Book Review: The Power of Role-Based e-Learning
Summary: An informative review of The power of role-based e-learning: designing and moderating online role play. This text provides a great information for both the new teacher who has just started using e-learning in the classroom as well as the seasoned veteran looking for new ideas to bring to their students.

Book Review: The Power of Role-Based e-Learning: Designing and Moderating Online Role-Play

PurposeWillis, Leigh and Ip wrote the book as a practical guide to understanding and implementing online role-play into the classroom. The book is designed for course developers and for instructors using an online environment in their class, whether it is a F2F, blended, or a DE setting.The authors begin by extolling the virtues of role-play in the classroom. They write in their introduction that role-based learning is a powerful approach at all levels of education, in particular at the university and postgraduate level. Continuing throughout the book, the authors provide a step by step guide on creating, implementing, moderating, and assessing the effectiveness of an online role-playing environment in the classroom. They conclude with an outlook towards the future of online role-play in education.The book certainly addresses a topic relevant to educators today. As discussed in the book and during our class discussions, DE has become a new force in the education space. Taking full advantage of the technology available to instructors can only help improve classroom engagement, participation, enjoyment and ultimately learning in the classroom. The authors believe that learning is most effective when undertaken in an active and experiential environment, with role-play being one environment that has been extremely successful.Author's IntentThe authors’ intent for the book is a practical guide to using role-play in the classroom. As, there is very little bias in the book, for the authors are not trying to prove a point of view to the reader, rather give the reader a handbook for developing a class. The book offers practical tips and explanations for educators in all stages of developing an online role-play experience, from conception of a problem to evaluating the effectiveness of the role-play. The authors wrote this text to be an all in one resource for instructors unfamiliar with online role play as well as seasoned instructors who are looking for new platforms to engage students in online role-play.Content HighlightsAs stated in the Author’s Intent section, this book is intended to be a step by step manual for educators at the post secondary level to develop a comprehensive online role-play scenario. From conception to assessment, the authors have designed this book to be a skeleton for individual instructors to build on.

  • In chapter 1, the authors describe what exactly is role-playing and its effectiveness in the classroom. They point out that during role-play, students are not only learning about the material, but are actively engaging the material in order to fulfill their roles in the role-play. The authors also describe a simulation triad. The triad of rules, roles and problems can help determine the best platform to use to tackle a particular problem using online role-play. The most important sentence in the chapter comes from the summary of Chapter 1. In the summary the authors write that when role-playing, students are not only learning about a story but rather the become part of the fabric of the story itself.
  • Chapter 2 builds off the simulation triad idea and delves into the different platforms available to educators for online role-play. Many different platforms are examined and examples are given for each platform. The platforms examined are an LMS based role-play, a Round Table Discussion format role-play, the Fablusi and SIMPLE platforms, and Second-life. Each platform has its own advantages and particular areas that it is most effective. Chapter 2 also provides a myriad of examples for each of the platforms. From problem description to step by step implementation of how learners engage the problem, the authors did a great job explaining how exactly each platform was applied and the advantages of using that particular platform for the problem presented.
  • Chapters 3, 4, and 5 give instructors guidelines and tips on designing all aspects of the online role-play. For the instructor, this is where the real usefulness of the book can begin to be seen. Chapter 4 expressly deals with how to design a problem for use in an online role-play. What questions do instructors need to think about when designing a problem? How can the instructor make it meaningful to the participants? How and when will information be conveyed? Chapter 5 focuses on developing the rule of the role-play. A game, which is what role-play is, is not fun unless there are rules that are clearly understood by everyone. From basic participation rules, (i.e. how do participants communicate? How often must participant actually participate? etc,) to the rules of the participants while engaging in the role-play (i.e. the power of each participants role, how are decisions of a group made? etc.). A great section of this particular chapter is encouragement from the authors that role-play designers not be afraid to make mistakes. Participants may find loop holes, there may be glitches in the designer’s design, the platform may not be appropriate. However every opportunity tried allows the designer to grow and develop better role-plays in the future.
  • Chapters 6 and 8 offer instructors tips and advice on how to moderate and assess their online role-play. Chapter 6 provides background as well as strategy for instructors acting as moderators. Chapter 6 provides an amazing table for new instructors on each step to becoming an effective moderator. The authors also advise moderators to expect problems in areas ranging from lack of participation from learners to participants attempting to game the system in their favor.  The authors advise instructors to be flexible with moderating online role-play but make sure that clear goals for the role-play are kept in mind. Chapter 8 focuses how to assess the online role-play experience both during and after the exercise.  Chapter 8 offers a variety of great ideas for ideas to incorporate assessment as a part of the actual role-play, such as reports written in the point of view of the role the participant has taken or weekly reports in the form of journal entries or memoranda.
  • Chapter 10 and the appendices focus on the future trends of online role-play. They also provided further resources for instructors for online role-play. The highlight of this section is appendix C, where resources for a readymade role-play are made available to instructors in order for them to develop their own role-plays.

ConclusionThe book was a fantastically written book. With clear chapter headings and easy to read material, this text was a comprehensive guide to designing online role-play in the classroom, whether it be a F2F, DE, or blended environment. The authors supported all of their chapters with a plethora of examples for instructors reading the material. The examples made the material easy to understand as well as connect to the real world application of the technology available to them.  What really set this text apart was the depth to which the authors went in explaining the material. It seemed like the authors knew the most pertinent or frequently asked questions by instructors looking to integrate online role-play into their classroom. Along with answering the questions posed, the authors provided strong examples to help the reader understand clearly and concisely. By offering many different examples and the advantages of each platform, the book provides educators with proven methods for using online role-play and finding the platform that will best supplement the course objectives set by the instructor.In the education space, the use and ubiquity of technology is astounding.  Administrators want their instructors to be using the newest and most advanced technology available to them. This text allows educators to harness the power of expensive a LMS or other platform in order to get the most use out of it. No longer does a LMS have to be solely an online grade book. An instructor armed with this text can utilize the full potential of the technology that the institution’s administration has spent a significant portion of a budget providing tools for their faculty, bringing a much larger return of investment to administration and a high level of engagement and enjoyment to both students and instructors of a class.RecommendationsI would highly recommend this text to any instructor who wants to incorporate role-play into the classroom. This book was easy to read, clear, and extremely helpful to me as an aspiring educator. In the hands of a current educator, this text would be an extremely valuable resource for them. Whether a new instructor or an experienced one, I think this text could be valuable to them.  The text is available in a variety of mediums, from hardcover to eBook. I would recommend the eBook because of the ease of use. With hyperlinked chapter titles and examples, the book is easy to navigate. With an eReader version of the text, the material is easily searchable and it is easy to find exactly what you are looking for. I would also recommend the eBook because you can easily navigate to the websites they mention in the book from a wirelessly enabled tablet or eReader. As for value, I rented this book for under $10 from Amazon. The amount of information I learned from this book was well worth the $10 I spent on renting it. The eReader version of the book on Amazon is under $40. If I were designing an online role play for a class, I could easily spend more than the $40 cost of the book just in man-hours developing a role-play and not even be sure if it will be appropriate or work well with the goals of the assignment. With this book, the reader has a wealth of information as well as a readymade role-play available at their fingertips. I would highly recommend this book and the value to educators interested in using online role-play in their class.

Book Information

Wills, S.; Leigh, E.; Ip, A. (2011). The power of role-based e-learning: designing and moderating online role play (connecting with e-learning) Routledge:Taylor and Francis.ISBN: 978-0415877855 (paperback)ISBN: 978-0-203-84267-6 (Kindle Edition)