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Chapter XIV

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play Scott J. Warren University of North Texas, USA Richard A. Stein Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Abstract This chapter discusses the design and use of simulated teaching experiences contextualized through role-play in a multi-user virtual environment as a means of providing pre-service teachers with pedagogical and instructional experiences that are increasingly difficult for university programs to provide. It illustrates the underlying pragmatic theory of communication that supports this model of simulated experience as well as research methods that we suggest can aid in understanding the complex learning that stem from actor and student interaction. The goal of this chapter is to provide an instructional design model of simulated role-play experience that emerged from a design-based research project as a means of supporting the development.

Introduction Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, when the signal emits clearly from transmitters hidden on thousands of planets, moons, and asteroids and reaches Earth, a tall, blonde man named Calron logs onto the OTAK. Once in the computer system, his digital self materializes in the central world, which is filled with numerous other figures,

representing children from several continents. Calron is not from Earth; he is from the distant world of Atlantis. A member of a secret Council, he seeks to improve the quality of life on both planets through scientific inquiry aided by his friends on earth. Calron types greetings to several elementary and middle school aged students, calling them by name from his past experiences with them during

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Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

the previous six months. He asks several questions about their learning activities in the space and how students think their work is helping people on both Atlantis and Earth. Students pester him with questions about the Archfall book, which introduces them to the story and problems of the world of Atlantis. He answers sometimes specifically, sometimes vaguely; taking notes about which students he has told what information, so that he and other members of the Council can refer back to it in the future. When students ask which Quests they should complete next as these are the main learning activities in the 3-D space, he nudges them towards those that he and the Council feel can best help the respective planets. Figure 1 presents an image of Calron as he appears in the book that accompanies the digital world. Calron is not really an alien from a distant planet. Instead a simulated character role-played by a pre-service teacher. The experience of being Calron embeds the pre-service teacher within what it is to be a teacher by simulating several of the roles and responsibilities of teaching. Being a Council Member provides learners with a Figure 1. Calron, a pedagogical agent and Atlantian Council member in Quest Atlantis


live action digital simulation of the pedagogical roles that teachers engage in every day that range from coaching to facilitating and even dramatic acting. While the activity furthers student experience related to the narrative that supports the project, it provides a valuable set of interactions that will increasingly interact with their students in interactive digital spaces that simulate the learning environments that currently consist of whiteboards and desks.

The Challenge for Teacher Training With the increased need for trained teachers that continues to trouble schools in many U.S. states (Matus, 2005) as well as countries worldwide, teacher training institutions are increasingly turning to distance learning applications to provide simulated field experiences that mirror those that students would traditionally receive by teaching with a mentor teacher in a physical classroom (Lehman & Richardson, 2004; Simpson, 2006). In addition, there have been calls by the government, professional teaching organizations, parents and the media to improve the training of teachers to include knowledge about the latest research findings and knowledge about best practices in education (NEA, 2004; PreventionAction, 2007). While the technological solutions continue to multiply, a number of problems exist that call for solutions that involve the use of digital simulations. The use of such simulations has shown some promise for providing rich, meaningful field experiences to pre-service teachers that can prepare them for their future work as day-to-day professionals and learners (Aldrich, 2003; Squire, 2004; Thiagarajan, 1996). Viewing the development of a simulated digital teaching experience through the lens of pure simulation (or simulation games) can be aided by adopting a theoretical stance that does not accept a single historical, Kuhnian paradigmatic stance (i.e. positivist/empiricist vs. contextualist vs. relativist) (Bernstein, 1983; Hollis, 1994). This

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

frees the designer or researcher from a view of a simulated experience that provides only a narrow glimpse into teacher or learner experience. Instead, this chapter proposes examining the design or educational value of a simulated experience employing a pragmatic theoretical view that takes communication as the core function of human activity can provide a holistic means of developing a more complete picture of teaching and learning. Early work in the area of pragmatic theory and research centered on the idea that the development of theory and its accompanying research should be geared towards the development of new means of teaching and learning that could be readily employing in educational settings (Dewey, 1925, 1938). This chapter frames both a theoretical and methodological perspective for understanding, assessing, and teaching using simulated role-play from the pragmatic Theory of Communicative Action (CA) (Habermas, 1981a) in several ways. First, it identifies the core issues and problems inherent in many existing teacher preparation systems. Further, we explore and critique the splintered, underlying theoretical stances that guide the development of many face-to-face and simulated teaching experiences and explain the means by which the theory can provide a more holistic view of the nature of simulated experiences for teacher preparation, learning, and assessment. Finally, we provide an example of a simulated teaching experience and future directions for this form of simulated role-play experience in educational settings.

