Interactive Role-Playing Exercise
Most interactive role-playing scenarios currently available are debates and collaborative problem-solving exercises. These have many features in common and tend to grade into one another. Productive debate requires the participants to build a consensus by a certain deadline (perhaps the ultimate challenge in problem-solving), and arguments can build within originally collaborative projects, often as a natural and often healthy part of the process. More unusual exercises include scripted interactive demonstrations and introductory projects in which groups of students work out a character's perspective on a topic and then present it in character (i.e. Havholm, 1998).
For example, the students could be citizens of a town on a river that is receiving so much pollution from the town that neighbors downstream have requested that the town rein themselves in before they are forced to involve a higher authority. Some could role-play farmers whose crops need fertilizer. Others could represent the union of workers from a factory that disposes of waste in the river or people from downstream who no longer have safe drinking water or from the government. The instructor could provide the students with backgrounds for their characters, maps, details on what kinds and quantities of pollutants the river is carrying (and where they came from), and a budget for remediation projects. The students could do research on the consequences of the sorts of pollution at issue and on remediation and restrictions. They can then try to work out which methods are feasible, and simulate the kinds of compromises that communities and industries in the real world must make to keep the environment livable.
For most exercises (not the scripted ones), there is no "correct" outcome; these scenarios are open-ended. The obvious education goals are dealt with when students research their roles and the problem under discussion. The subtle goals are for students to learn not just their characters' but other characters' perspectives in order to work with them and/or to persuade them to some end. After the exercise, instructors can show, with examples, that modern environmental policy and resource economics were and are shaped by the processes that the students have spontaneously simulated.
Many more scenarios (most more detailed than the above) are available in:
Familiar forms of Interactive Role-Playing
Many students are already experienced role-players because of their extracurricular activities. There are two thriving hobbies based on interactive role-playing, one of which is straightforwardly educational and the other of which has educational potential. Both are recognizable examples for students when trying to explain role-playing to them.
Model UN: is one of the most ubiquitous (and highly organized) instances of educational role-playing. The students prepare to serve as delegates from a variety of countries, then get together to simulate a UN meeting. Many students have experience with Model UN from middle and high school. This may actually be an appropriate format for some lessons, as the UN often deals with environmental and resource issues. The strict rules for debate and the size of the actual General Assembly make this an attractive interactive role-playing debate for a large class. The United Nations' resource site has a wealth of links for Model United Nations Headquarters (more info)
Role-Playing Games: such as Dungeons and DragonsTM, are a form of extertainment. The relationship between role-playing games and interactive educational role-playing exercises is similar to that between fantasy adventure novels and geoscience textbooks. The design and execution of a gaming adventure and of an educational role-playing exercise have many elements in common. However, random events and outcomes (determined by die rolls or cards) are often important to role-playing games, whereas educational role-playing exercises are focused more on how and why than on what is happening. As with books, the variation within each genre is sometimes greater than the differences between them. A number of hobbyists have written material on the Educational Uses of Role-Playing Games (more info) .
A lot of countries depend on fishing in international waters to feed their people. However, over-fishing has depleted many fish populations and destroyed others. How can these countries continue to survive without wiping out their major protein source? In a large class, have students, individually or in small pairs, represent UN delegations from countries like Japan, Ghana, Argentina, the U.S., China, Russia, etc. One place to for students to start investigating the issue is the Kyoto Conference Outcome & Papers Presented (more info)
An early Dungeons and DragonsTM
sourcebook, The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide
) included a section on different types of caves, the role of water in shaping and maintaining them, and the hazards of wandering around in them. Gaming hobbyists may well be motivated to research caves, carbonate geology, and real cave fauna and fungi.