An inquiry into role-play as a tool to deal with complex socio-environmental issues and conflict

Colucci-Gray, Laura (2007). An inquiry into role-play as a tool to deal with complex socio-environmental issues and conflict. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study explores how students understand and deal with a complex, socio-environmental controversial issue, which includes decision-making and conflict. The study consists of a sequence of empirical trials, in which children aged 13-14 engaged in a role-play simulation on intensive prawn farming in India. Two decision-making settings are proposed. First, students in role put forward their views in the context of a Court of Inquiry. Following this initial period of conflict, students are encourage to practice active listening and empathy, to deal with the conflict.

Data were collected throughout the study to ascertain students' engagement and participation in the role-play. This included recordings of students' discussions, open-ended questionnaires, researchers' notes and students' own products,which were analysed by qualitative and quantitative means.

The results showed that the role-play often engaged the cognitive, social and emotional dimensions of students' learning, which were captured through the analysis of language. Competitive and argumentative approaches as well as cooperative and dialogical interactions were observed. Attention was drawn to the use of tentative and exploratory expressions in dialogue, which were generally respectful of other people's point of view and conveyed awareness of socio-ecological complexity, although more research needs to be carried out to facilitate students' engagement with perspective-taking and emotional awareness.

Drawing on the evidence of students' learning, this thesis argues that role-play can be used as methodology for dealing with complex socio-environmental issues. The results illustrate a process of science learning which engages students' own knowledge, values and epistemologies, builds on participatory approaches and is more respectful of multiple perspectives and points of view. This raises questions about the image of science, the ethics of science and technology, the concept of the learner and the role of the teacher.

The limitations of the study are discussed, and suggestions for further research point towards the need for further explorations of the area of conflict and inter-subjective processes in pupils' learning. Initial suggestions for curriculum and assessment are given.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions