Needle Stick
A Role-play Simulation
Transformative Learning
in complex dynamic social systems
Designed, developed and moderated
by Kate Fannon
Supervised Project 1
University of Southern Queensland
In search of engaging, transformative learning
p. 3
How neuroscience informs learning design & implementation
p. 5
Web-based role-play simulation as opposed to computer-based simulation
p. 9
Games, role-play simulation and constructivism
Needle Stick:
5.1 a social-process design
5.1.1 Surface structures
5.1.2 Deep structures
5.1.3 Operationalising the role profiles
5.1.4 Sub-culture in Street Talk: a dynamic forum
5.1.5 Conferences in Fablusi™
5.1.6 Publishing the newspaper
5.1.7 The role-play simulation outcomes
5.2 Learning outcomes
5.3 Induction
5.4 Assessment
5.5 Moderation
5.6 Debriefing
5.7 Evaluation
6 References
1. In search of engaging, transformative learning
There is significant tension in education between those who hold to traditional largely
instructivist/behavioural views of learning and those who find themselves on the continuum of
situated cognition and constructivism. There are, however, several factors which will lead
tertiary educators to reassess instructional design and facilitation with more compulsion; these
chiefly being the transition of the learner from the baby-boomer and X generation to the Y
generation and the subsequent competition for such learners in an economic rationalist and
global market. The educational rationale for the new learning is likely to be modelled on the
findings of neuroscience and on appreciating the Y generation’s intolerance for static displays of
text and slow-paced, predictable learning. Perhaps this gap between generational learners can
be best expressed by Stephen Downes’ weblog commentary on a simulation on running Enron
which was reviewed by David Becker:
Think You Can Run Enron? Play the Game
Stephen Downes:
Why create this simulation to promote learning? One of the best sentences
I've seen this year explains it in a nutshell:
"We did a lot of surveys, and people over 35 merely disliked the e-learning
content," he said. "The under-35 audience couldn't stand it."
There's a lesson there:
"It's turned out to be somewhat of an age thing. The people under 35
get it pretty quickly. The ones over 35, especially if they're traditional
training people, ask where the bullet points are."
Review by David Becker, CNet, July 10, 2002
Educators will need to understand the motivations of the digital generation if learning is to
engage and be effective. Sternberg (1998) reiterates what we know from brain science:
Motivation drives metacognitive skills, which in turn activate learning and
thinking skills, which then provide feedback to the metacognitive skills,
enabling one’s level of expertise to increase.
Needle Stick was designed and developed in the Fablusi™ learning environment for an action
learning research project in 2002 to investigate goal-based elearning in a role-play simulation
which modelled a complex social system. It dealt with the issues surrounding the operation of a
Needle Exchange Program in close proximity to a school in a provincial city. This learning
strategy is highly immersive and engages the learners by placing them as agents of the activity
rather than as reactors to content. Given a scenario, the goals of private and public agendas in
each role-profile and the published public profiles of other roles, participants must negotiate
solutions in collaboration with those they form alliances. They can also access information
resources in the learning environment to back up their arguments. This immersion and cocreation of the community and the solutions is a relational experience and as such is a dynamic
model of learning rather than a distanced critical analysis.
The focus of this role-play simulation was clearly on investigating whether learning outcomes
could be achieved using this learning strategy. For this I facilitated the online induction of 14
VET (Vocational Education & Training) lecturers distributed over 4 States, moderated the
simulation and then facilitated the debrief both online and through a 5 end-point video
conference. From both a moderating viewpoint and participant evaluations, it was clear that
both subject and soft skills could be developed by participants and measured from both
reflective discourse, and from the evidence of the conference postings and the emails sent
privately to other roles in pursuit of their private goals.
Currently in Australia most role-play simulation work is being done by Higher Education,
namely Macquarie University (Andrew Vincent & John Shepherd) and the University of
Melbourne (Roni Linser) in the field of political science and foreign policy, and by the
University of Technology, Sydney (Robert McLaughlan) with Charles Sturt University (Denise
Kirkpatrick) in the field of groundwater management. The Departments of Political Science in
both Macquarie and Melbourne universities run their simulations in collaboration with
international universities to maximise political perspectives and motivation. VET, given its
training imperatives, needs to investigate role-play simulation more rigorously as it is ideally
suited to the soft skill development of a post industrial world where service industries dominate.
However, the reality in HE and VET is that most elearning is a reflection of face-to-face
learning: specifically lectures, readings, set assignments and tests of memory. The discussions
about collaboration, problem or inquiry-based learning, situated learning and cognitive
apprenticeships (Brown, Collins & DuGuid 1989) have not transformed what is delivered.
Traditional learning is stressed by massification and economic rationalism but putting loads of
content online in a lock step linear sequence contradicts the fundamental dynamics of a
hyperlinked communication system, most of what we know about effective learning and brain
science, and the performance requirements of the work world.
The world of work transforms quickly due to global pressures and the pace of technological
change, with the result that the most valued and valuable employees will be those with
flexibility in analysing and responding constructively to change: not regurgitating memorised
information or out-of-date solutions. What is more disturbing about online offerings in VET is
the disproportionate amount of assessment through quizzes and other click, drop and drag
interactivity. Quizzes rarely evidence deep learning, strategic thinking or competency but they
are popular because the technology exists and feedback is instant. The latter is attractive but
such learning is at the lower levels of skill development in the cognitive and affective domains:
namely memory recall of knowledge and comprehension rather than the higher areas of analysis,
synthesis and evaluation of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956). Needless to say, it does nothing for the
development of important soft skills such as influencing, negotiation, accommodating and
compromise. These interpersonal communication skills are the foundation of quality service
industries and effective performance in management and work-based teams.
In addition, much online learning has high drop-out rates with learners giving up on reading vast
tracts of information on eye-unfriendly screens. This will become even more pronounced as the
Y generation moves through to tertiary education. This generation will not tolerate static, linear
online learning. Independently of educators, many in this generation have developed a set of
communication skills including simultaneous parallel processing while they text message, chat,
download music and finish their homework all at the same time with help from their pals on
their mobile phones. Their affinity with collaborative multi-tasking is really a response to the
nature of the networked digital world in which they have grown up. Educators, particularly
those of the baby-boomer generation, need to tap into this very social multi-tasking when they
design learning. It is a matter of seeing education as Dewey did, as a social process but not
limited to the lecture or tutorial modes where one-way, one at a time interaction dominates.
Indeed, Vygotsky espoused that “full cognitive development requires social interaction”(1978).
The Internet must be treated as more than a repository for information and education is much
more than accessing information. Education is about the selection, analysis and manipulation of
ideas to solve a problem, to create new questions, or create a product/service. The power of the
Internet is the networked communication which has vast collaborative learning potential. Welldesigned learning can maximise both social and cognitive interaction. Designing and
implementing role-play simulation is one method of creating a social world where participants
collaborate to solve a problem. In the simulation, Contaminated Sites Management,
(McLaughlan & Kirkpatrick 1999), the participants had to understand the principles of
environmental decision making in order to resolve conflicts of the stakeholders. In Needle Stick
(Fannon 2002), the participants had to understand the issues around a needle-exchange program
in a regional city in order to resolve a number of stakeholder conflicts about whether the
program should be closed, relocated, or left to operate in its current location but with a range of
new management and drug education initiatives. Central to a satisfactory outcome in this
simulation was success in interpersonal or soft skills as the issue was social and did not have a
framework of decision making particular to a scientific field. Though in reality, once we move
from the known parameters of a science, the decision making will be strongly determined by
interpersonal factors in communication.
2. How Neuroscience Informs Learning Design and Implementation
The loading of content followed by testing also contradicts the research into brain science or
neuroscience over the last decade. The research findings have initiated a discussion in education
(Caine, R. & Caine, G. 1994; Marchese 1997) about how humans think and remember, and what
that means for traditional teaching methodologies such as lecturing and the testing of
information based on readings. Edgar Dale is known for his Cone of Learning (1969) which
indicated the memory effectiveness of a range of learning methodologies after a 2 week period.
The Learning Pyramid was based on Dale’s work and as we can see below in the Learning
Pyramid, according to the research by the National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine (cited
in Wong et al. 2001), traditional and mainstay teaching methodologies of tertiary education such
as lecturing and giving out of readings are the least efficient in memory retention for learners:
Figure 1:
Figure 2:
Even the use of audio-visual materials with all their production costs have only 20% memory
retention. While discussions in online courses give greater learner participation than in most
face-to-face courses in higher education, this teaching strategy is still only enabling 50%
memory retention and an interesting question for future research would be the effectiveness of
discussion/reflection after the learners have done a practical activity in an authentic context or
taught others. It is quite clear from this pyramid that situated learning such as apprenticeships,
field trips, problem-based and collaborative learning, and role-play simulations are the most
effective learning strategies in terms of long-term memory retention. These learning strategies
are experiences where the learners must analyse and synthesise ideas for a context and put them
into practice, must communicate with others in order to execute the task/s and must judge or
evaluate what they do when they teach others. This is often called the ‘ah-ha’ factor when
learners struggle mentally and come to form their own hypothesis or realisation. These learning
actions (analyse, synthesise, judge) also operate at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The
irony of human endeavour in education is that we are still struggling to devise meaningful and
effective learning experiences for each new generation without moving far from the least
effective teaching strategies. Indeed, while in 1956 Bloom estimated that over 95 % of the test
questions in the USA required students to think only at the lowest possible level...the recall of
information, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) asserted, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by
doing” and Einstein (1879-1955) repeated, “The only source of knowledge is experience”. Pask
(1928-1996) talked of ‘teach back’, the most effective on the Learning Pyramid.
Neuroscience or brain-based research has made a number of discoveries including the
 Plasticity of the brain – its ability to realise new capacities, new rewiring across
neurons in response to new experiences. So intelligence is not an innate capacity fixed a
birth. It can change over a lifespan given enough challenge and safety.
 The challenge should arouse but not threaten. There needs to be emotional safety.
 The brain is social.
 Transformative learning occurs when the senses and emotions are engaged as well as
the thinking capacities of the cortex. Learning is a whole person/ whole brain activity.
 The brain establishes meaning through patterning and emotions are crucial to
patterning. The cortex (centre of thinking) is synaptically tied to the limbic system
 Adequate time is needed for each phase of information processing. Learning is a
When we examine role-play simulation as a learning strategy, we can make a number of claims
in relation to the above statements.
 Firstly role-play simulation is strongly experiential which challenges learners both
logically and emotionally. The situation is purposely messy or ill-defined; the problems
and their answers buried within a range of personalities and their private agendas which
have to be attended to before logical, well-informed solutions can be found. This
mirrors more exactly the problematic situations that our learners will find themselves in
when they join the work world. The plasticity of the brain to develop new capacities
when challenged by experience is also proposed by Sternberg (1998) when he argued
that learners’ abilities are capable of being modified over time, that they are not fixed
and innate, and that expertise involves using both explicit and implicit knowledge within
real world contexts. A reflection by a participant in Needle Stick restates how learners
are challenged logically and emotionally as learning in a simulation is a whole brain
I tried practising being more assertive about ‘my’ opinions – and the learning
outcome idea was to be able to handle the flak … without losing confidence! It
didn’t work…though perhaps now after debriefing, I’ve shifted.
 The comment above also illustrates that learner’s abilities are capable of being
modified over time and that learning is a process. Soft skill learning outcomes will
develop over a considerable time of working on them.
 The challenge, however, is located in a relatively safe space where learners can
rehearse their negotiation and decision making skills with the support of a moderator and
peers with whom they have formed simulated alliances. They can do this before being
placed in a real situation where the repercussions of poor negotiation are far greater. The
power of role-play simulation is that it frees participants to be ‘other’ and to rehearse the
skills of being ‘other’ without the pressure of known peers and their judgements about
who they are. It effectively provides a mask and a relatively safe place to try out skills
and organisational roles, and back up their arguments with evidence from research as
they pursue their goals. A debriefing comment by one participant in Needle Stick
emphasises how important safety is:
Forming alliances worked well for me as it gave me a sense of security
from which to launch out.
 Role-play simulation is transformative because it engages both cognitive and
affective domains equally within a whole reality. Each participant is proposing and
defending agendas which are meshed in a personality outlined in their role and executed
through the worldviews and communication capabilities of each individual participant.
As a consequence of such strong emotional and mental involvement with the roles, many
learners will experience a range of both positive and negative feelings as they would in a
conflict situation in real life. Debriefing is essential to deal with these experiences and
to enable learners to detach from their roles as well as to draw out the learning from the
 Role-play simulation is in essence a social experience: it cannot happen without a
group of people interacting within a social context to solve a problem. They form a
virtual community, sometimes termed a “parallel universe”.
 The power of a role-play simulation compared to face-to-face role-play is that it does
not have the time/sessional boundaries of f2f role-play but is run over several weeks.