Background Issues, Controversies, Problems Teacher Field Experiences As the number of teachers needed in public schools increases, the number of available loca-

tions for pre-service teacher experiences has not concurrently increased (Simpson, 2006). While the use of digital simulations and other forms of technology such as computer-mediated communication, digital video, and video conferencing systems have shown some promise for addressing this shortage of face-to-face field experiences, Simpson (2006) notes several challenges to using field experiences delivered at a distance: 1.




Field experience in distance delivered teacher education programs is brief; this may stem from administrative limitations such as a limited number of school sites. Others difficulties in these experiences come the fact that instructors have found it challenging to include all the relevant knowledge about pedagogical practices and specific area content knowledge (i.e. mathematics) that researchers have found necessary to ensuring a quality education for distance students. Young (1998) notes that a central issue related to providing a range of pre-service field experience is that a consequence of many newly shortened programs is that experience is often in a single school and that this solitary experience can be an inadequate model for a future teacher. It is also often difficult for teacher education institutions to find a sufficient number of schools in which to place their students and expert teachers with which to pair them. While ensuring that there are sufficient schools for pre-service teacher, assuring quality experiences is yet another problem. Ishler, Edens, & Berry (1996) and Howey (1996) found that educational institutions delivering pre-service teacher education have little supervision over local school sites. Therefore, ensuring that the mentor teachers are modeling best practice is difficult or not done. As they are limited to the use of local schools or schools within a


Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

reasonable traveling distance, those schools and teachers that may best model teaching are not used.

Reconnecting Theory and Practice Work related to Jurgen Habermas’ (1981a; 1981b) Theory of Communicative Action (CA) is geared towards developing practical means of understanding and improving what is at the center of the both this theory and teaching practice: human communication towards a goal. In instructional settings, such communicative goals range from those of the teacher such as conveying strategic content information (i.e. Lansing is the capital of Michigan), to eliciting responses from students that confirm understanding, and further into areas of negotiating or enforcing societal normative rules (i.e. you should not hit your peers). The learning goals that teachers have for their students may come from state curriculum or from personal goals established for individual students, but each is communicated either directly through such actions as writing them on the chalk board or implicitly through the goals of the specific activities and linkages to assessment. These goals as communicative actions (i.e. discursive speech acts, textual discourse) generally have one of four purposes. The first goal is generally to convey objective, empirical knowledge or fact commonly accepted in the present as valid by society such as information found in standardized tests. However, this actually includes two different types of communication 1.) teleological or strategic action which relates to technical, in which empirical knowledge deemed by the individual to be useful, is leveraged during 2.) constantive speech acts or conversation to further develop and critique the theoretical understandings of speaker and hearer. A third possible goal is to provide socially valid normative understandings that have been generated through past consensus within socially or culturally shared experience such as social rules such as legal or moral conceptions


