Teaching negotiation online through a blend of synchronous and asynchronous online tools

Author Information
Author(s): 
Lori Abrams, PhD
Author(s): 
Thomas Godfrey
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Capella Education Company
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 
Dr. Lori J. Abrams, Faculty member at the U of MN’s Carlson School of Management, partnered with Capella Education Company, to take her classroom-based course, Negotiation Strategies, and create a fully online version.. The basic tenet of Dr. Abrams’ course is that the only way to learn negotiation is by negotiating. As such, the central instructional strategy of her course is role play. To enable this online, Capella worked with Abrams to create a Moodle-based version of her course and to integrate the use of Adobe Connect and Skype into its delivery. Through their partnership, they also developed a variety of interactive and self-paced online tools to enhance learners’ preparation for negotiation role plays and to support their success on course assessments. Dr. Abrams and Capella created an online course that could serve as a model for any MBA program.
Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 
Dr. Abrams has taught Negotiation Strategies for the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management for several years. Her course continues to be one of Carlson’s most popular classes. In 2010, Carlson decided to pilot delivering some of its MBA courses online. Dr. Abrams volunteered her course to be part of this pilot group. Abrams and Carlson partnered with Capella Education Company to take her already effective and popular classroom-based course and re-imagine it for online delivery.
A basic tenet of Dr. Abrams’ course is that the only way to learn negotiation is by negotiating. As such, the central instructional strategy of her course is negotiation role play. Each week, students are given roles within a negotiation scenario and asked to apply concepts from the course readings and from lectures to reach agreements with their classmates.
In Dr. Abrams’ traditional classroom model, each week, students were randomly assigned to negotiating teams groups to engage in their role play negotiation.  After the exercises the class would debrief their experience with Dr. Abrams. These exercises were further supplemented with lectures from Dr. Abrams and the students were assessed through the use of reflection papers. These papers required them to synthesize their course readings in an analysis of their own behavior and results during the role play negotiations. This approach had been very effective for Dr. Abrams in the past, and when going online, she wanted to make sure these basic elements of the course were not diminished in any way. 
Going to a fully online delivery, however, created challenges for maintaining the quality and effectiveness of the course, as well as the authenticity of the negotiation experience. Abrams was greatly concerned that she would not be able to have as rich a learning experience for the students in the online courseroom. It was critical that students were still allowed to engage in live role play negotiations. It was also critical that they could debrief live with Dr. Abrams to discuss the results of their negotiation experiences and to analyze how concepts from the reading and lectures applied during those negotiations.
To alleviate Dr. Abrams concerns, Capella worked with her to re-imagine her course so it could effectively be delivered through the U of MN’s Moodle platform and keep the key requirements outlined above. To do so, Abrams and Capella integrated a variety of online tools on top of the standard Moodle functionality to support learning delivery and to facilitate synchronous online activities. Tools like Adobe Connect and Skype facilitated learners’ role play negotiations. We also used Adobe Connect and the U of MN’s conference call system to support a weekly debrief meeting with the instructor. Custom-developed Flash interactive activities enhanced learners’ preparation for those negotiations, and supported their success on course assessments. Moodle forums and assignment tools also enabled learner to learner interaction and assessment respectively.
The resulting online version of Dr. Abrams’ course was a major success. Students were very impressed with and enjoyed the online course. Conducting role play activities online via Adobe Connect and Skype worked extremely well (and actually reflected the modality many negotiations are moving to). Student reflection papers, the major assessment strategy, demonstrated greater depth and thoughtfulness in their analysis and reflected deeper understanding of course concepts. And Dr. Abrams, who was initially skeptical of online learning, has become a advocate for its efficacy.  Dr. Abrams and Capella created an online course that could serve as a model for any MBA program.
Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 
For evidence of effectiveness, we looked at instructor and student performance and feedback. Dr. Abrams is extremely pleased with her online course and with the experience of delivering her course in a new modality. In a letter to Capella Education Company after the project ended, she wrote, “I was really nervous about doing an online class and was convinced that it would never turn out the way I wanted it to turn out. Well, it turned out better than I hoped – I have really enjoyed creating this class, and I believe that if it wasn’t for Tom Godfrey [Capella] it would not have turned out so well.”
Student feedback came in the form of traditional end of course evaluations gathered over 2 semesters. That feedback can be reviewed here. Overall, feedback was very positive. The majority of students reported improvement in their negotiation skills as a result of the course. Most would recommend the course to others. And most would consider taking another online course in the future.
As mentioned before, student performance on the course assessments (papers) showed greater depth and thoughtfulness, and also included insight to the experience of negotiating online, something that had not previously been part of the experience. As a whole, the students’ papers were more interesting, and Dr. Abrams believe it was the thoughtful design of the online course that allowed for that improvement.
The use of Moodle discussion forums as a key interaction tool also created a richer overall learning and teaching experience. After students completed their role plays, but before they met as a group to debrief their experiences, they were required to post a mini-reflection on their negotiation. This served as an advanced organizer for Dr. Abrams to better customize her debrief session based on the responses of the students. It also helped the students form their thoughts prior to meeting online, which led to a richer online discussion in the live meeting room.
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access