The extended timeframe of virtual communities more closely recreates the complexities
of real-life negotiations and changing agendas over time and between meetings where
not all players are cognisant of all the discussions or new agendas. This is so as different
roles/players have access to different ‘rooms’ with different levels of rights for reading,
writing and editing, and players are privately forming alliances through sim mail (email
internal to the simulation environment). The opportunities for reflection and mental
processing inherent in an extended time-frame provides adequate time for information
processing as new mental models are formed. This was commented on by a participant
in the debriefing phase of Needle Stick:
I appreciated the headspace between postings that allowed me to formulate my
ideas and work through other participant’s postings. This isn’t really available
to the same degree in f2f.
The phases of implementing a role-play simulation start from induction, proceed to the
simulation and then debriefing. The immersion in the simulation followed by debriefing
accords with Kolb’s work on experiential learning cycles where immersion in the
experiential task is followed by reflecting on what has been experienced, interpreting the
events, understanding the relationships and considering what action should be taken next
time (if the scenario was in the real world or the social context was modified).
Marchese (1997) talks of “grudging compliance and sullen disengagement” when students are
forced into high stress, competitive learning. He is referring to American classrooms but this
applies equally in Australia where the vast majority disengage before year 12 and those who
continue face very high levels of competitive and memorisation stress. A significant factor in
this stress is that learners are trying to understand knowledge abstracted from the situations in
which it is used by experts or practitioners. This brings us back to the argument for cognitive
apprenticeships by Brown et al. (1989). Though role-play simulation is not situated directly in
the concrete work world as per the apprentice or trainee, it does simulate a real world scenario.
Here the learners must propose and negotiate within a social context just as the expert
practitioner in the work world not only uses domain specific knowledge, but continually tests
and refines the product or service as it is negotiated with clients and customers. In essence, roleplay simulations are collaborative anchored rehearsals for later practitioner contexts and take the
learners along the path of Sternberg’s developing expertise. Bransford et al. (1989) stress that
the problems of these practitioner contexts need to be challenging and interesting. When we
consider how role-play simulations are used by some universities to develop not only
understanding of political science issues but also how the communications operate in this
context, then we have indeed challenging learning. Vincent and Shepherd (1998) run role-play
simulations in the Department of Political Science at Macquarie University and in an interview
by Robyn Maher, ‘Politics come to life – Simulating the Art of the Possible’ (in, Vincent comments on both the nature of effective learning where students
practice or ‘discover themselves’, and of its relevance and quality in terms of the expert
practitioners in the Australian Foreign Affairs Department:
I see learning as more than extracting information from books. It's a process of selfdiscovery and learning about yourself and how an individual interacts with the world
around them. Simulations have a number of advantages as a learning method where the
aim is to gain an appreciation of processes or complex dynamic social systems. Things
students discover themselves, they never forget. In a very practical sense, I believe
participating in the simulations has given our students an advantage in the job market.
For example, a number of our undergraduate students have been placed in the Australian
Foreign Affairs Department.
The range of practitioner contexts is as wide as there are practitioner fields. The participants in
Needle Stick came from a variety of vocational areas and after experiencing a role-play
simulation, three participants had the following suggestions:
In my vocational area (Child Care) you could use it for a variety of different situations,
especially OH&S, attitudes and beliefs of students about different family structures and
parenting styles, and also difficult situations involving ethical dilemmas.
I am planning to use Fablusi with Human Services lectures assessing skills in observation
and client contact…as a strategy I think it’s applicable to almost any area of soft skills
It would work extremely well in Industrial Relations, Manage Employee Relations Change
and Employee Separation, Performance Management, HR Policy, HR Consultancy and
Work Teams to name a few.
3. Web-based role-play simulation as opposed to computer-based simulation
There is considerable confusion between these two types of simulation. Simulation is
commonly understood as the artificial creation of a real world system so as to teach us how it
functions. This may be mechanical as in a flight simulator or trying to model human systems
for business, military strategies or the youth leisure market of SimCity where the needs of
animated people must be met through the building of a house, managing transport and their
daily physical needs such as sleep and toileting! Most of these simulations of human behaviour
are rule-based – either heuristic or algorithmic and as such are incapable of capturing the
number and range of variables possible in the complexity of human interaction that is also often
ill-defined. The result is that these rule-based simulations create very limited realities which can
be counter productive as they oversimplify and approximate what can happen in any situation.
The learner cannot create or enter any other variables. Even if the player is given up to 3 or 4
choices in each response, that is but a small fraction of the number possible. Prensky (2002) in
Why NOT simulation? cites Jaron Lanier, an artificial intelligence researcher as arguing: is folly and arrogant to even try to simulate humans because we will never get there –
people are too unpredictable and surprising. Classifying people into, for example one of
six (or 20, or 100) character types for purposes of simulation, as many behavioural
models do, may be useful for some purposes, but may not buy you very much in terms of
achieving “real world” accuracy.
Educators should be devising learning where learners are engaged in a process of interpreting
each individual’s thinking and decision-making within a social context, and then respond
effectively – but that response will also be framed by each learner’s very individual cognitive
and affective mental models. We need to remember here that the mind is a unique configuration
of brain cell connections in response to experience. If we consider again the Maher article on
the role-play simulations run by Vincent and Shepherd, the title is very telling. Maher talks of
‘simulating the art of the possible’. Here we come to the core of what makes role-play
simulations so different from computer-based simulations. While the latter are very limited in
what is possible in human responses because they are rule-based, role-play simulations are
unbounded – they have no limitations on the participants’ responses or initiatives. This kind of
simulation is web-based within a learning environment that calls for participants to analyse a
scenario within the perspective of a role, comprehend the perspectives and goals of other roles
and then use common communication tools such as email and conferences to resolve a conflict.
The structure and nature of this learning is not bounded by preset rules: it is created specifically
by the participants and they must accept responsibility for what, how and where they lead
themselves – as in the real world. As they must also collaborate to form alliances to achieve
their goals, role-play simulation in learning environments like Fablusi™ are ideally suited to
soft skill development.
Having no metaphorical context or animated characters as in rule-based simulations and games,
gives role-play simulation freedom from the mental limitations of reality once it is visually
defined. The most visual and creative ‘place’ is the human mind, and role-play simulations can
build on this dynamic as the interactions are ‘disembodied’ and hence each learner fills in the
visual context from their world knowledge. This also accords with cognitive flexibility theory
whereby pre-existing knowledge is retrieved to ‘adaptively fit the needs of a new situation’
(Spiro et al. 1991). This is preferable to the cartoon-like animations of rule-based simulations
which dumb down the practitioner’s context. It is also preferable to design learning that starts
where the learners are and to be informed in design by the knowledge from brain science which
states that we only learn new concepts when we can meaningfully place them in the existing
mental models of our uniquely wired, uniquely organised brains. This brain-based research also
supports the learning theories of situated learning and constructivism of which Reeves (1994)
Instead of an empty vessel, the learner is regarded as an individual replete
with pre-existing knowledge, aptitudes, motivations.
4. Games, role-play simulation and constructivism
It is important also to distinguish between games and role-play simulation. Games are bounded
or rule-based like computer-based simulations. Though Prensky has little regard for
simulations, and is an enthusiastic advocate of digital game-based learning, there are similar
problems with games being able to present to education anything more than rule-based
simulations. The majority of games in Prensky’s games2train website such as Knowledge
Tournament, Battle of the Brains, The Sexual Harassment Certifier seem to be only testing
memory of information just as in a quiz; set within time scoring, and with the player/s pitted
against the PC. This is the digitised comprehension exercise or multiple choice testing memory
retention. Some of the commercial games do model environments for team and strategic
thinking but the future of gaming for education will be when a variety of decisions by learners
are acceptable rather than one or even a few ‘right’ programmed answers. Not to do so will be
to produce very simplified thinking, maybe at Prensky’s ‘twitchspeed’ but it will not produce
the necessary understanding of and appropriate responses to the complexities of human
interaction in problem solving. Indeed, perhaps artificial intelligence will never be able to
match the unpredictability of humans and we will need to accept games and computer-based
simulations as learning strategies for the instructivist phase in learning domain specific
While wanting to tap into the younger generations’ single-minded engagement in games, usually
of combat and alien invasion, most efforts so far to take games technologies into education have
been a failure. However, a partnership between Microsoft and MIT for their Games to Teach
Project started on maths, science and engineering education in 2001 and will extend to the more
difficult areas of the humanities and social sciences. They show promise in developing
collaborative design for problem-solving skills within domain specific fields and have been
promoted as having been designed within a constructivist framework.
Rule-based simulations and games are behaviourist and as such adhere to the idea that learning
must be error-less. In so many commercial games, the player must indeed select the right predetermined response or get metaphorically punished eg. lower scores or fall in a hole, lose yet
another body part or be eliminated! The same is true of instructivist learning where the learners
are progressed through a series of correct models or steps and then tested for accuracy. In
TAFE SA a few years ago, there was a literacy program called PALS (Principles of the
Alphabet Learning System) which tried to arrange the learning so there would be no errors. The
learners could not type in an error as the program would not allow it. The program was lockstep and boring.
In contrast, constructivist learning theories rely on cognitive disequilibrium as the learners
construct their meanings from a range of resources and in the process must reconstruct their
existing schema and cognitive structures. This is indeed transformative learning. As a
constructivist learning strategy, a role-play simulation allows each participant to make their own
decisions and also be confronted with negative responses from others and negative outcomes in
terms of their goals. This is often the fulcrum of learning, as it is the disequilibrium or what one
participant, Amy, in Needle Stick called ‘difficult feelings’. Remembering that the primary
learning outcomes for this role-play simulation were soft skills, the participant playing ‘Amy’
had targeted maintaining self-esteem in the face of opposition to her opinions. The following
are parts of her reflection in the debriefing (names have been replaced by X, Z & M to preserve
Message no. 445 posted by X (s000101) on Thu Sep 12, 2002 08:54
Subject Difficult feelings
Maybe Amy came across as a bit of a prig? Still, I wasn't prepared
for how I was going to feel about some of the responses to her!
And in a later posting:
Message no. 454 [Branch from no. 451] posted by X (s000101) on Fri Sep 13, 2002 09:26
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
Z asks "What made the role play more difficult to hold public and private
spirit together?" and that is exactly the question that's been bugging me.
The only answer I've come up with is embarrassing to admit!
Amy had a conservative role and I like to see myself as a bit more open,
tolerant etc. I wanted to be with all you cool guys who were out there
supporting the drug users; instead I sounded like some moralistic
stay-at-home-mum from the 50's! Yet the more I had to write as Amy, the
more I came to think she was dead right!!!
So, had I been more comfortable with the conservative in me, i'd probably
been more able to laugh off the responses.
Another participant responds to ‘Amy’ with some interesting reflections on the disequilibrium
she experienced in the process of relating to Amy during the role-play over the arguments to
relocate the NEP (Needle Exchange Program), and what that meant for her in real life:
Message no. 461 [Branch from no. 454] posted by M (gs0004) on Mon Sep 16, 2002 11:53
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
actually X ..I reckon you did a top job as Amy..even though (or especially because?) you/she really got
up my shiraz slurping, leftie nose !
and by the end I have to sneakily confess that I could really see the strength in Amy's argument about
moving the NEP..but I wasn't game enough to admit it ..her well argued case didn't impact on me
nearly as much as what I felt as her irritating usurping of the moral high there was learning
for me and my character (Cyn) there..separate the argument from the 'arguer'..something I still have
trouble with in real life Cheers M
Whatever the difficulties, the final participant evaluations from the role-play simulation were
positive about the value of this learning strategy, recognising how engaging it was as they were
immersed in a role and another community which they created. Because the learners control the
direction and final outcomes, the learners ultimately control the design – every time a particular
role-play simulation is rerun, the directions and outcomes will be different as it will mirror the
sum of the participants involved with all their individual capacities and biases. In the
constructivist paradigm, each learner interprets or construes the world according to their existing
metaphors and then attempts to construct within that internal reality - but parallel to this, the
conflicting world views and metaphors of other roles/participants will create disequilibrium and
consequently a modification of the worldview and the decision making. We can see this in the
participant’s reflection below. Not only did ‘Y’ have to defend her views in the face of strong
opposition in the community, she had to resolve internal conflicts between a surface view of
disliking being in a socially conservative role and realising that her deeper values supported this
role’s view – not what in theory she thought she supported. Once she recognised this, she could
make compromises to achieve her goal:
Message no. 466 [Branch from no. 454] posted by Y (s000197) on Tue Sep 17, 2002 08:57
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
Reading X's message really made sense - I like her had a conservative
role which I didn't agree with but was able to live with more and more
as the role-play went on - in fact by the end although I totally
supported the NEP in theory, I was convinced in my real self that to
have put it so near the school in the first place was ridiculous and
asking for trouble. I think what made the whole thing possible for me
was when I realised I could stop campaigning for the closure of the NEP
and instead jump on the relocation bandwagon at the same time as
supporting the education, fence etc.
