Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

Role playing in the classroom: A tourism experience

Fiona Richards
Tourism Program
James Cook University
    This paper focuses on a role play exercise incorporated into a first year tourism subject within the B.Admin (Tourism) degree at James Cook University. The semester long exercise was designed to be carried out during the tutorial / practical component of the subject. The program aimed to teach students not only the fundamentals of the Australian Tourism Product, but also generic skills in areas of written and oral communications, logical and analytical thinking, research, and teamwork.

    Teaf and Hobson (1991), believe that the subject matter in tourism is dynamic and industry specific and can therefore often difficult to teach in a traditional classroom manner. Other studies indicate that students encountering an active rather than passive role in their learning environment experienced increased retention (Astin, 1985; Van Rossum, 1988; Ineson, 1991).

    Students were presented with the scenario that funds had been made available through a central body that each state or territory tourism authority could bid for in relation to "special project. Students worked in groups and developed a tourism marketing or development project for their allocated state. Funding documents were prepared instead of traditional academic reports, and each group made an oral presentation of their funding bid to the rest of the class. The role play exercise was designed in four stages: stage one introduced the class to concepts such as working in groups, teambuilding and written and oral presentation skills; stage two comprised the group work and idea development component of the projects; stage three saw the students presenting their projects, and; stage four included an evaluation of the subject design.

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Introduction

This paper focuses on a role play exercise incorporated into a first year tourism subject within the B.Admin (Tourism) degree at James Cook University. The semester long exercise was designed to be carried out during the tutorial / practical component of the subject. The program aimed to teach students not only the fundamentals of the Australian Tourism Product, but also generic skills in areas of written and oral communications, logical and analytical thinking, research, and teamwork.

Tourism is a dynamic and industry based specialism, global in nature and real world oriented. This area of study often crosses over numerous subject areas, and even departments, within the university structure. An understanding of this interdisciplinary nature of tourism, as a subject matter and as an industry, is essential in the development of tourism scholars (Teaf & Hobson, 1991; Pearce, 1993; Ritchie, 1993).

Another important consideration in the design of tourism curricula, is the need of tourism educators to recognise the short term employment needs of industry and match these with graduate outcomes. The meeting of industry needs to be synthesised with the preparation of students for long term success in their careers (Ritchie, 1993).

The nature of tourism therefore lends itself to, and some would say requires, innovative, flexible and creative methods of curricula delivery.

In reviewing learning situations, Astin (1985) found that those that required active rather than passive student participation led to a more exciting learning environment, which increased retention.

To facilitate active learning and explain the interdisciplinary nature of tourism, case studies and practical exercises have proven to be effective tools for drawing together individual threads of a subject or topic. Cooper, Shepherd, and Westlake (1996), feel that by adopting case studies in a tourism curriculum, a particular problem of tourism education can be overcome:

...when elements of the body of knowledge are separated out for teaching purposes, there is a danger that the overview or the 'big picture', is sacrificed (p.167).
To be effective though, much planning must be undertaken in the design and implementation of the case study method. Case studies must be: If such guidelines are followed, case studies can prove to be an effective method of delivery, or alternatively they may be used as a creative and flexible form of assessment.

Case studies can be taken to a higher level of activity on the part of the student, introducing the concept of simulation or role playing. Pearce (1993) describes tourism education as, "a soft, unrestricted, applied, pre-pragmatic, rural and content based specialism, with a concrete, reflective learning style" (p.27). The reflective learning style of tourism refers to the fact that unlike many disciplines such as science, students of tourism are unable to learn through the experience of experimenting in a laboratory setting. "Tourism students are not active experimenters, they do not manipulate the industry and are therefore best characterised as learning in a reflective mode" (Pearce, 1993, p.29).

Role playing allows the tourism classroom to in some way be transformed into an industry laboratory in which students can "experiment" with given industry related problems.

Role playing can also be used to facilitate the learning of a series of core generic skills, which are becoming increasingly important not only in tourism, but across the broad spectrum of academic disciplines. Such generic skills include the understanding of processes, the development of attitudes and the concept of problem solving. In addition, the flexibility of role playing allows for an additional generic skill to be incorporated into the process, such as teamwork and communication. (Dekkers & Donatti, 1974; Ray, 1981; Ineson, 1991; McCann, 1996).