Carlson students are often working adults. Many travel for work, have family obligations, or other requirements that make attending class on-campus a challenge. Many students who opted to take Dr. Abrams’ negotiation course online referenced these challenges as the rationale for doing so. Students are demanding more online options, and this course created more access to those students.

The use of Moodle, Adobe Connect, and Skype enabled the students to access the course and complete the activities from wherever they may have been. Several students joined the course “from the road,” and they appreciated the flexibility this course’s design enabled. Before this course was created, these students may have been required to take time off due to their schedule. The online offering allowed them to maintain momentum.

In fact, Dr. Abrams had one student who had been relocated temporarily to India. Before this online offering, he would have been forced to suspend his studies until his return. Instead, he was able to find a friend with Internet access, and he’d join the class in the middle of night in India. Another learner joined most classes from an airport – even once he joined from inside the airplane itself.

Faculty Satisfaction

Dr. Abrams was initially quite skeptical of online learning. After teaching the newly designed online version of her course, she has become an advocate for online learning and instruction.
She found the student demonstration of their learning to be richer and more in depth than in her traditional classroom course. She also found that, while it took time and effort to design and build her online course, now that it is built, it is easier to teach than her traditional class, it has a better overall flow, and the conversion of what she would have traditional delivered as lecture to self-paced presentations actually saves her time.

Learning Effectiveness

 

The course design ensures a strong balance between student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content interaction. The quality of the online delivered instructional content, as well as some of the interactive tools, is superior (see these examples: example 1, example 2, example 3). The use of synchronous technologies enabled fully authentic negotiation exercises for the students, and the results from the student survey as well as their performance on the course assessments illustrate that.

Student Satisfaction

This survey, which collected feedback from two offerings of Dr. Abrams’ online course, illustrates the level of student satisfaction with her course.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 
For this effective practice to work, we used:
o   Moodle 1.9
o   Adobe Connect
o   Conference Call System (in conjunction with Adobe Connect).
o   Skype
o   Web Conferencing Tools (Web-cam, microphone, telephone).
o   Flash, HTML, CSS, J-Query
For delivering the instructional content, any LMS would likely suffice. Adobe Connect works better for multi-party negotiations, but if your organization does not have a web-conferencing tool, Skype is a good back-up. (You just can’t stream video when 3 or more are online.) And for many of the self-paced elements, tools like Articulate, Captivate, Screen Cast-O-Matic, or Lectora could enable something similar.
Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Because the ability to use freeware like Skype and Screencastomatic, designing a course that reflects these practices needn't cost much at all beyond the time needed to create the instructional content, produce the course in the LMS, and facilitate the learning experience.

References, supporting documents: 

Attached you will find the navigation guide provided to students to help them meet the requirements/expectations of the online negotiation course.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Tom Godfrey
Email this contact: 
tgodfrey@capella.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Lori Abrams, PhD
Email contact 2: 
lja@umn.edu