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‘Unfettered expression of thought’? Experiences of anonymous online role play

By Sarah Cornelius, Carole Gordon and Harris Margaret


Advocates suggest that anonymity allows all learners to have an equal voice in a learning environment, and that it encourages participation. This paper explores tutors’ and learners’ experiences of an anonymous, synchronous role play activity conducted using online discussion forums. A qualitative study was undertaken to investigate the experiences of five groups of learners and four tutors. Data were obtained from an online questionnaire and interviews with students and tutors. The findings reveal a huge diversity in responses to the activity. Learners’ emotions before the activity ranged from ‘confident’ to ‘panic’. Afterwards many stated that ‘anonymity’ was the best thing about the activity, suggesting that it ‘loosened inhibitions’ and allowed ‘unfettered expression of thought’. At the same time, some respondents admitted trying to guess the identity of participants, and played their roles with varying degrees of conviction and engagement. Some participants may even have refrained from playing any part in the activity, hiding behind their anonymity. For tutors issues of control were significant and issues of facilitation were raised, although inappropriate behaviour was rare. This study has revealed the diversity of learners’ responses to online role play, and the generally positive attitude towards anonymity. It also highlights the potential for anonymity to contribute to inequality in participation and raises the question of whether genuine anonymity can be useful or achievable. Key findings with significance for future implementation of similar role play activities are presented here

Topics: T Technology (General), L Education (General)
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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