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Measuring the Impact of Entrepreneurship Education: Are entrepreneurship educators selling themselves short?

Professor Colette Henry (ISBE Past President)
Dundalk Institute of Technology & UiT-The Arctic University of Norway

It is now commonplace for HEIs to offer some type of entrepreneurship education (EE) programme to their students, and this has resulted in a proliferation of programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate level globally. Exactly how such programmes are assessed, and how their relevance and impact are measured were topics discussed at a recent HEInnovateworkshop hosted in Ireland by Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). The event prompted lively debate around the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of assessing EE, with some valuable new ideas offered to help prompt entrepreneurship educators to reflect on what they do, why they do it and how they measure its impact. 

Following a presentation from HEInnovateexpert Klaus Sailer, workshop participants from four different economies shared ten EE assessment examples across Business, Engineering, Creative Media and Science discipline areas. While not mutually exclusive in terms of their focus, the EE assessments presented appeared to center on: ‘Start-up’; ‘Existing businesses’; ‘Developing an entrepreneurial mind-set’, and innovative ideas for ‘Solving the world’s big problems.’ Half of the assessment examples required students to come up with a new business idea (Business discipline), while another example related to assessing the idea’s financial impact (Engineering). Six of the assessment examples were team based, with the ‘business plan’ and related ‘pitch’ remaining popular vehicles for demonstrating students’ entrepreneurial skills-set. Novel assessment mechanisms took the form of a ‘Failure CV’ whereby students consider their perceived failures (as opposed to successes), reflect on the learning gained and consider what they need to do to move forward; a ‘Team event’ to be organised by students to debate and find solutions to a ‘wicked problem’; and participation in a ‘Simulation game’ where simulated business challenges have to be dealt with, complex environments navigated and problems solved all within a series of tight deadlines. The workshop finished with a stakeholder panel discussion led by ISBE past President Prof. Pauric McGowan, which focused on the impact of these types of assessments, and their relevance to industry in practice. 

The workshop highlighted how entrepreneurship education is an appropriate vehicle to provide young people with the necessary skills to make a real difference in the world. As entrepreneurship educators, we acknowledge the need to focus on competencesrather than content, and return to our broader aim of developing an entrepreneurial mind-setrather than creating entrepreneurs. However, despite such acknowledgement, current assessment mechanisms continue to focus on skills for business start-up, with the business plan, feasibility study or pitch continuing to gain popularity amongst educators. To ensure the relevance and currency of our programme offerings, we need to co-design both content and assessment with internal and external stakeholders. However, before we can design anything, we need to know the goals, and ensure that our EE assessments are aligned to programme objectives and learning outcomes. Based on the workshop presentations and discussions, the following recommendations for entrepreneurship educators are offered:

Recommendations:

  • Revisit programme/module objectives and learning outcomes, and design assessments that reflect these. (The principles of constructive alignment are useful in this regard).
  • Use the actual assessments as impact measures, rather than try to measure impacts post-completion/graduation.
  • Involve stakeholders in the co-design of both content and assessment to ensure relevance and currency of the programme.
  • Be bold – develop novel and innovative assessment mechanisms that move beyond the traditional business plan as the ‘assessment du jour.’

Reflecting on the above, I invite the ISBE EE community to share their personal views on how best to assess EE in the class room, and offer suggestions on measuring its impact externally. It strikes me that we have a wide diversity of valuable assessment mechanisms that we use in the classroom to evaluate our students’ learning, but we do not use these in practice to evaluate the impact of what we do. Rather, external measures of the impact of EE often center on the number of graduate start-ups, spin-offs, patents, investments, etc – things that are notoriously difficult to track longitudinally and, quite frankly, are not listed in the aims, objectives or learning outcomes of our EE programmes. Therefore, I have to ask the question: Why are we not using our actual assessment mechanisms as impact measures in themselves; surely they are the evidence of EE’s impact and value? For example, what is wrong with measuring the number of new business opportunities identified by students and the different types of ideas generated (many of which are ‘assessed’ by invited ‘dragons’ den-styled industry panels’); the percentage of these that seek to solve a social or ‘wicked problem’; the level of innovative thinking and ‘smartitude’ deployed in attempting to find innovative solutions to simulated business challenges; and the entrepreneurial team dynamics and astonishing networking capability operationalised by our students? These elements are already evidenced in many of the assessment mechanisms we set for our students; we just need to platform their value as impact measures. Finally, I ask the question, could it be, that as entrepreneurship educators, we are selling ourselves short?

(With sincere thanks to: Klaus Sailer (HEInnovate), Pauric McGowan (Ulster University), Kelly Smith (EEUK & ISBE) Thomas McEvoy (Louth Local Enterprise Office), Therese Moylan (CEEN), Annmarie McHugh (DkIT & HEInnovate) and all of the presenters and delegates for their contribution to the Dundalk workshop).

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