The Educators’ Perspective

Pretty teacher talking to the young pupils in classroom at the elementary school

Pretty teacher talking to the young pupils in classroom at the elementary school

On Thursday of SAB week 8th June I recorded my first group interview with educators.  As I was reading up about the various frameworks I could use to collect data at this stage of the study I managed to build a list of 48 questions – BIG questions.  The prospect of managing to ask them all, and to get meaningful answers in a group interview situation of about two hours or less – was nil.  I made a pretty feeble attempt at cutting them down and ended up with 40, but I felt I was still being unrealistic, however my preference was to give it a go.  I have never been one to dedicate too much consideration to any particular course of action before jumping in.  That’s why I hate chess – it forces me to think more than one step ahead, and hold multiple possibilities in my head at the same time.  Arghhh.

The key areas to cover in the group interview were:

  • The nature of involvement and responsibilities regarding teaching entrepreneurship
  • Ontological assumptions underpinning the teaching of entrepreneurship – the educator’s conceptions about themselves, the students, teaching and the knowledge to be taught
  • Operational elements characterising the teaching of entrepreneurship – teaching goals, forms of evaluation, pedagogical methods and means, knowledge emphasised, forms of evaluation, engagement, experiential learning
  • A section of questions on operational elements focusing on threshold concepts – what’s fundamental to teaching entrepreneurship, curriculum design that helps/hinders, student misunderstandings, areas of troublesome knowledge, mimicry, mastery, transformations, thinking as an entrepreneur, novice versus expert
  • Support infrastructure – academic autonomy, physical space, institutional support/ constraint, status, coordination, financial arrangements, student funding
  • Archetype – Supply/Demand/Competence
  • A section of questions asking for opinion on findings from entrepreneurs

Those are the things I want to know – but what is the best way to find them out considering the constraints of my research participants in terms of available time?

In my pilot group interview, we took two hours and got through 33 questions, missing the questions on archetype and review of the findings from entrepreneurs.  So pretty big omissions – arguably meaning that my research objectives at this stage might not be met.

The participants commented that they had found the process interesting but the questions were very big and complicated and might need more explanation and paraphrasing.  Perhaps  I could include examples to illustrate the questions, or use the vignette format to help.

I must ensure that I get at their perspectives on the concepts of entrepreneurship and how they teach them.  Then I can consider if there threshold type concepts in there –  I can  hone in on the transformational elements of any potential threshold concepts.

I need to ask what has informed the design of the curriculum?  Why do we do it like we do?  What has informed the design of the curriculum?  Then I can analyse what they have said and draw conclusions about the existence or otherwise of “threshold” concepts.

I need to choose what I can reasonably ask in the likely time available and I do not have time to ask all the questions I want.  I need to think of other ways of getting the data I want.  The two main parts are:

  • What educators think is important
  • What educators think about what the entrepreneurs said

In other words, are the stages of my study cumulative or am I triangulating the results from the entrepreneurs and the educators?  My preference is to concentrate on the views of the educators in their own right, and their views on the learners’ perspective. In other words – I am not taking a cumulative approach but treating the collection of these two data sets as being independent.

We discussed this in my supervision session on 13th June just prior to the AP conference sessions.

By asking educators what they think is important for students to learn on entrepreneurship programmes and why avoids the issue of potentially presenting the entrepreneurs’ perspective as the expert and “right” one.  I can focus on the educator’s view of the student perspective – what don’t the students “get”?  What do the educators find hard to teach?  How do they recognise when students have “got it”?  I must also consider the documentary evidence – does it add up to what the educators are saying they do?  I could review the documentation supporting the initiatives in advance and then probe them at interview – but the likelihood of me having the capacity to do this is slim I fear.

I need to differentiate aspects associated with graduateness and employability and that associated with the specific subject area – entrepreneurship.

Nicola suggested perhaps I might seek the educators’ perspectives on the candidate TC’s as developed from the entrepreneur interviews in the form of a questionnaire.  I could ask them to annotate and compare – do something off-line and separate to the interview.  The group interview format might be inhibiting – do I want to get at the “backstage” knowledge and how might I do this?  The “real” story about how the curricula were put together, why certain things are there and other things are not…

In terms of comparison to the entrepreneur data…essentially I’m asking the educators “What’s going on?” and then looking to see how close is it to what the entrepreneurs said, where is it not similar?  Should it be similar?  Perhaps there is a justifiable difference between the views of the educators and the views of the entrepreneurs?  Certainly the students are pre-nascent entrepreneurs and perhaps they need to learn different things.  The entrepreneurs were selected for their expertise – important concepts for them may be different.  What’s the temporal aspect to all this?  Do the threshold concepts change over time and journey to becoming an expert?

I’m certainly not looking for a definitive answer to the question “How do entrepreneurs think?”  I’m examining that question from various perspectives – the entrepreneurs and the educators (who in some cases have also been entrepreneurs).  I can also consider if there is a fit between the perspectives of the educators and the entrepreneurs – is that ok?  is that not ok?

