To Structure or Not to Structure

In teaching entrepreneurship, there are many critical questions:

1. Can entrepreneurship be taught?

2. Should we be teaching skill set, mindset, or both?

3. What is an effective pedagogical approach? Case study, simulation, experiential, textbook, business model, business plan . . . and the list goes on.

4. How realistic should an entrepreneurship course be?

This last one is what I struggle most with. My students raise their hand and say they want to be entrepreneurs. I owe it to them to help them develop the mindset that requires. I also owe it to them to let them understand what being an entrepreneur feels like. This last one gets down to structure. I stuck at structure, but I’m learning (slowly!)

I have very little, if any, structure in my class. The students drive the bus – each one actually drives his/her own bus. I am there as a guide, as a resource. This semester it is starting to sink in that maybe I could find a little more balance between my unstructured approach and a more structured approach. This is a direct result of putting myself in their shoes; I’ve learned a ton about what their experience feels like, and where the gaps are that I was previously unaware of. Students always want more structure, but I often tend to dismiss that because part of that desire is ingrained in them from an ineffective K-12 educational experience where they have been spoon fed. I won’t do that. But I can offer more structure. Here are my thoughts for future semesters:

My class meets twice per week. I’m thinking what I’ll do is go back to a flipped classroom sort of approach. I will create videos introducing students to concepts and strategies and tools and such. They watch those prior to the first class of the week. During the first class of the week, they report out on what they’ve accomplished, what they’re struggling with, and I walk them through some application of what was in the video. The second class of the week is playtime. We do exercises and role playing and other sorts of things to get them practicing the skills in an experiential way.

I’m sure I’ll change this 100 times before next semester actually rolls around. I’d be interested in your thoughts about how to make the course experience as realistic as possible but still include a little bit of structure. But not too much!!

10 thoughts on “To Structure or Not to Structure

  1. Jack Sutherland

    As a student in your class (disclaimer alert)!

    I am not sure about this structured thing when it comes to entrepreneurship. The discussion of can Entrepreneurship be taught I don’t think belongs to the education system (Hear me out..). If you are going to learn Entrepreneurship you are going to do so on your own by living it or through experience working with startups with great founders. I couldn’t expect to learn entrepreneurship in the classroom. However, I know I can learn the skills necessary to entrepreneurship in the classroom, and those skills are changing more and more. If there was a set of classes that revolved around Design/Development, students would be better primed for the Trep grind (Adobe CS, at least HTML/CSS). Marketing should be a class where you build/create a brand (all aspects, logo, social media, email, web-design). Pricing/Sales strategy should definitely be talked about in its own class (including pitch). Opportunity for some type of engineering class experience to get intro’d to it for people who have a physical product idea. Beyond the trade skills like these the rest seems to be learned as you go.

    (Doan has us completing a track on TeamTreehouse.com to force us to at least try and learn some development stuff.. Kudos needs to happen more!)

    Also in my opinion activities in class don’t work and I don’t think will work. I am still shocked professors in college are having us get into groups and do these small activities like we are in kindergarten. We are all 20-22 years old and have jobs/projects/tests not to mention our own ventures so when a professor has me sit in a group for 20 minutes “Discussing” whatever activity they found on the internet I tend to get salty quite quickly because I know I could be doing something more productive in that time. Also, showing a video or God forbid a movie in class is the worst. I understand the idea of showing a video or a TedTalk but I can watch a ted talk anytime I don’t need to spend tuition money to be doing that in the classroom.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel@ilstu.edu Post author

      Jack – well said. I think we need to teach trep classes around 3 modules – design something, build something, sell something. And we weave in competencies like empathizing, playing, reflecting, etc. that cut across thise modules. There is much work to do to reshape the educational experience. It’s a tough road, but one I enjoy going down.

      Reply
  2. Erica Luchies

    Having been through both Intro to Small Business, which I think was structured much like a traditional classroom, minus tests (pick a group, work on your project, meet a deadline, etc.) and this current class in an independent study format, I can say that I don’t think students need more structure. They need more accountability and they need a cause they can relate to or care about.