through normatively regulated action. Lastly, the speaker may be attempting to express some internal state or “lifeworld” understanding towards the goal of taking some future action such as a direction to do something, known as dramaturgical action (Habermas, 1981a; Habermas & Cooke, 2002). According to Habermas, what underlies all of these different forms of communicative actions is intersubjective agreement between speaker and hearer. This theory has several implications for the development of educational simulations that are intended to provide pre-service teachers with practice geared towards the multiple communicative actions that they are expected to engage in within their future classrooms. The Limits of Simulations with Communicative Action The limitation that faces traditional simulations when viewed through the lens of Communicative Action is that only the pre-service teacher/student and simulated system are present. Why this is problematic is that the system cannot participate in conversation and critical discourse in which the validity of the assertions made by the student can be examined. Even more problematic is that the student must tacitly accept the validity of all claims made by the system because it remains static in the face of critique and cannot engage in a back and forth conversation towards consensus about the validity of the information communicated through the technological structure of the simulation. For example, if the student teacher finds the system’s communication about the appropriate means for disciplining a child in the classroom to be inappropriate when they throw a piece of paper, the system often still only recognizes one correct, valid answer (i.e. give the student a verbal warning) because of the scripted nature of many educational simulations and simulation games. The participant in the simulation cannot engage in conversation with the system and state their critique of the communicated approach because

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

the simulation engages in purely strategic action in which there are set rules for valid communication behaviors that, in a human, would have been accepted as useful knowledge for how to act in a classroom. The learner may imagine instances in which the proposed strategy for acting would be inappropriate; however, they have no recourse to conversation with the system about the validity of the required strategy. Their only option is to refuse to participate in the simulated experience. This problem resulted in the idea that it should be possible to leverage technology to mitigate the major problems faced by student teachers in the current teacher training programs: 1. 2. 3.


distance of the teacher from their pre-service experience, the limitations placed on the amount of structured or unstructured communications, the amount of critical impact they could have on the students in a limited time period, and the possibility of a poor quality teaching simulated face-to-face instructional experience.

However, the question remained as to how the one could develop a simulated teaching experience that would to provide pre-service teachers with a flexible system in which there were opportunities for the participant to engage with real students in to simulate the communicative actions that are present in day-to-day teaching.

Quest Atlantis: A Simulated Conceptual Play Space An initiative within the National Science Foundation and MacArthur Foundation supported Quest Atlantis (QA) project was developed in order to provide students with a digital science-inquiry experience using a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) (Barab, Warren, & Ingram-Goble, 2008; Barab et al., 2007). Within the foundational

narrative that situates student activities and provides a rationale for students to work within the OTAK, a simulated computer simulation of the distant world of Atlantis, there are a number of characters who drive the learning activities and story which comes in the form of novels and comic books (Warren, 2005, 2006b). These characters introduce new meta-storylines, explain new digital developments within the 3-D environment, and provide brief background stories to situate the “Quests� that students complete in order to earn rewards and prestige. The Need to Build Narrative Supports One of the primary complaints from the 4th, 5th and 6th grade public school learners that emerged from informal and semi-structured interviews related to the narrative that supports QA. Specifically, they noted that there was a lack of interaction with the main characters that otherwise engaged them in the stories that framed the learning activities and drive their actions in the 3-D space (Dodge et al., In Press; Warren, 2006c). Therefore, it was determined that project team members should role play the six main characters a few hours a week to provide student participants with the opportunity to interact directly with the fictional characters as a means of enriching their experience with and knowledge of the supporting narrative as it evolved. At the same time the team was developing the initial solution to this problem, the problem of a lack of suitable pre-service teacher sites for field experiences was noted to the designers during an unrelated meeting. As a result of this limitation, many pre-service teachers in the state of Indiana were placed in schools out of state as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, and Chicago, Illinois. This resulted in round-trip travel times ranging from two to five hours in some instances. The challenge was mainly due to a systemic state geographical challenge that resulted in a lack of urban centers near teacher preparation universities. Those centers near the universities


Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

tended to be rural or lacked sufficiently high student populations to meet the need for mentor teachers and classrooms for field experiences. For those pre-service teachers that intended to teach in urban area, the opportunity to practice in such settings was lacking and further, many of the rural schools were burdened with high preservice teacher to mentor teacher ratio (Warren, 2006a). This led to a large number of students who spent only a few hours in the classroom as students before they were given their own classes as professionals after graduation. Upon this discovery, it was determined that in order to address both the need for student interaction with the fictional characters and pre-service teacher need for interaction with real students, it was determined recruit undergraduate students in the pre-service education program to work in a simulated field experience called The Council Actors.

their activity in the project worlds. Training the Council Actors was conducted by master teachers and project staff and was conducted similarly to mentoring that is commonly done in public schools and teacher education programs.

