Teaching Like an Entrepreneur

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 01/23/2024
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professional development for univesity professionalsAt first glance, teachers and entrepreneurs play seemingly disparate roles: teachers typically gather and impart knowledge grounded in a learning tradition to a captive audience, while entrepreneurs push a rogue vision of a novel product or service to theoretical customers in an open market. An effort at Penn State, however, has been identifying and strengthening links between these roles to offer a new vision of faculty development.

Penn State’s Entrepreneurial Mindset for Innovative Teaching (EMIT) initiative challenges faculty to use entrepreneurial principles to improve and innovate in their approaches to teaching. The initiative is grounded in a simple, provocative question: Can developing an entrepreneurial mindset (EM) increase success and satisfaction among faculty members?

To explore this idea, two Penn State researchers—Sarah Zappe, now director of the university’s Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education, and Stephanie Cutler, who directs the center’s assessment and instructional support—presented an interactive workshop at an IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference to inspire a new vision of teaching among faculty participants.

The Concept

Over the past 10 years, engineering departments have readily embraced the entrepreneurship concept and offered numerous programs and courses aimed at helping students learn EM—a mindset that includes specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) that will help students launch their own ventures.

These EM programs and initiatives focus on helping faculty teach and support EM development in their students, yet Zappe and Cutler found no mention in the literature of faculty members applying EM to innovate in their own work and teaching practices. This despite the fact that teachers and entrepreneurs take surprisingly similar approaches to their work.

For example, successful entrepreneurs develop business plans, do research on customers, and then “iterate and pivot in the face of failure.” Similarly, successful teachers engage in course planning and periodically gather information on their students and how effectively they are learning. The best teachers then iterate on these steps, developing engaging instructional activities, creating valuable learning experiences, and integrating multiple sources of information to improve as they go.



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The Session

Zappe and Cutler’s workshop was founded on the idea that the practices and mindset associated with quality teaching mirror those of entrepreneurship and the EM. They therefore designed the experience to help faculty participants use EM principals to further elevate and innovate on their existing teaching approaches.

The workshop included interactive elements such as pair and share, where participants paired up and discussed their own KSAs to identify similarities and differences; a discussion of both an entrepreneurial and a teaching case study; and small group exercises to map similarities between teaching and entrepreneurship. These were followed by a group discussion and by time for individual reflections on new entrepreneurial practices that participants might integrate into their teaching.

Learn More

When faculty feel free—and supported—in iterating and innovating on their approaches to teaching, they open possibilities both for improving how students learn and for increasing their own satisfaction and success on the job.

Zappe and Cutler offer a more detailed description of this workshop in “Teach Like an Entrepreneur: A Faculty Development Initiative,” which is available in the CS digital library. Their 2021 FIE conference presentation, “Jump into the Shark Tank” is also available in the digital library.

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