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‘Technology alone will not provide an adequate framework for innovation. It might be described as a missile looking for a target.’ (Freeman and Capper, 1998, p. 2)
With the development of conferencing systems and Virtual Learning Environments such as Blackboard and Web CT, the opportunity to use such technology to aid teaching and learning is growing. The conferencing systems, e-mail and the internet are generating new possibilities for the design and use of SGRP (Freeman and Capper, 1998; Ip et al., 2001). As yet, online technology has generated less innovation in simulations and games than in role-play. Whilst there are a number of simulations (e.g. the Virtual Economy) and games currently available via the internet, this mode of access does not affect the dynamic of their use (unless access to the internet is lost part way through a teaching session). In role-play, however, the internet does change the nature of students’ interaction.
The Web houses the virtual space for the role-play, enables communication and collaboration among students, and between the students and the lecturers. The Web also enables access to ‘just-in-time’ resources by making available to students resources (such as up-to-date news from electronic newspapers and web-sites etc.), from all over the world as and when they need them. Without this capability the content of the role-play would be significantly weaker. (Ip et al., 2001)
Freeman and Capper (1998) suggest that, as well as enriching SGRP, technology is likely to improve the learning outcomes from such an approach. For example, they suggest that the value of face-to-face role-play is limited by fear of appearing foolish in front of peers. In addition, real-time role-play might require the individual or group in role to respond to a situation or question immediately. Under such pressures, answers may be ill conceived or incorrect. With online technology it is possible to minimise the impact of such conditions. Online discussions via e-mail groups and ‘chat rooms’ can provide anonymity (as users do not need to use their real name) and time for greater reflection. Freeman and Capper conclude that in their experience online role-play helped students to develop more and better ideas than face-to-face role-play.
Online role-play seems likely to improve information and communications technology skills at the expense of social skills relevant to face-to face interaction. There will also be more emphasis on written communication and less on oral communication. If students participate anonymously, the scope for developing a learning community is also diminished. E-mail and Web-based communication might also fail to create a learning community. Consequently, it might be best to use online role-play in conjunction with a face-to-face approach to role-play.
5 Devising your own SGRP: some points for consideration