Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

A Systems Analysis Role-Play Exercise and Assignment

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

A Systems Analysis Role-Play Exercise and Assignment

Article excerpt


In this paper, we present a role-play case for the investigation/planning phase of an IS development project. This case, which evolved from previous work by the authors (Mitri, 1993; Mitri and Cole, 2007), involves perspectives from a variety of stakeholders, including the CIO, technical analysts, and users from three different functional units (marketing, customer relations, and accounts receivable). Students who play these roles collaborate face-to-face, as well as via online collaboration tools, to build an IS plan and budget that takes into account the challenges and needs faced by the fictional organization We Sell Stuff, Inc. We believe this exercise can give a valuable, active learning experience to students in an introductory information systems course. In this paper, we describe the case and our experiences using it in the classroom.

The importance and efficacy of active learning is well documented in the information systems pedagogy literature (Freeman, 2003; Ramiller, 2003; Savery and Duffy, 1995; Steven and David, 2002). Bonwell and Eisen (1991) cite a variety of active learning approaches, including cooperative learning, debates, drama, simulation, peer teaching, and most relevant for this paper, role-play.

Like other active learning approaches, role-play exercises encourage student participation and engagement. They give students practice in teamwork, interpersonal communication, and problem solving among individuals with different perspectives of the problem at hand.

The IS pedagogy literature includes several examples of role-play projects used in information systems courses. Role-play exercises are presented for requirements elicitation (Costain and McKenna, 2011), project management (Sullivan, 1993), case study analysis (Kerr, Troth, and Pickering, 2003), business processes and ERP (Shen, Nicholson, and Nicholson, 2013), software engineering (Tyson and LaFrance, 2006), and object-oriented design (Steven and David, 2002). Although role-play exercises have traditionally been done in-class and face-to-face, modern technology has led to the development of online (Lombard and Biglan, 2009) and even multinational (Jaeger et al., 2011) role-plays.

Chen, Frolick, and Muthitacharoen (2003) provide empirical evidence that role-play is an effective method for improving communication for IS professionals. Kerr, Troth, and Pickering (2003) found that first-year IS students perceived more value in case studies that were augmented by role-play versus case studies that were not. Shen, Nicholson, and Nicholson (2015) found that students' self-assessed knowledge was significantly higher after participating in role play than before, and that role-play enhanced the enjoyment of learning IS material.

Because technologies change rapidly, role-play exercises geared to IS-related scenarios can quickly become obsolete. The technical issues of an exercise developed in the 1990s or 2000s are going to be very different from those of today. In addition, the tools and methods used for student collaboration are also considerably different today compared to the past. Nevertheless, many of the organizational concerns and decision/communication skills used in role-play exercises are relatively timeless. In a good IS role-play (even an old one) we try to tap into the students' communication, analytical, and decision-making skills. In this spirit, the authors of the We Sell Stuff, Inc. role-play exercise did what many role-play authors do, which is to upgrade and evolve our exercise in order to remain timely and relevant.

The rest of this paper presents the role-play exercise (which includes both face-to-face and online collaboration) and evaluates its use in the classroom. We start by giving an overview of the case, including the expected deliverables from the students. Then we present each user's role. Next we assess our experiences using it in an introductory IS course and discuss future work. …

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