On Its Head: Teaching Negotiation in a Flipped Classroom

By Joshua N. Weiss, Ph.D.

By on / Teaching Negotiation

What is the Best Use of my Class Time?

That is the key question that scholars have been asking for decades. An innovative pedagogical concept called the Flipped Classroom may offer some new answers.
In simple terms, a Flipped Classroom is a teaching model where lectures are viewed remotely through watching videos on core concepts and lessons (supplemented by readings, etc…), while in-class time is used for deeper exploration and interactive exercises.
While many subjects may benefit from this format, little conversation has happened about how effective the Flipped Classroom approach is for teaching negotiation. I explore that area here.

The main areas I cover in this article include:

  • The pedagogical core of the Flipped Classroom model
  • Benefits and challenges of this model for educators and students
  • Empirical results of testing the model
  • My recent personal experience “Flipping” my negotiation class

Flipped Classroom: The Essence, Benefits, and Challenges

Essence

According to Cynthia Brame, Assistant Director at the Center For Teaching at Vanderbilt University:

“The Flipped Classroom approach has been used for years in some disciplines, notably within the humanities. Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson first promoted the use of this approach in their book Effective Grading (1998). They proposed a model in which students gain first-exposure learning prior to class and focus on the processing part of learning (synthesizing, analyzing, problem-solving, etc.) in-class.”*

The crux of the Flipped Classroom model is that the traditional pedagogical approach is reversed. In other words, lectures are done remotely through watching videos on core concepts and lessons, leaving in-class time for review and deeper exploration of issues and questions, and more importantly, interactive exercises, in- depth discussions, problem/case based learning, and role-plays or simulations.†

To take this a step further, there are a variety of types of videos that are used in flipped classrooms. The most common videos are ones that the faculty member records him/herself and are typically content that they would deliver in a classroom setting. However, teachers do not need to be limited to their own creations. Some use TED talks and videos from Edu Tube or other websites, such as Khan Academy. A mixture of different types of videos has proven to be the most effective from my experience. However, it is really up to the faculty member and how they want to structure the sessions.

Finally, in-class pedagogy becomes a matter of emphasis, rather than a radical shift from traditional teaching approaches. Instead of the focus being on the lecture during class time, the shift is to more interactive exercises, problem based learning, and, for example, Socratic dialogues where the teacher and student can engage deeply in critical analysis and extensive exploration. Importantly, stress laden in-class sessions stemming from a feeling of having to ‘get through’ the material, is less of a problem in the flipped classroom format.

Benefits

The Flipped classroom naturally forces students to become more active participants in their own learning. By having to watch videos at home, of their own volition, they have to take responsibility. When they come into the classroom and work in groups or with the professor they have ample opportunity to deepen their learning and understanding of difficult concepts.

The Flipped Classroom also helps students with different learning styles and ways of taking in information most effectively. John Hattie presented a framework in 2012 in his book called Visible Learning. In that book he talked about four styles of learning – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading and writing. Many excel at one or more of these but not all. It is fair to argue that the traditional classroom setting is often geared toward those proficient at reading and writing. However, in the flipped classroom context the mediums that work best are auditory and visual. Individuals with this learning preference can watch a video a few times at home until they really understand the concept. If they watch the videos and still have questions they are able to come into class and ask very pointed questions about the areas of confusion. For students who learn better by reading and comprehending, they are still able to come in with questions and work through the material in class with the professor.

The Flipped Classroom gives the instructor the ability to hone in on problems and issues for each student and to work personally with them on those challenges. An instructor can quickly determine a problem or issue so that it does not fall through the cracks. Isolating ideas and issues that are unclear improves the overall learning process for students and ensures, as best as possible, that proper understanding is taking place.

Challenges

Of course, the Flipped Classroom is not without issues and challenges. Designing a Flipped Classroom can be rather time consuming at the outset. While some faculty use preexisting videos from websites such as You Tube and Khan Academy, many choose to record their own lectures. The latter can be a new experience for faculty and difficult to get right.