This level of engagement and ownership of learning direction goes far beyond drop and drag
exercises even if in response to comprehending audio or video! In that kind of interactivity, the
learner is reacting to content rather than co-constructing the content or learning event. In
instructivist learning there is no scope for the deep learning displayed by ‘X’ and ‘M’ or ‘Y’ in
the debriefing quotations above where they were actually engaged in analysing their own
internal processes, making judgements very openly, and starting a process of synthesising or
integrating the new understandings. At this point, it is worth citing again the views of Andrew
Vincent from earlier in this text:
I see learning as more than extracting information from books.
It's a process of self-discovery and learning about yourself and
how an individual interacts with the world around them.
Simulations have a number of advantages as a learning method where
the aim is to gain an appreciation of processes or complex dynamic
social systems.
5. Needle Stick
5.1 a social-process design
Needle Stick is what Gredler (1999) would call a “social-process simulation” as the participants
take on individual roles in a virtual or ‘simulated’ social group with the aim of experiencing the
complexity of negotiating particular goals and managing successful decision making. Gredler
also describes three other major forms of experiential simulations: data management, diagnostic
and crisis management.
There is a strong tendency in tertiary education for anything in the arena of role-play and games
to be considered a bit of warm-up fun to be got out of the way so the serious business of
imparting hard information can be accomplished in the tight time lines of curriculum delivery.
However, in the explosion of information in every field, we need to rethink what skills and
understandings an educated person will need to possess in order to function professionally in the
following decades. They will need skills in prioritising and manipulating the new waves of
information, in rethinking the application and validity of established theories in particular
practitioner contexts, ability to analyse ill-structured situations before problem solving, and most
important of all, they will need to be able to work effectively in the human social systems so as
to implement any of their ideas. It is interesting that Laurillard (1996) in The Changing
University, asks the reader to consider the value of academic knowledge in the current world.
She reiterates Vygotsky’s emphasis on the social aspect of learning, and Dewey’s emphasis on
integrating theory with practice, which was later reinforced by the research done by the National
Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine and represented in their Learning Pyramid. Laurillard
goes on to talk of:
…the many studies now that document the difficulties students have in maintaining the
links between theory and practice, and in matching the academic theory to the world
around them, in knowing how to position themselves in this world of strange languages,
specialist symbolisms, and all those well-articulated and strongly-held points of view.
These concerns have also been taken up by cognitive flexibility theorists who pose that the
simplistic reductionist and linear instruction that dominates tertiary fields actually fails the
learners who cannot deal with real world complexity and the ill-structured scenarios they will
need to problem-solve. These failures are called ‘failures of transfer’ (Spiro et al. 1991). Roleplay simulations, however, have the potential if well designed and well moderated to become a
major learning strategy in enabling learners to operationalise theory in both professional and
social contexts and to develop the strategies and communication skills involved in the process,
particularly when challenged, as will be the case in the work world. As such, role-play
simulations are models of cognitive complexity and are more dynamic scenarios that the casebased instruction proposed by Spiro, et. al. (1991). Their cognitive flexibility theory revamped
constructivism for advanced knowledge acquisition so that “prior knowledge that is brought to
bear is itself reconstructed, rather than retrieved intact from memory, on a case-by-case basis (as
required by the across-case variability of ill-structured domains)”.
A weakness in this theory is that while it is espoused as an integrated theory of learning, it does
not consider the emotional (limbic) component of thinking nor does it attempt to take the
conceptual knowledge of specific knowledge domains into the practical social systems where
skills such as negotiation are the translators and implementers of a practitioner’s world. It is in
the practitioner’s world where the most variability occurs. This means rethinking problemsolving as comprising more than objective and external factors. The ill-structured problem
needs to include its implementation and that entails conflicting stakeholder perspectives. If the
brain is social, then learning needs to connect social and emotional intelligence with logical
processing. Advanced learning instruction also needs to situate itself in specific social systems
and begin the process of equipping learners with the generic communication and social system
skills that an effective practitioner requires in a knowledge economy. As one of the participants
in the Needle Stick action learning reflected:
I think the hardest thing with a lot of the soft skills is that we all know the theory.
I very rarely have a class who tell me things totally off the track, however they
don't always demonstrate the attitudes and beliefs that they can clearly talk about.
Role-play simulation can deliver this whole learning as all three dimensions of the human brain
are simultaneously engaged in solving a range of problems set within a scenario. However, the
focus on soft skill acquisition is not easily quantifiable as it is both person and domain context
dependent. By person context dependent, it is meant that the process of skill acquisition is
referenced to each person’s unique schema of social and emotional intelligence as well as the
logical understanding of the skill itself. This complex interdependency in the brain and the
unique wiring in each person is underscored by neuroscience.
To maximise learning outcomes, educationalists need to proceed from simple to complex,
provide a range of perspectives including conflicting ones, and engage the whole person –
emotional and logical. In some fields there will also be a major kinaesthetic component. The
operation of soft skills is also highly dependent on the real world context in which the
practitioners find themselves. Here there will be a range of variables such as culture (including
sub-cultures), economics and enterprise goals which will constantly shift. It is no small feat to
attempt both individual and organisational change by being cognisant of all these changeable
external factors as well as those operating in the schema of the individuals attempting to develop
the soft skills. The process is ill-structured, subject to many perspectives and possible solutions
which are then not easy to implement.
Surface Structures
When looking at the design features of a role-play simulation, there are both surface and deep
structure characteristics as described by Gredler (1999) in ‘Educational Games and Simulations:
a Technology in Search of a (Research) Paradigm’. The surface characteristics of Needle Stick
 the visual feel of the simulated reality including the initial incident.
 the scenario
 the resource centre
 the initial role profiles
 publish public profile
 the communication tools and spaces
The visual feel is very important in creating a texture and sense of another world that the
participants enter every time they log in. The operational environment for Needle Stick was
Fablusi™ which has its own characteristics and which as a closed system with all its own
communication tools, creates a very strong sense of entering another world. In Needle Stick the
visual feel has been executed with an uncluttered design but in strong colours, and with a
graphic which is a montage of the many stakeholder interests in the community. As one
participant evaluated:
I think you did a good job of the actual home page design ..much better
website than any of the samples we looked at…clearer and less cluttered.
Once they are logged in, they also have access to a map of part of Tretley, their provincial city.
It details the public institutions and
private stakeholders in the issue: the
hospital, the primary school, the
council park and residential houses
It is very important to consider the
design of maps or organisational trees,
depending on the role-play simulation
being developed.
The map gave a spatial reality to the
problem of the Needle Exchange being
located in the hospital right behind the
school and next to a public park. It
also supported the visualisation of the
discussions about removing the
disused railway, extending the
parkland – even the reality of
Samantha Flood complaining of
finding disused sharps in her rose
garden at the front of her house.
The language is also vital in creating the surface structure and the example below clearly sets
the tone of a local newspaper report on an incident that will set off the bigger issue to be
Child Suffers Needle Stick Injury!
Tretley Weekly Bullet Headline: Distraught parents, Ralf Higgins and his wife,
Isabelle, have broken off their holiday and rushed back home to Sydney. What was to be a
break from the stresses of fast city life in the quiet unspoilt beauty of Tretley has turned
sour...very sour.
Their 6 year old daughter, Chrissie, suffered a needle stick injury when she picked up a
used syringe during a leisurely picnic in the park.
It is obvious measures will have to be taken by this community to ……
When the participants have chosen their role preferences and roles have been allocated along
with log ins, there is a sequel which finally impels them to read the scenario and to take the first
step in a simulation where they have to take functional responsibility:
Child Suffers Needle Stick Injury!
Hhmmmmmm.....ahhhhHH .... eyes are cast around and names are mentioned!
Angry residents are determined to flush out the guilty! Others are searching for solutions
.... and protection.
Will tourism take a dive in Tretley once this gets out across
How many more of our children will fall victim?
What can you do about this? This is the incident you have dreaded!
Whatever your stance, you've got a role to play.
Start the ball rolling by reading the Scenario and taking the appropriate first step.
The scenario is integral to setting up the social framework, all the issues and background to the
most recent incident that sets this role-play in action. It must also create a sense of immediacy
(even by setting the date in the scenario to coincide with the first day of the role-play) and create
the need to act. The scenario must also relate the personas/roles to the issues by identifying the
stakeholders and some proposed solutions (eg erecting a high fence). This does not preclude the
participants from proposing and developing other solutions and this is what the participants in
the first run of the role-play did. In fact the scenario unfolds or evolves as a direct result of the
participants’ actions. The scenario also positioned the Tretley Weekly as a central instrument of
public discussion, which it strongly became, as the participants playing Cynthia (the editor) and
Kristine (freelance journalist) published an edition every Thursday for three weeks. They
surveyed everybody in Tretley and published their views, published ongoing issues and the
agenda for the final public meeting.
The Resource Centre as it operates in Fablusi™ is a hyperlinked file which the designer creates
to cover a range of resources available to the participants during the role-play simulation. In
Needle Stick they included an article on Harm Minimisation from the Hep C Council of NSW,
the National Drug Policy 2000, articles from newspapers, councils and schools on cutting
needle-stick risk, a Hansard speech on retractable needles and guidelines for police relations
with Needle Exchange Programs. The participants could of course access any other information
they wanted. The designer needs to chart the range of information files necessary for the
scenario and the roles’ agendas. It was interesting in the first run of Needle Stick how quickly
participants used the information on retractable needles as a solution and how ‘Simmo’, the
Drug and Alcohol worker, could use the information in the guidelines for police relations
document to counter calls from within Tretley to increase police presence around the Needle
Exchange. Below ‘Simmo’ privately emails ‘Robyn Torres’, the council administrator:
Original message:
Date: 22-08-2002
From:Robyn Torres
To:Mark Simpson
I hear on the grape vine that you are suggesting more police patrolling. I think you'd be
interested in recent police policies advising against this. I suggest we float the idea that we
support a DAT [Drug Action Team]. These are very successful in Adelaide and each region are
setting one up.
Here is something about them:
Drug Action Teams (DATs) are locally based intersectoral committees that attempt to reduce the
impact and harm associated with licit and illicit drug use in the local community. They are an
initiative of SA Police and funding has been made available for the establishment of a DAT in
each of 13 Police Local Services Areas (LSAs) around South Australia.
Each DAT comprises representatives from agencies and organisations in the local community
that have a role and interest in addressing drug related issues. This includes government services
(police, education, health, welfare, housing, corrections etc), local government, local business,
non-government and community organisations. The DAT is coordinated and supported by a
police sergeant who is employed full-time as the DAT Team Leader. DATs use a combination
of local problem solving and community development approaches.
The Drug & Alcohol Services Council (DASC) supports the DATs through the participation of
its community-based workers at the local level and through its representation on regional and
state-wide bodies that oversee the program. DASC has also assisted with other resources where
it is able.
I reckon this is a great way to go hand in hand with the community ed prog we are planning to
Deep Structures
This takes us to an examination of Gredler’s deep structures which she refers to as
‘psychological mechanisms’ operating between each participant and their goals or tasks and the
interactions between the participants as they take on responsible roles. Gredler also talks of
role-play simulations where the participants take on professional tasks. This is evident in the
management of site contamination in the McLaughlan & Kirkpatrick (1999) simulation. Needle
Stick is a role-play simulation where the participants take on responsible roles such as school
principal, teachers, members of parents and citizens, drug and alcohol workers, council
administrator, local newspaper editor, member of State parliament, hospital administrator, local
businessman. The participant playing ‘Simmo’ is operating responsibly in a role as drug and
alcohol worker and uses as many forums as possible, including the local newspaper, to educate
the Tretley power-brokers about harm minimalisation and other drug education initiatives. To
do so ‘Simmo’ is effective in interacting with both task and with other participants. If we look
at the language used, it aims to not only be clear and to take the lead in suggesting a DAT
program and that greater police surveillance was contrary to police policy, but also in leaving
enough room for the participant playing the council administrator to run with the idea (I suggest
we float the idea that we support a DAT). Looking at the message below to the editor of Tretley
Bullet, we can see how the participant in Simmo’s role negotiates an advertisement for the Drug
and Alcohol Services in the newspaper. There is appropriate command of private and public
voice. This advertisement is published in the second edition:
Subject: [no subject]
Date: 8/26/02 9:19:00 PM
By: Mark Simpson
Hi there Cyn
Sandra and I would like to place this ad in this week's Bullet.
Send the account to the Hospital D&A dept. We think we should provide a support service to
the folk who may be freaking out about the recent needle episode. There is so much crap being
sprouted. People need to be well informed.
Ta - see you Wed.
Are you worried about the recent needle incident in Tretley?
Do you have unanswered ????????
Ring 1800 347 6502* - Sat and Sun- 8.00am to 8.00pm each day.
This is a free information and help line service provided by the Drug and Alcohol Services of
Tretley. Your call will be handled confidentially by skilled staff.
Operationalising the role profiles
The key component of a role-play simulation is that once the participants know their role
profiles there are no constraints as in rule-based simulations. This hands over control of the
evolution of the scenario, of the roles themselves and how the issues are managed to the
participants. As such this sets up a dynamic for high levels of ownership of the learning by the
learners and facilitates a deeper level of cognitive change or transformation.