A tourism role play - The scenario

As the practical component for the first year tourism subject, the Australian Tourism Product, students were presented with a role playing exercise, in which they were expected to work in groups, simulating a work group within a state tourism organisation. Within these groups, students were to develop a tourism marketing or development project for their allocated state. Students were told that the Federal Government had committed $500,000 to the Australian Tourist Commission to develop and promote special interest, or niche tourism, within Australia. These funds were to be allocated to the states competitively. The following were also presented as general guidelines for the funding:

The role play process

The role play exercise was designed in four stages: stage one introduced the class to concepts such as working in groups, teambuilding and written and oral presentation skills; stage two comprised the group work and idea development component of the projects; stage three saw the students presenting their projects, and; stage four included an evaluation of the subject design.

Stage One This section of the exercise ran over a four week period and was designed to introduce students to some of the concepts and skills needed to successfully complete the assessment task. A series of tutorials were given covering topics such as group dynamics, teambuilding, conflict resolution, idea development and written and oral communication skills. The details of the role play were also discussed, with a detailed handout provided to each student to ensure a clear understanding of the task at hand.
Stage Two After forming into self selected groups, stage two of the role play process commenced. It was during this stage that students formulated their project ideas within their groups, using techniques learnt during tutorials, such as brainstorming. Students were expected to prepare a funding document following the guidelines presented in the assessment handout.
Stage Three This stage of the role play involved the students presenting their projects in orally to the class. These presentations were designed to simulate an industry presentation to a funding committee, who would be assessing their funding bid and the merit of their proposed project.
Stage Four At the end of semester, once all projects had been presented in both oral and written form, a review of the subject, and in particular the practical component, was conducted. Students were asked to complete a self administered questionnaire that examined various aspects of the subject. Students were asked to rate their satisfaction with aspects of the practical component and their perceived improvement or progress regarding a series of skills / attributes. Three open ended questions were also included to gain student feedback of the best features of the subject, the worst features of the subject, and any suggested changes or improvements to the subject.

The assessment

Cooper, Shepherd, and Westlake (1996), propose that within tourism and hospitality studies, the assessment method selected should ensure that the student develops: Bush-Bacelis (1998), believes that assessment should encourage students to be flexible, work well in teams, solve problems, and think creatively, as these skills are all needed in the workplace.

Assessment for the practical component of TO1002 was designed to ensure the linking of the basic fundamentals of the subject with more abstract and conceptual ideas relating to the Australian tourism industry. It was important that the assessment was industry relevant and facilitated students adapting knowledge learnt in lectures, to new situations. Generic skills in the areas of oral and written communication, and a student's capacity for critical and analytical thinking, were also examined.

Assessment for the role play fell comprised of two elements; a written funding proposal, and an oral presentation of the funding proposal.

Funding proposals were prepared instead of traditional academic reports in order to encourage industry relevance. In the proposal, students were to clearly delineate the nature of the project they proposed to develop in order to promote special interest tourism within their state and increase visitor numbers. How they plan to accomplish the project, timelines, budgets and resources needed to accomplish the tasks were also to be reported. The audience of the proposal was the funding body.

Students were also required to also give the class a brief oral presentation of the proposal, sharing their reasons for selecting the project and the details included in the written proposal. Once again, although presenting to the lecturer and class, the true audience for the presentation was the funding body. All group members were required to present, and creativity in the use of visual aids was encouraged.

Findings of the review

A total of 37 responses were obtained from a population of 61 students enrolled in TO1002. Questionnaires were distributed during practicals in the last week of semester, a week in which attendance was low.

Student satisfaction

Students were asked to rate their satisfaction with certain elements of the practical component of the subject. A five point Likert rating scale was employed to measure this satisfaction with 1 indicating least satisfaction, and 5 indicating most satisfaction. Table 1 displays these results.

The overall satisfaction mean was relatively high with a mean of 4.05, indicating that students were generally satisfied with the practical component of TO1002.

Breaking down the overall satisfaction rating into the seven specific categories examined, the element achieving the highest satisfaction mean, related to the subject's industry relevance (mean = 4.44). This was a pleasing result as achieving increase industry relevance was one of the main aims in redesigning the practical component.

Although rated somewhat satisfied to satisfied (mean = 3.46), the preparation tutorials before the commencement of the project had the lowest satisfaction rating.

