Working out the student phase of data collection

We started with a brief discussion of the conference of Philosophy in Higher Education in Aarhus, Denmark; “The Purpose of the Future University”  which Julie and Ray had attended 6th – 8th November.  It sounded very interesting and I will keep an eye out for the call for next years’ conference which will be in Leeds (a little easier to get to.)

I also got some positive feedback on the text for my Businet Keynote.  Nicola suggested I should develop and backup Hannon’s inventory of educational philosophies, 2005 and corresponding approaches to the purpose of Entrepreneurship Education, adopting a more critical stance.

We then moved on to discuss progress on my research.  I raised a concern about whether I was actually conducting a transactional curriculum inquiry as my three research groups (entrepreneurs, educators and students) were not interacting with each other to develop a curriculum.

Were there perhaps Threshold Concepts in Entrepreneurship and Threshold Concepts in Entrepreneurship Education  – would the different research groups reveal their own respective threshold concepts? Which then raises the question of alignment.  Do the threshold concepts of each group need to be aligned?

This prompted Julie to mention cumulative threshold concepts and complex thresholds.

Nicola wondered about the origin of transactional curriculum inquiry and suggested that as long as I could justify my methodological choices, it would be appropriate to refer to a method “informed by” or “influenced by” or “inspired by…” but not to worry about whether or not it was a ‘correct’ application of a particular method.  Effectively my research groups are interacting with each other through me – I am the mediator.  The curriculum is being co-created, co-constructed.

Then we started to consider what data to collect from the students and how best to do this.  We wondered if we really needed a concept map, or just the concepts?  I was hoping that the construction of the maps would reveal the threshold-y-ness of the concepts – by revealing spokes, chains, network, and cycles.

The idea of contrasting the maps from student of different levels (4, 5 & 6) would be interesting but perhaps less relevant here and for a further study.

I suggested a framework for a possible student workshop:

Stage I: Introduction to concept mapping and then ask students to create a concept map of entrepreneurship.

Stage II: Present threshold concept theory and ask the student to highlight the threshold concepts on the concept maps.

We chewed over many possible alternatives, including the possibility of interviews at the Stage II to interrogate the maps, or just carrying out Stage I and deducing the threshold concepts from the concept map construction.  Or I could do both, in that I could deduce the TC’s from the map construction and then interview the students to find out what they thought the TC’s were (then compare).

Nicola referred to her work on feedforward and wondered if an interview could be used as an opportunity to construct an understanding of threshold concepts.  So interviewees would be asked to identify the TC’s on their maps, then they could be asked a series of further questions to help deepen their understanding of TC’s and then asked again at the end of the interview to identify the TC’s.  The interviewees could place moveable dots or some other indicator on their concept maps throughout the interview.

A woman walks past a painting titled "UrThere is an issue of going from a concept map created by a group of students, to individual interviews where each group member may not feel the same level of ownership for the concept map or parts of the concept map.

Then Julie came up with the idea of developing some ready made link phrases that could be supplied to the student groups after they had created their collection of concepts of entrepreneurship.  Using these linking phrases, they could then construct a map which would reveal where the threshold concepts might be for them.

fridge magnet poetry

Then the whole exercise could be done in a group workshop – 2 hours, with students grouped according to level on the programme.  Stage I, would be to come up with the concepts in entrepreneurship, Stage II would be to create a concept map using the concepts and the ready made linking phrases.  Phrases such as:

  • pulls it all together and makes sense of lots of other aspects too
  • opens up a new way of seeing the world
  • requires you to start becoming a different sort of person
  • differentiates the practice of entrepreneurship from regular business management
  • can’t be forgotten

So my task is now to finalise the method for the student phase of the research and gain ethical approval for it.




Entering a new phase…

Prof Ray Land decided to retire!

The news was unsettling but not entirely unexpected I suppose and Prof Land and Durham were on the case immediately with Associate Prof Julie Rattray as his replacement.

I met with Supervisors old and new on Friday 20th October 2017, coincidentally Ray’s last day.

We started with a brief discussion about my (then) forthcoming keynote at the 31st Annual Businet Conference.  Julie recommended I give the context by way of introduction and highlighted the findings as “emergent”.  I was encouraged to show the models and the methods so the audience had at least two things they could take away and reapply.  I should also log it in the thesis – the message that the findings already have some “street cred”, perhaps in the acknowledgements.

