Role Playing

Authors: Dena Plemmons and Michael Kalichman, 2008

A primary purpose of role-play exercises is for participants to imagine themselves actually facing the ethical challenges presented by the exercise. Students are asked to not just discuss a scripted case, but to take on roles as specific characters facing a conflict in the conduct of research. Because participants may take on roles other than their real positions, this is also an opportunity to see a case from perspectives of others who may be engaged in a dispute. Role play exercises can be played out in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Students are divided into small groups, each group receives a script providing background and starting points for one of the roles to be played, the groups are challenged to clarify their perspectives, positions, and approaches, and then students from different groups are paired up with the charge to carry out the role play exercise seeking resolution.
  • Students individually receive scripts with background and starting points, and then are paired up with the charge to carry out the role-play exercise seeking resolution.
  • A pair of students (or instructors) are invited to conduct the role-play scenario in front of the rest of the class.
  • Student groups are assigned to create, and then play out, a script that includes several individuals (e.g., technician, grad student, postdoctoral researcher, and principal investigator) faced with a conflict, dispute, or ethical dilemma.
It should be noted that not all students will be comfortable with being placed in an "acting" role, particularly if asked to do so in front of the rest of their class. However, if presented appropriately, and used as only one of several different kinds of tools to promote discussion, role-play exercises can be both fun and useful.