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​Enhanced Learning through Role-Playing

Gail L. Schumann

University of Massachusetts/Amherst
gail.schumann@marquette.edu
Accepted for publication 21 February 2002.

Schumann, G.L. 2002. Enhanced Learning through Role-Playing. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-T-2002-0225-02
Reviewed 2009.

The transition from the classroom to the workplace is not always easy for students. Role-playing of workplace situations allows students to practice applying their new knowledge before they have to face the real world. Role-playing enhances learning in several important ways (1). Students practice public speaking in a more relaxed format than that of a formal classroom presentation. In addition, role-playing gives students an opportunity to respond to unanticipated questions or situations. Effective scenarios require students to integrate learning from various courses as well as from their work experiences. The discussions can demonstrate that there are various solutions to a particular problem (2). Role-playing classes employ active learning and should engage all of the students in each session. When the instructor also takes on a role, students can become the “experts.”

A role-playing course has been developed at the University of Massachusetts for turfgrass management students who have already completed their required plant pathology course. The course is designed to enhance their learning about turfgrass diseases. The course is offered for one credit and meets once a week to fit easily into established curricula and student schedules. Class size is limited to give each student several opportunities to lead the discussion.

It is standard practice for golf course superintendents to appear before “greens committees” to explain problems, so this is the most commonly used scenario. One student takes the role of the superintendent, and another student plays the greens committee chair. The remaining students and instructor serve as members of the greens committee and can participate in the questioning. The superintendent explains why a particular disease is occurring and what management practices are planned. The chair can then question the superintendent and challenge the proposals on the basis of cost, interference with play, and so forth. To participate appropriately, all students must review their disease knowledge and try to anticipate what challenges might arise.

Because the students know each other from previous classes, the debates can be lively. I encourage discussion by joining in the role-playing as either a particularly demanding or especially ignorant member of the greens committee. Golf course superintendents must be able to communicate diplomatically with both types of people. Depending on the topic to be debated, different roles can be assigned. For example, students may play the roles of a lawn care manager talking to an irate homeowner who has a number of nosy neighbors (the remaining students), or a superintendent may meet with a sales representative to determine if a new fungicide or biological control product should be purchased. Two to three debate topics are scheduled in a 50-minute class period. Near the end of the semester, the entire class participates in a fictional public hearing between superintendents who favor and county commissioners who oppose the use of pesticides on golf courses; half of the students are assigned to each side.

Role-playing allows students to prepare some of the information they plan to present, but also forces them to answer questions or discuss topics that they may not have anticipated. Many of the debates lead to interesting discussions about practices observed during work experiences or questions from previous coursework. The real world aspects of the course can be enhanced by inviting working professionals, such as a golf course superintendent or a United States Golf Association agronomist, to participate in a class. Students gain confidence in their knowledge of turfgrass diseases and their ability to apply it in situations that they may face in the workplace. Student reviews consistently state that the course is very useful for work preparation. A course that focuses on workplace role-playing can reinforce learning in an enjoyable and interesting format without excessive time and effort on the part of the instructor.

References:

1) Butler, J.E. 1989. Science learning and drama processes. Science Education 73:569-579.

2) Cronin-Jones, L. 2000. Science scenarios: Using role-playing to make science more meaningful. The Science Teacher 67(4):48-52.