MethodTech: There must be a better way to do research than surveys, interviews and observations

It is a well established fact that IT is reshaping just about every single field of human activity. But one thing that has remained surprisingly stable is research methodology in social sciences. Social science scholars still today focus on doing interviews and distributing surveys, as well as conducting the occasional observation study. Collecting primary data has not yet been disrupted in any way, despite its tremendously labour-intensive and fuzzy characteristics. Quantitative researchers still struggle with low response rates on surveys, meticulous item development and non-respondent analysis. Qualitative researchers still struggle with tedious interviews, labor-intensive transcriptions and subjective coding of interview data. Shouldn’t there be a better way to conduct rigorous data collection in our modern digitized society?

Reinvention of social science?

Digitalization in any human activity often follows a pattern of going from small adaptations, to larger transformations and finally to end up in complete reinvention. If we look at how research is conducted, we are arguably still at the adaptation stage. When distributing surveys we use a web-based survey engine sent through email. When conducting interviews we record what is being said by using a convenient recording app on our tablet or smartphone. When observing human activity we record it on video using a camera or perhaps a smartphone. But we are not even near a transformation of how data is collected, and the reinvention of social science research is nowhere in sight.

In my work I have stumbled upon a completely new way to collect primary data for research purposes. It’s not an interview method, but you can still ask follow-up questions to respondents in a synchronous way and take context into account. It’s not an observation method, but you can still observe what is going on between key social actors such as between a teacher and her students. It’s not a survey method, but you can still distribute it easily on large amounts of people and readily quantify their experiences. So, what is it? Well, that is the question I am currently struggling with. I am now writing an article on the topic, and this blog post is a way to get started writing text.

The data comes to me

What we are talking about here is an IT system that is possible to deploy at a large number of people in a context I want to study, such as an entire school or an entire incubator for entrepreneurs. It resembles social media, but it’s more private. It resembles learning platforms, but it’s way less administrative. It is similar to a messaging app, but it has more structure and also a few mandatory quantification steps in each transmission of text. So, while it is similar to many things, it is equal to none I have seen so far. The system we have built goes under the name LoopMe (see here), and we have tried to categorize it as “Social Learning Media”. We believe this is a new category of IT systems. I’ve done a video about it that you can watch here.

For me as a social science researcher it is really a dream come true. Once the system is deployed, the data comes to me. I can sit at a distance and observe what’s going on, and whenever I see something of interest I can intervene and ask follow-up questions in real-time. All the generated data is saved on a central database. I can download the entire dataset in an Excel sheet, and analyze it however I see fit. I can make really nice Pivot diagrams showing causation in terms of which activity led to which kind of perceived outcome. This does not preclude offline real-life encounters, but can actually empower such meetings. I have used Loopme as a sampling strategy by choosing who to interview based on information online. When I meet a respondent, I often prepare a semi-structured interview template where questions are tailored to the particular respondent. I can skip contextual questions, and go directly to the core issues relating to the research question I am investigating.

Martin’s 1000 eyes or just unrealistic hype?

The real challenge comes when I want to explain to other researchers what this method is about, and why it’s good. A research colleague commended the method and called it “Martin’s 1000 eyes”, since each user of the IT system becomes a participant observer working for me as a researcher, telling me whenever something significant happens in their natural setting. Another research colleague was more hostile, saying “Here you come with your little app, and everything will solve itself – that is an arrogant rejection of established educational research methods”.

While I have been using it now in my own research since 2012, I have not been able to get other researchers to use it in their data collection procedures. I really wonder what is stopping them, and I suspect it is my low ability to explain what is going on here, coupled with new unorthodox ways of working that scare people off. So I hope this text will turn into an article that makes sense and clarifies some things (also to me). A first step I’ve done is to try to categorize common methods, see image below. As far as I can see, LoopMe spans the entire field here, from the subjective nonverbal social communication you would capture in observation studies, through written accounts you get from transcribed interviews, to the objective individual quantified responses you would expect from a survey.

