A role-play to discover standardization, an innovative teaching method at IMT Atlantique


Laurent Toutain, a research professor at IMT Atlantique on the Rennes campus, has developed a role-play that gives students the opportunity to take part in a standardization committee. An opportunity for students to develop negotiation skills and learn about this strategic area.

“Standardization is often seen as a tedious activity, which involves reading boring documents. But it’s a fascinating area since it allows manufacturers to push their products and States to control their industries,” explains Laurent Toutain.

The research professor developed a module that takes the form of a “standardization game”, a role play where students play members of a standardization committee within the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), to help change this perception and familiarize students with this key sector.

Negotiations are conducted based on a simple technical problem : finding a standard for telecommunications exchange between communicating objects and an industrial network. This intentionally simple topic allows students to focus on the central aspect of the learning activity: negotiation.

“Students must defend the technical solutions developed by their respective employers – industrial players with competing interests – and negotiate in English to reach a consensus by the end of the project,” explains the research professor.

Over several sessions, they must make presentations in front of the committee, identify the precise problems the standard must respond to, raise technical issues etc. “They therefore realize that working together to reach a consensus on seemingly insignificant technical points can take days and determine the future success of a company in an emerging market,” says Laurent Toutain.

At the end of the module, students are graded on their participation, the quality of the final consensus document and their ability to defend their interests. The feedback has been positive: “A lot of the time, students have changed how they look at the world of standardization, and improved their ability to communicate and negotiate in English, which is crucial in many professional situations,” says Laurent Toutain with a certain pride. In the future, the research professor intends to enrich the teaching unit with real-world insights by involving more standardization professionals.

This is an educational innovation project submitted for the 2021 IMT Teaching Awards.

Illustrator: Lionel Tarchala