We went on to talk about my progress so far with my data gathering.  I explained my focus had shifted from gathering data about whole specialist entrepreneurship programmes, to understanding the individual perspectives of entrepreneurship educators about threshold concepts in entrepreneurship. So basically the first step of the Delphi approach with entrepreneurs.  But without the Delphi rounds to follow – perhaps that is a problem.

I explained that where I had obtained programme documentation they didn’t really tell me anything.  Julie and Nicola commented that they are usually intentionally vague to give the educator freedom.  The documents are not there really to enable the construction of an effective course design, but to satisfy quality standards.  The documents would not reveal what the students find troublesome.  Specificity would be avoided also through fear of potential litigation by the students.  There is a link to Activity Theory – documents are context specific and contents will depend on the purpose for which they have been written.

This raises questions of practice and implementation.  This shift will be OK as long as I explain it appropriately in my thesis.  How the programme documentation took a back seat.  They did not give adequate nuance or detail.  Interviews gave a richer picture.

We moved on to discuss the student data gathering phase and this is where I am a little stuck.   Am I intending to build on the educator data or create a separate data set for comparison purposes?  If I use concept mapping with students – how am I going to analyse the resultant maps, using what criteria?

I mentioned that I had not analysed the educator data yet and we discussed the pro’s and cons of going into the next lot of data gathering “blind”.  There’s arguments on both sides, but I think I need to be clearer on the purpose of the student phase before I can decide if it would be better to analyse the educator data first.  I mentioned that most of the educators have commented without prompting that they had found the interview useful as reflection for them, and Nicola and Julie recommended I captured this in my write up too.  I also mentioned that I had promised the educators institutional case studies in return for their participation…but now I was not analysing whole programmes this would not be possible.  Julie suggested summarising each interview in terms of “pearls of wisdom” instead, and sending them these write ups .  As well as the paper that comes from the end of the stage of the study – a pdf, something that they could use as a resource.

I am wondering (assuming access is not an issue) if I might be able to gather data from students at different stages (1st, 2nd, 3rd, post grad etc…) which could reveal some level of liminality? Pre-liminality?

Does it matter what the educators think about what the entrepreneurs think?  Does it matter what the students think about what the entrepreneurs and the educators think? (reference to Shulman – pedagogical approach to knowledge content)

There is a notion of time in all this – entrepreneurs are further along the journey compared to the students.  And the educators are not on the same journey anyway.

Nicola suggested that I examined the three maps I had obtained already in the one workshop I had run (without ethical approval – so I cannot use this data).  She had a brief look as well and noticed that they were a cross between a mind map and a concept map – not all the linkages had been labelled.  That begged the question – do they need to be concept maps?  (Why) are concept maps appropriate in this circumstance?  I need to have a clear rationale certainly.  Perhaps I could follow up the concept mapping exercise with a focus group or interviews and ask, “Which concepts do you find more or less difficult?” for example.

The risk in the student maps is that there are many unknown unknowns for them.  I could invite individuals to talk about the maps and track word frequency perhaps.  By asking, “What is your understanding of Entrepreneurship?” I could draw out preconceived ideas from the start of their programme of study and then look at shifts over the course of the programme – how would shifts be noticeable on the concept maps? There is a traditional way of scoring maps – looking at their shape, connections and complexity.  The concept maps could tell us what the student envisage about entrepreneurship.  But what would it tell us about Threshold Concepts?  perhaps another stage would then be required?  Is a concept map the right tool to get to the concept-y-ness of the the Threshold Concepts?  Would it tell us anything about what the students find troublesome?




Random thoughts provoked during IEEC2017 September 2017

random-thoughts-logo-sq-turq1I attended IEEC2017 to deliver a workshop and collect some Educator data as part of my doctoral research.  Here are some random thoughts I had during the conference and some notes on the workshop.

