Digital role play on environmental conflicts

International Joint Master in Sustainable Territorial Development - STeDe. STeDe is a two-years Master Degree course training researchers and professionals to support organizations acting in the territory and to draft sustainable development policies for economic, social, environmental, international and intercultural management. Partner Universities are: University of Padua, KU Leuven University, Paris1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.

Author: Alberto Diantini, University of Padua. See contributors page

The STeDe best practice I would like to share is a digital roleplay: a learning technique we adopted during the pandemic, after the experience of role plays in physical presence in pre-COVID times. The digital role play is about simulating a socioenvironmental conflict: a company has received the environmental licence to build an asphalt plant and this is not the first industrial plant in the area, so it is causing divisions and conflicts between different actors.

The students are divided into different categories of actors, such as the mayor of the city, the head of the company, the director of the environmental protection department, the environmental association and so on. By impersonating the various actors, each with their own role in the conflict, the students will directly experience the dynamics of the conflict and understand the importance of management and mediation in socio-environmental conflicts. It is an activity that works well in presence as well as online.

The online experience allows doing things that are difficult in presence, especially when there are many students and the physical spaces of the rooms  may not be sufficient for group work. This type of online activity allows for better organisation of student groups, students can share each other's screen, working simultaneously on the same document. The teacher can give support easily, for example by entering the virtual room in which a given group is working, the teacher can look  at the document the group is working on and give suggestions and/or discuss it with them. The major problem we encountered during the online activity was that the expressiveness of a physical presence is missing, especially for communicative aspects like the use of body language. I think that this kind of activity can be adapted and used in different disciplines allowing students to have a participatory learning experience.

Personally, I think that for role plays I will mix digital and in presence mode, for example the organization within the group can be online, while the confrontation among actors, this  can be in presence for a more expressive experience. This activity enables and improves the interaction between students and  the possibilities for discussion on the topics covered during the lectures. Furthermore  it allows for greater organisational flexibility, mediation and support in the learning experience

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