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To roleplay or not to roleplay?

A reflection on roleplaying activities used in a hybrid teaching approach

Roleplay can be a powerful pedagogical tool, is highly adaptable and flexible, and is suitable for both online and face to face environments. Roleplay can be used for numerous teaching and learning purposes, such as enabling students to explore different styles of interaction and perspectives on a topic, fostering collaboration and engagement, practising new strategies or techniques, or in this example, applying students’ skills and knowledge to a real-world scenario to experience the associated complexity involved in decision making.

CLT Education Designers recently provided advice and support on a large blended (first year and post graduate) ANU College of Law course – Lawyers, Justice and Ethics (LAWS1202), with the transition to a hybrid approach for Semester 2.

The tutorial topic of ‘Access to Justice’ was originally designed to include written scenario-based problem-solving activities. During 2020 it was adapted for both face-to-face and remote delivery, with students participating online via Zoom breakout rooms, or on campus in groups of three (with appropriate social distancing).

We also redesigned the activity as a role-play simulation, whereby students took turns role-playing a Magistrate, a Solicitor and an Observer within a specific scenario.

The activity was designed to fit within 90 minutes, with each person given 10 minutes to review the materials on Wattle and briefly prepare for each role. Then the Magistrate and Solicitor each had 5 minutes to perform their roles, followed by the Observer with 5 minutes to provide constructive feedback, before rotating to the next round.

Within the small group, time was also allocated for reflection and debriefing at the end of each round, with optional larger group debriefing if time permitted.

How did it go in practice?

Feedback from various teachers indicated that the activity was received well by the students. Some parts, however, had to be rushed due to time constraints, although sometimes this was due to external factors. It was suggested that the each group could try out their case with another in their class to generate more discussion and peer feedback.

It was also reported that some online groups found it trickier to engage in the roleplaying and reverted to reading out what they would say, rather than fully inhabiting each role. This may have been due to unfamiliarity with using role-play in an online environment and needing more opportunity to practise in this space. It was noted that running this activity online is a very worthwhile exercise and worth pursuing, as many tribunals and courts are now conducting online hearings.

Suggestions for next time?

  • Have materials provided for students to review prior to class to allow more time for the roleplays in class.
  • Have scalable options for facilitating the activity, so it can be run in a shorter timeframe (e.g. 45-60 minutes).
  • Provide more resources (e.g. short video, examples) on how to engage in a roleplay activity, as well as design some mini roleplays earlier in the course, so students can become more familiar and confident with this type of activity.

Further Reading

December 2020


Karlene Dickens is an Education Designer in the Education Design (ED) team – one of three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT). 

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