  • Perhaps educational philosophies represent a progression or route you can follow where one leads from the other dependant on the maturity of the student?  Perhaps you have to have experienced one before you can fully engage with the next.  Students who are not primarily looking for a qualification to enable employment, but ones who are on more of a voluntary personal journey to self-actualisation.
  • Alternative perspectives on social enterprise – rather than seeing social enterprise as a distinct category of enterprise, rather see all enterprise as enterprise with impact, compassionate enterprise.
  • Mick Jackson of WildHearts said “Human beings are intrinsic wealth creators” – I disagree and would rather believe that “Human beings are intrinsic value creators”.
  • Wildhearts notice the self-actualising impact on participants  – they become more confident, “My actions can fix problems in society I really care about.”  Altruism is a very powerful motivator.  Certainly when we changed the format of our £1 challenge during induction to focus on raising seed capital for those in developing countries with no access to finance, we saw much greater levels of activity than when the students were raising money for their own business ideas.
  • Professor Brian MacCraith from DCU (Dublin City University -Ireland’s University of Enterprise) made we wonder if we were perhaps were sacrificing the development of skills in critical thinking and analysis for the sake of building confidence and resilience…we need to do BOTH.  And to to so, we need to develop enterprising and innovative mindsets in both students and staff.  And is there a connection between them….perhaps criticality engenders agency engenders self efficacy engenders entrepreneurship?
  • Are innovation and enterprise being used interchangeably?  Similar to entrepreneurship and enterprise….employability….we need to be clearer about the particular meaning of the words we as individuals choose to use.
  • Measures of impact, always a problem.  Some use increased levels of entrepreneurial self-efficacy, others entrepreneurial intent.  HE Innovate is also being used by some to assess progress as an Entrepreneurial University.
  • ISBE = theory IEEC = practice.  EBM sits in the middle – we are attempting to accredit what many are not, covering about, for and through in one programme is a big ask!  The issue of compulsory vs voluntary activities  – compulsion reduces levels of intrinsic motivation and reduces impact.
  • Issues of student selection – again always an issue.  Given the same academic levels of achievement (entry level thresholds set by the institution and difficult/impossible to change) – we will get “better” outcomes (ie better aligned to institutional goals) if we select the “right” students.  But the right students may not be the ones who would benefit most from it.  The Enactus students that presented were very impressive – but I suspect they were impressive to start with and involvement with Enactus had a limited impact on them (they started off great already).
  • The debate about “E” words was interesting.  Enterprise is a new word with contested meaning.  What’s wrong with the collection of old words that enterprise is attempting to collect together – such as initiative, leadership, problem solving etc.  One word risks oversimplification and can create confusion.  Enterprise is perhaps only relevant in the context of start up and to a minority of students…
  • The workshop on EntreComp was aiming for support in the creation of a user guide.  It is very large and complex (442 possible suggested learning outcomes” and suspiciously symmetrical.  However I liked the definition of entrepreneurship as “A transversal key competence for all citizens.” if I can get my head around the word “competence”.  Entrepreneurship is value creation.  I do feel that threshold concepts or learning thresholds is a less prescriptive, deliberately more ambiguous, alternative approach to a competency framework which is starting to feel altogether too behaviourist an approach for me.
  • When I ran my workshop (Diamond 9 ranking exercise on Entrepreneurship Threshold Concepts) some participants commented that they were concerned they had been “contaminated” by what the entrepreneurs had thought, and I would have been better not to reveal the threshold concepts that I had identified that had later not made the final cut.  In discussions it appeared that the educators were trying to work out why the entrepreneurs said what they had said, rather than discussion their own (the educators’) view of entrepreneurship threshold concepts.  The issue of context was raised and the geographical limitation of my panel (all NE entrepreneurs).  When asked to share examples of pedagogical interventions that developed and understanding of these threshold concepts, it was remarked that perhaps that TC’s could be too big for a simple”exercise” and were more about a culture or ecosystem underpinning everything.  The ecosystem should be such that there is nothing thwarting the potential transformation of the students.
  • Spotting Opportunities is a popular top choice in the ranking exercise.  It can be developed by hearing stories from people who have done that – role modelling plays a big part in many people’s curriculum design.  It is also supported by theoretical tools and techniques like PEST analysis, and looking at trends.  However it was highlighted that story telling can represent a post rational approach, and imply a degree of focus where there was none.
  • Deviance ranked low for some.  Problem based learning was criticised as ultimately the problems presented are soluble.  Students need real wicked problems and an unsafe curriculum.
  • Other felt the TC’s did not lend themselves to ranking as development is transformational and one leads to another – deviance to focus for example.  Networks were suggested as an alternative to “team”.
  • Action ranked highly for some – and gave an example of an action orientated hackathon.  The importance of getting out of the classroom was emphasised and speaking to customers, selling.
  • A presentation about European Policy highlighted:
    • Bantani Education
    • Key competence framework – European Key Competence definition, National Definitions
    • EntreComp, DigiComp
    • HEInnovate
    • EIT label
    • European Commission/ European Council/European Parliament
    • 2000 – 2010 – economic drive, 2010 – education drive, 2016 New Skills Agenda for Europe
    • Promoting entrepreneurship as a life skill
    • Looking to the creative arts for assessment ideas –, Finland’s VET (vocational) national evaluation
    • The Oslo agreement – is there still a lack of clarity as to what outcomes are being sought, what changes made by/to the students?
    • Is enterprise what the world needs?  What about independent thinking, criticality, philosophy, stillness?

