Analyzing the Learning Process of an Online Role-Playing Discussion Activity

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Instructional Activity Utilizing Online Role-playing Discussion

Online discussion instructional activities have been widely applied in higher education courses. Furthermore, their effectiveness has been extensively discussed by several researchers (e.g., Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005; Hou et al., 2007; Yeh, 2010). Instructional activities based on online discussions and appropriate teaching strategies may include the development of the learner's argumentation skills (Driver et al., 2000; Oh & Jonassen, 2007). This approach may help learners gain a deeper understanding and develop higher cognitive skills. As a result, a crucial research topic relates to designing customized, innovative online discussion strategies that facilitate teaching and allow learners to reach a deeper level of knowledge construction and develop advanced cognitive skills. The quality of online discussions is often influenced by the design of the underlying interactive mechanisms (Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005). There are several interactive learning strategies that are used in discussion- based online teaching activities, such as peer assessment (e.g., Hou et al., 2007) and problem solving (Hou et al., 2008; Oh & Jonassen, 2007). By analyzing the process of online discussion within these strategies, the characteristics and limitations of each strategy can be identified because teachers may not be able to predict the ideal timing for intervention during online discussions (Mazzolini & Maddison, 2007). The findings of the process analysis may help teachers choose better strategies, intervene in discussions at more opportune times, and develop improved facilitative mechanisms that address known limitations. Many behavioral analyses of online discussion activities (Hou, 2010; Hou et al., 2007, 2008; Jeong, 2003) provide insight into process limitations when students conduct discussions without teacher guidance. They also offer teacher guidance strategies based on behavioral patterns such as interactive mechanism design and proper timing of guidance. Furthermore, developers of educational software may also refer to these findings to develop appropriate tools, such as designs with automatic behavioral analysis technology, which can be used to automatically detect behavioral patterns (Hou et al., 2010).

In addition to problem solving and peer-assessment interactive strategies, another teaching strategy involves asking students to learn through role-playing. This approach has been increasingly researched in recent years (e.g., Bos & Shami, 2006; Hou, 2011; Wishart et al., 2007). This type of interactive learning is commonly used to help learners develop skills to handle group decision-making (Bos & Shami, 2006; Pata et al., 2005). Some studies suggest that role-playing also keeps learners motivated (Wishart et al., 2007) and improves communication skills among professionals (Chien et al., 2003). Furthermore, this strategy helps students develop abilities in problem solving by requiring them to assume different roles and confront unstructured problems in scenarios involving the professional domain of the given role.

Several studies explore the roles that students play during the process of collaborative learning (e.g., De Wever et al., 2008; Hara et al., 2000; Strijbos et al., 2004, etc.), such as source searcher, theoretician, summarizer and moderator (De Wever et al., 2008). However, these studies rarely focus on the cognitive process of online teaching activities in which students simulate real- life scenarios in assorted roles designated by teachers. The behavioral pattern of cognitive dimension and knowledge interaction in this role-playing learning process requires a more in-depth exploration. Role-playing should also be amenable to applications in discussion- based online teaching in which a teacher assigns roles and tasks to students (or students decide for themselves), and the students play the roles (such as requiring students to role-play different positions in a company) and discuss a given task such as solving the company's management issues. …