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1 Introduction

The use of games and simulations in economics is well established, with a well-developed body of literature to support their use in the teaching environment (see the section 8 for a list of key sources). Role-play, as an educational approach, is often referred to in the same context as games and simulations. However, the use of role-plays in teaching has received far less attention. Collectively, simulations, games and role-play (SGRP) provide students with some form of imaginary or real world within which to act out a given situation. Beyond this, however, each is quite distinct.

The aim of a simulation is to deepen students’ conceptual understanding by working within, and reflecting upon, a representation of a real environment. For example, simulations of the macroeconomy may be used to train economists by requiring them to devise economic strategies to achieve policy objectives. The dynamic of a simulation may be competitive, whereby students are encouraged either to outperform other students or to achieve a high rating according to criteria set by the simulation. In these cases the simulation is also a game. However, students might also be encouraged to explore a simulation, to investigate its behaviour and discover its assumptions. For example, they might be asked to set their own criteria for ‘successful performance’ within a simulation and then to investigate how best to achieve that performance. In most cases, it is the way in which a simulation is used that determines whether or not it is effectively a game. This choice has important implications for the way in which a simulation may contribute to learning.

Games may be distinguished from other forms of simulation by the rules that dictate what it means to ‘win’ the game and the sense of competition they engender. Games tend to have winners and losers. For example, a typical form of business game requires students to compete with others in buying and selling shares on the stock market. Such games operate with clear rules for the process and timing of share trading, and they encourage students to compete on the basis of achieving the highest level of profit through their trading.

Simulations become role-plays when the student is expected to act as they imagine appropriate to a given role. For example, they might be asked to act as a stockbroker in a share-dealing simulation or as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in managing the economy. The opportunity for the student to act out the role is bounded by the rules of the simulation and the degree to which the simulation is constructed as a game. As games usually require tight rules, role-plays are likely to give more scope for the student to exercise their own interpretation of the role when the simulation is not constructed as a game.

This chapter explores the world of SGRP. Sections 2 and 3 examine basic principles in using SGRP in teaching. Following a review of the major strengths and weaknesses of using SGRP in teaching and learning in section 2, section 3 examines the rationale for using SGRP at different points in a programme of teaching. Much of the chapter is taken up with three case studies of practice presented in section 4. These case studies have been chosen because they are easily available and can be adapted for different circumstances. Section 5 reviews some of the key issues to be considered in designing SGRP and section 6 examines the growing impact of new technology on using SGRP in higher education. The chapter ends with brief conclusions and suggestions for further reading.

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2 Why use simulations, games and role-play?