Keeping it fresh III: what model to follow?

I’ll admit now that I’m rather enjoying working through this refresh of my negotiation module (here and here), both because it’s intrinsically satisfying and because it’s giving me a bit of focus on L&T these days, when there’s much else I have to think about with the rest of my research.

So far, we’ve established that, while generally good, my module has got a bit stale (for me), so I need to consider how to renew it all, without losing the good stuff.

This brings us to the next big question. If I’m keeping the same core logic – flipped lectures and using the contact time for student negotiation activities – then how might I run both elements?

The flipped part certainly needs to be re-recorded, for the technical reasons I discussed last time around, but do I need to keep the same basic material?

At the moment, I’ve got about a half-dozen 20-minute videos, each discussing some theory on aspects of negotiation. Based on the final assessment I’ve got, those seem to be of some use, both for generating ideas and pointing to some literature for the students.

Seen differently, I’m not sure what else I could put into such videos: the practical stuff is the practical stuff and I want students to do that themselves, so maybe I just stick to what I’ve got, then add in the generic theory sessions that I currently teach in class and off we go.

One thought that does occur is that sometimes I have the sense that students only watch these after sessions, rather than before. Partly that’s because the sessions raise issues that make students want to go watch what might otherwise seem to be quite abstract. Partly it’s because I tend not to explicitly structure class activities on the basis of the flipped content.

One option would be to include flipped content that’s essential for class time, although that might become a millstone, if I want to modify that class activity. Another would be to include some kind of easter-egg that students could use to signal their engagement: that’s fun, but maybe a bit up-its-own-backside.

However, alignment of flipped elements to in-class is important, so I need to work on that some more.

The upshot is that – whatever I do with the flipped stuff – the in-class content really matters. Here, I can see three basic models, if I’m looking to continue that core idea of giving students hands-on experience of various types of negotiating.

The first is the one I use now. Each week, students get one or two exercises, specifically designed to allow focus on an aspect of negotiation. As I tell them, my means of doing this is to make that aspect particularly tricky, so they come to appreciate its value through absence.

Thus, the twitter game is about communication; the empty-room exercise about power.

Each exercise is self-contained, which means we can jump around a lot of contexts and issues, as well as letting me swap out elements that aren’t working or have out-lived their usefulness.

However, this pick-n-mix approach suffers from the lack of development of positions: students don’t get to see the consequences of iterated decisions and the shadow of the past. It also weakens their preparation – a key part of negotiation – because we’re always on the move: many of my exercises require no prior prep at all.

Which points to a second approach: doing one big, multi-week exercise.

This was how I used to run this module, back when I started. Loads of prep for a big, multi-day negotiation, a bit like an MUN-style event, but with assessment.

The advantage is that students get much more involved in the scenario and the nitty-gritty, plus they take on a lot more of the responsibility for the running of things. Practically, that means I get to write just one, relatively brief scenario and then let them get on with it.

One issue with this is that we’ll be stuck with the weekly, two-hour block, so I can’t run a full-day session, which might be a problem. Moreover, because it’s a single topic, it might be hard to showcase particular aspects of negotiation in the way I currently can: breadth might be traded off for depth.

So is there a middle way? Possibly.

The disarmament game I use to teach about trust was created as part of a series of linked exercises by an American colleague I met at a conference several years ago. She took students through a fictional world where a series of events unfolded and the consequences of their previous actions shaped what came next. This all had the focus on societies in conflict, rather than negotiation, but there’s no particular reason it couldn’t be done here.

The advantages would be a blend of iteration with variety: it wouldn’t always be the same thing, but it would allow students to draw on what comes before (and after, for that matter). Depending on what was done, that might allow me to vary elements, as I do now.

The problem – if it’s not already occurred to you – is what might be the threading theme to join everything together?

The little crisis game I frequently run might be one option: one could run variations on the crisis, and get students to take on governmental roles that then meet in different forums outside the crisis group.

However, this needs more thought. I’m tempted by the third model, not least because I’ve not tried it before (spot the theme), but without the big idea to hold it together that might have to wait.

Maybe I’ll have some ideas next time I come to this.