'Second' Space: ISU, IUPUI students meet on virtual island to negotiate sales deal

December 20, 2011

A team of Indiana State University students locked eyes with a student team from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. They exchanged greetings as they started a sales negotiation they had one hour to finish.

As the groups began haggling, they did so as they sat across from each other - from more than 50 miles away.

Students from classes at Indiana State and IUPUI negotiated during a sales exercise on an island in the virtual world known as Second Life, a three-dimensional environment where people create characters, or avatars, to interact and socialize. ISU students acted as the sellers while IUPUI students were the buyers in a project that set out parameters for both groups while requiring them to determine the best deal.

"I never really sat down and ... had to come up with a least acceptable agreement, and all the items that are associated with a negotiation," said Candace Greubel, an ISU senior communication major from Haubstadt. "So to actually think through something critically and figure it out based on the information, I think it was definitely beneficial. I think the only part that was just a little harder to grasp was the whole negotiation."

In Second Life, people control their avatars while they speak to each other over a microphone via the website. For the project, the students instead communicated by text messages, which are also available on Second Life.

"It was hard to judge their attitude or tone" since they weren't talking, said Tyler Hamilton, an ISU senior communication major from Brownsburg.

The difficulties that students encountered because of the lack of face-to-face interaction was intended, and common to many real-world negotiation sessions, said Ken Jones, senior lecturer of operations management in ISU's Scott College of Business.

"The fact that it was in Second Life was not an impediment at all. In this negotiation, they had the same issues," he added. "They couldn't read body language, they couldn't see facial gestures. In real negotiations, a lot of them are done over the phone. A lot of them are done with companies halfway around the world, and you run into the same kinds of issues, so it was a great practice for them."

Jones organized the project with Peggy Daniels Lee, clinical assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, and chair of the undergraduate program at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis. Ethics codes and laws prevent many procurement transactions from taking place between family members or friends in a company setting, she said, adding that procurement negotiations are frequently "arm's length transactions."

"So I think it ups the bar a bit on their abilities to interact with each other and with people they don't know," Daniels Lee said, "That's a skill that our students need to have as they graduate because they may be in a firm and have to deal with people who are ... all over the world, and this will help with that."

Daniels Lee and Jones wanted to collaborate on a project, and when she learned that he was teaching a class featuring business-to-business marketing skills, she thought it would be a good match for her class, which was learning about procurement.

"We're both big experiential learning advocates," Daniels Lee said. "I truly believe you learn by doing, not by reading or watching, which is why in class, you need to have people get up and move around."

Daniels Lee has used Second Life in several of her classes, and is an avid supporter of the educational aspects of the technology. Companies who have employees around the world utilize spaces in Second Life as meeting centers and training hubs since people simply log into Second Life through the Internet, Daniels Lee said.

She noted that people also socialize, listen to music played elsewhere in the real world and even conduct business transactions in Second Life.

"Just about any human endeavor that a person has thought of in real life, there's somebody who has figured out a way to do it in a virtual world, one way or another," Daniels Lee said. "So you can do just about everything."

The simulation came across in similar fashion to real life in multiple ways. While students were frustrated at times between the delays that took place between the discussions during the negotiation, Jones said that such lapses were not because of the technology.

"That was the team considering what they had proposed through sending instant messages back and forth to each other," he said. "That happens in business."

The students had to formulate their strategy, including a follow-up option in case the negotiating teams could not reach an agreement. Ultimately, only one team failed to negotiate a deal with its IUPUI counterpart. The team, which included Greubel, Hamilton and Zack Jaunzemis, an ISU senior public relations major from Carmel, negotiated with two different IUPUI teams. They reached a deal with the first group easily, while they were unable to come close to a deal the second time.

"I realize that not every time is it going to be the same," Jaunzemis said of negotiations. "Like in the real world, that one thing that might satisfy one person is never going to satisfy the next person, so you have to be flexible with what you're able to discuss and negotiate with them."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Second-Life-2011/i-kdcrmVq/0/L/092111secondlifeblimptest-4437-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University senior lecturer Ken Jones and IUPUI professor Peggy Daniels Lee help Candace Greubel, an ISU senior communication major from Haubstadt, navigate the Second Life website during a class session earlier this semester. Lee visited Jones's class in the Scott College of Business to teach his students about Second Life in preparation of a joint negotiation project between classes at ISU and IUPUI.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Second-Life-2011/i-qn5J7Gb/0/L/092111secondlifeblimptest-4405-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
An Indiana State University student using the Second Life website. Students in a class taught by Ken Jones, ISU senior lecturer in operations management, joined with students in a class taught Peggy Daniels Lee, a professor at IUPUI. The project was created to teach the students in both classes about the experience - and difficulties associated with - negotiating over long distances.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-t3pZ2HM/0/L/i-t3pZ2HM-L.jpg (Submitted photo)
Avatars of students from Indiana State University and IUPUI sit as they negotiate in Second Life, a virtual world where people can socialize and perform other activities through their characters, or avatars.

Contact: Ken Jones, senior lecturer, operations management, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 317-413-6753 or kenneth.jones@indstate.edu.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu.