In my experience as an education professional I had the chance to explore a lot of different approaches to collaborative learning, especially those linked with a direct experience with the object at hand. Often I have used games and role playing to get into the discussion about the topic and explore it together with the participants. These approaches always imply an ex-ante assessment of all the factors involved, so we must ask ourselves some questions before deciding to propose a role play activity. For example, I usually try to answer these questions:
What’s the goal of the activity and how can it be achieved by the participants?
Do I know the participants background? Do they have any previous experience with collaborative learning of any sort? What kind?
What are the resources involved and are they available to everyone?
What does the participants’ motivation look like?
Once we answer these questions, we can start preparing the activity.
But, what happens if I have to move the activity to a virtual space? Other questions pop in my head like “what kind of platform should I use?” “do the participants have access to it?” “what kind of device do they use?” etc..
I have read this article about Role Playing Online and it has quite a lot of good examples of how I could move this activity online, and I suggest you to have a look at it. The author makes an important distinction between asynchronous and synchronous role playing online. In the latter, the virtual play is in real time and so are the comments of the audience while in the former, the asynchronous play happens in different moments in time and actors and audience act and interact through a chat. Whether we choose one or the other depends on what we want to achieve, and the time and resources we have available.
The author uses as an example a asynchronous role playing online with higher education students. She broke the students in small groups of four to five and assigned them a story to enact. The main stages of the activity were:
Backstage rehearsal where groups had to discuss the plan of its virtual play in a “private” online area.
Actual play. When the groups were ready, she created a common online area where the the first group could act and the rest of the groups where the audience.
Analysis, that happens after the play and where the actors shed their roles and answer questions from the audience. Here, the whole class can analyse the topic in detail.
This example made it clearer to me how I could effectively move a role play from a real space to a virtual one. Although, the author focused on her experience with adults students. What would happen if the participants were to be children from 8 to 12 years old?
I started wondering what could be different. Children don’t usually have access to all the tools and devices adults have. University students often use platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle and they have access to apps like Microsoft Teams or Webex, but can children access these? Also, some platforms requires personal details of the participants and this means that information about underage students are archived and shared in the internet. Whether we want this information to be stored or not, it appears to me that there are other ways to adapt this activity for a younger public.
Children are already expert users of apps such as WhatsApp and social media, and some of these are open source and don’t require personal details to access them, such as Zoom or the recent Messenger Rooms app developed by Facebook. Both of them can be quite useful in this occasion. The latter one for example it’s quite easy to set up, it only requires the educator to have a Facebook account and everyone invited to the room can participate without the need to subscribe to the social network. We can create a Backstage room for each group to discuss and prepare their play; then, a Curtains Up room for the actual play and the discussion; we can also have a Review room to have a final discussion about the topic after all the groups have performed.
The educator can decide to record or not the rooms to have them available later for any further activity or to improve the role play for the next group.
This is just one possibility out of many others. The important thing, in my opinion, is to keep in mind the participants background and motivation, to be able to choose the activity and the tools that suit them the most in order to achieve our goal.