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This issue of CDTL Brief is all about Cultivating Active Learners: Applying Scenario-Based Learning and Other Teaching Strategies to Enrich Classroom Learning. Whether it is utilising “real-life“ or non-analogous scenarios to stimulate students’ interest in complex life science concepts such as metabolism or the human immune system, or using role-play to build students’ confidence in tackling commercial real estate issues, the colleagues who have generously shared their teaching experiences here are united in their common goal of equipping their students with the skills to become active learners.

October/November 2011, Vol. 14 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Using Role Play to Enhance Classroom Learning: A Case Study in Real Estate
Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo
Department of Real Estate

Background and Introduction

Role play is an effective tool to help students learn from real world problems in the classroom. Not only does role play encourage student participation, it simulates the problem solving processes in the real world. Through role play, students undertake a range of activities: identifying and defining problems, collecting and analysing empirical data, proposing workable strategies and options, and evaluating them and making recommendations. In a role play session that uses the same case facts, I divided the class into four sub-groups to encourage competition. Each group (with six to seven students) would then provide the most innovative solutions to differentiate themselves from their peers, and most importantly, convince the management to buy their recommendations.

In RE5009 “Commercial Real Estate Appraisal” and the MBA (with specialisation in Real Estate) courses which I taught in Semester 1 AY2008/2009, I developed a case study on CapitaCommercial Trust (CCT), a listed commercial office Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in Singapore, using a hypothetical story supported by facts. I collated financial information from various sources including company reports, newspapers and reports from analysts, and contextualised the information to reflect the liquidity problems that CCT was facing in the depressed markets. Thanks to the support of the Chief Executive Officer of CapitaCommercial Trust Management Limited (CCTML), Ms Lynette Leong, an alumni of the Department of Real Estate, I was also able to gather and incorporate comments from CCT’s senior management into the case study.

Scenario for the Assignment

The following is a brief summary of the case: the financial turmoil in the US has caused significant liquidity crunch in the capital market. Many public listed REITs face strong resistance in their efforts to raise funds, either equity or debt, to support their growth strategies. CCT, the subject of the case study in the RE5009 module, has not been spared from the financial crisis. I simulated a board meeting scenario, where the board directors and the CEO of CCTML have elaborated on the challenges they face amidst falling stock prices and rising financing costs. An oversupply of office space and decreasing rents in the office market also cause the company’s stocks to tumble. The board has discussed its mid-term growth strategies, which include managing its portfolio of commercial properties, negotiating the renewal of current office leases, refinancing of short-term notes and medium debts, and their overseas investments such as a 30% stake in Quill Capital Trust (QCT) and 7.4% in Malaysia Commercial Development Fund (MCDF). Following Overseas Union Bank (OUB) Centre’s announcement of its extension plans, the CCT board has to make a strategic decision on whether to go ahead with the estimated $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Market Street Car Park, which has been granted the outline planning permission by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Based on the above information, the assignment requires the students to role play Ms Leong, the CEO of CCTML, and a team of senior managers of CCTML assembled to study the effects of a volatile stock market on CCT’s stock prices, identify priorities for key CCT growth strategies and assess their feasibilities. Students have to justify their recommendations and provide proper execution plans for such strategies, which may include funding/financing structure, the joint-venture parties involved (if any) and the timeline for implementation. Risks and possible impact of the proposed strategies on CCT’s stock prices would also be analysed. As the module also covers the pricing of stocks and bonds, students were expected to make use of CCT’s financial data and assess the potential impact of proposed strategies on CCT’s stock prices using relevant stock pricing models.

Time is money in the business world, and time pressure was included in this exercise by requiring the students to complete the study within one month. To add realism to the whole exercise, I arranged for each sub-group to give a presentation on 7 November 2008 to Ms Leong together with her head of investor relations and communications and head of asset management. She started with a brief update of CCT’s stock market and financial performance. Then, students in all four sub-groups took turns to present and defend their recommendations before the CCT representatives.


Ms Leong commended the students’ on having done a good job and indicated that she would bring back some of the strategies for further evaluation. What did students learn from the exercise? Many of them felt that the case study helped improve their grasp of the theoretical concepts. Students also learnt from their peers during the class discussions. The following is a summary of feedback received:

  • “Definitively, the case study does help to comprehend the concepts taught. While lectures bring a more general and academic view, case studies are the practical sides of it where concepts are applied.”

  • “I enjoyed the case study very much. It is very real life and the take-away from doing the assignment is good. On conceptwise, not everything is applicable only some parts. I suppose it can’t be a perfect fit in term of applications but rather having an understanding and thus framing our thought process, which then applies into the assignment.”

  • “Yes, it does add realism to what is being taught.”

Another take-away from the exercise is that it helps to remind the students of the uncertainties in a rapidly changing world:

  • “I suppose there is a quite a big difference between boardroom role play versus academic content. The former needs to be short and concise, while the latter needs more justification. Perhaps, if the market condition has not changed suddenly, most of what you have lectured could be further illustrated in the case studies rather than the heavy emphasis to solve the immediate issues.”

Lastly, this exercise hopefully could help to build up students’ confidence when they face real problems in their future careers. An amateur’s prediction is after all not very far off from that of a professional, as reflected by a student’s comment in the post-assignment:

  • “Libor + 250bp is almost 5%.... close to our estimates.”
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Inside this issue
Contextualised Teaching Towards Active Learning
Using Role Play to Enhance Classroom Learning: A Case Study in Real Estate
Effective Cancer Pharmacology Teaching Through Guided Self-learning and Students’ Short Presentations in Small Group Tutorials
Application of a Novel Non-analogous Scenario for Introducing Human Immunology
Embedding Graduate Attributes Into Four Discipline Areas Using Scenario-based Learning