Requirements of the Council Actor simulation. Council Actors were required to complete a number of weekly requirements in order to meet their own field experience needs as well as those of the students they would work with in the 3-D worlds. The following are the explicit requirements provided to Council Actors for working in the QA worlds that would provide them with high levels of contact with students while still ensuring coordination of teaching efforts across the team. 1.

Solutions and Recommendations Design Solution In order to recruit teachers for the program, The Council Actors program was conceived as an independent study course to provide a simulated field experience to pre-service teachers. The main benefit of this solution was perceived to be that it would gives the pre-service teachers an opportunity to interact with students on a daily basis in a way similar to how they would once they had their own classrooms upon graduation in terms of developing effective communication. Further, through role-play, they would be able to experience the dramatics/acting as teacher/scaffolding student learning, which Habermas (1981a; 1981b) would frame as “dramaturgical action.� Actors also interact with and instruct students by providing both explicit, realistic expectations for acting in a safe, 3-D space while adding richness to student experience by communicating the story that drives






Interaction: The Actor will interact with kids or otherwise be in the space at least 6 hours per week. Feedback: Actors will give feedback on Council suggested and Community Quests during their down time in the space. Staff Meeting: Actors will attend a Council Actor staff meeting approximately one hour per week and engage in team planning. Council Meeting: At least one time per month, all Actors will meet in the digital Council Chamber within Quest Atlantis for 30-45 minutes per week. Web logs (blogs): The Actors submit blog entries for their characters 1-2 times per week under the guidance of two project members with expertise in this area. This allows them to approve all blog submissions and post them in the appropriate space while ensuring for narrative consistency.

In addition to these guidelines for role-playing the character and character responsibilities; there were also two other key guidelines or pre-

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requisites. These are: the Actor has reviewed the novel at length and has also reviewed the individualized character sheet for their particular character. The findings that stemmed from the staff meetings in which the Actors told their stories of interacting with students impacted each new iteration of the reified requirements document and provided insight into the building of tacit knowledge of the pre-service teachers and staff members over time.

Transfer in the Simulation The Guide to Simulations and Games for Education and Training (Horn, 1977) defines the term simulation as a method of representing physical reality. Further, Horn also note that the essence of the social system interaction must also be represented, not just the physical. Therefore, simulations are used to replicate essential aspects of reality so it may be better understood and/or controlled. In addition, this definition sees user control as an important feature of a simulation, positing that the user must be an active participant in an experiential learning activity, whether physical, such as flying a plane, or social, such as engaging in a debate about substantive international topics in the forum of a simulated United Nations. However, this may not be a complete conception as Baudrillard (1993) notes: The systems of reference for production, signification, the affect, substance, and history, all this equivalence to a ‘real’ content, loading the sign with the burden of ‘utility,’ with gravity – its form of representative equivalence – all this is over with…simulation, in the sense that, from now on, signs are exchanged against each other rather than against the real (Baudrillard, 1993, p.6-7).” At this point, differences between the real object and its reference or sign can no longer be discriminated between, making their value equivalent. (Baudrillard, 1994, p. 6)

If we accept this concept, then the reality represented by a simulation can be accepted as being the same as that in a different context outside the simulation. In a learning setting, this gains importance because it discounts the argument that both the classroom setting and the work students do in classroom contexts must be authentic in the sense that it is exactly the same as the work they will be expected to do in the future for it to be of value. From Baudrillard’s argument, work completed by students in a simulation (e.g. as a flight simulator) and the work that students may complete in another context (e.g. flying a real plane) need not be an exact match and both have authentic value. This is because humans already understand the exchange of the real for the referential and value the practice of the referential equally in terms of future use. Therefore, learners do not need to complete the exact same task in order to perceive how the simulated task and accompanying practices have value. Thus, simulated experiences such as a role-play have transfer to alternate contexts and work activities. The Council Actors simulation provides the pre-service teacher learners with control of the major features of communicative action ranging from the strategic in which they post web logs that are used to convey “facts” about the Atlantian planet just as they will write dates and events for the American Revolution on the chalkboard. The learners have control over what they choose to reveal, the instructional methods by which they convey information such as social norms, or negotiate meaning and understanding through constantive communication within the simulated space that is QA. By providing the pre-service teachers with control over the social system that in many ways mimics the learning and normative aspects of the classroom, we provide them with a simulated experience that leads to transfer to their future teaching experience. The Actors experience simulates many of the interpersonal conflicts that arise between students, rule enforcement, and pedagogical moments that are part of


Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

the everyday classroom.

