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My inquiry eFolio for ETEC 533

  • Writer's pictureDr. Sarah McLean

Role-playing is a great implementation of Embodied Learning to build empathy and expand Umwelt

Maybe I'm a weird educator? But I have been using role-playing in my undergraduate fourth-year course for some time now. In week 11, we were prompted to make the connection between embodied learning and role-playing, and, well I think there's a method to my weirdness. Sometimes I try educational innovations because they "feel" right, but I am glad that with this course I have been able to support my ideas with sound pedagogy. Read on below to see how I have made connections between role-playing and embodied learning.

Prompt: According to Resnick and Wilensky (1998)1, while role-playing activities have been commonly used in social studies classrooms, they have been infrequently used in science and mathematics classrooms. Speculate on why role playing activities may not be promoted in math and science and elaborate on your opinion on whether activities such as role playing should be promoted. Draw upon direct quotations from embodied learning theories and research in your response.

I think that role-playing activities in math and science, particularly in higher education, are avoided because it does not necessarily align with the established, classic method of teaching science and math. I believe that for some educators, role-playing more closely aligns with their perspective of teaching in the humanities where creative expression is embraced. However, I think that science education in higher education could benefit from role-playing and I have used it in my own practice. For instance, in Winn’s paper (2003) the author noted “mental representations of the world are real and necessary for cognition… the experiences that created them in the first place are re-experienced, and restructured, as a consequence of this activation (of sensory inputs)”. Therefore, if we can support our students in creating better and deeper mental representations of their knowledge through role-playing and activating different sensory inputs, shouldn't we?

I have used role-playing in my own practice through a simulation that I have developed for my fourth-year students. In this course we learn about the intersectionality of social determinants of health and physiological processes of chronic diseases and addiction. In this simulation, students take on roles of community members that must debate the placement of a supervised consumption site (SCS) in downtown London. Students are given a particular identity- the may be a police officer, a community physician, a loved one of an individual who injects drugs, or a mother of a child that attends an elementary school near the proposed site. The students are then tasked with developing the viewpoints of the community member and accurately portraying them in a debate. I provide students with some materials to help get them started on developing their viewpoints (for example, primary literature that has evaluated the point of view of police officers with respect to SCS) of a community member and encourage them to do their own research. Then they must debate with other community members to determine whether or not the consumption site will be created. Following this exercise I have my students write a critical reflection on how their perspective changed after participating in the simulation. In these reflections, I often have encountered students discussing their “Umwelt” and how this Umwelt was challenged with the role-playing activity. As noted by Winn, Umwelt and the uniqueness of students’ Umwelt arise “from differences in each individual’s experience of the environment” (Winn, 2003). Therefore, by facilitating students’ ability to take on another person’s perception of the world through role-playing, I believe that I am better facilitating and expanding their mental representations of the world.


Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.

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