Friday, March 13, 2015

5 Questions with Professor Bordone: Creating a Storyboard to Support Learning Goals

By Elizabeth Moroney, courtesy of the HLS Case Studies blog

Bob teaching - close upHesperia Seed Initiative, our latest simulation, has been years in the making, undergoing many classroom tests and iterations before publication. In an earlier blog we introduced you to the multiparty role play, in which stakeholders negotiate the terms of an agricultural initiative regarding genetically modified seeds. Faculty author Professor Robert Bordone sat down to talk with us about the process and the possibilities of writing a simulation.

EM: What inspired the simulation?

RB: We teach a unit on multiparty negotiation for our spring negotiation workshop, and for many years we used a case called Harborco. Many people have done it already, and we wanted to replace it in our curriculum with a new case that was hot right now. Hesperia bridges many of the worlds that our students go on to work in: it has NGOs, big multinational companies, government officials, university interests, public health issues, and food. All of our students have an interest in negotiation, but the context really varies: they go on to do government work, international work, domestic work. What’s neat about this case is that it’s all in there.

Plus, the topic of genetically modified seeds is a growing, live, important issue: there are issues of justice and issues of science. There’s a great New Yorker article from August called Seeds of Doubt, which talks about GMOs. We were often tracking some real-life entities in our minds as we built out different roles for the simulation.

But we didn’t start with the issue of GMOs. When we create a simulation, we first think about our learning points. Then we look for a vehicle or a story for those learning points: we have a brainstorming session, look at the newspaper, and see what’s interesting to the group. For Hesperia, we had a two-hour session. We asked ourselves: what are our interests with respect to these possible topics? We also wanted staying power. A case study might favor current events, but if you’re developing a simulation for years, you want it to last.

EM: What challenges and opportunities did the writing process present?

RB: Primarily, we needed to be able to educate our students about biotechnology. I’m not a food policy or science expert, nor was our target audience. We needed to write a case short enough to use in a basic negotiation class, but we needed to educate students enough to be versed for the negotiation.

Another challenge – which made the case unique – was the balance between scorable and nonscorable components. You have to test it a lot, because within the scorable parts, you want people to pay attention to the points. When you include nonscorable elements, it’s like an exhaust pipe, a release from the pressure of negotiating for points-based agreements. We needed to stress that the points still mattered.

In the early iterations, it was too easy to create value and make concessions outside of the point structure. It made the negotiation too easy. In real life, when you’re negotiating salary, perks matter, but the money is always important. In a simulation, it’s easier to disregard the money and accept the corner office instead.

But when we went the other direction and focused on the scorable components, no one talked about value-creating opportunities. A lot of the scorable games do not have interests embedded in them, only bottom lines. Those games might be fun, but there are fewer learning opportunities.

It was a challenge to create a point structure with the right ZOPA (zone of possible agreement), one with just the right number of possible agreements. With each change to the scoring grid, we had to track the whole storyboard: six parties and five issues.

Simulations are great opportunities to implement my teaching model: tell, show, do, review. I can choose the learning goals and then put the storyboard around it. I find a story and characters, and make sure our students get excited about it. Food law is growing in popularity, and GMOs are among the most important security issues in the world, given climate change and a growing population. This case also discusses the distributional justice around food scarcity, and acknowledges the importance of business models in sustaining food security initiatives.

EM: What advice do you have for case writers and teachers in the legal classroom?

RB: Simulation writers (and case writers) should always start with a pedagogical reason for developing a case. It doesn’t work to start with a context. They need to think about the end of the case: what will the teaching points be? Then, they build a case around that. No matter how clear you think a case study or simulation is, you need to test it in the classroom, because people will read it differently.

I want teachers to know that this simulation can be used for many different pedagogical purposes. My advice is to know why you’re using it. It can be used to teach process, emotions, coalition formation, and more; the teaching note goes into some of these different approaches.

EM: How did the students react to the simulation?

RB: They loved it. It was one of those classes where class was over and they were hanging around, continuing to talk about it. It had the amount of resonance I see from my most successful simulations and cases.

Instructors should be aware that students really get into the simulation. There can be a fair amount of emotion when they’re so embroiled in the issues.

EM: What else should we know about Hesperia?

RB: It’s not just for law school. I could envision it being used in public policy school, business school, the school of public health. And if people find innovative ways of teaching it, I want to hear their feedback!