WINDSOR, ON – Researchers and practitioners alike have debated whether it is possible to “teach” entrepreneurship. Consequently, Dr. Zbigniew Pasek (Engineering Teaching Leadership Chair) and I designed a teaching intervention introducing business and engineering students to multi-disciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship, using team-teaching, e-learning, stress-testing, and flipped classroom strategies. This was delivered and tested with two different student cohorts. Six hundred and forty students (310 in the first cohort and 330 in the second cohort) participated in multidisciplinary teams to develop and assess innovative new product ideas. Students applied alternative business models and processes, including the “deep dive” and the lean start-up models of business development.
Data was collected at two times for each cohort, allowing us to evaluate the relationship between pre-existing attitudes, course delivery, and subsequent interest in entrepreneurship. We looked to prior entrepreneurship research to ensure that we measured attitudes that usually went hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. For example, previous research has connected opportunity recognition and creativity to entrepreneurial development. Entrepreneurship is also related to learning goal orientation, self-efficacy, hope, and resilience. Because we were studying students from differing, sometimes rival professional faculties, initial views of their ‘founding’ team were also important to establish. Consequently, our evaluation built on previously researched relationships between entrepreneurship and perceptions of founding team similarity, trust and conflict.
Finally, based on prior research we included questions about entrepreneurial experience, family background, gender and discipline.
We concluded that the relationship between attitudes and interest in entrepreneurship decreased through course delivery, even though post-course interest in entrepreneurship increased. This indicates that actually experiencing the opportunity to develop a venture idea in a course diminishes the importance of pre-disposition, and supports the concept that entrepreneurship can be taught. This may be especially true because the uncertainty inherent in such an unstructured, chaotic, and multi-disciplinary course required students to engage with each other. Students also experienced significantly more challenges in the project than they expected, which reflected the complexities of working across disciplines.
We are working with graduate Nira Roy (M.B.A. ’13) to analyse these results and prepare for academic publication. Outstanding Scholars, Moe Kmaiha (BSci Candidate) and Brian Pfaff (BComm Candidate) aided in data collection. Various results from this research have been presented at the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference 2014, the American Society for Engineering Education Conference 2014, the UWindsor Undergraduate Research Conference 2015 and the Windsor Oakland Teaching and Learning Conference 2015.
Guest Column: Francine Schlosser, Director Research and Interdisciplinary Learning, EPICentre