Ray mentioned matter vs art – “mis-matched frame” Not sure if this is the right link but it seems to be on the right track

Nicola also suggested using other visual data gathering methods such as the Diamond Ranking method – sorting type tasks to get at the educators’ perspective of what the entrepreneurs said.  This might add variety and therefore maintain engagement of the research participants.  I like this a lot and think I might use it at IEEC2017.

In addition I think I definitely need to have a section on the philosophy of education and the purpose and function of higher education.  Is it to keep people off the streets?  Is it to teach people to learn how to learn? Is it to develop expertise?  Is it to create business founders?  Is it to increase the number of business startups?  Is it to maximise chances of employment?


The educator interviews will concentrate on the educators’ perspectives and their perspectives of the students – not on what they think about what the entrepreneurs said.

I will develop a visual data collection method to elicit the views of the educators on what the entrepreneurs said.

I will group the questions into areas and know the key questions in each group and the overall purpose of each group so I can manage time accordingly in the group interview situation.

I will test the findings for distinctiveness to this subject area – not applicable in general to higher education and/or employability.


Annual Progression


For the first time in the Department of Education in Durham this year, it was decided to run the Annual Progression Review process in a conference format.  On the 13th June 2017, following the submission of a 5000 word report on-line all the Doctoral students (PhD and EdD) were invited to make a 15m presentation of their work to each other and answer questions from the floor for a further 15m.  Then each student retired to a private room with their supervisor/s (to observe) and two reviewers for further questions and discussion for 30m before returning to the main presentation sessions.

My reviewers were Dr Dimitra Kokotsaki and Professor Stephen Gorard.

The research was varied as were the format and structure of the presentations.  Overall I found the experience really enjoyable – very self-indulgent, a proper treat to dedicate a day to my research and the things I’m really interested in.  When I’m in Durham I realise that I’m only responsible for myself – not my students, not my programme team, not my career, not my husband or children or parents…it’s a wonderful feeling! Certainly for a day every month or so.

In terms of feedback on my report and presentation; the staged structure of my research appeared coherent and logical if somewhat ambitious – that went down well.  Questions were asked about:

  • the Delphi approach
  • How each stage informs the next one – the Diamond approach was suggested again to get feedback on the findings from the previous stage/s
  • Whether I thought there were regional differences between entrepreneurs
  • I was asked to critique the literature on entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship
  • I was asked to justify why I though expert entrepreneurs were the best people to ask about entrepreneurship.  Do experts know what it means to be an entrepreneur?  Perhaps entrepreneurs are not the best people to ask about entrepreneurship.  I need to think more carefully about this and provide a really water tight justification.  What if  their startup success is just circumstantial and they are claiming agency?
  • It was suggested that I was potentially engaging in reportage – journalism – just asking people a bunch of stuff and reporting what they said.  I need to seek to find something out for which there is NO OTHER explanation other than the one I am proposing.  How can I show that I am doing more than gathering opinion?  I was challenged to not treat research like a game but to take it seriously – ensure any conclusions were warranted.  It was suggested that I might pretend my findings were false (imagine if what I am saying is NOT TRUE – how else might I explain the evidence?) – and interrogate the evidence until no other potential conclusions could be drawn.  This would make sure that any findings were absolutely watertight – there could be no other explanation for them.  It is all about the design of the research method.  Consider the counterfactuals, test it backwards – it was suggested that I look into Management Studies (but I can’t remember why – might have been something to do with robust research methods or a critique of threshold concept theory).  I need to prove my research is warranted – are my conclusions warranted?  People need to be able to trust the findings.
past tense: warranted; past participle: warranted
  1. 1.
    justify or necessitate (a course of action).
    “the employees feel that industrial action is warranted”
    synonyms: justify, vindicate, call for, sanction, validate, be a justification/reason for; More

  2. 2.
    officially affirm or guarantee.
    “the vendor warrants the accuracy of the report”
    synonyms: guarantee, affirm, swear, promise, vow, pledge, give an undertaking, undertake, state, assert, declare, aver, proclaim, pronounce, profess, attest;