Simulating the Council: Balancing Narrative and Learning The role of a Council Actor was revealed to be complex as the Actors began to engage with students in the space. Therefore, as we reported our findings in the staff meetings, we determined that being an Actor would require a number of guidelines for pre-service teachers to follow in order to preserve the numerous narratives that exist in Quest Atlantis. This scaffold was necessary, not only for the narratives to remain intact, but also provided a structure to the overall experience and commitment required of the preservice teachers. In other words, while there were a number of different roles that the pre-service teachers were expected to engage in; there was also a need for a semi-structured experience for the pre-service teacher that they could refer back to in times of trouble. This highlights both a limitation and a key opportunity of using the role-play design in that the guidelines above are listed as minimums for participation. In contrast, the upper limits of the amount of time spent would be defined by the preservice teachers as restricted by their other school and social commitments. With a different group of role-players, such as credentialed teachers hired to spend considerably more time in the QA space than the pre-service teachers can afford, it may be possible to substantially increase the potential interactions between the teachers, students, and narrative. This would then result in high satisfaction among the QA student participants, but would eliminate the pre-service experience and benefit. The Role(-play) of the Pre-Service Teacher One important part that emerged was that the primary role of the pre-service teacher is to nudge students towards using the learning affordances (Gibson, 1977) of the space such as the text of Quests, Actor blogs, and other digital tools for


learning. These encouragements provide students with the opportunity to interact with the narrative/characters, which they express an interest in doing through their constantive communications with the Council Actors. These “nudges� can be used to direct students towards particular Quests that are of special interest to the Council Actors due to fictional events on Atlantis. These moments of interaction act as opportunities for the teacher actor to engage in the form of validity claim negotiation between teacher and student that we believe is necessary for understanding to occur. For instance, a typical interaction may emerge: Calron: So what is your favorite world in Quest Atlantis? Student: I like Culture. Calron: What do you like in Culture world? Student: The stuff about music is my favorite Calron: Have you looked at the Quest about Unidad’s favorite song? Student: No Calron: I think it would be a good one if you like music Student: Thks While this is a typical type of interaction in which the Actor pushes a student who may not be completing the main learning activity in QA, which are Quests, they also act in several other ways such as providing understanding of group norms by referring the I-BURST rules that govern behavior in the space while another role is to provide students with feedback. Council Actors review different learning activities such as community or teacher Quests and provide feedback that has a clear Atlantian view of the problem and

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

solution, while still connecting their work to the real world and its impact on the distant world. They also have the opportunity to help guide class activities in conjunction with teachers. This allows the pre-service teacher, with the help of a QA staff member or teacher, to practice grading and giving feedback that are two important responsibilities of teachers on a day-to-day basis. Tension: Non-Explicit Direction A major challenge that emerged with this working within this form of simulated teaching experience is that Council Actors must avoid being overly explicit in their answers as it may lock the narrative in ways that makes it difficult to scaffold for other Actors or may limit future development. QA novels such as Archfall in the Two Worlds, One Fate series provide a good example of the non-explicit kinds of interactions that could serve as a model of the kinds of interaction that should used when acting as a Council member this. The novels act as strong references for Actor behavior, knowledge, background information, and context as the Actor seeks to provide students with learning experiences in the 3-D worlds. The cover of Archfall is presented in Figure 2 and showcases Kerbe and Alim, two of the Council members, surrounded by the Arch of Wisdom. In instances where narrative-shifts may occur as a result of interaction with students, it is necessary for not only a detailed description of the situation to be kept; but for a decision to be made on whether to acknowledge the shift or to attempt to minimize it. In either case, the narrative would be used as the primary reference. Tension: Providing Cognitive Challenge Another major challenge was that Council Actors are expected to avoid overly didactic, explicit instructional interactions in which they tell students the answer to specific questions about how to complete a learning task. Cognitive challenge questions rather than direct answers work better because they encourage students to critically

