First Class Negotiation

I’m thinking of starting my DR class a little differently this year and would love feedback.   I have a class of 70 (!) for my general DR class.  Typically, there are three quizzes (covering each of the main processes) and a final exam.  I also assign problems throughout the semester and students are “on call” for their problem.  Last year, I taught this class in the evening and so I knew that I had about 10 minutes of talking/discussion before the back row (if not more) would start surfing.  I planned lots of small group activities, videos, etc to keep everyone moving and off of their laptops.  I am going to continue in that vein.  But I am also thinking about whether to ban laptops (I do in my negotiation class) and also whether to “cold call” more students to keep them focused.  In talking with my RA’s this summer, we realized that the debate over both of these issues would be really interesting for students to participate in and that this would be a good topic for negotiation.  So I am planning on making this a group negotiation for our first class with the following structure:

1.  Divide the class into groups of 8.

2.  Each group must reach consensus on: (a) should we allow laptops in class? (b) how should participation occur and how much should it count toward your grade? (c) what percentage of the grade should quizzes count for versus the final exam?

3.  Then we will convene a representative from each group to negotiate again and see if we can reach class consensus.

4.  If the group cannot reach consensus on any item, the decision reverts to me.

With Julie MacFarlane, I wrote about this years ago (and have done similar exercises in smaller classes) in terms of students taking responsibility for their own learning.  I’d love any feedback or advice about how you think this would work in a large class; other items you would or would not add to the items to be negotiated; and timing.  Thanks much!


5 thoughts on “First Class Negotiation”

  1. If it were me, I would leave laptops out of the negotiation. Because laptops and phones (which are just little laptops) have become so ubiquitous, students generally have very little appreciation of the benefits of a non-laptop learning environment, and so are unable to represent adequately the interests that the professor (and the students) would have in such an environment. Also there’s the whole addiction angle, which complicates matters.

    I make a blanket bright-line rule against electronica in all my classes and do not offer any explanation for the rule unless asked. (I do ask if there are questions about the rule, though.) I have not had any pushback in seven years of having the rule and, like Cynthia, often receive positive feedback about the no-electronics rule.

    Perhaps the students would benefit from a conversation about why some classroom policies are negotiable and others aren’t. I often wonder what would happen if the 1Ls demanded to negotiate the curve.

    1. Hi people – I’d like to recommend chapter 7 in Assessing Our Students, Assessing Ourselves (Volume 3 in the Rethinking Negotiation Teaching Series) to all those interested in this conversation (negotiating classroom rules and grading in particular, not the laptop dilemma in particular). I think it poses each of us a good opportunity to ask ourselves ‘How far would I dare go with this?”

  2. I agree with John about laptops. I ban them in most of my classes (the one exception being one class where the reading is all electronic). On the first day of class I explain why I’m banning electronic devices in detail.

    I think most students agree they are addicted (aren’t we all?) to these devices and I have had many tell me they appreciate the break. It helps that I am at a law school where many of the first year professors, beyond me, also ban laptops–it is more the norm than the exception.

  3. Many students love to diddle their laptops during class and resist efforts to control their ability to do this.

    I discovered this in my Negotiation course, in which I have done exercises like the one Cynthia described. I had students identify students’ interests and the professors’ interests and I listed them on the screen in the front of the class. Each year, one or more students would ask about changing my no-laptop policy, coming up with some cockamamie “interests” for using laptops in class.

    We would identify a range of options for dealing with this issue. Several times, I tried trial policies allowing students to use laptops as long as they remained engaged in the class (which was my interest). This agreement was subject to my right to revert to the no-laptop policy. One year, this mostly worked ok, though a few students slipped toward the end of the semester. Last year, a number of students fell off the wagon right off the bat and I re-instituted the no-laptop policy early in the semester.

    For me, the initial exercise was an interesting way to illustrate interest-based negotiation. But I think I will do it differently in the future because I don’t want to spend a lot of time negotiating over laptops.

    I used the no-laptop policy the last several years in my 1L Lawyering course and I think it made a big difference in students’ attention in class, compared with prior Lawyering classes and certainly compared with my upperclass Negotiation course, where students were used to playing with their laptops in class in other courses.

    Two of my Missouri colleagues instituted no-laptop policies and have been very pleased. And I was surprised to see how many syllabi on the DRLE website list no-laptop policies.

    Many syllabi require students to limit their use to class-related activities. I think that’s too hard to police and I suspect that many students do unrelated things on their computer during class.

    And don’t get me started about trying to pry people’s eyes off their iPhones.

    I think that the problem is that these electronic devices are too dang seductive. I notice this when I am talking on the phone and sitting in front of my computer (especially on conference calls). It is hard for me to resist the computer. And most students don’t have as much motivation and self-discipline as I do.

  4. Andrea,

    I did a negotiation on class participation in my ADR Survey class last year. I gave them three options: all volunteer participation, a random on-call system, or a on-call system with notice about when they would be on-call. They had to discuss what my interests, as the professor, were and try to convince me about which system best met my interests, while also meeting their interests.

    The students had a very hard time thinking about what my interests were–and did not agree on their own. It was a great way to introduce interest based negotiation–but they didn’t even come close to consensus.

    I did the negotiation after we covered arbitration and as the opening class for the negotiation section. I found it useful to do it after a few weeks of class and after they had done the introductory reading on negotiation as I was using it as an exercise to understand what are interests and what is interest based negotiation. I also wanted to contrast the process of negotiation with the process of arbitration.

    I’d love to hear how it works for you!

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