umm, I don’t think we are on a boat…

Role play over a discussion board is a different beast than role play in the classroom.

I recently participated in a discussion board consensus to come to an agreement. It was not appropriate for online learning because the scenario was unrealistic for the type of communication used. The situation was an emergency- a boat is slowly sinking we having to prioritize a supply list. I have had colleagues run this scenario in the classroom because it is exciting, easy to set up, and the learners can finish it in 15-20 minutes. However, online the scenario drags out, over a discussion board, for days, and there is no urgency to finish the list, because I am typing to a stranger and not negotiating face-to-face, and my brain is not buying the scenario.

I used to run a scenario called The Crashing Balloon in Public Speaking classroom. It was done in the beginning of the class introducing persuasive speech. Each person first chooses a character they admired, anyone living or dead. Then they formed groups of 5-6. Then they were told they were in a balloon tourist trip when terrorist put a hole in the balloon. Since air was leaking out, only 2 people could stay in the balloon, the rest had to jump out. This led to hilarious and heated debates- should Mickey Mouse jump out of the balloon or Johnny Depp? Or listening to a student playing Chairman Mao pleading for his life with another playing George Bush! This scenario deeply engaged the students while they practiced negotiating with their fake lives on the line, and prepared them to study persuasion.

Negotiation skills are vital and there are several online role-playing negotiation scenarios available. This example description is from the Consensus Building Institute:  “Viatex is a two-player simulation between a company that makes plastic bottles and one of its clients, which produces pharmaceuticals. The game examines the benefits of working collaboratively to find mutual gains in a difficult business situation.” This models a real world condition- negotiating with your company’s business interests in mind. Often, these types of negotiations are done through electronic mediated communication, such as email. Thus, the scenario matches the medium while the practiced skill is realistic.

Other role plays that would fit the online format are from the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN), a non-profit group that aims to build peace at the local, national and international levels by the prevention of destructive conflict. They offer 19 role plays that can run for a few minutes or over days for groups as large as 6. One of their simpler examples is The Mighty Mushroom, where “participants explore the advantages and disadvantages of revising an existing agreement. Moreover, it provides opportunities for the parties to the conflict to explore the other’s interests.”

I have discovered that scenario group role plays work better over a shorter amount of time in learning. For longer group projects, there are other, more realistic exercises that can be done. I will be exploring these in future blogs. But for now, I am still waiting for my partner to respond to my message before the boat sinks…(don’t worry, there is really no boat…)

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