Table 1: Satisfaction with aspects of the subject

5= most satisfied, 4= satisfied, 3= somewhat satisfied, 2= not very satisfied, 1= least satisfied

MeanS.D.
Preparation tutorials before commencing the project 3.460.73
Project group size 4.270.84
Level of challenge of work 4.110.61
Overall demands of the project 3.840.65
Scope for individual involvement 3.951.05
Interest in the project 4.160.93
Industry relevance 4.440.69
Overall satisfaction 4.050.47

Skill development

As one of the major aims of the role play was to develop a series of generic skills, students were asked to assess how much progress or improvement they felt they had achieved in certain areas. Students were asked to rate their improvement using a five point Likert rating scale, 1 indicating no improvement, and 5 indicating substantial improvement.

Although it should be noted that these results only indicate students' perceived skill improvement, the overall improvement mean of 3.80 (S.D = 0.69) was an encouraging result.

Students also indicated assuring improvement in the areas of working to, and meeting deadlines (mean=4.00), Use of initiative (mean=3.89), group problem solving skills (mean = 3.81), and planning and decision making (mean = 3.92).

The area that received the lowest improvement mean rating was the monitoring of group progress (mean = 3.55).

A summary of the results is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Student perception of progress / improvement of skills / attributes

5= substantial improvement, 4= improvement,
3= some improvement, 2= not much improvement, 1= no improvement

MeanS.D.
Processing of information 3.560.76
Oral presentation 3.780.95
Analysis of information 3.530.84
Oral communication 3.780.75
Collection of information 3.670.94
Written presentation 3.680.82
Written communication 3.620.86
Group problem solving skills 3.810.78
Organisation of group 3.680.91
Planning and decision making 3.920.68
Working to, and meeting deadlines 4.000.75
Use of initiative 3.890.91
Monitoring progress of group 3.350.75
Tolerance of others in group 3.660.88
Self organisation 3.580.81
Self motivation 3.890.81
Confidence in project work 3.890.97
Overall improvement 3.840.69

Open ended questions

Three open ended questions were included in the questionnaire to gain feedback in order to facilitate improvements to the subject for future offerings.

A wide array of comments were received, though in the area best features of the subject, the majority of responses could be categorised into five themes. These themes were the funding document, the presentation, the project, Learning about the Australian tourism industry, and group work.

The most frequent comments relating to the worst features of the subject were associated with the lectures and the timing of the presentations. Not surprisingly these areas were also the main themes presented in relation to suggested changes to the subject.

Conclusion

It must be noted that much of the data collected was students' perceptions of their performance and skill development, and not a measurement of students' actual improvement in these areas.

Taking this into account, it is encouraging to find that students felt a positive improvement toward the majority of the subject outcomes promoted, coupled with a high level of overall satisfaction and industry relevance.

It is therefore proposed that the introduction of role play into tourism curricula is an effective an effective method of delivery and assessment, in order to overcome some of the challenges of teaching tourism in a classroom setting.

References

Astin, A.W. (1985). Involvement: The Cornerstone to Change. Change, July/August, 35-39.

Bush-Bacelis, J.L. (1998). Innovative pedagogy: Academic service-learning for business communication. Business Communication Quarterly, 16 (3), 20-35.

Cooper, C., Shepherd, R. & Westlake, J. (1996). Educating the Educators in Tourism. Madrid: World Tourism Organisation.

Dekkers, J. & Donnatti, S. (1981). The integration of research studies on the use of simulation as an instructional strategy. Journal of Educational Research, 74(6), 424-427.

Ineson, E.M. (1991). Moving towards new horizons in experiential learning through "live" tourism enterprise projects. In New Horizons Conference Proceedings. Calgary: University of Calgary.

McCann, T.M. (1996). A pioneer simulation for writing and for the study of literature. English Journal, 85(3), 62-67.

Pearce, P.L. (1993). Defining tourism study as a specialism: A justification and implications. Teoros International, 1(1). 25-31.

Ray, B.R. (1981). A legislative simulation. Teaching Political Science, 8(2), 212-216.

Ritchie, J.R.B. (1993). Educating the tourism educators - guidelines for policy and program development. Teoros International, 1(1), 9-24.

Teaff, J.D. & Hobson, J.S.P. (1991). Mobile tourism and hospitality seminars for college and university students. In New Horizons Conference Proceedings. Calgary: University of Calgary.

Van Rossum, E.J. (1988). Student's conceptions of learning and good teaching in Dutch higher hotel education. Hospitality Education and Research Journal, 12(2), 425-429.

Please cite as: Richards, F. (2000). Role playing in the classroom: A tourism experience. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/richards.html


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