Teaching Guide

The role playing scenario is designed to be used in a range of course types, including smaller courses (around 30-40 students) to larger courses (around 100 students). At least two hours of class time is recommended for the activity, but it can be compressed into one class period, especially if students are provided with the scenario and assigned roles prior to class time.

Phase One

Time estimate: 30-45 minutes

  • The scenario is introduced to the students; ideally before the students meet for class.
  • During Phase One, students are broken into groups based on stakeholder type (e.g., all city planners are together in one group); although randomly assigning students to most of the groups is likely fine, it is highly recommended to ask for volunteers who are willing to take on Role 1 (the city planner) because that role has more responsibility than the others.
  • There are nine stakeholder roles, listed in the order of their importance for the activity. Roles 1-5 must be included (i.e., groups must have at least five members). It is recommended to divide the class up as close to evenly as possible (e.g., if there are 35 students, then 5 groups of 7 stakeholders would be recommended).
  • Each student must prepare to represent their role during the stakeholder process when they will interact with the other roles (Phase Two); thus the purpose of Phase One is to have the students learn from each other about the nuances of their particular role.
  • The goal of Phase One is not to resolve what the city should do; rather, the students should start to generate for and against arguments consistent with the role that they are representing.

Phase Two 

Time estimate: 30-45 minutes

  • Students are broken into groups with one representative from each type of stakeholder; if there are not enough students per stakeholder type, there must at least be one city planner per group.
  • The goal of Phase Two is for the group to decide whether:
      • Yes, the city should proceed with the self-driving bus fleet testing and describe the circumstances under which that would be appropriate.
      • No, the city should not proceed with the self-driving bus fleet testing until the following conditions are met.
  • An important note: each stakeholder group does not necessarily have to arrive at a consensus; disagreement is okay but a majority opinion should emerge. If there is a minority view within a group, the reasons for the disagreement should be explained by the group.

Phase Three

  • Time permitting, each group can present its recommendation on whether to proceed with the self-driving bus fleet testing to the rest of the class.
  • In their presentations to the class during Phase Three, the groups may include answers to the following questions:
      • Which stakeholder considerations were the most significant factors in the group’s decision?
      • What role did CS knowledge/expertise play in the group’s decision?
      • Which ethical considerations did the group think were the most important to take into account?



The students may need guidance when assigned a role with which they are unfamiliar. Assigning the scenario and role prior to class time would be helpful in this regard as well as the components of Phase One of the activity.

The students might request data on some of the issues that they confront. Some of the solutions for this issue include: (1) providing the students with time to perform research during or outside of class and/or (2) assigning additional readings that the instructor thinks are important (e.g., on the latest developments in computer vision).

During Phase Two, it is important to encourage the students in Role 1 (the city planner) to have each group member speak. One strategy for accomplishing this is that each student in a group has to have said something before allowing a group member to speak a second time.



Ideally, ethical considerations should emerge organically from the student conversations, especially during Phase Two because of the presence of the different stakeholder views. However, the role playing scenario can be supplemented with additional ethics content as an instructor prefers; for example:

Ethical Theory

If an instructor would prefers to add components of ethical theory to the role playing activity, this could be done by assigning one or more readings on theory while distributing the scenario to students.  Then, students could be asked to frame/structure at least some of their arguments using the assigned theory as a foundation (for example, from the perspective of this ethical theory, one would argue that the self-driving bus fleet is ethical/unethical based on the following reasons).

Many different types of ethical theories could be assigned including Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism, and Ethics of Care. If the ethical theory option is incorporated, it opens at least two grading possibilities:

  • Has the student accurately described what the assigned ethical theory entails?
  • How thoroughly has the student applied the ethical theory from the perspective of their assigned stakeholder role?

Societal Impact Statement

Somewhat akin to an environmental impact statement required by federal agencies for activities that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment”, the instructor could consider a requirement that each student or group produce a “societal impact statement.” ¹ In other words, the students would need to formally articulate how the self-driving bus fleet would impact the interests and well-being of the city’s citizens.

If this activity is done at the individual student level, then each student could describe, from the perspective of the assigned stakeholder role, the impact of self-driving bus fleet on the interests and well-being of the city’s citizens.

If this activity is done at the stakeholder group level, then the group could describe, from each of the assigned stakeholder perspectives, the impact of self-driving bus fleet on the interests and well-being of the city’s citizens.



There are several potential grading options related to the role playing activity; for example:

  • After Phase One, each student could write up and submit the arguments for and against the self-driving bus fleet testing from the perspective of the assigned role.
  • After Phase Two, each student could write up and submit an argument on whether the city should allow the self-driving bus fleet testing and the reasons why or why not from the perspective of the assigned role.
  • Alternatively, instead of making it an individual assignment, item #2 could be submitted as a group assignment.
  • The “societal impact statement” (mentioned above) could be crafted into an assignment after Phase One and/or Phase Two; depending on when it is assigned during the activity, it could be an individual or group assignment.



  1. National Environmental Policy Act Review Process. (2017, January 24). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/nepa/national-environmental-policy-act-review-process#EIS.