How can we encourage reflexivity among students, so they gain insights from their experiences? This unit utilised a novel and highly effective approach that incorporated reflection into sequenced assessments.
What is true knowledge acquisition?
“Yo jāgāra tam richa kāmayamante
The one who is awake, knowledge seeks her/him out”Rig Veda 5.44.14
Rig Veda’s ancient wisdom underscores the essence of true knowledge acquisition: it gravitates towards those in states of heightened awareness. The word Veda itself means knowledge. Through critical reflection, which fosters self-awareness (Dewey, 1933) student-entrepreneurs become attuned, or awake, to their actions, thoughts, and emotions. This conscious attention, or reflexivity, promotes a proactive learning approach, urging students to gain insights from their experiences. This awakened state might even kindle intuition — a quality highlighted in entrepreneurship studies for its potential to bridge ideas with their realisation. Reflexivity could empower entrepreneurs to harmonise their intuition with concrete action as they navigate the complex, journey of creating something from nothing.
Why incorporating reflection is important when teaching entrepreneurship?
There is a growing focus on reflective practices in entrepreneurship education (Shankar and Gopalakrishnan, 2022) and teaching students how to develop knowledge from the experiences and actions of learning journeys. Research in entrepreneurship education emphasises the importance of experience and action-based learning (Hägg and Kurczewska, 2016). Yet, structured reflection is equally crucial as action in the learning process. However, there is a need for deeper theoretical understanding concerning the role of reflexivity not only in entrepreneurship education (Shankar & Gopalakrishnan, 2022) but also in the entrepreneurial learning process (Cope 2003). Such insights are vital for crafting educational programs that promote lifelong learning.
This article delves into a novel pedagogical approach developed in a Master of Management unit of study in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Sydney Business School (USBS). This approach uses the assessment structure to integrate primary experience – actions – and secondary experience – reflection – (Hägg and Kurczewska, 2021), enabling a dynamic interplay between action and reflection. In doing so, this teaching methodology elevates the reflective exercise beyond mere portfolios, to enable deep learning.
The action components are drawn from the effectuation approach to entrepreneurship developed by Saraswathi (2001, 2003) and the conceptualisation of entrepreneurship as a process of enactment (Weick 1979) where the entrepreneur acts as-if the future is already in the present (Gartner et al. 1992). The reflective components are inspired by critical reflection (Mezirow, 1990).
The first three assignments, (1) Group Pitch, (2) Essay, and (3) Investor Report, are designed to immerse students in the entrepreneurial reality. The student’s primary experience (entrepreneurial actions) culminates into a fourth assignment, a (4) Reflective Portfolio, which creates a formal outlet for the confluence of the moments of reflexivity interspersed throughout the unit.
1. Group Pitch
In the Group Pitch assignment, students ideate and shape a business opportunity by acting as if they are entrepreneurs. Amidst scarcity of resources, including time, students must harness their actual means – who they are, what they know and whom they know (Sarasvathy, 2001, 2003). Through iterative pitching and feedback from peers, educators, and industry experts, students fine-tune their vision, further enriched by interactions with potential stakeholders – interact with other people and stakeholder commitment (Saravathy, 2001, 2003).
In the Essay assignment, students practice the essential entrepreneurial skill of networking by identifying, contacting, and interviewing a real-world entrepreneur. The analysis of the interview triggers moments of reflection, which enable students to critically reflect in the essay on the question “Who is an entrepreneur?” through the lens of academic literature within the entrepreneur’s background and the cultural and industry context of their venture.
3. Investor Report
In the Investor Report assignment, students transition into a different role stepping metaphorically into the investor’s shoes. Students gain a fresh perspective by challenging some of the assumptions developed by acting as-if they were an entrepreneur.
4. Reflective Portfolio
Lastly, students needed to complete their Reflective Portfolios. Frequent, regular, structured reflections were interspersed during the unit with a staged process to promote deep learning. During each class, semi-structured learning logs were integrated to prompt students to contemplate how their learning impacts the development of their competencies to emerge as entrepreneurs and ethical leaders. These logs facilitated the development of metacognitive skills and informed the quality of the Reflective Portfolio’s final assignment, enabling the teaching team to assess the learning process. The unit also included industry forums and interactive workshops using entrepreneurial tools such as Business Model Canvas, Design Thinking, Lean Start-Up Model and case study analysis.
Did it work?
Yes. The measure of success of this unit of study is threefold.
a) Participation. Across three iterations, students’ attendance and participation were consistently high, a sentiment echoed in the Unit of Study Survey (USS) with an average rating of 4.66/5.
b) Reflective skills. Students had a good level of engagement with the self-reflection logs. The Reflective Portfolio assessment included analytical and critical reflections rather than descriptive accounts.
c) Authentic experience. Comments from student’s survey (USS) showed the engagement of students with industry experts outside the class.
Critical reflection in entrepreneurship education is a crucial tool
This innovative approach created opportunities for and integrated moments of critical reflection to promote metacognitive skills (Seikkula-Leino et al., 2010), enhance self-awareness (Dewey, 1933), foster a growth mindset (Dweck, 2015), and encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Mezirow, 1990). The development of these skills enhances the capacity of the student-entrepreneur to adapt and learn from experience and promotes lifelong learning.
Photo: Adobe Stock / NOTE OMG
About the author
After a successful career as a management consultant for tech start-ups and large firms, Corinna Galliano completed a PhD at the University of Sydney Business School in the discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2019. Using Paradox Theory, Corinna's research sheds insights on managing the competing demands of leading and working in highly dynamic contexts, including start-ups, innovation teams and large organisations undergoing change and transformation.