Why Use Interactive Role-Playing Exercises?
People who use their erudition to write for a learned minority ... don't seem to me favored by fortune but rather to be pitied for their continuous self-torture.
- Desiderius Erasmus (Praise of Folly, ch. 50, 1509)
These exercises are generally fun for students, as they contain social, creative and sometimes competitive elements.
Properly run, they are student-centered, open-ended, and feel more like real life than lectures and tests.
Students perceive interacting with small groups to be easier than writing for the instructor or presenting to the whole class. However, poor preparation on advance research will prove embarrassing and let down teammates and allies.
Augmenting Traditional Curricula
A distinct role can help a student focus an analysis of both sides of a controversy, although in this case it is often helpful for an instructor to follow up at the end of the assignment and ask the student his or her own, out-of-character, assessment of the controversy. Additionally, some role-playing exercises will make time for students to switch sides and try the opposite role from the one explored previously, an opportunity the real world can rarely offer.
Collaborative problem-solving exercises offer an opportunity for informal assessment. Francis and Byrne (1999) found that instructors were able to identify which parts of the course material that students were having trouble with during an interactive role-playing exercise before giving students a graded test.
Teamwork is one of the important social skills that these exercises can teach. Often the students must combine information gathered by different groups and apply it. If assigned research in advance, the team can divide a project up and have each piece be the province of a different team member.
Cooperation and persuasion will require the students to practice courtesy. In any role-play with an interactive component, the instructor can (and should) include formal and informal training in conflict management and consensus-building and the students must of necessity learn tolerance or at least civility.
In order to devise win-win solutions or compromises that other characters will accept, they'll need to figure out those other characters' goals. Empathy is key to enlightened self-interest as well as a virtue in its own right.
A debate, as part of the lesson or as a consequence of different approaches to problem-solving, will enable the students to develop effective rhetorical techniques, both through practice and by offering them the opportunity to observe one another's efforts. Effective and ineffective arguments make a good topic for the follow-up discussion: what worked and what didn't?