a decision or arbitrate further.
- Moderator declares role-play finished and students
participate in a collective online debrief with moderator.
- Individual written reflection.
Represent your assigned country on the United Nations
Write Position Paper
Each student is expected to write a short paper in
the form of a speech that will address the set of questions
Attend First Security Council Meeting
Based on the position paper discussion, the participants
are required to contact states they think they can negotiate
with, and prepare draft resolution(s) that need to be
presented to the next meeting of the UN Security Council.
The participants can contact more than one state and
explore options of submitting more than one draft resolution.
These negotiations [hereafter identified as secret diplomacy]
must be conducted through the web site.
Attend Second Security Council Meeting
Attend Third Security Council Meeting
Write Group Report for each tutorial group
The development of a school IT plan which will integrate
a series of management and leadership strategies to
form an integrated development strategy for the school.
- Either individual students or groups of students
research their role and collect useful documents related
to their role and the scenario.
- Students put a public description of their role
on the website for everyone to review. Students also
submit a private description to the instructor about
particular motivations that they think are important
for their role.
- Role-play proper starts and is held in a discussion
forum space. Should small groups rather than individuals
play a role then closed discussion spaces for that
group will be provided and when a response is agreed
it will be posted to the main discussion site.
- During the play Press Releases from the Minister
for Education are fed into the information available.
Several interventions might happen during the play.
Play might extend over two weeks if the topic and
scenario are sufficient.
- Students meet for a debriefing session about what
they thought and what had been accomplished.
- Students assessment task is to discuss the processes
through which a plan was formed and what they thought
were the pressures on the production of a working
and generally useful IT plan.