Engaging students with a virtual village: LAW1025 (Negotiation)

LAW1025: Negotiation

Aware of the need to positively engage her students, Natasha Bellinger (Law) was aware of the challenge ahead of her as she agreed to take on the Negotiation module. With the support of colleagues in the eLearning team, Natasha developed ‘Family Farm’, a virtual village in which she was able to set up scenarios with fictitious characters.

Natasha explains:

In designing the Negotiation module, I wanted to make it interactive, relevant and engaging for the students.  One of the key successes in this module was the online resources.  In conjunction with EQE, a series of online resources and an online simulation were created.  The module centred on a fictional family farm in the village of North Lawton, just outside of Exeter.  An interactive map and character profiles of the villagers provided the material and grounding for a number of disputes to focus on in the lectures and workshops.  The story of the central characters on the farm progressed and identities of mystery characters were released as students progressed through the module.    The family farm idea was particularly relevant due to the increasing recognition of the need for negotiation skills in the farming industry.

By developing characters and giving them more depth than what is usual in a workshop scenario, I hoped students would recognise in practice they would be dealing with real people with real problems, often several problems.  In developing these materials it occurred to me that just telling students they are representing X does not encourage the concept of duty to their clients.  The workshops played out the stories from the farm and nearby village.  In each workshop students would represent one of two clients.  They had access to Common Information, could refer to the interactive resources and also were privately emailed the Confidential Brief corresponding to the client they were acting for.

Halfway through the module, the online simulation provided an opportunity for students to gain instant feedback as they progressed through a virtual negotiation, which they accessed from the Negotiation page on ELE.  The negotiation concerned the local council and the farm’s dispute over a proposed bypass.  The different stages of a negotiation were flagged up and the reasons were provided for why a particular choice led them down a particular route.  Students then completed an online questionnaire reflecting on the skills they had used during the module as well as what they thought of the resource.  The reaction of the students was overwhelmingly positive; the technology was fantastic, it was something they thought should be utilised more, and the students valued the opportunity to gain feedback on their performance in their own time:

“I liked the fact that it allowed you to explore different options and then assess which ones were the best.”

“I found that I was able to follow where the negotiation was going and understood why certain reactions from the opposite solicitor were made.”

“I think I got better as I went along. The step-by-step feedback really helped me focus on the priorities at hand.”

 “Very useful and would definitely use again.”

 “It was quite a fun and private way to get introduced to negotiation.”

“The video clearly identifies essential skills that I have read about and allowed me to apply them.”

It is a resource that can be reused again for future years, but also the characters can be adapted and the disputes diversified without changing the essential content, because the resources are so versatile.

Natasha used the online content to ‘set the scene’:

…to read some background information about the village in which Natasha began to set up situations for negotiation:

…and to learn more about the people who lived there:


Natasha Bellinger is no longer at the university. For guidance on how to create a resource of this kind, contact the eLearning Team, EQE.


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