When we look at the role profiles of Needle Stick, there are fourteen roles divided between the
Needle Exchange Program, the hospital, school, newspaper, a private business man and the State
member of parliament. Each profile will give information on personal characteristics, social
status in the simulated community, circumstances the role is in at the start of the simulation,
public and private agendas. Below is an example of one role profile, that of the school
principal, ‘Bernard Knowles’:
Bernard Knowles
Your role
Principal of Tretley Primary School
Personal characteristics:
A good listener and easy going. You find it somewhat difficult to rock the boat with the
Department of Education and at the same time make everyone happy on the staff. Follow
through is not your strong point.
Social Status in the simulation:
As the principal you are respected in the community but staff are often frustrated with
Circumstances that this role is in at the start of this simulation:
The staff are constantly talking in the staff room about the problem of sharps discarded in
the school grounds. There is a Needle Exchange Program in the hospital located behind
the school. You are very aware of this as it has become your job to pick the syringes with
metal tongs and a sharps bin specially supplied by the Department of Education. You
would not ask your staff to do this because of the health risk and the Department will not
fund anyone to do the task. The Department’s only suggestion has been to erect a high
fence around the school out of the school budget – this is not possible as you have done a
bit of research and have found the cost of erecting a fence is beyond the school’s means.
You have also contacted your State member, Cheryl Brookes, regarding the safety issues
this raises for your school.
Public agenda in simulation: (What are the goals of this role in the simulation? This
public agenda will be available to other roles.)
To facilitate the debate in the school community and find suitable solutions.
Private Agenda: (What are the goals of this role in this simulation unknown to other
You find the whole issue to be repugnant especially as you have to pick up dirty, used
syringes. You want the Needle Exchange Program moved far away from the school. To
lobby the hospital and council to contribute to the cost of erecting a fence and to even
lobby prominent business owners to sponsor the cost of the fence.
The design process for roles is quite considerable in terms of making the links to other roles
within the recent history of the community. It is necessary to give some lead for working with
others and the formation of alliances. All the role profiles need to be consistent in these links or
the power in the relationships will not reflect reality. So for example, if ‘Simmo’ is told that
Geoff Vale is one of his clients at the Needle Exchange, then the role profile for Geoff Vale
must indicate that only ‘Simmo’ and ‘Sandra Hopkins’ at the Needle Exchange know of his drug
habit. In this manner there will be different levels of understanding between different subgroups
in the community which will develop during the simulation to add to the complexity and
richness of the community. For the participants it will also lead to a greater understanding of
the complexity of sub-texts or agendas in any multi-stakeholder decision making. The
participants only see their own role profiles and will rely on the published profiles to work out
the public agendas of the other roles as well as get a feel for the personality and how they might
approach them.
When participants in a Fablusi environment click the ‘Write & Publish Role Profile’, they open
up a page where they can embellish their role and make it their own. This process must happen
in the first few days of the role-play simulation so as not to delay the start and hinder other roles.
A role-play simulation is collaborative and as such depends on all roles playing an active part.
After publishing the profiles, the participants can access all the roles’ public profiles as they are
put up by clicking a ‘Read Profiles’ button. This brings up a screen as below:
When the mouse moves over each of the links, a pop-up description of the roles appears. This
reminds the participants who is in the community before clicking on the book icons to read their
embellished profiles. Below is the public profile of the participant in the role of Bernard
Knowles. It is interesting how the participant has created a strong personal voice from the
information given in the role profile. The whole person can be sensed and this gives the other
participants a good indication of the dynamics starting to ‘operationalise’ in the community:
What Makes A Good Principal
Bernard Knowles
What is a 'good' principal? One who is 'there' for his staff and students.
A good principal needs to be able to listen and make decisions that contribute to
the greater good. That's what I strive to do!
I am the kind of guy who is respected far and wide within the community. I've
been the Principal of Tretley Primary School for a number of years now and take
my job very seriously.
The welfare of the staff and students is my primary concern. I feel that as a leader
in the community I need to set an example to all. I believe in looking after my
staff, even to the point of doing jobs that I don't think that they should have to
do, like the morning syringe patrol.
I'm currently investigating ways of ensuring the staff and students of Tretley are
safe within the Department of Education guidelines. This all sounds a little
starchy, the realities are that I'm fairly easy going and a great listener.
I will always advocate for what I believe in and will do what ever I can within my
power to ensure that the staff and students at Tretley are safe.
The participant playing Bernard Knowles had a difficult private agenda as Bernard Knowles did
not want to be ‘offside’ with his counterparts; Ron Ridge, the Hospital Administrator, and
Cheryl Brookes, the State Member of Parliament, but he wanted the Needle Exchange Program
moved far away from the school.
Private Agenda: (What are the goals of this role in this simulation unknown to other
You find the whole issue to be repugnant especially as you have to pick up dirty, used
syringes. You want the Needle Exchange Program moved far away from the school.
To lobby the hospital and council to contribute to the cost of erecting a fence and to
even lobby prominent business owners to sponsor the cost of the fence.
However, he was at this point expressing his frustration (in a private email) in no uncertain
Date: 01-09-2002
From:Bernard Knowles
To:Cheryl Brookes, Mr Ron Ridge
Subject:Trying to get some answers
Ron and Cheryl,
I'm extremely concerned that my previous questions and requests for information and help have
not been responded to. I am at the moment having to deal with a mass of near hysterical
concerned parents and teachers. Just walking down the street I'm overhearing phrases like 'red
necked bible bashers' etc. The hospital and the government need to not only be providing active
leadership but ensuring they are communicating effectively with all the stakeholders. You are
both very aware of the close proximity of the hospital to the school.
This week I had to pick up over 20 syringes in the 5 days. Now the realities are that I can't be at
the school 7 days. What happens if some child comes past and decides to play on the school
grounds on the weekends and suffers from a needle stick injury? Who will be held accountable?
My job description says very clearly that I'm responsible for managing the OH & S procedures
in my work place. But the realities are that without outside support this cannot effectively
happen. It is not the principal’s job to pick up and dispose of syringes. It's actually disgraceful
that this situation has been allowed to go on for so long. I know that I have to take some of the
blame here as I went along with it. But I'm almost at the point of having to take some very
radical actions if I do not get any support from other departmental bodies.
The embellishment of the public agenda and persona for the Weekly Bullet editor is as follows:
Firm and Fair - Editor of 'The Weekly Bullet'
Cynthia Burgess
Journalism is in my genes. Maybe that's why I can't help really loving my
work! As editor of 'The Weekly Bullet' it's my job to ensure that
everyone's views and concerns get a fair and accurate airing.
So far, the feed back I've been getting with my after work gin and tonic at
the pub on Fridays tells me that the locals are pretty satisfied with the
"Bullet"..they like its professional coverage of the hot topics and the way it
promotes our region as a great place to visit. I'm confident that anyone who
thought the paper wasn't doing a good job would feel able to let me know
Publishing a quality newspaper doesn't leave a lot of time for anything
else..but I like to keep fit for the endurance job of editing by running five or
six kms a day and doing yoga to stay physically (and mentally) flexible
Of course, its important to balance yoga and running with the odd guilt free
creamy pasta and glass or two of good wine..then there's my obligatory
journo's coffee addiction
firm and fair..that's my editor's personally?..make that firm
and dark..I'm a short, fast talking brunette with a penchant for wild
earrings and pink linen suits.
Private Agenda: (What are the goals of this role in this simulation unknown to other
To prove to the communities in the region that you are every bit as good an editor as your
father was. To balance the pressure to release stories that sell with ethical concerns about
not by publishing information that would destroy individuals who must live in a small
The participant playing ‘Cynthia’ reflected in debriefing:
Fablusi and being Cynthia really worked for me because the role was based on and operated out
of my own I really had to 'own' the learning and couldn't dismiss or escape the yucky
difficult bits by thinking…'so what ..that wasn't me anyway' ..this is really important I reckon and
something that really needs emphasis with participants in the induction.
The participant taking up the role of ‘Cynthia’ understands exactly that her decision making
came from her persona and that the consequences of the interactions with others in the
simulation, even the ‘yucky difficult bits’ were the points of learning. This illustrates exactly
the deep structure learning of social-process simulations. Gredler (1999) talks about ”the ways
one’s beliefs, assumptions, goals and actions may be questioned, hindered or supported in
interactions with others” and we can see that in Bernard Knowles’ frustrations when the other
roles/participants do not respond to him as he would have liked with the consequence that he
threatened to take action beyond them. We have already seen how the participant as ‘Amy’
confronted very difficult emotions because of her opposition to the Needle Exchange Program
when in debriefing she stated:
Maybe Amy came across as a bit of a prig? Still, I wasn't prepared
for how I was going to feel about some of the responses to her.
One of these responses was from Cynthia Burgess, the editor:
Subject: Wow Amy!
Date: 9/2/02 4:44:20 PM
By: Cynthia Burgess
Phew..that certainly touched a nerve..actually I wasn't referring to anyone specifically..just
commenting in general and positive terms about how the high level of community debate on this which you are participating..belies the widely held view of small rural communities as
red necked and bible bashing..perhaps it doesn't pay to evesdrop :-) or if you are going to do so least catch the entire conversation.
Sub-culture in Street Talk: a dynamic forum
There was also support and collaborative planning in this role-play simulation, not just difficult
challenges. The most developed sub-group in the community met in a conference forum called
Off the Record in Street Talk, which became a lively meeting place almost belying that it was
virtual! The small section below of the very long Street Talk transcript makes extremely
interesting reading for how a virtual community developed pretty much organically as the
participants created the dynamic of people dropping in and catching up with others. The actual
reality of the roles being separated by time and place did not manifest itself in the conversations.
They developed as if the roles were actually present in real time; spontaneous and temporal in
their awareness of the physicality of people coming and going, discussing, eating and calling
others over to share a wine or a pizza:
Subject: Pizza?
Date: 8/26/02 7:20:02 PM
By: Sergei Polotov
[ musing , mumbling , ambling......god, it feels like so long since I’ve come down the
to remember to get out of the house more...get a life beyond school and kids ....I
know what I want ...Pizza ...from where else but Galore Pizza, Mm Mmmm.... now wouldnt it be
nice if someone came in to join me...sometimes I still feel as though Im a new comer with a
weird name.]
Subject: How ya going mate...
Date: 8/26/02 9:00:50 PM
By: Mark Simpson
Sergio eating alone?.......mind if I join you?.......thanks.....
Hey we're looking for a fill-in this week for our Tretley Tenpinners.......yeah we are on a winning
streak. Could you help us out?......Think about it and let me know by Tues pm.
There seems to be a lot of upset folks around at the moment..
what do you think about this petition thing?
Subject: all the better....
Date: 8/27/02 4:05:01 PM
By: Sergei Polotov
Hi Simmo, great timing the Pizza is about to let me guess...hmmm...vegetarian
yep the petition....frankly Im worried things will get out of hand, and the needle exchange will be
closed down in a fit short term thinking....this is a big issue for me, as you know
We’ve got to get some of the facts, the research out into the community. As you know Simmo,
needle exchanges in fact reduce crime and improve the health of the whole community,
through the reduction in HepC and HIV.
I know you know all that....but heres what im thinking ...what about enlarging the capacity of the
needle exchange to include supervised needle use, an injecting room? Now I know its
controversial, but it directly addresses the issue of syringes being disposed of in the park.
What do you think?
...actually I see Kristine over there...perhaps she'll come and join us...
hey Kristine!
Subject: Vegetarian Pizza
Date: 8/27/02 5:03:37 PM
By: Kristine Robertson
Hi Sergei, Hi Simmo! where have you been hiding Segei!! You know I'd do anything for Veggie
Pizza!! Having the new comer blues are you - well join the club!!
As for the supervised injecting rooms, I'm for it; you know how strongly I feel about their
effectiveness in reducing the rates of HIV and Hep C. It is going to take quite a bit of
canvassing to get the supervised rooms. Samantha'll have fits!!!! may leave town!! Seriously
first we need a toilet put up in the park - it is disgraceful not to have one and if it was equipped
with a sharps disposal bin I am confident we'll cut down drastically on syringes lying around!!
Subject: disposals
Date: 8/27/02 10:28:01 PM
By: Mark Simpson
Well I just wish Council will hurry up and put them into the toilets. I understand that it was
passed at the last Council meeting.
As for injecting rooms.....well it is still illegal here so you'll have to pressure old Brookesy to
introduce a bill! Like to see her face when you approach her!....
Where's that pizza.....
Subject: Incorrigible
Date: 8/28/02 8:16:01 PM
By: Cheryl Brookes
Going to Canberra tomorrow to discuss a few of the issues you have raised - but I am not a one
woman party you know. Cheryl
Subject: have another slice ...
Date: 8/28/02 4:09:26 PM
By: Sergei Polotov
Wow, 2 dinner guests, ive struck it big tonight :)
yes I think your idea of priorities is good, though i have another to add...