 

Win-win for all involved

The main reason it works so well is because it delivers a very tangible and appreciated value for the practitioners using it, which contrasts to surveys and many interviews that are done primarily for the researcher’s benefit. The Loopme system connects people in ways they have not experienced before, and this helps them a lot in their daily life. This is what gives the new method its observational quality – participants use it not for me as a researcher, but for their own benefit in their natural setting. This makes it even more odd that it is new – how could we come up with a new social media tool at the same time as we constructed a new kind of research tool? Well, maybe precisely because of this. When optimizing social media for research purposes, we ended up with some truly novel functionality. There is no equal solution for practice, resulting in the obvious conclusion that using such a solution for research purposes is something that most likely has not happened before.

Capturing the “flow” of experience

The most similar development I’ve seen within research is a couple of IT systems that try to facilitate for researchers working with a method called ‘experience sampling’. Experience sampling is when short  surveys are used to capture respondents’ experiences directly in their natural environment, attempting to capture the “flow” of everyday experience. There are a few companies out there developing such tools, such as Metricwire and MovisensXS. But there seems to be no thriving community of MethodTech companies, pushing the boundaries of data collection, and redefining what it means to be a researcher. That is a missed opportunity in my opinion.

I’ve also found a small community of ethnographic researchers discussing how to use Social Networking Sites (SNSs) for research purposes (see for example here, here and here). Facebook is the most common platform. Some ethnographers have viewed Facebook posts as empirical data. Others have used Facebook for snowball sampling in order to find respondents that otherwise would have been very difficult to find. I have however not found any example of an ethnographic research team building their own SNS tailored to the needs of such research. This leaves ethnographers with a number of unsolved dilemmas, such as how to protect participants’ privacy, and other fully legitimate requirements from ethical committees.

Towards a MethodTech community?

In our increasingly digital world there are endless opportunities to collect data in novel ways. But established solutions used by practitioners for communication purposes, such as Facebook and others, are currently almost never optimized for research purposes. While we have EdTech, FinTech, AdTech, GreenTech and WhateverTech, we do not yet seem to have MethodTech. We scholars will have to create it ourselves. Who wants to join me here? The first step is to be able to explain myself. So if you get what I’m writing about here, let me know. And if you don’t get it, let me know too! I write this blog post in hope of getting some help in explaining myself and growing this non-existent MethodTech community from one (?) single researcher. Anyone else out there?

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How teachers can escape being caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

I just finished an article summarizing five years of work with six in-depth empirical studies on entrepreneurship education, enterprise education and value creation education. The six studies involved 928 participating students who in total made 10855 app reports through our smartphone app based data collection instrument Loopme. We interviewed 300 of the participants. I will here try to summarize what we found out. If you want to read the full paper, download it here. If you want to hear me present this paper, come to Cork, Ireland, in May, to this conference.

The article is basically about the dilemma most teachers are faced with when having to choose between two established but problematic approaches in entrepreneurial education. On one hand, entrepreneurship education based on an organization creation focus remains marginalized due to its connotations with egoistic capitalism, making it difficult to integrate with most kinds of non-business education. On the other hand, enterprise education based on an opportunity recognition focus remains largely irrelevant due to its weak effects and vague state of being indistinguishable from the centuries-old progressive education movement.

Through a comparison and contrasting of six different impact studies, an escape from this dilemma was generated and evaluated. The six studies contrasted the two established kinds of entrepreneurial education with a third kind building on a value creation based view of entrepreneurship, here termed ‘value creation education’. See table here:

Value creation education was shown to be widely applicable by integrating well on all levels of education and giving strong positive effects on entrepreneurial competencies, student engagement and subject matter knowledge. It removes much of the complexity associated with entrepreneurship education and also the definitional fuzziness associated with enterprise education. Value creation education was thus found to open up a new solution space for entrepreneurial education theory and practice. It remains to be seen how large this new solution space is. Based on this, time and effort invested by teachers and other practitioners into value creation education is most likely well spent. This is particularly so for practitioners in enterprise education where the step needed to take in order to reach a much stronger effect is small.

Policymakers now need to reconsider many of the currently on-going initiatives to infuse entrepreneurship into education. Value creation education is arguably a more effective and efficient practice than both entrepreneurship and enterprise education in many situations. Entrepreneurial education also no longer needs to rely on problematic economic policy objectives causing a value clash for teachers, but can instead be connected directly to educational policy objectives of improving student learning and achievement.

