Roleplaying can be a tremendous instructional activity to use with our students. By planning out the dialogue for a roleplaying lesson, students visualize possible interactions and write scripts that capture the event. By acting out a roleplay, students get to experience the interaction firsthand and vicariously learn from the staged performance. There are numerous ways that roleplaying can be used in our classrooms. For instance, an instructor can have her students roleplay a parent-teacher conference, an IEP meeting or a counseling session. The possibilities are almost limitless.
In my experience with roleplaying, however, I have learned one important lesson: Most of my students hate to roleplay. The students agonize over the script and worry about acting out the dialogue in front of their classmates. While I will continue to use roleplaying in my classes, these student reactions have motivated me to consider other options. One option is xtranormal. Xtranormal bills itself as a site where “if you can type, you can make movies.” The site is really incredible. Students can plan out a movie with two animated characters and have complete control over camera angles, dialogue, facial expressions and actions. The best part of xtranormal is that the site is free. Or mostly free. It has recently started charging for more advanced options as changing characters, settings or voices but the basic options are still free.
I recently used xtranormal with a Digital Storytelling class I taught online. One of the critical issues with digital storytelling is the use of copyrighted material. For this activity, my students used xtranormal to debate whether a student product was a copyright violation or not. Each student constructed a short movie with each character taking opposing sides of the argument and embedded their creations in the class Ning.
Be sure to check out the short xtranormal tutorial and this student example from the Digital Storytelling class. The example was created by Kate Schantz, a teacher in the Bangor Area School District.