Innovate @UA

Jennifer and Andrew invite you to join us in exploring new approaches to online teaching and technology.


I was teaching a graduate course in the Communication Studies Department on conflict and negotiation.  The objective was to teach communication skills that would enhance negotiation outcomes and lead to conflict resolution.  At the time, the course was held in a traditional classroom and during our weekly face-to-face meetings, students would negotiate with one another through role playing simulation based on a case they had been assigned.  Then we would debrief the exercise to analyze the process and outcomes and consider ways to improve for the next time.

When my department chair approached me about taking the course online, I was adamant that the interactive and immersive elements be maintained.  In other words, I still wanted students to experience case studies in a real way that involved scenarios being acted out and discussed, just as they had done in the traditional classroom.  Instructional designer Katherine Klose offered creative and fun solutions to achieve this goal.

The very first exercise I used in the course was a classic case called “The Ugli Orange,” whereby two scientists from different companies meet to negotiate how to divide the last known supply of these rare oranges.  The scientists, Dr. Roland and Dr. Jones, have each been tasked with saving the lives of hundreds of people in two different emergency situations.  The ugli oranges hold the key to producing formulas that will save the vulnerable populations: in one case as a serum to cure a disease and the other as a vapor to neutralize a toxic gas that has been released.  However, there are only enough oranges to produce one of the formulas and each scientist believes they have the most compelling reason for wanting the fruit.

Ordinarily, I had the students pair up and negotiate with one another, with one student as Dr. Roland and the other as Dr. Jones.  After the negotiations were finished we would debrief the exercise as a class and discuss why some pairs had satisfying outcomes and others did not.  To translate the exercise to the online classroom, Katherine envisioned the idea of filming dramatizations of a failed and a successful version of the negotiation.  She had me work closely with instructional designer and film expert Katy Allen to produce videos using actors to improvise these two different versions.

I approached two women on the University of Alabama Speech and Forensics Team with substantial acting experience about playing the roles and they agreed to do so.  It was imperative to me that experienced actors be used to make the dramatizations as realistic and interesting as possible.  I also wanted the actors to experience the case just like students in class, so the action was unscripted and the actors were instructed to improvise the negotiation.  The filming was professionally done as well.  Josh Michael and the Media Services Team located a conference room where the action could take place and they filmed the two versions in one morning.  Because I was not sure exactly how the negotiations would turn out and I wanted to have a failed and a successful attempt, I coached them a bit prior to filming. The first time, I emphasized details in the case that would prompt them to be very competitive with one another and not give in.  When the negotiation ended with an impasse, filming stopped and I then coached them to start the negotiation again, but this time ask more questions of one another and show willingness to listen.  I was pleased when these directions resulted in the successful outcome I was hoping they would reach.

Dr. Roland presents her side of the "Ugli Orange" case.
Dr. Roland presents her side of the “Ugli Orange” case.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the "Ugli Orange" situation.
Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the “Ugli Orange” situation.

I then reviewed the videos and took notes for a commentary that Katy spliced in at moments that were pivotal to the process and outcomes in the two versions.  In my commentary, I discussed common missteps in negotiation as well as how to negotiate more collaboratively by asking the right questions and providing key information to the other party.

Ultimately, I used the videos to introduce concepts of distributive and integrative bargaining as an introduction to the course.  Students were to watch each video and then use the discussion board to identify specific moments (with times included) that influenced the final outcomes in the two negotiations.

Here is an example of the failed negotiation plus commentary:

Since bringing this course online, I have found that students really enjoy these videos and writing about them on the discussion board.  The Ugli Orange case has a twist that many people don’t realize when they role play the exercise themselves and so watching improvisational actors grapple with the case makes for an exciting introduction to the course.

Video dramatizations are a great way to bring case studies or simulation exercises to life in the online classroom and could be produced for a variety of courses in which demonstrations of processes or human behavior are vital to learning.