Documents for the Cool Course Assignment

Last month, I wrote a post encouraging you to consider using  a cool assignment in your courses in which students would interview lawyers about an actual negotiation or other matter.

This assignment has several benefits.  First, it gives students experience learning about actual negotiations that lawyers have conducted, advancing the goal of preparing students for real-world practice.  Second, students get a chance to practice interviewing, a difficult and critically-important generic skill.  Lawyers regularly interview people about sensitive matters and must develop rapport to get the candid information they need.  Third, it gives students a chance to practice protecting confidentiality.

My colleague, Rafael Gely, the fabulous director of our DR Center, is using the assignment in his negotiation course this semester.  He has scheduled a class at the end of the semester to discuss what students learned from these interviews, which should make for a rich discussion about general patterns as well as variations that they learn about.

We worked together to develop three short documents for this assignment, which are posted below.  You are welcome to use or adapt them in your courses.  Although assignment this is designed for a negotiation course, the materials can easily be adapted for mediation, arbitration, and a wide range of other courses.

This two-page assignment directs students to interview a lawyer or party in a significant negotiation, defined as one that took a substantial amount of time and that the subject felt was unusually difficult, successful, or unsuccessful.  The assignment lists a series of questions to ask, and directs students to focus particularly on gaining insights from developing a chronology of events in the negotiation.

Obviously, you could decide on other criteria for case selection (e.g., limiting to only disputes or transactions, including only cases where parties were actively involved, dealing with specific issues like cultural differences), specify different questions for students to address in the interviews, and decide on the length of the papers in your course.

A second document provides guidance for conducting and summarizing interviews.  These procedures are very similar to those that lawyers use when interviewing clients.  This document provides suggestions for gaining the subjects’ confidence and protecting confidentiality.

The third document contains brief form letters for students to recruit subjects and/or confirm appointments for interviews.  This helps subjects understand what to expect and be prepared for the interviews.

If you are still working on your syllabi for this semester and this assignment would fit, consider using it this semester.  If your plans are already set for this semester, consider using it in the future.  Rafael and I would be happy to discuss this with you if you are interested.

One thought on “Documents for the Cool Course Assignment”

  1. I got a question about whether you would need to get approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at your school to use this course assignment. I think that this should not be required. Under federal regulations, IRBs have jurisdiction over human subject “research” which is defined as “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” Rafael talked with someone at our IRB to confirm that his course assignment is not considered research and thus does not have to be reviewed by the IRB. I also googled this issue and found a number of documents from other universities with similar interpretations. If in doubt at your school, check with your IRB.

    Even though the assignment doesn’t have to comply with IRB requirements, we drafted the documents so that they comply with the spirit of the requirements and they could be used for IRB reviews if needed.

    Of course, if you plan to use students’ papers as data for your own research as described in my original post, you certainly would need IRB approval.

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