Further into the woods…

Write-up of my second meeting with my PhD Supervisors, Prof Ray Land and Dr Nicola Reimann (Durham) Monday 12th Oct. 2015.

13:00 – 15:30ish

“Where would you like to start?” Where indeed?!  Next time I will certainly have a go at thinking about the answer to that question before I enter the room.  This meeting centered on chewing over the research question.  I am coming to the understanding that my central question might move and change, and switch to another question or one of my current sub-questions might move to center stage.

I was concerned that it might be unhelpful to make the theory of threshold concepts a central area of focus following an earlier conversation with Nicola, as it might be unhelpfully constraining.  Perhaps I might be as well to see the theory of threshold concepts as a starting place, but it may not necessarily the place I end up, it may be a part of the journey.  I can use Entrepreneurship Education as a way of helpfully narrowing down the literature a little, as before I was contemplating the possibility of perhaps having to familiarize myself with all learning theories for example.  However, if I look at the learning theories that are discussed and introduced in the context of Entrepreneurial Education all of a sudden my task feels infinitely more manageable.

Nicola suggested the metaphor of the dinner party for the literature review – I get to decide who is invited to my dinner party and who is not, and why.  I don’t have to invite everybody.  I don’t have to invite anyone I don’t want to.

Ray suggested using the lens of “Communities of Practice” as a way of understanding the process of becoming an Entrepreneur.  Wenger (1998)  argues that we all have a motivation to learn in order to gain membership to our chosen community of practice – “the club”.

Wenger (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

I got clearer on whether Entrepreneurship Education was about learning to think like an entrepreneur – i.e. to have an understanding of how an entrepreneur thinks and entrepreneurial ways of practising, or whether it was about learning to think as an entrepreneur – i.e. learning to become an entrepreneur, learning to be an entrepreneur.  I concluded, for the moment at least, that Entrepreneurship Education is about developing entrepreneurially minded students – who may either think like entrepreneurs, or equally think as entrepreneurs.  It is less important to define exactly what an Entrepreneur is.

We made the comparison with Theology Programs – some  students studying Theology may take Holy Orders and become Priests and others will not, but they will all develop their ability to think like Theologians, and some will become Priests, and think as Theologians.  Criminologists can study crime, without being criminals.  Management scholars can understand the practice of management, without being managers.  Nicola made the point that as Entrepreneurship is a relatively new and emerging field or “profession”, it is not so clearly defined and so harder to see what would constitute the requirements of membership of its community of practice.  I wonder if entrepreneurs would even admit to belonging to such a community, or want to belong to a community, as in my experience they resist categorization of any kind, and value individualism. Never the less, that would not mean they didn’t share together aspects of a community of practice.  Is there such a thing as a culture of entrepreneurship?  Are we acculturating students to entrepreneurship in entrepreneurship education programmes? Ray suggested that perhaps no one teaching entrepreneurship in HE currently has a degree in it.

We also briefly mentioned gender – Ray mentioned it could be important in the consideration of the design of the programme.  Are we designing the programme to appeal only to boys?  Is entrepreneurship a masculine pursuit?  We need to be mindful of gender appropriacy.  Perhaps entrepreneurship programmes are signalling in a gendered way in a similar way to maths or the other STEM subjects that struggle to recruit female students.

Ray  mentioned that one of the final stages of constructing a community of practice was a process of reification – making a concept into a “thing”.  I said that you could short-cut the process of becoming an entrepreneur, indeed most well known entrepreneurs have never been taught how to do it – “anyone can do it” – unlike medicine or dentistry for example.  However the same might apply to teaching, which is clearly an established profession.

There is clearly a community of practice of Entrepreneurship Educators, and perhaps there is an argument for “Team Academy” being a Community of Practice which is a liminal phase students pass through on the way to developing their entrepreneurial mindedness, either as an entrepreneur or as an employee or in what ever career path they follow subsequently.

