Faculty Spotlight: Richard White – Online Video Conferencing

Instructor: Richard J. White

Course: HRM/MSM 9019 OL Negotiation and Conflict Management

About the Project: This course uses simulated negotiation exercises focused on problems in a management/human relations environment to provide negotiations experiences. These experiences are then analyzed using course materials and group discussions. The analysis is formalized in a weekly reflection paper.

I had taught this course in a face-to-face format at Emmanuel before being asked to convert it into an online course. I had some misgivings concerning the effectiveness of teaching negotiation without interpersonal contact, but I discovered in teaching the course that many of the negotiation skills translated well into exchanges of proposals, counterproposals, questions, and rationale using typewritten posts. I have discovered that there are materials available which assist the students with particular skills designed to enhance their ability to negotiate in an online format. However, in the process of providing feedback, a number of students expressed a desire to develop their skills in face to face negotiations.

When the college transitioned to EC Learn, the enhanced video capabilities of the platform made it possible to have negotiations conducted by asynchronous video post and real-time video conference. In becoming experienced with these capabilities, I decided to try to expand the negotiation experiences in the course into the face-to-face arena.

Goals: My goal was to provide both text based and face-to-face negotiation experiences in the context of my online course using the EC Learn platform without detracting from the workload scheduling flexibility which is important to many online students.

Technology Requirements: In addition to the computer equipment necessary for an online course, each student needed access to a video camera with audio capabilities. Otherwise, no special technology was required beyond that provided through the EC Learn platform.

ConferenceTool_snapshotOutcomes: The first contact which each of my students has with the course is to introduce themselves to their classmates. In order to appraise the technological ability of my students, as well as the quality of the video equipment available to them, I requested that each student make their introduction by video post. I also posted mine by video post both to share the experience with them, and to test my own abilities and technology. This initial activity was a success for all parties involved.

Similarly, the first negotiation exercise is a simple negotiation between two friends concerning one friend selling a fax machine which they cannot use to another. I decided to continue to test the video format by configuring this negotiation exercise to be contacted by asynchronous video post. I required that all communication between the students be conducted by video post. No emails or text postings were to be used. This activity was also a success in that all negotiations were completed without technical difficulties or extensive delays. This was extremely important to the course because each student must have a negotiation experience which they can use as a vehicle to analyze the particular skills being emphasized in a module. As a result of the success, I carried the video format followed throughout the remainder of the course.

I ran into some difficulties with an exercise where there was a requirement that students work out their bargaining positions as negotiating teams before communicating them to their opposing team. The difficulty largely resulted from the fact that negotiation by video is slower than negotiation by text because it is difficult for many students to make video posts or engage in conferencing when they have a small amount of available time at work, work odd hours, and/or lack good video equipment at home. I addressed this issue in each negotiation by allowing students who could not use video in a timely fashion to use text to communicate when necessary. This modification made the process work within the weekly class format without undue delay. It was interesting to note that no students abandoned the video format.

The final negotiating exercise in the course is the mediation of the termination of an employee for allegedly engaging in sexually harassing conduct. In this exercise, I serve as the mediator and the students serve as the representatives of the company and the employee. Because of my previous difficulties in the team format, I decided to modify this exercise to be a one-on-one negotiation with one representative of the company negotiating with one employee representative. (I use an employee representative rather than the employee to avoid putting any student in the position of having to defend themselves as a sexual harasser.) I used the conference function of EC Learn to conduct the mediations. The conference function of EC Learn was flexible enough to allow me to set up joint conferences where all parties were present, and private conferences for each party to meet with the mediator in each mediation. Conferences were scheduled by appointment just as they would have been in an actual mediation. Despite the fact that I had some technical issues due to my inexperience with the platform, I found the mediation to be as effective and realistic as I had been able to reproduce in the face-to-face course. All parties settled, and the settlements were quite realistic.

At the conclusion of the course, I sought feedback from my students as to the effectiveness of the experience in their view, and any negative impact which the video format had on their experience as online students. I solicited this feedback after the course had closed and grades were awarded as I did not wish to influence any responses. I received responses from five out of eight students who unanimously endorsed of using video to provide realistic negotiation experiences. It was interesting to note that some of those who responded were those who had some difficulties with the format from time to time as the course progressed. On the negative side, each commented that the interchanges were slowed by the video, but went on to state that the positive aspects of using the video capabilities of EC Learn to teach negotiations far outweighed the negatives.

From an instructional perspective, I was able to assist students in improving the communication skills used in negotiating in both competitive and cooperative situations. Because this course teaches practice as well as theory, I believe that the addition of the video experiences enhanced the learning experience for the students.

I intend to continue to refine the use of video in my future courses.

I would like to thank Teddy Hristov and Cynthia Brennan for providing me with extensive help with the technological aspects of this project. They were both knowledgeable and patient in getting me through my first experiences with the video aspects of EC learn.

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