The Flipped Classroom requires a shift in perspective on the part of faculty who are used to being in front of a class with the attention on them. In this model, faculty are more focused on developing plans for the in-class sessions that fit with the videos and helping the students with various sticking points.

As class size increases, the ability to focus one-on-one with students to help them improve on their problem areas becomes more difficult. With too many students a faculty member can’t get to everyone.

The Flipped Classroom method also assumes that all students can understand the material with relatively few errors. This may be true to an extent initially, but the deeper the student delves into a subject the more potential problems may emerge. In other words, a student may exhibit a tangential understanding of a concept, but may miss other things that are not readily apparent or far more complex.

Related to this issue, the Flipped Classroom relies on students to do the work remotely. If they do not, the solution is often to have them use class time to complete the work. Sporadic occurrences do not present a significant problem but recurring infringements do defeat the purpose of the approach if enough students don’t complete the required work remotely. This model may be really problematic in cultures and places where in-class lectures are still very much the norm.

Finally, not all subjects are suitable to a Flipped Classroom approach. Those disciplines that do not lend themselves to in-class activities or that are abstract in nature might be more effectively taught in a traditional classroom setting.

Does it Work?

There have been many studies that have analyzed the effectiveness of the flipped classroom approach. Bishop and Verleger conducted a survey of the literature for their presentation at the American Society of Engineering Education in 2013.‡ While their focus was on Engineering education, they conducted a broad analysis of the literature to date and the evidence suggesting the flipped classroom’s effectiveness. The summarize their findings in the following manner:

“Reports of student perceptions of the flipped classroom are somewhat mixed, but are generally positive overall. Students tend to prefer in-person lectures to video lectures, but prefer interactive classroom activities over lectures. Anecdotal evidence suggests that student learning is improved for the flipped compared to traditional classroom.”§

One study in particular, by Carl Wieman and colleagues, provides significant evidence that flipping the classroom can produce substantial learning gains (Deslauriers et al., 2011). Wieman and colleagues compared two sections of a large-enrollment physics class. During the experiment, student engagement increased in the experimental section (from 45 +/- 5% to 85 +/- 5% as assessed by four trained observers) but did not change in the control section. At the end of the experimental week, students completed a multiple choice test, resulting in an average score of 41 +/- 1% in the control classroom and 74 +/- 1% in the “flipped” classroom, with an effect size of 2.5 standard deviations.‖

My Experience with the Flipped Classroom

I became intrigued with the Flipped Classroom model because I have spent many years teaching online. As part of that experience I have recorded lectures and used many videos to aid in the learning process. I saw firsthand how people could learn exceedingly well, initially on their own, from these resources. Let me explain a little bit about the nuances of what I did.

I used a Flipped Classroom approach with 15 students at a small university in western Massachusetts. The students were a diverse group, both economically and culturally. The students were mostly mid career individuals who wanted to learn the basics of negotiation in this class. Given the nature of this group, I felt that by flipping the class I could restructure the workload and create more space in-class to engage in the rich interactive teaching tools, such as role-plays, and explore the tougher concepts students were struggling with.

I used a mix of TED talks and other pre-made videos from the web in conjunction with my own lectures that I created with a tool called Tegrity. Tegrity enables you to record a video of yourself, or capture a video of your desktop screen, while doing a voice-over explanation. I chose to use Powerpoint as the focus and to audibly take students through the concepts on the screen. The lectures were approximately 20 to 25 minutes in length and helped give the students guidance on what to focus on with regard to the other videos as well as guidance on the accompanying readings they also had to do for the class.

When we came together in class we spent the first 20 minutes in a question and answer session and then students often engaged in small group work with each other. After that we moved into one to two negotiation simulations or case analysis exercises. This gave us plenty of time to conduct longer debriefing sessions, arguably one of the most valuable parts of any interactive negotiation exercise.

I have also had students engage in negotiation role-plays outside the classroom via video conferencing. This also saves class time and enables the instructor to begin immediately with a debriefing of the exercise and a more detailed discussion. Students report that the negotiation role-plays via video conferencing feel as if they are being done in face-to-face manner. Dynamics often missing from online interactions are captured more effectively when engaging in this format.