1. toilets and syringe disposal constructed asap
2. develop a design that revitalises that area if the park with the old railway line, to include the
toilets, (it will be better if its all thought of in one design) ...maybe a bike track...?
3. work towards including a supervised using room with the needle exchange program
yum...all this talk is getting me for a large red with that pizza Kristine?
wait on.....who’s that across the street…
The function of the conferences is also to create sub-communities of like-minded stakeholders
who can state their ideas privately and build their position/s without other groups or individuals
knowing. For those conferences open to everyone the function is to create truly public spaces
where people can gossip or make public statements in order to influence.
Each time any particular role-play simulation is activated and the role-play is seen through, there
will be different dynamics and different interactions in the conferences as the capacities of the
particular group of participants will create a unique community with their own relationships. It
was interesting how a set of the participants took to Street Talk with great enthusiasm while a
few hated being there because they felt outnumbered by the pro-needle exchange program
people who saw it as a ‘relaxed’ place to suss out others over pizza, red wine, lemon tarts,
danishes and coffee while exchanging information on cars, bikes and tenpin bowling – and the
latest on the Needle Exchange controversy.
In addition, one of the participants was from a non-English speaking background and in
debriefing said how she learned to make small talk in English. It was not without anxiety at the
beginning, and even in this debriefing we can see how important the mask of ‘Kristine’ was for
the participant. Here is part of her reflection:
'Culturally inept' - Kristine
I hope I'm not going to tie myself in knots here! Not having Kristine to bear the brunt of my
words shakes my confidence but here goes.
When I first started reading the profiles of the roles and then sneaked a look into street talk and
realised that according to my role I had to be one of these ‘locals' I had a moment of panic. The
language, the expressions, the humour, the ' pure Australianness' of it all put me on the back foot
as I felt quite out of place - culturally.
Another participant replies to her online posting:
you had me fooled (real name deleted) clever thing :-) ..I thought you created a really
accurate complete Australian persona ..I pictured Kristine as a bit like the writer Helen Garner
an urbane, calm, spiritually inclined, older woman who had spent most of her adult life in inner
city Sydney or Melbourne...very wise and generous spirited...and probably a frequenter of good
cafes and book shops....
Below is one example of what the above participant was imagining and it shows how the
participant in Kristine’s role was trying out informal language, including ‘goss’:
Subject: week end
Date: 8/30/02 12:20:46 PM
By: Kristine Robertson
Have a great week end every body!!! I'm off to the city to have myself some fun and rest for the
mind and soul!! catch up on the goss' in the patisserie next week with my favourite danish.
Conferences in Fablusi™
On the left is the full listing of the conference rooms or public forums for
Needle Stick.
Only some roles had access to Hospital Staff and Primary School – not
having access means that participants without access to a room do not see
it in their login environment. Only the moderator/s had access to the
Control Room.
Some forums appeared during the role-play. The Tretley Petition appeared
at ‘Samantha Food’s request in week 2, the Public Meeting came up at the
beginning of week 3 when the participants called for it.
The conferences in the Fablusi environment can be set by the designer so there is a range of
access rights for read, write and edit. Not all participants will have equal rights.
eg. Weekly Bullet – only ‘Cynthia Burgess’ could read, write and edit as the editor,
Kristine Robertson as the freelance journalist could read and write but not edit, everyone
else could write to the editor and read the editions.
eg. Council Phone – Everyone could write (ie they could talk to the council
administrator, Robyn Torres) but only ‘Robyn Torres’ had read rights (translates as
listening) as in reality we do not have a written script recording our telephone messages.
Publishing the Newspaper
The following pages include the full script of the 2nd edition of the Weekly Bullet. This
function of the simulation became a central driving force for the virtual community as the editor
and the freelance journalist surveyed everyone for their opinions as letters to the editor, added
articles from community members, editorials and apologies, even advertisements, amusing
comments by the ‘Babbler’, as well as publishing the final agenda for the public meeting in the
3rd edition. Having experienced three previous simulations in Fablusi™ where the newspaper
function didn’t work well, as designer and moderator of Needle Stick, I really wanted to find out
if the newspaper function could work in a Fablusi simulation. This time it functioned at very
high levels due to giving a model (an edition for the week prior the simulation), and also due to
allocating the editor role to a participant with lots of energy. The participant took control of the
formatting of the newspaper and not only extended the model but created a distinctive voice for
the paper. Reading this second edition will give a good idea of how much work there was
behind the scenes as the participant in the role of the editor, Cynthia Burgess, had to maintain
communication with all the roles in order to know what was going on and what could give good
copy as well as fulfilling her private agenda to be fair in representing all views:
The Weekly Bullet
What’s needling Tretley?
Adding Insult to Injury
Kristine Robertson reports on a survey of Tretley residents' views on the future of the Needle
Exchange Programme
The Bullet is committed to providing a fair and accurate account of the reactions and concerns of
the citizens of Tretley, not just to the incident but to the subsequent demand by some residents for
the closure of the Needle Exchange Program.
In response to a petition demanding the closure of the Program, the Bullet conducted its own
survey of concerned residents. Their reposes are detailed below:
Robyn Torres, Council Administrator, and well known supporter and fund raiser for a range of local
'good causes', responded with,
"My view is that the Needle exchange program has reduced the number of needles laying about.
................I believe it should stay and other possibilities for reducing dangers should be followed
A prominent local identity who was not prepared to be identified at this stage of the debate, agreed
to be quoted anonymously as stating,
"Getting rid of the programme will not stop incidents like this happening. In fact, it would probably
work the other way and increase the possibilities of an incident such as this happening
again..................................Stopping the Needle Exchange Programme is a simple and poorly
thought out idea inspired by the angry minds of those who are quick to point the finger at the
nearest person and attribute blame".
While support in the survey was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the Needle Exchange
Programme open, even among those respondents who couldn't comment 'on the record' because
of a conflict of interest with their professional and public position, there are dissenting voices in our
community. Amy Matthews, a parent of two children attending our primary school, states in a letter
to the Bullet,
'I fear for our immediate safety and do not see that a high fence around the school resolves
anything. Moreover, I fear for the future of our community as growing numbers of drug addicts are
attracted to our neighbourhood in their search for free drugs. The real solution surely lies in
relocating any drug addiction program well away from any school or residential community'.
Finally, it has to be said that the Needle Exchange Program has been in operation for a
considerable period and is considered one of the more successful Exchange Programs in
Australia. Many users have been helped and many deaths have been prevented by access to
this facility. This distressing, accidental injury is the first of its nature ever in Tretley.
Judging by the survey results, the community is currently weighing up the issues carefully
and considerately.
Short Cuts
A selection of notable views and news from a variety of sources
DATS a Possibility?
Could DATS reduce community concern and be part of the solution to 'drug related ' problems in
Drug Action Teams (DATs), locally based, intersectoral committees working to reduce the impact
and harm associated with licit and illicit drug use in local communities. They are an initiative of SA
Police and funding has been made available for the establishment of a DAT in each of 13 Police
Local Services Areas (LSAs) around South Australia.
Each DAT comprises representatives from agencies and organisations in the local community,
including government services (police, education, health, welfare, housing, corrections etc), local
government, local business, non-government and community organisations. The DAT is
coordinated and supported by a police sergeant who is employed full-time as the DAT Team
Are you listening Minister Brookes?
Brooking No Opposition?
Can our indefatigable MP win the fight for retractable needles and increased police patrols?
MP Cheryl Brookes will be taking our community concerns to Cabinet later this week..stay tuned for
the outcome.
Robyn Raises the Stakes
Council livewire and leading light Robyn Torres gets in on the action
Robyn Torres is throwing the Council's considerable weight behind moves to get public meetings
and drug education programs happening in Tretley. Onya Robyn! for also offering to spearhead a
fundraising campaign to gather resources to address the problem.
Floods of Concern
Anti Exchange Program campaigner Samantha Flood states her case for the Bullet.
Acting out of heartfelt concern for the moral fibre and property values in Tretley, Samantha Flood
has launched a petition aimed at closing the needle exchange program. When asked whether she
thought the closure of the program would solve the problem of drug addicts in our midst, she
"I do not delude myself that just the closing of the Needle Exchange in itself will completely solve
the problem. I feel that the Needle Exchange encourages drug addicts to come to Tretley when
they might otherwise shoot up elsewhere or at least in private places"
In the face of an apparent groundswell of community support for the programme Ms Flood was
asked to comment on alternatives to closing it down to which she replied,
'Perhaps it would be possible to give the addicts a room where they can exchange needles but
then have to use them immediately. I don't know exactly how this would work as it would have to
be open 24 hours a day and would therefore be expensive. It would also be very difficult to
enforce so the best option remains the abandoning of the program.'
On the subject of retractable needles being issued via the programme, she had this to say,
'retractable needles would be a marginally better option than the current situation. BUT it would
not remove the fact that people of undesirable character and questionable morals are being
attracted to Tretley to take advantage of the program, whether the needles are retractable or not.'
It seems Ms Flood's basic concern here, is with the influx of 'people of undesirable character and
questionable morals' a definition which most of us would argue, is not solely or universally
applicable to people with a drug problem.
Apology: The 'Bullet' apologises to Samantha Flood for an editorial oversight in publishing her
letter anonymously last week. Ms Flood is concerned that her name be attached to her strong
views opposing the continued operation of the Needle Exchange Program.
Once again this week's letters are dominated by the ramifications of the needle stick incident.
Many of the letters have been abridged to allow for a representative selection of views to be
'lets have some common sense'
It seems to me that many people are being driven by fear. Fear drives people to irrational
But why isn't there that same fear of car accidents in the town. Is it because everyone has a car?
I am only aware of one needle stick injury. I believe there have been several car accidents in
town, some with resulting injuries far worse than a needle stick injury. But the needle stick injury
comes with the fear of aids or hepatitis.
So lets have some common sense. Lets work out how we can get all drug users into the NEP and
regularly exchanging needles instead of discarding them where they become dangerous to our
It's a health and safety issue not a 'lets get rid of the NEP problem' issue
Tom Russell
'Immediate action is needed'
I agree totally with other community members such as Tom that people are being driven by fear.
Ignorance too is a great driving factor. And we just cannot afford to add inaction to the list of
While it is all very good to think of long term solutions to the problem these will take time to
process and implement.
Immediate action is needed and I strongly urge the council to go ahead with the building of the
toilet block in the park as well as equipping them with sharps disposal bins. This is such a simple
first step and I am sure it will greatly reduce the number of discarded syringes. Then let us
continue with discussions if they are needed. For now, enough talking and lets act.
Kristine Robertson
'What about Summer Bay?'
What about Summer Bay? It's only a few kms - 10? - and they closed down their school last
year. Why can't we relocate the Tretley Drug unit to their community health clinic? The users still
get their needle exchange program, rehab re-education etc and Tretley gets to get its safe
streets back...
Amy Matthews
'I would like to see the NEP closed down'
I make no bones about the fact that I would like to see the NEP closed down. I have 3 children,
one who is attending Tretley Primary. I need say no more for you to understand my concern.
The fact is that in the current climate I think it unlikely that my wishes would be realised. I have
recently been made aware of the potential for retractable needles to largely reduce the danger
of needle stick injuries to the general public. I am very hopeful, and wait with anticipation for
their general use.
In the meantime is it possible to apply for funding from the government's "Community
Partnership Initiative" which as I understand it, funds communities who have specific needle
stick related problems
For example we may be able to fund the council to employ staff to patrol the perimeter of the
hospital and school much more regularly to remove used needles. We may be able to use funds
to illuminate the area at night, and improve the environment of the area, thus making it an
undesirable place for drug addicts to go.
Helena Searles
Are you worried about the recent needle incident in Tretley?
Do you have unanswered ????????
Ring 1800 347 6502* - Sat and Sun- 8.00am to 8.00pm each day.
This is a free information and help line service provided by the Drug and Alcohol Services of
Tretley. Your call will be handled confidentially.
spotted hunched over a rapidly cooling earl grey tea at Pattis..scribbling furiously in a range of
writing styles????
Guess which good looking, recent 'European import' to Tretley is now adding fire power to the
Recently seen... nose pressed and salivating at the window of 'Ridiculously Big Bikes'...a wellknown (and colourful) Tretley .business identity..BRRRRRRRUM BRRRRRRUM
The role-play simulation outcomes
These outcomes are those created by the roles in the simulated world of Tretley, rather than the
learning outcomes for the learners. In this world, there were those who opposed both the
existence and the location of the Needle Exchange Program in Tretley, especially in the hospital
directly behind the primary school and next to a public park maintained by the council. Apart
from the needle stick incident in the park involving the child of some tourists, there is concern
about the number of sharps being found in the school grounds. The sharps are currently being
picked up by the principal early every morning before school with a sharps disposal bin and
metal tongs. Then there are others who for a variety of health and social reasons support the
continuance of the Needle Exchange Program. Resolving this issue is the core activity of the
role-play simulation.