Figure 2. Archfall cover image

examine their problem and seek their own solution. Questions such as: “Why did you decide to do that?” or “Have you thought about X?” serve as to challenge the student participants to come to their own conclusions and solutions without being led directly to them. Tension: Empowering Learners Through the System Finally, we wanted to avoid presenting the Council a group as all-knowing, perfect avatars of virtue lest we destroy one of the things that kids like about them which is that they are flawed and somewhat like themselves. There should be instances when the Council member just does not know the answer and recommends that the Questers ask their friends, their teachers, or explore more on their own. By engaging in strong instructional methods that empower the learners, we hoped that the pre-


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service teachers would learn how to encourage self-direction and ability to master the necessary skills to effectively communicate within the QA system towards the goal of understanding their world through inquiry. One of the means by which we provided the Actors with guidance about these Council members was to develop “templates” or “style sheets” similar to those that are used in role playing games like White Wolf’s Mage: The

Figure 3. Style sheet for Calron character


Awakening. These style sheets provide the Actors with the core information about the character’s values, experiences that are in the background of the narrative, physical, social, and mental attributes, as well as their personal beliefs in relationship to the Social Commitments which are central to the Quest Atlantis moral and ethical system that supports student activity. Figure 3 shows part of Calron’s template that includes an example of this guide that is provided to the Actors.

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

Researching a simulated teaching experience While working to develop substantial methods for research into complex environments that include simulations, games, MUVES, and blends of these continues, we generated several suggestions for addressing issues of learning, attitude, and other important educational and psychological constructs relevant to the effectiveness of a simulated experience in this format. Empirical forms of research such as survey and pre-posttest methods should be employed to provide part of the picture of pre-service attitudes towards learning based on design methods, issues of self-efficacy, and understanding of instructional methods. However, in order to provide a more complete picture when examining a role-play simulation, we recommend that other methods that can delve more deeply into the socially negotiated and individual experiences of the pre-service teachers should also be employed. These include, but are not limited to, qualitative methods that generate data which can be used to revise the design of such a simulated teaching experience and may provide a lens by which we can better understand and improve more naturalistic pre-service experiences in face-to-face settings. Most importantly, these methods center the researcher as a co-participant in the learning experience and therefore provide a means to empower the pre-service teacher in areas of student management, communication, and problem solving before they take over their own classroom. The most important research methods we employed were those that forced self-examination of Actors and sharing of those insights and challenges that emerged as we worked through the use of the simulated experience. The information that emerged from these discussions resulted in the highest positive impact redesigns to the experience over time and generated effective rule sets to govern role-play.

The Emancipatory Interest In terms of social science research, the Emancipatory Interest is a concept that violates the underpinnings of traditional empirical research (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996), but was very important as we sought to include CA as a grounding theory for both the design of the learning experience for the pre-service teachers and staff as well as the research methods that were employed. The idea of observer as objective outsider is abandoned in favor of inserting the researcher, not only as participant-observer in the social learning and acting processes, culture, and immersive forms of life of the local community, but as an active proponent and advocate for effecting social change and empowerment (Lather & Smithies, 1997; Leistyna, Lavanez, & Nelson, 2004). From a researcher point of view, this becoming part of the community allows for honest communication by the participants of their individual understandings that bind their actions and knowledge of their meanings in the context of the social science perspective. Further, by engaging a dialogue between researcher-participant and study-participant, as well as the community, problems and solutions are identified and generated by the Council Actor members themselves, which leads to empowerment in the present context and empowerment to solve problems in future situations (Leistyna et al., 2004) and therefore transfer of the simulated experience to their prospective professional teaching experience. The Emancipatory Interest fundamentally changes the purpose of research from observing or describing and then reporting a change made over time in a community to a purpose that involves the researcher empowering community members to identify and work towards solutions as they reacquire power from the digital system and reintegrate it into the community through purposeful communicative action. So, how do we study a simulated role-play from the perspective of both emancipating the participants and


Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

understanding the impact of such a design on the communicative actions that form the basis of instruction and learning?

Hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches In order to address the idea that instruction and learning are communicative actions with the goal of emancipating both instructor and learner, there are several methodological approaches that can be leveraged. Two in particular are the hermeneutics and phenomenology (Bernstein, 1983). Both offer a number of benefits for social sciences research in terms of moving to a situated conception of knowledge that are important for developing a simulated teaching experience like the Council Actors. First, these stances view knowledge as tied to context and situated within the individuals experience with it. Knowledge, understanding and experience occur concurrently and from these come meaning. “(U)nderstanding must be conceived as a part of the process of the coming into being of meaning” (Gadamer quoted in Bernstein, 1983, p. 125). Therefore, the process of research in social sciences from this perspective must study the process by which individuals come to understand situated knowledge and derive meaning from it.

Challenges to Such Approaches However, both forms of research have both been criticized on a number of fronts including charges that they lead to relativism in which there is no fundamental truth or knowledge, they have a lack of usefulness for social science research due to their descriptive nature, and they require a substantial length of time to conduct a proper research study using such methods (Bernstein, 1976, 1983). The first and second criticisms are


well-founded concerns as misapplied hermeneutic methods can lead to overly specific, completely relativistic information that adds nothing to the body of research knowledge. However, if such methods are used to describe the experiences and understandings of several people to provide a larger picture of the situation through the lived practices of the Council Actor pre-service teacher participants, the story of a culture and its forms of life may be used for formative and diagnostic purposes, much like more traditional, empiricist methods of research. The descriptive nature of hermeneutic research methods is more beneficial than Positivist paradigms for such diagnostic and formative purposes because it they allow for the identification of problems and solutions as conceived and phrased by the participants rather than decontextualized yes or no answers to narrow hypothetical questions. Further, in modern conceptions of these research methods, the researcher often becomes a part of the community and acts as a co-participant in the research and learning processes of the culture under study, which is important within the context of the Council Actors where the preservice teachers and staff act as participant in, designer of, and researcher of the simulated experience. This helps to overcome the commonly perceived “Ivory Tower” problem in which the researcher is viewed as an outsider telling the community what is wrong and prescribing an alien approach to solve a perceived problem. In the context of hermeneutic research, the researcher is instead viewed as a co-worker who is developing solutions in conjunction with the local community and solutions are phrased in terms of what the community members themselves propose (Carspecken, 1996; Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). In the case of the Council Actors, the researcher is always also an Actor themselves who can act as a modeler of appropriate communication and teaching with students in the digital worlds.

Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

Future Trends As the population of the world continues to grow, the need for trained teachers who can walk into the classroom and understand how to effectively communicate in order for students to learn and grow. Concurrently, the opportunities for preservice teachers to engage with students before they take over their own classrooms continue to decline in many areas (Simpson, 2006). Role plays have already been found to be valuable as learning tools in military applications (Nieborg, 2005), flight simulations, and other instances in which there are fairly low-levels of complexity to the computers simulated behavior, because the artificial intelligence, while improving rapidly, lacks the responsiveness of true combat or flight situations that become more complex exponentially in compressed time periods. This is also true in standard classrooms, especially with K-12 students who behave differently from day to day based on myriad factors that come from home, interpersonal relationships that implode in the hallway on the way to class, and the daily foibles of self-image that change with the surging hormones of the individual student. In the future, providing pre-service teachers with simulated role-plays in which they act as the teacher acts can provide them with authentic expectations of the kinds of student behaviors, questions, and challenges that they will face in the classroom on a day-to-day basis once they take over their first class room. Just as we would prefer that the pilot of a $30 million fighter jet has had experience overcoming the common and uncommon problems that arise mid-flight and can react effectively to the humans that fly the enemy fighters, we want our pre-service teachers to be prepared for the unpredictable human challenges in a situated fashion more closely mimics what they will encounter in a way that simulations are only now beginning to address. With our children’s minds and education, we would prefer that future educators that may decide that teaching just is not

