Role-playing exercises deepen engagement as Jewish Ethics course moves online

As his 400-level Jewish Ethics seminar has moved online, Associate Professor Geoffrey Claussen has taken role-playing discussions to a new level.

Role-playing is a valuable component of Associate Professor of Religious Studies Geoffrey Claussen’s Jewish Ethics courses. He’s continued the practice in online courses, adding new layers to an already engaging exercise.

Before break, a student in his 400-level Jewish Ethics seminar, War and Judaism, asked to continue their role-playing debates in an online form. Claussen turned to Webex and the Yo! Teach messaging platform to fulfill the request.

Last week, undergraduates took on the roles of historical Jewish scholars and leaders for a mock debate set amidst the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in British-controlled Palestine. Each student used the historical figure as their Yo! Teach nickname, messaging as that person, and debating the ethics of violence and non-violence .

“It worked really well. Students were constantly typing, and they all were really into it and just going at it,” Claussen said. “It really felt like these were the things these historical figures were saying.”

Claussen, who is the Lori and Eric Sklut Scholar in Jewish Studies and who chairs the Department of Religious Studies, has written a journal article and presented at conferences about the value of role-playing in education, specifically surrounding Jewish Ethics.

“When students take on roles of other people, especially people with whom they disagree, it really encourages them to think deeply about why the person they’re representing is making the argument they’re making,” Claussen said. “It’s a powerful way to understand someone else’s argument, both in preparation and when you have to do it on the spot.

“It’s good for increasing empathy and for helping students to step out of their own perspectives. And it creates a vibrant way to see such a diversity of written perspectives come to life.”