While potentially a breakthrough for the field of entrepreneurial education, these results give such a positive image of value creation education that one needs to question whether the findings are too good to be true. Other research teams now need to corroborate the results presented in this article and see if they can be reproduced in other settings and with other methodologies. The emergence of value creation education also poses new semantic challenges that need to be discussed. Finally, there could be other definitional starting points out there that have not been explored and that could be useful for educational practice.

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Some stunning results of entrepreneurial education!

This week we finished a report summarizing the results of our largest impact study so far in entrepreneurial education. It shows some absolutely fantastic results on student level. As the study was financed by National Agency of Education and a number of municipalities, the report is in Swedish. So I just thought I’d summarize the results here in English.

The study followed 481 students in 19 schools around Sweden, of age 8-17 years old. We used the LoopMe app to collect a total of 5895 mini-survey responses on important events in the students’ everyday school experience. Based on this, we selected 63 students for in-depth interviews, searching for links between emotional events and important learning outcomes. To complement the picture, we also interviewed 13 of their teachers, in the schools where the most interesting results were found.

The study showed strong impact of entrepreneurial education in many dimensions. The students got a much more meaningful everyday experience in school, their motivation increased significantly, they developed strong entrepreneurial passion (defined as willingness to create value for others), they strengthened their self-confidence and self-efficacy, they performed better in school and got better grades. The strong entrepreneurial passion resulted in a number of positive effects, such as deeper levels of learning achieved, more self-directed learning among students and fewer conflicts in class. For the teachers we could also see a number of changes. Their role as teachers was changed slightly, the assessment work was facilitated, assessment also became more inclusive. But the teachers also faced a number of new challenges, such as letting go of some of the control of what was going on in the classroom. See some effects in image below.

This study was made on a particular kind of entrepreneurial education: value creation education, see further in my PhD thesis here. Since we have done other impact studies on other kinds of entrepreneurial education, such as entrepreneurship education and enterprise education, we could also compare the impact of value creation education with the two other kinds of entrepreneurial education. This was thus the first time we could compare three rather different approaches to entrepreneurial education with each other. I will try to summarize the differences.

But first, some definitions. Entrepreneurial education was defined as learning about, for and through creating a venture (cf Gartner). Enterprise education was defined as letting students learn in teams by creating solutions to authentic problems and be more engaged and creative (cf Shane). Value creation education was defined as letting students learn by applying their existing and future competencies to create something preferably novel of value to at least one external stakeholder outside their group, class or school (cf Bruyat, see further in article linked here).

The comparison is shown in image below. We found that entrepreneurship education and value creation education gave a strong increase in motivation, and enterprise education gave a much weaker increase in motivation. Similarly, entrepreneurship education and value creation education resulted in strong development of entrepreneurial competencies, whereas enterprise education didn’t develop these competencies almost at all. On the other hand, entrepreneurship education did not develop school related knowledge and skills almost at all, due to its poor integration into the broad curriculum, which the other two kinds did very well. The kind of entrepreneurial education that gave the best impact in developing school knowledge and skills was value creation education. We could also see some apparent differences in cost of delivery, definitional clarity and possibility to start with minor activities.

I think these results are very interesting for the field of entrepreneurial education. They have numerous implications. It seems that the two widespread kinds of entrepreneurial education are either marginalized or irrelevant. Entrepreneurship education remains marginalized due to its inability to integrate with most kinds of non-business education. Enterprise education remains irrelevant due to its weak impact on entrepreneurial competencies and its vague state of being indistinguishable from the centuries-old and multifaceted approach labeled progressive education. I am now working on an abstract for the 3E conference in Cork next year (go there, it’s a great conference!), where I will ask my research colleagues what we should do about this situation of being caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (i.e. choosing between marginalization and irrelevance). I think we need to spend more resources on investigating other definitional starting points than the two usual ones of venture creation and opportunity identification. I have explored a third starting point of creating new value, and the results are simply stunning! The comparison perhaps seems too good to be true, but we have really struggled with getting teachers and students to articulate negative aspects of value creation education. The definitional confusion and difficulty in how-to of enterprise education is gone, and the difficulties to embed as well as the capitalist connotations of entrepreneurship education are also gone. We cannot rule out that we have stumbled upon something quite significant here…

Here is the report in Swedish if anyone wants and can read it: LINK. Maybe it’s Google Translate:able.

