Roleplaying Game Engages Students in Cultural Understanding Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at PCOM Georgia
August 16, 2021
Physical therapy students gained insight into cultural differences in communication
by roleplaying within the game. Photos were taken prior to the campus mask mandate.
The myriad of differences between people groups came alive recently as first year
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students took on the roles of Alphans and Betans in a cross-cultural simulation game,
part of the Professional Engagement course taught by Teresa Pierce, PT, DPT, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy.
Led by Dr. Pierce and Melissa Tavilla, MS, of the PCOM Georgia Department of Physical
Therapy, and Stacey Hoffman, PhD, a professor and clinical psychologist in the Brenau
University physical therapy department, the game involved team members randomly being
assigned to wear different colored bands to signify their cultures. Each group then
moved into its own area where members were taught the values, expectations and customs
of their new cultures.
For instance, Alphans viewed handshakes as an insult. However, they enjoyed telling
stories about their elders and touching each other as they talked, once they were
invited to join the conversation. In the Alphan society, the few wearing green bands
were considered elite and blue members were the property of green members. Blues were
only allowed to approach other blues to have conversations and to play matching games.
Wearing red bands, the Betans were a trading culture. They communicated through the
numbers and colors on their trading cards since they only had 13 sounds in their language.
Each team sent one member to view the opposite culture and report back on what they
learned. Then the teams came together with limited understanding.
Cameron Johnson (DPT ’24) observed, “I think the game was a good example of how to
adapt to new environments and see how people are in a different culture than your
own. Most of the students acted similarly in that we had to first figure out what
was going on before we could try to assimilate into the other group.”
Shania Evans (DPT ’24) viewed the activity as being “a fun way to show how we handle
She said, “I was on Team Beta and we talked about how we felt out of place around
the Alphas. Some of them seemed rude because they were shunning us and we didn’t know
the reason, while others seemed nice because they let us in their groups to talk about
our elders. When we later found out the rules to the Alpha culture, we had a better
understanding of why some treated us the way they did and others didn’t.”
According to Tavilla, the exercises “are an effective tool for demonstrating common
flaws in human behavior and reasoning.” The game is designed to develop the students’
cultural sensitivity and to help them recognize that they don’t always have complete
information about other cultures.
Evans noted, “It can be scary trying to immerse yourself into a different culture
or even understand their differences. The big takeaway message for me was learning
the importance of humility for the greater good in understanding others.”
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institution of higher education dedicated
to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia
College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with
a storied 125-year history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine,
pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical
laboratory science, and physician assistant studies. The campus joins PCOM South Georgia
in Moultrie in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state. Emphasizing "a whole
person" approach to care, PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional
education and service to the community. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center,
an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.
For more information, visit pcomgeorgiahealth.org.