Role plays and case studies are two increasingly popular tools in teaching, as the paradigm is noticeably changing from an instructor center learning environment towards a student centered, problem based approach. The combination of these two tools provide us with an easily adaptable, extremely interactive and dynamic approach, which places the students into the midst of the situation and gives them the opportunity to not only to listen and watch but also to participate.
Role play: The overall aim of role playing assignments is for students to get involved in a much more direct and practical way than is the case with classic face-to-face teaching. Splitting the word into its two components we can also get a good impression about the functioning of this technique. It provides the students with personas or characters which they can use to portray a role in a fictitious setting akin to theater. It offers the chance to play these characters in a relaxed and risk-free environment, to test one’s own skill and knowledge without any risks involved and additionally - as with any game we play - to have fun in the process. In a role play participants will either portray someone else or they will play themselves in a specific situation. Many critics have recommended that training by doing is the best way of learning for most students and topics. Reading or listening to someone lecturing is inferior to getting involved, to experiment and to take an active part in the scenario, and this is what role playing is all about.
Dr. Ellen Langer said in an interview (Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) 1998), “what's interesting to me is that when people are at play, they are mindfully engaged and that's what's interesting. Play isn't play unless the mind is there. It's not something that you want to run away from and let your muscles just do it while you're sleeping; you want to be there because it's fun to be there […] so truths are context dependent. When you realize that, that things look different from different perspectives, then you stay tuned in because you can't be sure what's going on. And that staying tuned in is what keeps you involved. That's the essence of being mindful.” This is exactly what role playing exercises are aiming at, to actively engage people, involve them in the matter and thus keep them alert and awake, or to say it with Ellen Langers words “mindful” about what is happening in the training session.
“A role playing game is a training session where the facilitator, perhaps with an assistant or two, sets up a scenario where the participants are assigned different roles, where those roles identify with those in the situation where participants will find themselves when they undertake their work in the field. The play gives the training participants opportunities to act out various roles chosen to represent actual roles that would be in the field situation” (Bartle 2004). In the context of intercultural communication, role playing games allow for the training of intercultural awareness and communication competence by choosing role descriptions which include different cultural heritages and by including players who come from different countries.
There are three distinctive stages in a role play session: (1) the briefing, (2) the play and (3) the debriefing.
In the briefing phase, the facilitator sets the stage. He describes the scenario and the roles available. The briefing phase is also the “warm-up” phase for all participants; it is a time used to introduce everyone involved, to explain the specifics of the role playing technique and to clearly state the aim of the exercise.
The facilitator will explain the scenario; the degree of detail necessary strongly depends on the topic. In the intercultural context it is advisable to keep the scenario rather open and to allow for free interpretation wherever possible, as cultural differences will only