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My PhD thesis done

So, after seven years I am done with my PhD thesis. It became a new educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship. In the thesis I define learning-through-creating-value-for-others (chapter 5), and then I try to answer what is new with it and what is useful with it (chapter 6). Compared to existing educational philosophies such as traditional, progressive and experiential education it allows for a purposeful movement between often unconnected and opposing philosophical positions. I’ve put the thesis here for you to download and have a look for yourself. I’ve also done a video summarizing the main ideas of the thesis in 11 minutes. You can find the video here.

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A ‘value’ and ‘economics’ grounded analysis of six value creation based entrepreneurial education initiatives

Last week I wrote an article for the 3E ECSB entrepreneurship education conference due in May in Leeds. I was short on time, so I took some ideas from my recently finished PhD thesis and applied them to six empirical cases I have been studying over the last couple of years. I had previously developed a value framework consisting of five different kinds of value, and an economics framework consisting of three different kinds of economics. I applied these frameworks to analyze six empirical cases from primary, secondary and higher education. Five of the cases were from Sweden and one was from Turkey.

It turned out quite interesting, with a number of commonalities as well as differences being empirically illustrated. I had not expected enjoyment value to be so common, but it indeed was – even in one of the cases that focuses primarily on economic value. I also found some interesting differences between venture creation based initiatives and value creation based initiatives. I had previously stated that venture creation is more complex than value creation, but here it really was evident how much more complicated it is to let students start a real-life venture. And given that similar student engagement levels can obviously be reached with value creation (see the strong student quotes), this added a rather compelling argument for working with value creation – same effect but way less complex. Not that venture creation doesn’t work, but that value creation works too but at a much much lower cost in terms of complexity, resources and teacher time.

By writing the article I also clarified my thinking around what I have chosen to label “educational economics”. I haven’t seen this concept discussed previously. If any of you readers have seen something similar, please let me know. I define educational economics as a means-based, non-market / non-price, relationship based and learning oriented economic behavior (see the table in the article, contrasting it to entrepreneurial and neoclassical economics). It is based on a very broad definition of economics, articulated in the 1930:s by Robbins: “human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means”. So just as entrepreneurship has a narrow and a wide definition, so does economics seem to have. And that is a parallell I haven’t thought about or read about before.

I’ve put the paper online, so you can read it by downloading it here. Any comments appreciated as usual. Here or by emailing me or Tweeting me.

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So what’s the “evidence” for entrepreneurial education?

In a recent question to Swedish National Agency for Education a teacher asked them about the evidence for entrepreneurial education. Sweden supports entrepreneurial education in many ways, as outlined in a recent overview by Eurydice here. Sweden is one of seven EU countries that has an earmarked budget for entrepreneurship, and the Nordic region is a leader in this field says Eurydice. But one of the areas that Sweden is not supporting according to Eurydice (see p 53) is impact assessment of entrepreneurial education. Now that’s not completely true. My research team has done one impact study for the Agency (here) and we are currently doing another one not yet written up. The reason it does not show up on Eurydice’s map is perhaps that the Agency does not view it as impact assessment, but as development support. Sweden’s Agency is not even allowed to research the impact of entrepreneurial education according to its mandate.

When asking the question “What is the evidence for entrepreneurial education”, one first needs to unpick some inherent challenges. First – what is “evidence”? There is a lively discussion about whether it is even possible to produce quantitative mathematical “evidence” for educational approaches (see critics for example here, here, here, here and my own take on the issue here, and see a supporter here). Then there is the more rare discussion about what it is we are discussing and assessing. Most impact assessment studies have been made applying a narrow view of entrepreneurship as starting a business. This is not even what we are talking about in Sweden when we discuss widely infusing entrepreneurship into education. Also, most studies have been conducted on higher education levels, which is not what we are talking about here. Most people are not aware of these misalignments. And even if we end up talking about a wide view of entrepreneurship as personal development, creativity, action orientation, initiative taking etc, we risk ending up in a confusing discussion around how this differs from progressive education which has been discussed and quarreled about for around three centuries or more. And from that discussion we can learn that traditional education (i.e. reading, memorizing, repeating, reciting, whole class instruction etc) is way easier to measure than its progressive counterpart. This is a fact well established by now. But Biesta warns us about jumping to conclusions based on this fact by saying here: “The danger here is that we end up valuing what is measured, rather than that we engage in measurement of what we value”. PISA is a perfect example of this problem, and I am personally baffled how unchallenged PISA is today. In Sweden we spend hundreds of millions SEK based on a very narrow measurement instrument. Some few critics can be found here, here and here. In Sweden this is a non-discussion. Everybody commits the Biesta fault and accepts and acts upon PISA at its face validity.