    The material you presented in my class with you last semester on the days we were in class was helpful. College of business classes have a tendency to repeat the same content in several different classes, which can feel like a waste of time. What I learned in class with you was relevant and not repetitive.
    While it was helpful, I don’t think students are going to learn entrepreneurship by sitting in class more days. Nothing has been more helpful and motivating than having to sit down with you each week and have to answer some variation of, “Where are you at, what have you done, and what do you need from me?” Those questions are more active and require more action on the part of the student than, “Let me know if you need anything.” That accountability, along with follow ups of your thoughts and what I might need to be thinking about or addressing in the near and more distant future, has been much more helpful that almost anything I could have learned in the classroom. The learning is still in my hands.

    You can teach entrepreneurship, but only to those who are willing to put in the work. However, I think that learning needs to happen primarily outside of the classroom. The ones who don’t want to put in the work are never going to, and hopefully the students who think they want to pursue entrepreneurship but aren’t willing to put in the work on the back end will figure that out. The ones who want to learn, grow, and expand their skillset will jump at the opportunity. There are certainly things that are helpful to a student new to entrepreneurship that could be taught, like how to properly interview customers. I have to say that Diana Kander’s book covered that beautifully, assuming students are willing to read it, so not necessarily something that needs to be taught in the classroom.

    At the end of the day you can only help the students who will help themselves.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel@ilstu.edu Post author

      Erica – always appreciate your comments and your support for the craziness I try to create! I agree that the accountability is critical, and that they need to relate. Something I can help to build into the course somehow – give them steps to find something they can identify with.

      Reply
  3. Nigel Adams

    Two excellent posts from Jack and Erica, especially the points about those students who are just not interested or too lazy to bother getting involved AND don’t do the work that must be done between classes.

    Doan, I will e-mail you the Entrepreneurship Module Briefing & Programme that I use for a 9 week module for non-BSc Business Enterprise (BBE) students at the University of Buckingham in UK. It is based on similar lines to the BBE programme but very much shorter (9 weeks, not 72 weeks).

    Reply
    1. Patrick Becker

      Nigel,

      I would be interested in the module as well. I am currently redesigning an advertising class into a more ‘real world’ approach and would like to check out new resources. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Kimmo Kumpulainen

    Good toughts Doan and you are truly in the core of entrepreneurship education questions. It was also very nice to read the comments of Jack and Erica.

    Conserning the last question about how realistic should the teaching be depends on your opinions of the first two questions.

    If you think entrepreneurship is about learning how to write a business plan or to calculate costs then books and exercises are good enough. In my opinion enyone with motivation can learn these by them selves or i.e. through a flipped classroom methods.

    But if you consider entrepreneurship to be an attitude, bravery and innovation of a business founder (or even a person working innovatively for someone else) you need to experience how does entrepreneurial life feel like. You have to understand the importance of setting your own goals, setting goals in a team (one of the most important traits in working life!), try ideas without knowing if they work, fail and realize life does not end there but you learn how you will bounce back.

    I think in order to learn these traits we have to get a (brief) introduction to the matter at hand and then go and test them with real people in as real situations as possible. If you have something you can actually buy, modify and then sell to real clients that brings the feeling and ownership of the problem to another level. By doing this process over and over again you will understand one of the most valuable lessons in business. An entrepreneur has to make decisions even with inadequate information and skills. I do not know everything and that is why I have to find out the solution by myself or many cases find the right people with skills that will complement mine.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel@ilstu.edu Post author

      Kimmo – fantastic engagement, thank you so much. I agree it needs to be very iterative, and very much outside the classroom. Students need to be able to function and survive with limited information and limited resources. It’s tough to watch them struggle, especially when often I can see answers that are so obvious, but it’s what they need to experience in order to understand what it feels like, and in order to learn to live through the experience.

      Reply
  5. Kimmo Kumpulainen

    …and concerning the structure. Do you mean a structure for a day, one course, one year of varying entrepreneurial studies or several years of learing the entrepreneurial attitude and skills? I have models for different time scales and depths. So if you are interested just email me about your needs and I will share my ideas.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel@ilstu.edu Post author

      Kimmo – At the moment, I was thinking about the day-to-day class and course structure, but I’d love to see any information you have! I’ll also share anything I’ve got that might be useful to you. Please email at dwinkel@ilstu.edu. Thank you so much.

      Reply

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