Understanding online role play

Sarah C Cornelius, Carole A Gordon, Margaret Harris

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


Role play activities are often advocated for the development of soft skills and a wider perspective on the world. Their use as an online teaching approach is widespread, with examples ranging from simple uses of email to those employing Virtual Worlds and Web 2.0 technologies (Riddle, 2009; Jordan, 2009). The approach adopted for the Teaching Qualification in Further Education (TQFE) at the University of Aberdeen uses real-time anonymous discussion forums and has proved effective in opening up learners to different perspectives on the issue of ‘Quality in Further Education.’

The TQFE role play activity has been the subject of research by course tutors keen to understand learners’ experiences (e.g. Cornelius, Gordon and Harris, 2009). The new work to be presented for SOLSTICE draws on research undertaken in 2009/10 to examine the impact and effectiveness of the activity. Factors which influence role engagement and identity formation, and the importance of anonymity and authenticity have been explored through an investigative analysis of transcripts and semi-structured interviews from role plays involving more than 60 learners and 4 tutors.

Data are currently being analysed, but preliminary findings provide an insight into learners’ experiences and raise issues for facilitators which may be relevant for other online role play activities. A range of factors influenced role engagement, including prior experiences and contributions from peers. ‘Identity guessing’ took place, and there is evidence of some ‘behind the scenes’ communication. Although anonymity has been noted as a key benefit of the approach, some respondents have questioned its value, considering that it probably made no difference. Overall the activity appears to have been effective in enhancing awareness of different perspectives on quality, and the model has been adopted for other purposes by some of the participants, illustrating the generic potential of the approach in other teaching and learning contexts.

(300 words)


Cornelius, S. ,Gordon, C. and Harris, H. (2009) ‘Unfettered expression of thought’? Experiences of anonymous online role play. In: ALT-C 2009 "In dreams begins responsibility" - choice, evidence and change, 8 - 10 September 2009, Manchester. Research Proceedings. http://repository.alt.ac.uk/632/ [accessed 26 January 2010]
Riddle, M. (2009) The Campaign: a case study in identity construction through performance. ALT-J 17(1) 63-72
Jordan, L. (2009) Using online role-play to assess distance learning students in construction law. CEBE Case Study. The Higher Education Academy. http://www.cebe.heacademy.ac.uk/learning/casestudies/case_pdf/LindsayJordan09.pdf [accessed 26 January 2010]

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2010
EventSOLSTICE 2010: Technology Enhanced Learning and the Student Experience - Ormskirk, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Jun 20103 Jun 2010


ConferenceSOLSTICE 2010: Technology Enhanced Learning and the Student Experience
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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