So what has the Agency done. Well, they have ordered a literature review that can be found here. But meta-research does not help when research is scarce, so this report contains very few answers on “evidence”. It is also very Sweden and Nordics centric (apart form the appendix), and Sweden is a tiny tiny tiny country (I am always reminded of this by my American supervisor). A recent report that could offer some answers was released by EU here based on 13 case studies here. I’d say it is the most comprehensive attempt to evidence entrepreneurial education to date. But it also partly suffers from a narrow view of entrepreneurship viewed as starting a business. A narrow view is simply not relevant to most students. Some studies that at least have the needed focus are this, this and this (there are a few more too).

My take on all this has been to develop my own definition of entrepreneurial education viewed as learning-through-creating-value-for-others. I’ve done two impact studies on this approach (here and here) and have four on-going studies. This is the topic of my dissertation which will be defended on 13:th of June (email me to get the thesis if you want to read, I am not allowed to put it online yet). While I should not review myself, I should here at least say (sorry Jante!) that some people have stated this to be a major step forward in the domain of entrepreneurial education, since it clears some of the mist around entrepreneurial education, since it seems to work so well in practice for teachers and students and since it explains the differences between progressive and entrepreneurial education clearly. I am personally convinced that if we are to get considerable impact from entrepreneurial education, the narrowing to do is NOT to narrow it down to venture creation, but rather to narrow it down to value creation for others. More impact studies to follow. Now I have to rush to a meeting on how the hell we are going to finance the finalization of even the assessment studies we are already involved in. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack I can tell you! Practical activities are funded widely, but assessment work is not eligible for funding…

 

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Is my dissertation an insult or not?

Summarizing all the feedback I received on my almost final dissertation (a summary can be found here), what made the strongest impression on me was the interpretation aired by some (more than one) that my work actually can be viewed as an insult on the entire scholarly field of education research. And it’s not the first time I get this reaction, see an earlier blog post here, so it is a pattern worth analyzing further.

So of what consists my arrogant insult? Well, basically they tell me that if it were as “easy” as I in my writing claim it to be to improve education (i.e. by letting students learn through creating value to others, and to do this by asking students to apply a toolbox of entrepreneurship methods) in order to increase engagement, motivation and deep learning in education, the scholarly field would already have come up with this. Allegedly, it is simply too good to be true, or too simplistic to make any real difference, or an eclectic collection of unfounded consultancy models, or in line with previous work that I’ve neglected, or a non-interesting ed-tech app that doesn’t add anything significant of value to practice or research. They ask me to take a step back, appreciate the complexity of education, listen more than I prescribe, refrain from making recommendations to teachers, appreciate previous research more and stop describing previous work in the field in judgmental terms.

Fair enough. I confess to being a bit harsh on current state of education, both in terms of practice and research. I have probably let my frustration over lack of progress shine through in a non-academic way. I really need to better appreciate what has already been done, and to be more careful with judgmental wording. After all, we do have some truly beautiful theories, learning principles and educational philosophies out there.

More in detail, for the sake of clarity here, I have been informed that some of my work as it is presented now doesn’t help a single teacher, that I am being merely irritating, that my writing can be viewed as an insult on decades of progressive education researchers, that I am pushing them to the floor with my work, that I am un-humble, and that I am excluding / devaluing a lot of good work with my too narrow definition of “entrepreneurial” education. It seems my attempts to clear the fuzziness in the field by being explicit is one root cause here.