    vouch, testify, bear witness;
    support, endorse, underwrite, back up, stand by
    “the authors warrant that their texts do not infringe any copyright”
  • I was challenged to clarify and justify why I was finding out “how entrepreneurs think” if my objective was not to create entrepreneurs (but graduates of an HE entrepreneurship programme).  I should surely be finding out how success of the programme was defined and then find a way to measure the extent to which it was meeting those objectives and outcomes.  So for example I could take what “they” say about what constitutes effective entrepreneurship education and test programmes against those things – like for example the QAA guidelines, Entrecomp Framework, Gibb.  Ask “them” how they would recognise success, and then test for those success indicators.  Success or failure  would then be dependent on the criteria of the outcome of a test.  I was asked if I was interested in entrepreneurship, or in getting a degree in entrepreneurship?  It was suggested that the former would be more interesting – rather than the effective teaching of entrepreneurship at university.   Again it was asked if we can teach entrepreneurship or is it just luck?  How do you define “effective” in effective teaching of entrepreneurship?  How do you then test it?  How do you measure things that are socially constructed? This assumes that there is one right answer.
  • How robust is the theory of threshold concepts?  Have I defined threshold concepts of entrepreneurship or are they something else – aspects of personality, mindset etc?  Are my threshold concepts the same as say; Algebra and Calculus in mathematics?  Don’t TC’s have to open a gateway or portal to the next stage of understanding the discipline?  Is there not a critical path from one TC to the next in a discipline? (I don’t think that they necessarily have to line up nicely like that no)
  • The words used to describe the Entrepreneurship Threshold Concepts are misleading – people already have their own understanding of them.  I need to manage the semiotics of what I’m doing.  Perhaps I need to make up new words, or create phrases instead, like the librarians in America.
  • I was challenged to define what success was going to look like – how will I know I have developed a better programme?
  • If deviance is perhaps an aspect of entrepreneurship – then why did I use a method that sought consensus? (Delphi)  Consensus might mean lowest common denominator.  Maybe the more interesting findings are in the individual interviews – what one person said.  I should write up findings where there is no consensus – where there is difference.  Is seeking consensus perhaps self-defeating especially if deviance is an aspect I am studying?
  • What is the overall research philosophy underpinning my research – how does it relate to the methods used at each data collection stage?
  • How does my staged research related to Transactional Curriculum Inquiry?
  • I need to show the richness and complexity of the data – I have, I fear, rather over simplified things.
  • Start afresh with the educators – ask them for examples – how have they done it in practice?
  • Investigate the “ISpy” programme in Durham this summer – I need to find out where I can find out more about this.

I was asked to give an example of where I had been critical of what I had read.  I couldn’t recall a time when I had.  I think my approach is to give every one the benefit of the doubt!  Whoops.  Even if their method is flaky I still think “well, they could have a point.”  I need to take myself more seriously I think – especially if I want other people to take me seriously.

In terms of actions to take forward:

  • I feel the need to go back to the interview transcripts from the entrepreneurs and have another go at them, using a defined, recognised and established approach – more systematic, more deliberate, more rigorous, more robust.  Really listen to what the participants are telling me, rather than look for things I can call threshold concepts.  How can I show and explain the process I went through to get from the interview transcripts to the threshold concepts?  Or perhaps I will start at the transcripts and end up somewhere else.  See


Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory – by Juliet Corbin and Anselm Strauss (2015)

  • Come up with brand new words for each candidate threshold concept or perhaps a phrase.
  • Consider whether what I’m saying are threshold concepts actually are threshold concepts…or should I call them essential things people have to learn in order to learn entrepreneurship or something like that?  Trouble is – how to define THINGS.  They might as well be concepts.  I think they are concepts.  If they are not concepts then what are they?  Perhaps I can relate them to learning outcomes.  They are ideas – different ways of  seeing the world.  They don’t require you to know new information (facts) or acquire new skills, they describe a different way of being and doing.  Ways of thinking and practising.  Like epistemology – the stuff that you believe to be true – effects how you see everything else.  I might revert to thinking about learning outcomes.  What do students of entrepreneurship need to learn?  Why do they need to learn it?  How do we know that they have learnt it?  For what reason are they learning it?  Perhaps some learning outcomes are not like the other ones – perhaps they are threshold learning outcomes?
  • Reconsider my research questions and make sure I am actually answering them.  A book called “Developing Research Questions” 2nd ed. Palgrave was recommended.  I found  Patrick White’s (2009) “Developing Research Questions – a guide for social scientists” but it is the first edition, I wonder if that’s the right book?
  • Consider how I will measure and prove that the changes I propose to make to the curriculum actually will deliver a more effective programme.  And how will I define “effective”? I’m starting to think that it will HAVE to be about creating sustainable new businesses, as that appears to be what is distinctive about entrepreneurship – everything else could equally apply to everything else – it is an enterprising extension of employability and perhaps not sufficiently distinctive.
  • Critique the existing literature and position my work against it – identify the gap, say how I’m addressing it.
  • I need to take the reader along with me all the way through – see the PhD as an argument where I take the reader from place to place.
  • It has the potential to be a lot better than “most” research in education (apparently) – if I address all these points adequately of course!

Perhaps the specialist programmes/modules in entrepreneurship are just part of the jigsaw.  The EBM programme is not essential in the development of an entrepreneur (a business founder) but it should make that more likely, the course forms a contributing element.  And if the person decides that actually they don’t want to start a business then, it will help them be more employable and also enhance their wellbeing, increase the chances of them flourishing in the future?  But I think actually I do need to say that the act of founding a new business is the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the programme however flawed that is.  Or maybe I could find that immersive entrepreneurship education is the best way of developing employability? All other things being equal (and they never are), are students on the EBM programme more likely to set up a sustainable new business than other students?  I feel I’m moving toward measuring intent to startup or actually startups.

But that really is getting all rather positivist isn’t it.  The approach of Prof Gorard also seems to be somewhat dispassionate and removed.  It’s focusing on critique rather than the constructive suggestion of alternatives.  However that was the purpose of the review perhaps and much better to have it at this stage than in the VIVA and fail or get a shed load of corrections.

The Progression Review process was very enjoyable and incredibly useful.  I very much appreciate the opportunity it gave me to improve my research.