Nicola commented that she could see a number of models in what I had written so far and they could potentially serve as chapters or subheadings under which to explore themes.  She listed the following as possible models of entrepreneurship:

  • creative
  • economic
  • social
  • psychological
  • business
  • behavioural
  • cultural

She also suggested that they might be brought together by two factors:

  • new venture creation  – creativity
  • in the context of uncertainty and risk

It had also struck her how in a number of these models of entrepreneurship, you could identify attitudes, processes, phases and components.

Perhaps a useful contribution of the thesis would be to frame and bring all these disparate models together?

We spent some time discussing traits of entrepreneurs. Ray cited the example of Coventry University who, for their design programme, test for 3D spatial awareness – the ability to rotate 3D objects in your head, as a trait they cannot, or choose not, teach.

We discussed the word “attribute” as being something that is a product of both nature and nurture, and that perhaps can be developed and is malleable.

Ray signposted the work of David Perkins regarding dispositions and whether then can be learnt.

Nicola reminded me to check the methodology and general reliability and validity and robustness of the claims of others in this context.

It will be useful to also include a heading somewhere summarizing the arguments of those who believe Higher Education and Entrepreneurship Education don’t mix, that the HE establishment will stultify any entrepreneurial disposition in students and is positively bad for entrepreneurial outcomes, and new venture creation.

We settled on the transformational nature of entrepreneurial education and it’s aim of developing entrepreneurially minded students, Team Academy could be seen as a site of transformation, a liminal space.  Which can also act as a sort of Paradise where people can get trapped and stuck.  It made me think of the copper coils of a solonoid creating a magnetic force to “push” students out into the world.  A ring doughnut, in which students spiral around until they finally get flung out into the real world and no longer have the safety net of “being a student” to save them.

We touched briefly on the ethical dimension of transforming people into entrepreneurs.  Especially if thinking entrepreneurially is at least partly about risk taking; this implies we need to put students in harm’s way and expose them to risk.  Is this ethical?  How far does our duty of care extend?

However, we concluded that it sounds reasonable to say that it might be possible to develop anyone to be more entrepreneurially minded, although not everyone might become an entrepreneur.

So my task is about identifying what it means to “think entrepreneurially” to develop “entrepreneurial mindedness” – how might this be assessed?

Nicola cited the work of Sadler 1989 who stated that students need to understand the standards against which they are to be assessed formatively, so they can benchmark themselves and address the gap.  They can self-assess as it is made clear what constitutes a good performance.

So I need clarify – if we are about developing entrepreneurial mindedness –

  • what is good performance in this area?
  • what are the pre-conditions of good performance in this area?

Nicola drew my attention to the Training Needs Analysis and encouraged me to consider specific training requirements as well as big picture ones.

Nicola had to leave to attend another meeting but Ray then went on to give me some guidance regarding timescales.  He advised I map my project plan backwards from submission assuming data gathering would take a good 12 – 18 m, This current phase of clarification, literature review, and methodological considerations (who to talk to, how many people to talk to etc,) should normally take around 12 m.  Around 30 interviews is normally plenty – but I might interview people twice?  I should think about which semester I would be aiming for, for a sabbatical to write up.  The process is divergent at first (which should not be rushed) and then should start to become convergent.  “Reconnaissance is never wasted.” The PhD is an apprenticeship, it’s not my one-and-only “great work” – I’ll be able to write other things afterwards.  Not everything will go into my PhD.

So I have taken the following actions from today’s meeting:

  • turn my powerpoint mind-map of topics into a list of headings
  • structure on-going literature review around these headings and write as I read
  • consider the following possible research question “What is involved in developing entrepreneurially minded students/ graduates?”
  • consider what kind of thing do I need to get to answer that sort of question
  • Investigate NVIVO and EndNote training at Durham and Northumbria
  • Create a time plan, starting from when I would like to submit and work backwards.

We had already scheduled our next meeting for Thursday 26th November at 10:30am.