After much private lobbying and public discussion in separate forums, a public meeting was
called for (a new forum) in the 3rd week. The agenda and proposals for a public meeting were
published in the 3rd edition of the Weekly Bullet. At this virtual public meeting they put up nine
proposals, debated a last time and then voted:
The Proposals:
Plan and design - The council, in consultation and coordination with other relevant
authorities, and consultation with community members, undertake a design
reappraisal of the park, and that the redesign incorporate a toilet block, the removal
of disused rail track, possible rose hedge along the school border and in general to
include lighting and other enhancements to incorporate safety and increased usage
for members of the community.
Toilet block be built in the park with sharps disposal, as soon as Council funds
are available.
Only retractable needles be used in the Tretley NEP
That a rose and wire mesh garden be built around the school, by the community
That the Tretley community further investigate the possibility of relocating the
NEP under the community Partnership Initiative (applying for government
funding to relocate to a more suitable area)
A drug education program, designed for all levels and ages should be started as
soon as possible in Tretley
Police presence is currently sufficient in Tretley
That a DAT team be set up in Tretley
That the member of parliament for Tretley be asked to lobby the government
for an injecting room
The Voting:
The results from voting were tallied and posted by the participant as ‘Cheryl Brookes’, the State
MP. What is most interesting is that the private agenda of Bernard Knowles to see the Needle
Exchange program relocated away from the school remained to the end. He voted an
affirmative for proposal 5 though he had not pushed that view in the public debate:
Date: 10-09-2002 15:44:35
From: Cheryl Brookes
To: Cynthia Burgess, Geoff Vale, Robyn Torres, Kristine Robertson, Samantha Flood, Cheryl
Brookes, Helena Searles, Tom Russell, Amy Matthews, Sergei Polotov, Bernard Knowles,
Mark Simpson, Sandra Hopkins, Mr Ron Ridge
Subject: Results of voting
Results of the voting are as follows:
1. Plan and design area Yes 12 No 1
2. toilet block with disposal facilities Yes 9 No 3
3. retractable needles Yes 8 No 2
4. Rose and wire mesh garden Yes 8 No 3
5. relocation of NEP Yes 3 No 9
6. drug education program Yes 12 unanimous
7. police presence is sufficient Yes 8 No 3
8. DAT team needed Yes 9 No 1
9. injecting room Yes 11 No 1
In all, this group of participants did a lot of work in three weeks. They had to manage a new
learning environment, assimilate their roles and publish a public profile, work out the other
roles in relation to themselves and the issue, negotiate and influence, compromise and
accommodate, publish three editions of the Tretley Weekly Bullet, get an agenda and proposals
together for the public meeting and vote!
Learning Outcomes
We can go through any role-play simulation and at the end say we had a lot of fun....which is
indeed a prerequisite for effective learning. In Needle Stick there were both subject and softskill outcomes. For learning subject or domain specific knowledge dynamically, role-play
simulations can be used in the way problem-based learning approaches learning: outline a
problematic, ill-structured scenario, supply lots of resources and get the learners to come up
with solutions.
In Needle Stick the 'subject' outcomes are:
understanding of the risks and risk management around needle exchange
understanding the evidence supporting needle exchange programs in reducing
HIV and other transmittable diseases such as HEP C.
knowledge of the OHS in dealing with sharps and suspected needle stick
knowledge of strategies schools can adopt to deal with drug use in their schools
and in the community at large.
For learning the 'soft skills' dynamically, role-plays (face-to-face or online) are often used as
soft skills are hard skills to learn especially if the learners are not immersed in a practical or
operational domain. Reading about soft skill development does not translate to being able to
integrate these skills into the emotional and mental wiring of the brain. They are also not easily
quantifiable in most educational assessment systems. However, companies are increasingly
turning to role-play and role-play simulations to teach leadership and team skills, especially the
ability to negotiate in difficult circumstances because of individual personalities and hidden
agendas. Cross-cultural training is also very suited to simulation where we ‘bump into’ our
assumptions and prejudices.
Schools of Business Studies/Management have historically conducted face-to-face role-plays to
teach management skills. The advantage of online simulation is that it can mirror more
accurately the extended timeline and behind the scenes lobbying that occurs between meetings
and which quickly changes the situation you thought you understood yesterday!
In Needle Stick the 'soft skills' outcomes are:
Demonstrate ability in:
Personal Skills:
1. Self-esteem: maintain a positive and realistic self image, particularly when
2. Motivation and Goal Setting: translate a situation into an instrument for the
development of self.
3. Adaptability: the ability to solve problems by bridging the gap between what is
and what ought to be.
Working with others and in teams:
1. Relationship-building and teamwork skills, especially the ability of groups to
pool human resources to pursue common goals.
2. Negotiation: overcome disagreements by compromising and accommodating.
3. Interpersonal skills: judge appropriate behaviour, to absorb stress, to share
responsibility, to deal with ambiguity and diversity including cultural diversity.
Influencing Skills:
1. Communicate ideas and information clearly
2. Leadership: influence others to serve the strategic purposes of an organisation or
3. Organisational effectiveness: work productively in the context of explicit and
implicit organisational cultures and subcultures.
The above soft skills were adapted from Carnevale's America and the New Economy (1991)
cited in Kearns, P. Generic Skills for the New Economy, NCVER (2001).
In a role-play simulation the soft skills are achieved through the following mechanisms:
present and maintain both public and private agendas
engage other roles to negotiate ones' agendas (this does not mean success...not
always possible) and to comprehend their personal and community/organisational
develop one's persona in the public profile and through the communication
tools/places such as in the conferences (meeting places), private emails and in
chat (private meeting place).
argue one's case convincingly supported by evidence from the resources supplied
or any other resources the learner chooses to access.
form alliances and be supportive of other roles to realise outcomes for your
particular community group or organisation and for resolving the problem/s
embodied in the scenario.
do not retreat when challenged or made uncomfortable: work out a negotiation
strategy (and communicate with the moderators if needed).
Further discussion of the achievement of these learning outcomes is under ‘Evaluation’.
The participants of this role-play simulation were all VET lecturers and they engaged in this
action learning not only to experience a role-play simulation but to discover whether this
learning strategy would deliver learning outcomes in the soft skills.
As the participants of this role-play simulation were distributed over four States, the induction
was done in another website in WebCT. WebCT also offered private discussion forums and
there were pages to orient the participants to each other, to introduce them to some papers
written on goal-based learning in role-play simulation, to the kinds of outcomes we were trying
to achieve, and on the rules of playing and technical considerations of using a Fablusi learning
environment. Most important in induction is the building of trust between participants, and
between moderator and participants. Some participants will be anxious about role-play and only
if they gain a sense of who else is involved and time to establish commonalities, will they trust
enough to play with sufficient daring and care of each other. In Needle Stick, as we were
geographically separated, it was important to create a ‘Who We are’ page online with photos
and personal details and to follow this up with discussion forums that established common aims
and queries.
A clear timeline was given for the induction and the role-play:
Length of Play and the natural stages:
Week 1 - Log in and select character. Research your role by looking through the
Resources by clicking the Resource Centre link in the left margin/frame. Orientate
yourself to the communication tools, the scenario and the other roles. Submit your
public profile for others to read.
Week 2 - playing hard to realise your (or your team's) agendas/strategies and work
out others' agendas
Week 3 - work for resolution/endings
As the participants commented in debriefing, it would be much more satisfactory for learners to
have a face-to-face induction (and debriefing likewise) as in fact do the universities when they
run political science role-play simulations as it can be done more comprehensively and
participants can meet each other more fully than online.
One of the big issues in role-play is the popular perception from drama in schools is that we are
pretending and it is not connected to who we are, and so it is all play and not really learning.
This will need to addressed at some depth in induction and the following is one email from the
moderator on the subject of ‘pretending’ as it came up:
One vital point: this simulation is not asking you to pretend - to the contrary, you are finding
out how you would respond if you were placed in the position of a role - just as we use all our
human interpersonal and knowledge skills when we are placed in different roles in life: parent,
volunteer, a new or different role at doubt you can think of lots of different roles
you have taken up over the years.
Did you pretend or did you draw on who you were in the new environment/role?
What if you decided to run for council - and succeeded?
A new role, yes.... but it is you who is there in the role and you bring all your skills and
flaws...(what do they call them...strengths and weaknesses!!!!)
(In the Needle Stick simulation you will also need to access some resources (supplied) to extend
your knowledge to find solutions - to realise your goals.)
The strength of a simulation is that you get to rehearse your soft skills in a simulated world / a
pretty safe world in comparison to going straight out there in the real world and doing it. You
get a chance to step back and consider as you go along and to debrief/reflect on the whole
interaction with the others after the simulation.
It is somewhat like being offered a trial run!!!!!
So it is important to consider the interactions as real in that what you decide, how you
negotiate, accommodate and compromise - all these come from your real self. You are
being offered the chance to try them out in a new scenario with a range of new 'peopleroles'.
I wonder what you think of is sometimes difficult to break the cultural ideas around
drama as equalling pretending which equals unreal. In educational theory, drama is seen as a
process and improvisation is for the participants. It is theatre that concerns itself with a product
for an audience. We have no audience here and we have no product: we are all involved in the
process of creating the simulated world. There are no 'lines' to be delivered - together you will
create solutions just as you endeavour in your daily life.
Freeman & Capper (1999) also address this misconception citing Biddle & Thomas (1966) in
saying that role playing is not acting “but the adoption of a behavioural repertoire or social
position. In the debriefing of Needle Stick one of the participants reflected on operating in the
role from her own persona and why this was important in terms of ‘owning’ the learning:
Message no. 469 Branch from no. 463 Posted by M (gs0004) on Wed Sep 18, 2002 17:09
Fablusi and being Cynthia really worked for me because the role was based on and operated out
of my own I really had to 'own' the learning and couldn't dismiss or escape the
yucky difficult bits by thinking..'so what ..that wasn't me anyway' ..this is really important I
reckon and something that really needs emphasis with participants in the induction.
In addition to the above issues, it is important to establish rules of behaviour in the simulation.
The University of Melbourne when running their political simulations, only rule that a
participant cannot ‘kill’ off a role. Given the high level of anxiety amongst many participants
about what could happen to them and the characteristic online of people acting beyond their
normal f2f constraints, it is important to discuss collaborative safety with participants.
Collaborative safety is giving the responsibility to each participant to consider the impact of
what they are communicating in the context of what they know about the recipient. There has to
be a balance between this constraint and developing the personal skills to deal with challenge
and disagreement. Some participants talked of being reluctant to open their emails fearing what
they will find. The following responses by participants in Needle Stick illustrates the
psychological stress some people felt during the role-play:
 I wasn't prepared for how I was going to feel about some of the
responses to her!(her own role)
 I experienced a wide range of emotions during the process, some
positive and some pretty negative, so I know just what X means.... The
fact that I was working in the same building as the moderator meant that
I was able to talk to her f2f from time to time about my feelings,
frustrations, etc and that helped a lot too - which also points to the
fact that there needs to be a f2f component of the process and the
opportunity for synchronous contact if necessary.
 I had fully expected to be the "hated" one in this role play as
Cheryl, MP. I received a few e-mails which were in the vein of “you
said, you didn't” etc, but laughed at them when I got them, because I
had expected an avalanche! I admired you,(Amy) and also Samantha, and
Helena too, because you stood up for what you believed in and stuck to
your role.
When discussing assessment in the action learning induction, several questions were posed:
Would we measure by:
getting the learners/participants to write a role summary as does the Uni of Melbourne?
ask them to keep a reflective journal
getting the learners/participants to select 5 emails and 5 conference postings that they
thought evidenced the learning outcomes and write a critique of their goal realisation?
getting the learners/participants to do one of the first two options above plus give an oral
presentation on how they tried to achieve their goals (agendas)?
assessing that they logged in everyday and sent emails or posted messages (how many?)
something else?
One of the participants reflected on measurement in message 405 on Mon Aug 12, 2002 09:31,
S (gs0041) writes:
I think a reflective journal would be the way that I would go to show my
understanding of the learning outcomes. As part of this I would probably
include my postings and then reflect on how well I did, how they were
responded to by the other participants and so on.
I think by actually looking and analysing your postings and others responses,
you will actually be able to assess how effectively you have communicated and
to what extent you have achieved the soft skills. I think the hardest thing
with a lot of the soft skills is that we all know the theory. I very rarely
have a class who tell me things totally off the track, however they don't
always demonstrate the attitudes and beliefs that they can clearly talk
about. I've also noticed the amount of stress or other distractions can make
it much more difficult. By actually having to perform in the role play,
while at the same time being under pressure from all the other roles and
responsibilities, we all have will be much more of a true reflection of our
abilities. By each examining our interactions I feel we will be assess the
learning outcomes.
It would be much harder though for the moderator to assess this. There would
need to be a very clear marking guide. For example is it enough to simply
write 300 words each day or will it need to meet certain criteria.
In discussions with the participants in the action learning, it was generally agreed that the
strategies outlined by ‘S’ to measure the learning outcomes were effective and appropriate.