for them decide this based on realistic expectations that stem from realistic interactions with students well before they take over their own classroom. As role-plays like this become more common, we can expect to find better trained teachers who are more readily able to start teaching on the first day of school and fewer who wash out of the profession after two years because they did not know how difficult it can really be to teach every day. Every day, the number of communication tools splinter and rapidly expand in multiple forms where students use tools ranging from text messaging Facebook and Second Life to those we have not yet conceived. Each new form of structural communication (using technology as a vehicle) conveys information that allows students to rapidly coordinate their learning actions in groups, negotiate understanding through interpersonal, constantive speech acts, and come to understanding of their relationships to societal norms. These pre-service teachers, many of whom already use these tools themselves, will need to be experts at communicating with technology and understand how the tool deforms or alters student understanding so that they can adapt their own instruction to meet the needs of a new kind of student.

Conclusion As the need for qualified teachers with real world experience working with students rises throughout the world and the opportunities for meaningful practice the art of teaching and interacting with students decline due to population shifts, increases, and declines, cost of training, and low participation of existing teachers in mentoring programs, the need for simulated teaching experiences will concurrently increase over the come decades. As this need increases, innovated instructional and learning methods are increasing access to student populations using communication tools embedded in online simulations and game products ranging from Second Life to Quest Atlantis that have


Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play

their own existing or emerging storylines that require human support to maintain. Role play in these simulated learning environments provides opportunities for pre-service teachers to engage in meaningful pedagogical contact with the students that they may in the future teach so that they can understand the limitations, difficulties, and instructional affordances of technologies as a means of communicating meaningful learning experiences from a variety of educational paradigms from objectivism to contextualist or relativist world views. Just as importantly, these simulated role-plays provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to understand how today’s learners use technology to communicate. From a communicative action perspective, understanding how the structural communications that are mediated by technologies like Facebook and Second Life deform or otherwise alter student knowledge and action is going to be increasingly important as they are further integrated in educational settings. Knowing how to overcome the misunderstandings that arise from technological mediation through pedagogical action is going to be one of the core skills of many instructors as technology plays an ever more important role in teaching and learning. By allowing the pre-service teacher to safely engage in the everyday communicative actions that make up teaching that range from negotiation and construction of knowledge to communication of student roles and norms, role play simulations have the potential to help mold instructors that are better prepared to face a rapidly changing classroom environment.

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Key Terms Field Experience: activity that typically takes place in a authentic school or educational environment where an individual may practice and observe methods associated with a particular role – primarily applies to teacher field experience which is a requirement of the in-service teacher prior to graduation. In-service teacher: Individuals who are licensed teachers and currently teaching. Learning: The internalization of knowledge; may be directed (and therefore defined as instruction) or may be ill-structured and/or unanticipated in informal settings. Narrative: Otherwise known as a retelling or story in which commonly includes elements such as plot, exposition (beginning), rising action (conflict), climax (turning point), falling action (wrap-up), and resolution (conclusion).


Play space: an environment where incidental learning may occur, where meaningfully directed learning may occur; but where the majority of experience is ill-structured and without meaningful goals or objectives. Pre-service teacher: Individuals in teacher education programs who have not yet been awarded their initial teaching license. Role-play: the act of portraying an entity other than oneself. An immersive role-play would require an investment into the character such as that of a professional actor in a particular part. Simulated character: A non-real character with a deeply developed back-story. Simulated characters include a core set of engagement and activity rules that encourage adherence to the ‘spirit’ of the character. Simulation: An experience that interactively models some part of reality for a user. Teacher Experience: the act and art of being in the role of a teacher. Activities are not limited to teaching, but also include mentoring, coaching, facilitating, reviewing and observation. Virtual worlds: Imaginary virtual persistent environments where individuals can use an avatar to interact with other avatars and virtual objects.