“I remember your lecture”: role-playing games and unconventional teaching reinforce learning outcomes


  • Eliane Steiner
  • Anne Dray ETH Zürich
  • John Garcia Ulloa
  • Claude Garcia
  • Jaboury Ghazoul




To familiarize students with today’s challenges in the field of ecosystem management, the environmental sciences master program offers a course for students called Foundations of Ecosystem Management. The aim of this course is to create an effective learning experience and develop critical thinking capacities for future natural resource managers and academics. The course is structured into various parts where students first elaborate on the definition of the theoretical foundations and concepts. In a next step, they use this definition to work on real-world case studies. During their groupwork, they construct a role-playing game that addresses the most prominent issues in the system and thereby learn to understand and deal with the complexity of the management issues. At the same time, students are trained in soft skills like teamwork, self-reflection, debriefing, and facilitation. In this paper, we present the structure of the course and results from an online survey done by students from the last 5 years. We assessed how well former students remember the course and the theory they learnt and how they perceived the teaching approach. We found positive results: students appreciate the different teaching approach and most of the students, including students from earlier cohorts, state that they still remember the concepts. Students report that they have applied the concepts and approaches from the course in other contexts outside the classroom. We, as teaching staff, reflect on the course, the learning experience, and the results from the online survey, and present four teaching principles that underline what has worked in the course: i) self-authorship, ii) education through active and experiential learning, iii) competence-oriented learning on soft skills: self-reflection, teamwork, and facilitation, and finally iv) inter-cultural learning.