Anything but a qualitative reflection would defeat the purpose of transformative soft skill
development. The learning outcomes cannot be controlled quantitatively, separate to all the
other variables operating concurrently with the role-play simulation. It is simply not possible to
isolate the learners from the world while they undergo a role-play simulation including pre-test
and post-test assessments to see if any changes have occurred. Even if it were, such a
quantitative assessment would yield trivial data as it is also notoriously difficult to design and
implement a test for emotional and cognitive interactions. How could we control the differences
between individuals and the random open directions each role-play simulation takes in order to
define consistent variables? Such data is not only unreliable but invalid as a measurement of
what each individual has come to understand. The point of doing role-play simulation is not to
create lists of the instances of a particular skill each participant demonstrated. For the learning
to be meaningful, it must come from what the learners discover about themselves and how they
communicate with others as they pursue their goals. As long as it is supported by examples of
different soft skills in emails and forum postings, there is no problem with validity.
The debriefing reflections of a participant below illustrate the process of analysing one’s
interactions with other roles in order to understand one’s self and empathise with others:
..and by the end I have to sneakily confess that I could really see the strength in Amy's argument about
moving the NEP..but I wasn't game enough to admit it ..her well argued case didn't impact on me
nearly as much as what I felt as her irritating usurping of the moral high there was learning
for me and my character (Cyn) there..separate the argument from the 'arguer'..something I still have
trouble with in real life Cheers M
Developing empathy for opposing positions was also observed by Vincent and Shepherd (1998)
when the participants in a Middle East simulation had to pursue political agenda strongly
opposed to their own.
5.5 Moderation
Moderating a role-play simulation takes the individual in that position totally outside of any
previous experience they have had in moderating online learning whether it be in chat rooms or
in discussion forums. Ip et. al. (2002) talk of moderating the space or ‘emptiness’ that is there
between the roles, the scenario and the communication tools, which Master Yoshi would call the
12 spokes make a wheel but it is the space between them which makes it useful.
A window is made of a frame but it is the empty space which makes it useful.
What is dynamic about role-play simulation is that there is no final product presented for
information transmission and testing. Each time a role-play simulation is run, a totally new
configuration of learning will emerge in that space, and it emerges from the actions of the
particular combination of participants as they consider what goals can be realised and the kinds
of strategies they try out.
The moderator in this pedagogy does not play a role, and so is outside the social world of the
simulation and this world’s interactions. As Ip et. al. (2002) state, the role is institutional,
organisational, and a pedagogical resource. Many educators are afraid of role-play because of a
perceived lack of control over the progression of the role-play and also that it is high risk as the
players can be made emotionally vulnerable or psychologically stressed because of the actions
of other players. Control of the progression and pedagogical outcomes is certainly less than in
teacher directed learning. However, the running of the role-play simulation is prefaced by
induction which should prepare the participants so they are clear about the learning outcomes,
about how to manage the new learning environment’s tools to realise their goals, and to be clear
about their responsibility in dealing with other participants. They should also understand the
role of the moderator, who has access to all the communications of the participants (except chat
in Fablusi ™). Giving the learners’ freedom to act or construct their social world is to give them
powerful learning opportunities. When acting as a learning resource, the moderator will answer
participant queries. Here it is important to discuss the various possible actions a role might take
and reflect on the consequences rather than give direction. In the final analysis, the participant
takes responsibility for decisions made.
Ip et. al. (2002) highlight the role of the moderator/s to oversee the role-play as ‘guardian
angels’ In this, moderators have a duty of care in that some participants may experience
psychological triggers that stress them. An important strategy for managing this is to discuss the
occurrence in induction and to monitor while moderating the separation of the role from the
participant’s self. The moderator needs to be aware of any player displaying discomfort or
distress, and to privately email individual participants to check how they are feeling about their
personas and what is happening. While doing this, it is important that the participants talk to the
moderator/s out of role to keep the persona within the role-play context. This needs to be set up
in induction and to be modelled by the moderator in the role-play simulation. In some role-play
simulations, the participants work in pairs or teams and this assists with emotional distance from
the personas and there are always other participants with whom to do a reality check. In
collaborating to discuss the role and the next strategies, there is intrinsically an objectification.
Kindley (2002) would call these learning opportunities, and even goes as far as encouraging the
design of judiciously staged ‘failures’ whereby the learners meet head-on what they need to
learn. While staging failure can have a deleterious effect and must be wisely managed by the
moderator, experiences of discomfort from being challenged or disagreed with are part of real
world negotiations, and as such the opportunity to rehearse them in a closed and safe simulated
environment is important learning. What makes this all the more possible in role-play
simulations rather then face-to-face role-plays is that the participants are anonymous. However,
if a participant ends up with a persona/role that aligns too closely to who they are or touches
deep personal issues, they should know that they can ask the moderator to change their role.
This is best done at outset but we don't always know up front where the role will go in the
context of the other roles. At that point the moderator can assist the participant by scaffolding
an analysis of the role and by objectively planning some strategies. As the participant gains
confidence the moderator can ‘fade’ the support. Fading is important otherwise the participant
may become dependent on the moderator. In one sense then as Kindley (Sept.2002) explains,
moderators are a kind of online mentor.
Ip also describe the moderator as a ‘manipulative devil’ where learning
opportunities are created by setting up obstacles in the path to the goals of particular roles.
These are set up in the scenarios or inserted during play. A new role can be created as a
problem during play and this can be particularly effective in social-process role-play
simulations. We can imagine real life situations in the work world where a new employee joins
a work team and totally changes the dynamics in problematic ways. Obstacles can also be
introduced during play as a new outside event that impinges on the whole social world or only
on a sub-group of participants. The moderator as ‘manipulative devil’ may even on occasion
leak information to a role’s opponent and this is really staging an extreme emotional event that
participants must deal with - as they must in the real world of leaks. In Needle Stick, the
moderator did this on one occasion as illustrated below:
Date: 24-08-2002 15:31:16
From: Moderator1
To: Mark Simpson, Sandra Hopkins
Subject: Police Patrols
Hi there!
You may be interested to know that Cheryl Brookes MP and Robyn Torres are pressing for the
police to patrol the precincts of the Needle Exchange Program. Have a look at one of the files
on policing in the Resource Centre...if police start patrolling, will you lose your clients?
The above message was sim-mail, or email internal to the simulation. These two recipients were
running the Needle Exchange Program and also emailed the moderator.
The moderator is also an administrator. In a role-play simulation that means assigning roles,
assisting participants to be at ease in the new environment, keeping them on track in terms of
getting the role-profiles up so the role-play can proceed, deleting duplicated messages in the
conferences, making sure the website is operating without technical faults everyday, creating
new conference spaces in response to participants’ taking the role-play into new directions
perhaps not conceived of in initial development. In Needle Stick this meant putting up a Petition
Forum in week 2 and a Public Meeting Forum in Week 3. To ensure this the moderator must
login three times a day: early morning to catch late night requests, midday to catch morning
requests and evening to catch afternoon requests and set everything up for an often intense
evening interaction. If the whole world technically collapses in the afternoon and the moderator
does not check until the next morning there will be huge participant anxiety. Something like
this happened in Needle Stick with participants losing their forum postings and even though the
moderator logged in morning and early evening on that day, there were many anxious emails for
assistance from participants as below within the space of an afternoon:
Things seem to be going a bit crazy at the forum with my postings.
I wonder if it is just a network 'thing' at work. None of the
recommendations I typed today seem to have gone through.
Shall try from home later.
Another important aspect of moderation is to ensure participation obligation. Unless all
participants start the role-play simulation at the same time, get their role-profile embellishments
up in the first week and continue to interact with the other roles, then the other roles will be
frustrated in realising their goals and the learning opportunities will be reduced. In addition, the
moderator needs to clarify with participants that frequent, shorter participation is more useful
than infrequent, longer participation. In the space of a day many changes occur in the simulated
world and all participants need to be cognisant of these interactions and choose their responses.
In Needle Stick, there was a pre-play agreement of a minimum of 30 minutes per day. In reality
many participants were engaged for much longer every day. Sometimes a participant will be
sick or unable to participate for part of the role-play simulation. In that event the moderator
needs to be a creative ‘manipulative devil’. This may mean negotiating with the participant a
plan of action and then emailing all participants that ‘the role that has not appeared or who has
gone quiet’ has suddenly been called away for an important meeting or some other event that
fits in with the scenario. In Needle Stick this happened with one of the Drug and Alcohol roles,
Sandra Hopkins. The participant had not published her role profile at the end of the first week
so an ‘announcement’ was made that she had been called away to a Drug Summit. This enabled
the participant to enter legitimately and strategically after the role-play simulation had started.
Moderating a role-play simulation is an intense and time constrained learning event. Both
participants and moderators must commit time and energy to the process if it is to be
transformative. For any of it to work there must be trust, both between the moderator and the
participants and between the participants. Trust must be built before the role-play simulation
during the induction and the moderator must facilitate this. If moderators understand their new
pedagogical function and if participants are well prepared so they realise the potentiality of the
learning opportunity, then the experience will be transformative for all involved.
Debriefing is the stage where reflection on the process takes place and the facilitator needs to
draw out the learning. This stage can be as long as the actual role-play, if not longer. In
general, participation in a role-play, whether face-to-face or online will create a range of
feelings in the players depending on the level of their participation, the difficulties they had in
realising their goals in negotiating with the other players, the degree of personal identification
with the role they were playing, and the degree to which they have got to know or 'fleshed' out
the other roles or 'people' in the community or parallel world.
A whole range of feelings will be expressed: from triumph to frustration, clarity to confusion,
relief in finding/forming allies, being irritated or angry at other roles, even feelings of being
scared to open messages because of what they may find. In another role in the same role-play
with a different group of people, the experience would be totally different.
It is vital that any trainer/teacher embarking on role-play also follow it up with debriefing so that
people's experiences are addressed and for those who become very involved with their role, that
they disengage. It can happen that the line between the role and the real person becomes blurred
and the role carries over to the everyday world.
Optimum delivery is face-to-face but if the participants are distributed geographically (as they
were in this role-play simulation) then there are the options of setting up tele or video
conferencing in addition to an online discussion forum or even small groups doing chat. It may
be necessary for the facilitator/moderator to ring and talk to individuals who experienced
difficult emotions so there is resolution. This is particularly important when the learning
outcomes are soft skills but even role-plays that concentrate on subject learning outcomes will
raise many interpersonal issues.
These were the questions we addressed:
1. How did you feel during the course of the role-play? It is important here to listen
actively and non-judgementally.
2. What happened?
Compare and contrast your recollections and draw general
3. What did you learn?... in trying to realise your goals? ...about the subject? Could you
self-assess your soft-skill learning?
4. How does this relate to the real world? Needle Stick is but a metaphor (or a simulated
context) for real people to rehearse, to try out their strategies for obtaining goals. How
well did it create a believable real world context and generate real-world relational
Below are some of the threaded discussions which dealt with the topic, ‘Difficult Feelings’ and
‘Public versus Private Agendas’. This occurred after a video conference. You will note how the
participant in the role of Amy took some time to find resolution with what was causing her
discomfort but it raised lots of points of learning for the other participants.
(The participants’ names have been taken out for confidentiality and replaced with X, Y, Z, M,
W, J & moderator):
Message no. 445 posted by X (s000101) on Thu Sep 12, 2002 08:54
Subject Difficult feelings
Maybe Amy came across as a bit of a prig? Still, I wasn't prepared for how
I was going to feel about some of the responses to her! Separating myself
from the role was really hard at times. . .So the question I'd like to
explore here is how can participants be prepared for possible threatening
situations and how can they be supported during and after?
Any ideas?
Message no. 447 [Branch from no. 445] posted by Y (s000197) on Thu Sep 12, 2002 14:08
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
I experienced a wide range of emotions during the Fablusi process, some
positive and some pretty negative, so I know just what X means. I think the
fact that for us the entire process was online was a contributing factor to
those feelings of alienation and isolation. If the induction had been done
f2f I think it would have helped. I know that Melb uni students work in teams
and that I think would go a fair way towards reducing the threatening
feelings. I know there are then problems with sharing the workload etc but I
still feel that the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. The fact
that I was working in the same building as (the moderator) meant that I was
able to talk to her f2f from time to time about my feelings, frustrations,
etc and that helped a lot too - which also points to the fact that there
needs to be a f2f component of the process and the opportunity for
synchronous contact if necessary. Maybe for people who are more accustomed to
communicating online and facelessly, Fablusi would pose less threat but for
me it is important to be able to talk f2f with someone in the simulation.
Message no. 450 [Branch from no. 447] posted by Z (gs0042) on Thu Sep 12, 2002 16:27
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
I admired Samantha, Helena and Amy for sticking up for their ideas, and for
playing their roles so well. My character, Cheryl MP kept saying she was
talking about every issue under the sun, but not really committing, and so I
got a few "nasty" e-mails, but nothing as much as I had expected when
allocated the role. Helena had written to me that I hadn't answered her
question and I laughed, because of course I hadn't and never would - I
thought that politicians are excellent at dissembling.
