Moving Online: Pedagogy in a Pandemic

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While teachers and trainers around the world work to transition their courses into remote formats, we asked some of our experienced online teachers to share their experiences with the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) so as to provide insights to those who might be working to teach online for the first time.

Samuel “Mooly” Dinnar is a Lecturer of Negotiation and Leadership at MIT Graduate School of Engineering and an instructor for the PON Global program. He shared his perspective on moving courses online, including some of the pedagogical opportunities.

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Moving All Online: Teaching Negotiation in Times of Pandemic

by Samuel Dinnar

Last week I taught my MIT class (Multi-Stakeholder Negotiation for Technical Experts) over video-conference from across the country – debriefing a multi-party exercise, while some students were stuck overseas due to travel restrictions. When we resume classes later this month – this will be the new norm for everyone. We are moving all online.

Fortunately, this is not totally new to me, having been part of several online/mobile education technology efforts in recent years. As part of Harvard’s PON Global I teach around the world, facilitating live overseas videoconference sessions with thought-leading professors who were back on campus. At MIT, our Entrepreneurial Negotiation course, led by my co-author Professor Lawrence Susskind, has been open to on-site students as well as to hundreds of students across the globe.

I am a people person. I do believe that negotiation is best taught in person. It is about human connections, communications and interactions. But it’s also true that in today’s world, a great portion of the negotiations do happen over some electronic medium. Regardless of what you may think, during these times of pandemic lock-downs, we don’t have a choice but to teach online – both the theory of negotiation and the practical skills that would be required to negotiate, whether in person or electronically. In today’s world and in whatever the future holds – negotiation skills are even more important.

I believe there are several advantages to on-line teaching that we should embrace today:

Synchronous Convening – Today’s online meeting tools allow us to convene large numbers of participants for a session, and also use virtual breakout rooms to allow them to have smaller groups. This enables the critical elements of learning to negotiate experientially:

  • prepare-by-role with other students who have the same role;
  • prepare-by-side, when there are natural caucus groups that need to do so (such as a party and their agent, or three executives representing the same company-to-company negotiation;
  • negotiation sessions and breaks (whether two sided, or multi-party); and
  • small group debriefs (in different possible configurations).

Using today’s sophisticated online tools, the instructor can orchestrate and enable these breakout sequences using clear time allocations, thus allowing the full group to reconvene for a final large group debrief. One thing to be stressed over videoconference or electronic means is that communications become even more prone to misunderstanding, as in “message conveyed is not always the same as the message that was received”. Tip: Encourage your students to use active listening even more actively!

Synchronous Communication – In today’s real world, negotiators use parallel modes of communications while negotiating: video, phone, chat, text, email, etc. The on-line platforms have many of these features built in, and student negotiators find other “out-of-class” channels. These impact the negotiation dynamics, and replaces the old “at-the-table note-passing” with text messaging sent to a participant or group who may be sitting next to you, or half way around the globe. Tip: Encourage students to incorporate those channels into their awareness, and also into their debrief, for some new and interesting insights.

Recording Analysis – One advantage of online negotiation tools is that the recording features are usually built-in. At our MIT class, my colleague Takeo Kuwabara and I recorded using Zoom each of the 6-person (3 on 3) negotiations, and assigned each group a videographer whose task was to edit the video to a four-minute clip showing some key learning moments (both from the side-on-side negotiation, or the same-side caucus session). During the next session, the whole class viewed the four clips, and we had a Zoom videoconference discussion about those learning moments and their own reflections. Tip: find ways of encouraging your students to review recordings to learn more about themselves.

Asynchronous Learning – Trying to reach larger numbers and during times that many not match, some of the teaching needs to be moved to asynchronous. We implement this by requiring students to reflect on their negotiations, and then share these with other peers for feedback. But we are also creating some new tools, such as learning with online avatars using Negotiation Scenarios. In these simulations, the student may try several answers or approaches and will get a different response from the avatar negotiator based on their choice. This reinforces the concepts and allows each student to repeat certain modules at their own pace. Tip: Find ways to safely allow students explore and learn between sessions at their own pace.

We are moving to a new world, where all forms of negotiation: business, government, diplomacy, engineering, academia and others, are happening on-line. So is our teaching. Let’s embrace these opportunities and move forward in showing the way to create more value, even in times of crisis.

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This is part of our ongoing Pedagogy in a Pandemic series. Is your school or institution moving to remote learning formats? What exercises have worked well for you in online courses? Please leave us a comment with your feedback.

Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

Most TNRC materials are designed for educational purposes— for use in college classrooms or corporate training settings. TNRC cases and exercises help mediators and facilitators introduce their clients to a process or issue and help individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Videos are also a helpful way of introducing viewers to key concepts, and TNRC books, case studies, and periodicals address the theory and practice of negotiation and conflict management.

Check out all that the TNRC has in store >> 

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