Major Lessons Learned

After my experience flipping this class, I came away with the following lessons:

1. Negotiation is a very suitable topic for this type of methodology.
In fact, what makes teaching negotiation unique and interesting for both the faculty and students is the interactive components involved. Instructors can take advantage of the many wonderful video resources and role-play exercises that have been developed by places such as the Program on Negotiation. Flipping allows more time in class for these exercises, and in particular a thorough debriefing, which enhances student’s practical skills and abilities.

2. This approach helps students who are audio and visual learners.
Often these students struggle with reading comprehension and are not learning or retaining the material. This model gives these students an opportunity they don’t have in traditional classrooms – to slow things down and go at their own pace in a stress free environment. I had a number of students report that they watched the videos at home a few times until they really grasped the concepts at a deeper level. They reported not feeling the pressure of a typical classroom environment.

3. The in-class one-on-one time allows instructors to really work with students on specific problems and challenges.
According to the evaluations from my class this aspect of a Flipped structure helped reduce frustration when students did not understand something and made the class a more fulfilling experience overall.

4. Class size may present a challenge to some classes and instructors.
How this methodology would work with more than 25 or 30 students in a class, given the lack of personal attention that can be given to each student, needs further exploration and creative thinking. This limitation was reinforced to me during my experience. Perhaps employing technology to collect and aggregate negotiation results (both qualitative and quantitative) would allow instructors to identify and address students, and issues, with the greatest need.

Final Thought

So much of negotiation is about learning to be creative, agile, adaptive, and to have confidence in yourself. As an instructor I often feel I don’t have enough time to teach these skills in a traditional classroom format. By empowering students to engage with content remotely I have found that I can clear the space to help students develop these critical personal skills in a safe environment in class. Without time to really develop their personal skills many students of negotiation have negative experiences early on, which can, in the worst case, cause them to shy away from the field. The Flipped Classroom model gives them a much better chance for success in this regard.

 

Footnotes

* See Brame, C. “Flipping the Classroom.” http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/

† In general, if students do not watch the videos at home they use the in-class time to watch the videos and catch up. If they have questions as they are doing so, they can ask the faculty members.

‡ See http://faculty.up.edu/vandegri/facdev/papers/research_flipped_classroom.pdf for full article.

§ Bishop, J. L. and D. Verleger. “The Flipped Classroom: A survey of the Research” Presented at the American Society of Engineering Education, 2013. Can be found at: http://faculty.up.edu/vandegri/facdev/papers/research_flipped_classroom.pdf Pg. 2.

‖ See DesLauriers L, Schelew E, and Wieman C (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science 332: 862-864. In terms of methodology related to this study, the authors cite the following set up in their abstract with regard to their approach “We compared the amounts of learning achieved using two different instructional approaches under controlled conditions. We measured the learning of a specific set of topics and objectives when taught by 3 hours of traditional lecture given by an experienced highly rated instructor and 3 hours of instruction given by a trained but inexperienced instructor using instruction based on research in cognitive psychology and physics education. The comparison was made between two large sections (N = 267 and N = 271) of an introductory undergraduate physics course. We found increased student attendance, higher engagement, and more than twice the learning in the section taught using research-based instruction.”
And http://flippedlab.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/02/Flipped-Lab-Challenges-Crowdsourced-Challenges.pdf

 

About The Author

Dr. Joshua N. Weiss is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project and the co-founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in 2002.

More information, articles and videos can be found on Josh’s blog.

Originally published in 2015.

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One Response to “On Its Head: Teaching Negotiation in a Flipped Classroom”

  • I was with the PON/HLS as a Fulbright Scholar in the year 1992-93. Most fascinating year…Roger Fisher, William Ury, Deborah Kolb…I have tried similar experiments in teaching negotiations where the first few sessions are devoted to concept/method development and then the rest of the course revolves around offline simulations followed by small group debriefing for gaining deeper insights into the concepts/method in negotiations engagements of varying structures. There is a relatively better impact of a lasting nature when transferring the method to real life negotiations situations.

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