In terms of solutions, the team concept seems to be a good backup strategy,
or perhaps you could ask learners to ensure they have somebody who can do a
reality check with them (actually see what is going on, what has been said)
and remind them that it is a role, give positive feedback and assistance with
the reply. This sounds like a big ask, but is something I do even with
my(completely) online course that I am undertaking - ask a colleague to look
at the reply that offends and get their perspective.
Message no. 453 [Branch from no. 447] posted by W (gs0036) on Fri Sep 13, 2002 08:52
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
I agree that the teams approach, or even in pairs would have some advantages,
specially if those involved could meet easily and regularly. This would
enable people to consider and discuss the character, discuss strategies and
make plans etc in an arms length a story character. I’d be
comfortable working online with a team member in this way. As Y points out,
its a good idea to get others to comment when you are in a tricky spot,
though most of us dont ask till its too late!! how many of us have online
students who do this all the time?
Message no. 462 [Branch from no. 449] posted by M (gs0004) on Mon Sep 16, 2002 12:52
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
I think the paired option has merit for students..the 'team thing could be a
be unwieldy..but having someone to bounce off, clear technical hitches with
and generally share reality checks sounds good to me. In general fablusi
terms..without compromising our roles.. J and I did this a fair bit and I
felt it really helped me.
interestingly..Samantha didn't push my buttons at all..I could unreservedly
respect her stand..and she came across as a pretty well rounded, rose
growing, community minded sort of a dame..I almost liked her..
now I'm fascinated by the kinds of connections we can make to different roles
and why and how we make many cases my actual contact with some of
the characters was pretty minimal..but I still formed instant, strong
intuitive online impressions of them..just like I do in real life ..this
would be interesting to look at with students to review those impressions
among the group and track back and analyse where and when and why they were
Message no. 463 [Branch from no. 462] posted by Moderator(ELS01A) on Mon Sep 16, 2002
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
Hi M - nice to see you here!
You said:
I remember receiving an pretty direct instruction from (the moderator) to
play the role essentially from my own persona...
and I thought I might expand on this.
Considering we were trying to work out if role-play simulation could be used
to achieve learning outcomes, specifically those of soft skill development,
it was necessary to be making decisions, negotiating, compromising and
accommodating from within our normal selves - our human skills and knowledge
about human interactions. If we cut ourselves off from the reasoning behind
negotiation etc I doubt if there will be any integrated soft skill
development. I think - though you may be able to find some loops in here –
it would be very difficult to sustain a role if it was not linked to our
internal values and that the negotiation process would fall to bits..or not
even really start.
So I think that is why Y was able to make her role (Samantha) work for her:
Y understood the limitations of Samantha's world view as given in the first
outline (by me as designer) but she fleshed the role out as she proceeded.
The latter is important, and maybe I did not emphasise that enough - that the
first lot of information about public and private agendas is but a few
details on the skeleton. It is up to you to develop your role, starting from
publishing the profile. You will notice that Y could make Samantha a
thoroughly likeable role as she donated roses for the community fence
project, etc but did not change her essential position on relocating the NEP.
My guess as to why you formed stronger relations with some than others
depended on who ventured into the street and socialised - as well as your
functional role which brought you into contact with 'Robyn' and 'Kristine'.
You also surveyed the whole town so probably got a very good handle on where
people were coming from.
What do you think?
Message no. 469 [Branch from no. 463] posted by M (gs0004) on Wed Sep 18, 2002 17:09
Subject Re: Difficult feelings
Thanks for the feed back on as usual :-) ..Fablusi and being Cynthia
really worked for me because the role was based on and operated out of my own I really had to 'own' the learning and couldn't dismiss or escape
the yucky difficult bits by thinking..'so what ..that wasn't me anyway'
..this is really important I reckon and something that really needs emphasis
with participants in the induction.
I thought we had a great induction and I can see how as moderator you get
insights and gut feelings about who would be good in which role and that this
would be a useful adjunct to sorting out roles based on people's preferences
I also agree about the socialising in 'Street Talk' as a way of making
contact..I felt a bit inhibited about starting out in the street talk and
then I thought 'bugger it ..just leap in' and it worked..with students I
think I might need to do a bit of induction stuff around this to get it
Message no. 451 posted by Z (gs0042) on Thu Sep 12, 2002 16:39
Subject Public v Private personas
I found it difficult to not go in, boots and all, and agree that Amy,
Samantha and Bernard and Helena all had a good point about the relocation of
the NEP. My usual fence-sitting, on the one hand but on the other,
pragmatic nature almost got the better of the diplomatic Cheryl. Or at
least, that is the role I thought I should play, after being immersed in the
"It's Time" campaign at a very impressionable time!
At the video conference on Tuesday we touched on the difficulty of playing a
role, which we can mould into our own character, but then having a private
and public persona to contend with. This happens every day in real
life. Is it easier to present a purely public image, or does the private
agenda and persona always out? You can probably think of 100's of examples of
this in real life - the man in the NT who was a gentle giant, or was he?
The paedophile, the fraud, spouse basher, alcoholic.
What made the role play more difficult to hold public and private spirit
Message no. 454 [Branch from no. 451] posted by X (s000101) on Fri Sep 13, 2002 09:26
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
Z asks "What made the role play more difficult to hold public and private
spirit together?" and that is exactly the question that's been bugging me.
The only answer I've come up with is embarrassing to admit!
Amy had a conservative role and I like to see myself as a bit more open,
tolerant etc. I wanted to be with all you cool guys who were out there
supporting the drug users; instead I sounded like some moralistic
stay-at-mum from the 50's! Yet the more I had to write as Amy, the more I
came to think she was dead right!!!
So, had I been more comfortable with the conservative in me, i'd probably
been more able to laugh off the responses.
Lastly, I agree that the idea of working in teams, or at least having a
buddy, to do a reality check with when feeling not-OK sounds excellent.
Message no. 456 [Branch from no. 454] posted by Z (gs0042) on Fri Sep 13, 2002 09:58
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
You have hit the nail right on the head their X! It is that little bit of
something you would rather not be associated with that hurts the most. In my
case my kids call me Danna Vale, our local MP, as I have ONE suit
that makes me look like her (have only worn it to christenings, funerals and
SOCOG training days!) Have I lost all the rebel in me because I hit 40?
Have I become conservative and narrow-minded.
Sometimes I felt like arguing for the relocation, and as I said before your
"side's" arguments were compelling, but then so were Kristine's, Sergei’s,
etc! Remember too that in real life we are not constrained by what I saw
as some artificial constraints, so I still sing in the corridor (stairwell
has beautiful acoustics) even though some people perceive that I shouldn't.
Message no. 457 [Branch from no. 456] posted by X (s000101) on Fri Sep 13, 2002 11:33
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
you make me smile Y - I had a year off TAFE in 1990 and went to art
school........and i remember if no-one was around, I used to tear off dancing
down the corridor - was 40 and so happy!
Message no. 461 [Branch from no. 454] posted by M (gs0004) on Mon Sep 16, 2002 11:53
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
Amy had a conservative role and I like to see myself as a bit more open,
tolerant etc. I wanted to be with all you cool guys who were out there
supporting the drug users; instead I sounded like some moralistic stay-at-mum
from the 50's! Yet the more I had to write as Amy, the more I came to think
she was dead right!!!
actually X ..I reckon you did a top job as Amy..even though (or especially because?) you/she really got
up my shiraz slurping, leftie nose !
and by the end I have to sneakily confess that I could really see the strength in Amy's argument about
moving the NEP..but I wasn't game enough to admit it ..her well argued case didn't impact on me
nearly as much as what I felt as her irritating usurping of the moral high there was learning
for me and my character (Cyn) there..separate the argument from the 'arguer'..something I still have
trouble with in real life Cheers M
Message no. 466 [Branch from no. 454] posted by Y (s000197) on Tue Sep 17, 2002 08:57
Subject Re: Public v Private personas
Reading X's message really made sense - I like her had a conservative role
which I didn't agree with but was able to live with more and more as the
role-play went on - in fact by the end although I totally supported the NEP
in theory, I was convinced in my real self that to have put it so near the
school in the first place was ridiculous and asking for trouble. I think what
made the whole thing possible for me was when I realised I could stop
campaigning for the closure of the NEP and instead jump on the relocation
bandwagon at the same time as supporting the education, fence etc.
The key points reflected upon in the postings above are:
i. Role of induction and moderator in actually getting the participants/students
started in the conference rooms. Some will be hesitant and wait. The roleplay needs all to start at about the same time.
ii. Importance of considering pairing or working in teams to provide support in
strategising, reality checks and being capable of ‘laughing’ at the interactions,
being able to separate from the role.
iii. Owning the learning, that the soft skill interactions reflect your own self’s
capacity. For example, M recognising she had not separated the arguer from
the argument sufficiently as in real life, X recognising that “had I been more
comfortable with the conservative in me, i'd probably been more able to laugh
off the responses”.
iv. Being able to work out a strategy that includes personal adaptability,
compromise and accommodation as Y did – “I think what made the whole
thing possible for me was when I realised I could stop campaigning for the
closure of the NEP and instead jump on the relocation bandwagon at the same
time as supporting the education, fence etc.”
v. The importance of establishing trust so that the participants can be open in
expressing what they think and feel. This also creates empathy and is evident
in the above postings, particularly the conversations between X & Z where Z
is able to make X laugh after having experienced and reflected on quite
difficult feelings in her role as Amy.
5.7 Evaluation
There was an online evaluation which the participants did anonymously and submitted to the
moderator. It comprised 27 questions, both open fields and Likert scales with radio buttons for
quick responses. The questions covered role development, appropriacy of the scenario,
usefulness of the resources, the technology of the learning environment, achievement of the
roles’ goals and learning outcomes, effectiveness of the induction, debriefing and moderation.
The evaluation was useful for redesign purposes in adding some more roles for the school and to
support the no case, and also to add resources which would support the no case. It was also very
informative in regards to what needs to happen in debriefing. As VET lecturers from a number
of fields all but two thought they could use role-play simulation as a learning strategy. The two
who didn’t were hesitant because of the level of their ESL learners, though three other ESL
lecturers thought that upper Intermediate and Advanced learners of English would practice a
wide range of language functions if situated in a context relevant to their settlement needs. The
remaining VET participants were highly committed to using role-play simulation as a learning
strategy in their vocational fields to address attitudes and beliefs, cross-cultural and other ethical
dilemmas, communication and negotiation skills, change management and performance
All participants thought that they had achieved some of their roles’ goals and some of the
learning outcomes. This action learning had at its outset the aim of discovering whether soft
skills could be achieved through role-play simulation. It is important, however, for moderators
and participants to realise that soft skill development is a long process and as long as the
participants are actively trying to realise the soft skill development of a role-play, then that is
what is measured – not full accomplishment! Each participant will be challenged differently
depending on their individual make-up, the particular role they have and the collective dynamic
of the other participants.
I tried practising being more assertive about ‘my’ opinions – and the learning outcome
idea was to be able to handle the flak! ..without losing confidence! It didn’t
work…though perhaps now after debriefing, I’ve shifted.
While the learning is drawn out in the debriefing, the whole process of soft skill development is
complex and occurs over a longer time scale. Every realisation and shift is a success. Below
are three other self assessments:
Self-esteem: was okay
Motivation and Goal Setting: was working towards this and so successful
Adaptability: usually good at this, but have lately become not so adept at adapting!
The simulation helped me regain my solutions approach again.
Negotiation: may have gone overboard in this
Leadership: this would be easy to assess with this simulation as would Organisational
I think I achieved most of the subject outcomes by exploring the resources…as far as
the soft skills go, I think I did a competent job in the personal and influencing areas…it
was relatively straight forward for me to do this from my role as editor of the Bullet. I
feel I did a less competent job in the team area…which I am weak at in real life …my
negotiation skills didn’t get too much of a run.
Definitely. I especially see that I worked on the influencing skills. I really tried as
part of my character to influence a wide number of people. Not sure if I did this, but I
was working on them. I think I could show evidence for many of the others as well.
All participants agreed that the learning outcomes could be achieved and measured through this
learning pedagogy, that assessment needed to be in the form of a reflective journal or reflective
account but with evidence of their performance submitted from their emails and conference
room postings.
And what was best in the experience? Again this response reflected the individuality of the
participants. Here are some of their comments:
Forming alliances worked well for me as it gave me a sense of security from which to
launch out.
I appreciated the headspace between postings that allowed me to formulate my ideas,
and work through other participant’s postings. This isn’t really available to the same
degree in f2f.
It was well moderated and well set up .. clear instructions …good back up and a well
constructed induction…a triumph on organisation which I intend to copy!
I enjoyed writing the profile and starting to visualise the whole physical scenario
– my roses across the road from the school etc.
The whole idea and getting to “play” with what seemed to be (and was) a great learning
activity for the online courses I write and facilitate.
The opportunity to try out role-play in a fairly anonymous situation that was relatively
The interest in communication with this group of people and achieving a series of goals.
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