Stone Soup Assessment: A Tale of Five ADR Courses, by Andrea Schneider, Rob Ackerman, Becky Jacobs, Doug Yarn, and Derrick Howard

This post describes five different approaches to using Stone Soup in ADR courses.  It reflects the incredible flexibility of this project and the creativity of faculty in tailoring Stone Soup assignments to fit their goals and circumstances.  Even when the assignments don’t work as planned, we can learn valuable lessons from these experiences.

Andrea Schneider had 70 students in her course and required them to write 1-2 page papers about a recent conflict, which were ungraded.

Bob Ackerman had 22 students in his course and assigned them to write 3-5 page papers about observations of any formal dispute resolution process, which counted for 25% of the grade.

Becky Jacobs had 30 students in her course and assigned students to interview lawyers about a significant negotiation and write papers up to 20 pages, which counted for 20% of the grade.

Doug Yarn had 29 students in his course and assigned students to interview lawyers about a memorable case and write papers up to 10 pages, which counted for 25% of the grade.

Derrick Howard had 18 students and used Stone Soup as an extra-credit assignment in which students were to interview someone involved in a significant negotiation, mediation, or arbitration and write 7-10 page papers.

Andrea’s Course

Andrea, who needs no introduction to this crowd, required students to interview someone about a recent conflict, including whether it could have been resolved through the law, and what the subject learned.  It was due early in the semester – September 26.  This assignment got them to think of conflict and negotiation broadly, not just as “an activity of lawyers in a dark room on behalf of clients.”  So they saw a broader pattern of negotiation.  They discussed this in class and Andrea said that it was a very good use of class time.

Like some other colleagues, Andrea found that one of the values of this assignment was that students got experience doing interviews, and a number of students learned how hard it is to conduct interviews.  And, as is always true, students got out of it what they put into it.

Here’s her assignment and course assessment.

Bob’s Course

Robert Ackerman, the Director of Wayne Law’s Levin Center (and former dean), assigned students to observe at least 2 hours of a “formal dispute resolution process; i.e., courtroom litigation (trial, not appellate), arbitration, mediation, case evaluation, or a hybrid process.”  He also encouraged students to interview the neutrals, legal counsel, or the parties, preferably at the conclusion of the proceeding.

He reserved the last two classes to discuss students’ observations.  They were able to compare processes and make comparisons within processes.   He said, “Most importantly, students learned that there are wide variations of practices in processes that went by the same name.”  We all know that and may even teach that – but it can be a lot more vivid if students learn it by observing and discussing actual cases.  Bob reported that “a good time was had by all.”

Some students had difficulty arranging for observations.  So in the future, he would distribute the assignment earlier in the semester and line up some practitioners in advance who would agree to allow students to observe a proceeding.

Here’s his assignment and course assessment.

Becky’s Course

Tennessee’s Waller Lansden Distinguished Professor Becky Jacobsassigned students to interview practicing attorneys with at least five years’ experience and who negotiate frequently.  Students were to ask about both a specific “significant negotiation” and about the subject’s general observations related to the negotiation.

The assignment adapted the Stone Soup model documents by adding specific questions about the subjects and their backgrounds, as well as the parties, contexts, facts, and process.  Based on Andrea’s article, Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style, it also asked the subjects to assess how well the negotiation satisfied a list of 10 possible goals and 36 characteristics of effective negotiators.

Becky wrote, “Nearly all of the students commented on how surprising it was to hear about the amount of preparation that their subjects put into a negotiation.  They read about, and heard, that, in class, but it did not really make an impression until they heard from practitioners how critical it is.  Also, every student connected the class material to what they heard in the interview, and many expressly noted how they felt that the class really gave them a good foundation for their practices.”

Here’s her assignment, as well as a model invitation for subjects to be interviewed, guidance for students in conducting and summarizing interviews, and thank you note.  Here’s her course assessment.

Doug’s Course

Douglas Yarn, the Director of Georgia State University’s Consortium on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, had 29 students in his ADR course and he assigned them to interview lawyers with at least five years experience.  Students were instructed to ask about subjects’ general philosophy of negotiation as well as details of a recent memorable case.  The papers were to include analysis of how the subjects’ responses compared with the concepts covered in the course as well as what students learned about themselves.

Students found that negotiation techniques varied in different contexts.  They liked talking with practitioners and were eager to hear what they had to say.  This helped students consider what negotiation techniques they might emulate, avoid, or modify.

The papers were due at the end of the exam period and so they didn’t discuss them in class.  In the future, Doug would set a deadline soon after the negotiation unit and discuss it in class.  He would eliminate some other exercises to make room for the class discussion, which he felt would be a better use of class time.

He had a hard time distinguishing students’ papers for grading purposes.  “I just lumped the papers into three categories: (1) low effort or didn’t follow instructions (I had only 3 of these), (2) “stuck out” as particularly thoughtful and well written, and (3) everybody else.”

I have had similar reactions to student papers.  Eventually, I developed instructions for writing papers about my fabulous multi-stage simulations, which could be adapted for Stone Soup assignments.  I included the following summary of my instructions and grading criteria:

Here is a list of approaches, ranked from worst to best, and I told them that papers would be graded accordingly:

  • Describe what happened without focusing on a challenging issue
  • Describe what happened, focusing on a challenging issue
  • Show that the interactions were consistent with some theory
  • Analyze why the interactions were challenging
  • Mention alternative approaches that lawyers might have used
  • Describe alternative approaches that lawyers might have used andanalyze risks and potential benefits of each approach

Gemma Smyth developed a detailed grading rubric for her Stone Soup assignment.

Here’s Doug’s assignment and course assessment.

Derrick’s Course

Derrick Howard, Valparaiso’s Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, gave an extra-credit assignment for students to interview someone who had been involved in a significant negotiation, mediation, or arbitration within the past year.

Initially, several students expressed interest.  However, as the semester proceeded most students didn’t complete the assignment because of other end-of-semester obligations.  Only one student completed the assignment, and that student said that it was beneficial.

In the future, Derrick would require students to do the assignment, rather than offering it as extra-credit, and he would set the deadline before the end of the semester so that it wouldn’t conflict with all the other things students are doing then.

When giving an extra-credit assignment, there is always a risk that students will blow it off.  Fortunately, more than two thirds of students in Bob Dauber’s evidence course took advantage of the opportunity to observe court proceedings.  We can speculate about the difference in students’ responses in Derrick’s and Bob’s courses.  Perhaps there was more uptake in Bob’s course because law school focuses so much on litigation that students were more curious to see what it really looks like.  And perhaps it seemed easier to observe a court hearing than to identify an interview subject.  We should emphasize “seemed easier” because students in other courses generally have been incredibly resourceful in identifying interview subjects – when they were required to do so.

Here’s Derrick’s assignment (on page 6 of his syllabus) and his course assessment.

And here’s a link to other course assessments as well as a summary of Stone Soup experiences and general advice based on this semester’s courses.

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