Educational Philosophy and relevance to Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Education

conflict of educational philosophyHannon, P. D. (2005). Philosophies of enterprise and entrepreneurship education and challenges for higher education in the UK. The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation6(2), 105-114.

Hannon starts by asking if entrepreneurship and enterprise education is

  • a management or business related derivative?
  • a possible component of the learner’s life capability set?
  • a process of enhancing institutional opportunity?

Your view will dictate the approach you adopt and the coherence of the offering.  I feel there is a lot to be said for making approaches much more explicit.  Clearly in practice institutions and individuals are likely to use a combination of approaches – but labelling them I think would make them more likely to be effective.

Choice of approach will affect the content of educational programmes.  This, combined with the educational philosophy of the educator will have a significant influence stemming from perspectives on the nature of education and associated views on the role of the educator.

Elias, J. L., & Merriam, S. B. (1995). Philosophical foundations of adult education. Krieger Publishing Co., PO Box 9542, Melbourne, FL 32902..

Possible categorisations of EE offerings:

  1. A process focus – it’s about understanding and developing capabilities
  2. A client focus – it’s about focusing on specific targeted learner groups
  3. An outcome focus – it’s about learner expectations and desires and commercialisation possibilities (number of start ups, growth of new ventures…)
  4. A vision focus – building new economic and social scenarios, EE as a catalyst for change


  1. It’s about Entrepreneurship – the contextual application of entrepreneurial characteristics and qualities
  2. Entrepreneurial – a state of being
  3. Entrepreneurism – the creation of an entrepreneurial climate and support structure


  1. About – EE is an academic study
  2. For – EE is the preparation for the enactment of an entrepreneurial life through the creation of a new business venture
  3. Through – EE is learnt and taught through other subjects not just business and management

Béchard, J. P., & Toulouse, J. M. (1991). Entrepreneurship and education: viewpoint from education. Journal of Small Business & Entrepreneurship9(1), 3-13.

Béchard & Toulouse (1991) offer 2 opposing paradigms

Bechard & Toulouse opposing paradigms of EE

Possible objectives for entrepreneurship programmes:

  1. Contribution to the economy
  2. Contribution to firms
  3. Contribution to individuals

Possible underpinning educational philosophies:

Educational Philosophies linked to EE

Hannon argues that EE goes wrong or is less effective than it might be when these philosophical approaches are mixed up or confused.  The one you adopt has implications for

  • curriculum design and delivery
  • learning outcomes and assessment modes

There is a need for coherence and a requirement for a fit between philosophy and educator type (guru, guide, controller, helper or coordinator).

Freire and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire quote

Cannot believe it’s been nearly 4 months since I was here.

Following my last supervision I read a little bit of Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed and felt there was significant relevant with my views on the purpose of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Education and the works of Shulman and Barnett as Ray Land had indicated.  The idea of preparing students for an unknown and unknowable future, a pedagogy of uncertainty.  That combined with Hannon’s about, for and through approaches to entrepreneurship education and links to educational philosophy –  and the possible role of threshold concepts in binding it all together.

Freire talks about education as a subversive force and encouraging students to look critically at the social situation in which they find themselves.  I’m thinking that perhaps you don’t necessarily have to be unhappy with your social situation or looking for radical political or social change, but the message about taking charge of your own destiny and feeling able to influence your circumstances is relevant to students of entrepreneurship in developed countries.  The forward of the book, written by Richard Shaull draws on parallels between the struggles of the dispossessed in Latin America and middle class young Americans struggling to become free subjects and to participate in the transformation of their society.

“…man’s ontological vocation [….] is to be a subject who acts upon and transforms his world – and in doing so moves towards ever new possibilities of fuller and richer life individually and collectively.” (p.12) in the forward of Pedagogy of the Oppressed written by Shaull in Freire (1972).

He goes on to say, ” There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom’ , the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”(p.13-14)

Subjects and Objects.pptx

Another suggestion from this book struck me as very pertinent for our times,

“self-affirmation inoculates against fanaticism”

but this is a PhD not a cure for the all world’s problems!

“fear of freedom afflicts the oppressed”

On sectarians, left and right, “they both suffer from the absence of doubt.