Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Role Playing Games for Political Science

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Role Playing Games for Political Science

Article excerpt


This paper attends to issues that instructors want to be mindful of when considering simulations or role-plays for use in political science courses. The potential of these exercises are addressed. An annotated bibliography of role-playing games (RPGs) and simulations is included. The RPGs and simulations reviewed are those considered most appropriate for an American Government survey course.

Introduction and Definitions

Role Playing Games and Simulations are two different types of educational device with similarities. The more elaborate, complex games with more scenarios and interaction among the players are referred to as "simulations." Ellington, Gordon and Fowlie (1998), define simulations as "ongoing representations of real situations." Role-playing games typically involve less complex interaction. In role-playing, the players may interact by giving speeches to address a reality-based problem, but with only limited negotiations and resolutions. Both RPGs and simulations differ from case-based teaching which focuses on discussion of particular real situations, without active participation in representing the parties involved (Asal, 2005:360).

Evidence of Benefits

Although many practitioners of simulations and role-playing games report a higher level of interest and satisfaction among students (Dougherty, 2003; Courard-Hauri, 2004; Jansiewicz, 2004) few studies with control and experimental groups have been conducted to determine if the use of simulations in the classroom yields superior results in terms of student learning and retention. Two notable studies were initiated when simulations for educational purposes were still relatively new. First, Robinson, Anderson, Hermann and Snyder (1966) found only small differences between control and experimental groups when comparing the use of case studies to simulations. The difference in the level of interest among students was also quite small, though the authors attributed this to an already high level of interest among students. Thus, the presence of any differences at all may be regarded as significant (Robinson et al 1966, 65). Secondly, Elder early on saw the enthusiasm toward using simulations in the classroom as being without sound pedagogical criteria (Elder 1973:335). Students are often more content with familiar methods whereby they memorize facts (Graff, 2003). They may regard the observations of other students expressed in simulations as not worthy of their attention (Wheeler, 2006). Some students may lack the confidence to offer insights as they relate to the subject matter under study (Jansiewicz, 2004). Assurance and guidance from the instructor can help to alleviate some of these potential problems.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of reports on the use of RPGs and simulations, while acknowledging some shortcomings, have been quite positive. Exercises that require participation from students generate enthusiasm and a sense of control over one's learning (Dougherty, 2003; Courard-Hauri, 2004; Jansiewicz, 2004). Because a good simulation requires a high level of integration of the material, these types of interactive methods target more advanced levels of learning (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl, 1956). Highly interactive sessions require communication and cooperation among students, allowing students to learn from each other's insights and build interpersonal skills (Dougherty, 2003). Some students prefer to check their interpretations of the material with other students in the more informal setting of small groups. The instructor should ideally be privy to these conversations as an evaluator of the process and should contribute to these exchanges when needed. The instructor is in a sense more immersed in the actually learning process because the students' interpretations and thought processes are more apparent (Hardy, Rachaway, Chapman and Sonnier, 2005). When it becomes apparent that a point is being obfuscated, the instructor can refocus learning in the desired direction. …

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