MARSHALL HAYES: I'm a big proponent of the use of role playing in the classroom. I practice a form of pedagogy known as reacting to the past. Reacting to the past involves very elaborate role playing scenarios set in some historical context. And quite often it involves a very tense dispute between polar opposite viewpoints.
SPEAKER 1: It spread through the bad orders that we have in our account--
LAURA BROWN: I very much believe that these kinds of innovations and the insight that we're developing through research on student learning can be transformative across all of our fields.
CAROL GRUMBACH: What interests me most is merging theory and practice. My course involved both in-class role plays and the virtual world role plays. For each assignment, they were obliged to spend an hour in the virtual world. And they told me they'd spent three or four hours in the virtual world. And that was their opportunity for the lawyers and the engineers, for the students across the colleges, to interact.
LAURA BROWN: It's a more substantial version of the transition that we see happening within our undergraduate curricula when a student moves from a traditional STEM course where there's a traditional lecture traditional prelims and quizzes to a student-centered or flipped classroom.
MARSHALL HAYES: The role playing module that I've developed focuses on a scenario in 1854. Takes place in a neighborhood of London that was subjected to a very rapid and very aggressive outbreak of a disease called cholera. It is transmitted by a bacterium that can be ingested either by drinking or eating contaminated food or water.
Students are given specific roles to play, specific character sheets. And they are guided through various resources, whether they be web-based resources or technical resources that were appropriate for the day. They're also constrained by a certain set of rules. And these rules pertain to how people behaved and how people thought at a particular time in the past.
PAIGE KULLING: So I played George Buzzard.
BRENT GUDENKAUF: I played the role of Bernard Drake.
PAIGE KULLING: I was initially worried going in that it would be very scripted and that everyone would say their parts and move on. There'd be no argument. It's more like stating the fact, and that's it.
But when I actually got there, it flowed really naturally. Everyone started arguing. We really got into our roles. And I didn't think I'd be able to get into something I knew was wrong. But you get really, really invested in that role.
BRENT GUDENKAUF: It was great actually being able to have that discourse, because it's one thing to read about a historical debate that occurred. But it's another to actually be there and put yourself in those shoes and see how both sides were arguing it at the time.
MARSHALL HAYES: In essence, this reacting to the past experience, this role playing experience, is one that imposes upon a student this notion of liminality of in-betweenness, of struggling to find and construct new realities out of past and previous notions of the way in which the world works.
CAROL GRUMBACH: They want to see the relevance of what they're learning. And so allowing them to assume a role certainly does that. And it allows them to also test out theories and hypotheses in a way that they couldn't if they're just reading.
BRENT GUDENKAUF: You'd be surprised how much you'd learn.
PAIGE KULLING: That class was my favorite class at Cornell. And I think it was because it was so different than the rest.
LAURA BROWN: The vision of being a student, being able to learn, and in the context that we now have for students, I think would be a great time to be a student.
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Plant pathology instructor Marshall Hayes uses role play to teach PLPA 2950: Biology of Infectious Diseases, by having his students reenact a crucial meeting that occurred during the London cholera outbreak of 1854. The reenactment takes place inside Cornell's Sage Chapel crypt.
Hayes talks about his teaching method, called "Reacting to the Past," and his students, Paige Kulling and Brent Gudenkauf, describe the experience. Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Carol Grumbach, who uses a virtual world to teach GOVT 3102: Topics in Law & Legal Ethics, also share their insights on student learning and engagement.