So, what to do now? When, and to what extent, is it right to listen to the critics, step back and observe more, to follow the advice to be more humble? Or, if my conclusion would go the other way, when is it right to say, hey, this actually seems to work. Should I keep being explicit despite the risk of being viewed as irritating, or should I back off, observe more, be less explicit and talk less? I’ve received rather conflicting advice pointing towards either of these diverging paths. Some would perhaps argue that a little bit of both is necessary now – which is easy to agree on in theory but a difficult balancing act to make in practice.

What do you think? Tweet me, e-mail me or reply here on the blog.

NOTE: For the record, I did get a lot of positive feedback too. From many different people including my fantastic discussant Saras Sarasvathy – she was world class and gave some fantastic feed forward. But that is a different story which I might get back to later here.

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Denmark cuts back on the future – takes a yearly 4 MEUR loan from it

In most large groups of people the focus is on performing here and now. In corporations it is stipulated by the stock market, making up its mind about performance here and now, every minute of its opening hours. In nations it is stipulated by voters who make up their mind here and now, every day in polls and media and every 3-4 years in elections. This has som dire consequences. One consequence is that focus is all about current operations. What do the newspapers write about us today? What do the customers / voters think about us right now? Seldom if ever is the focus what will be of us in 10-15 years.

I am a teacher at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, where we work with starting up new companies. But we also help large firms starting up new business. And it is not a walk in the park. In large corporations current operations are eating future operations for breakfast, every single day. The large pile of money that the current operations represent overshadow the small and insignificant breadcrumbs of money that the future represents today. Logically everyone understands that all big things once were small, but strangely enough the reverse logic is just so difficult to grasp.

There is a strand of research relevant here that is focusing on ambidexterity – a metaphor used for organizations and their ability to use both “hands” at the same time. If the right hand is current operations, the left hand represents the future. And most people do important stuff with their right hand, right? What researchers (such as for example O’Reilly and Tushman) say here is that balancing between the past and the future is one of the toughest challenges that managers face. And one reason most managers fail is the greater certainty of success when working with incremental improvements of past achievements. And is it anything we humans hate more than uncertainty?

Still, any firm that doesn’t work with their future will eventually die or wane. A paradox indeed, and now some empirics to back it up. 88% of Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are today gone from the list, due to bankrupcy, decline or mergers. Anyone remembers Hines Lumber, Riegel Textile, Cone Mills today? Didn’t think so. But we do remember Boeing, General Motors and IBM. And do you think that newcomers such as Facebook, Microsoft and eBay will be on the list in 60 years from now? Depends on their focus on the future, I’d say. What is lacking here according to O’Reilly and Tushman is entrepreneurial competencies. Most people possess an overflow of operational competencies, but haven’t heard of anything like being entrepreneurial in an existing organization, especially not from their education. And what is worse, incentives are almost always based on operational competencies. Intrapreneurs usually have to struggle in the dark, with little if any institutional support, let alone recognition.

Now to countries. European Union has dedicated some people to working on the issue of entrepreneurial competencies. They produce reports every year focusing on different aspects of entrepreneurial competencies. But it is a tough call to get countries to change their educational systems accordingly. Certainty of outcome in terms of easily measurable competencies (think PISA here) eats entrepreneurial competencies for breakfast every morning. This is evident in my home country Sweden, where PISA related “fix the current operations” projects get many hundreds of million SEK every year. Entrepreneurial competencies get their breadcrumbs indeed, but it merely results in cute little pockets of excellence here and there, see my report for Swedish National Agency of Education here (in Swedish, but I have an English version that I can e-mail if anyone wants to read).

Denmark has for long been a good example of a strong focus on entrepreneurial competencies, alongside UK. Denmark has had both action in schools and universities and researchers following these processes. Many of the leading scholars in my field work in Denmark, and they have one of Europe’s largest research centers on entrepreneurial competencies in education, called iCARE at Aarhus University, read about them here (I’m going to Aarhus next week to learn from them). But times are tough in Denmark, and government spending has had to be cut lately. What better then than to deprioritize the future? We know what we have, let’s focus on that. Let someone else deal with the future. The government has just decided to put a zero in the spending to entrepreneurial competencies in education, down from 30m DKK yearly, or 4m EUR yearly. The organization in charge of these activities in Denmark, “Danish foundation for entrepreneurship”, got really scared and wrote about it here (in Danish). I’d propose that Danish policymakers see their decision as taking a loan from the future, with loan shark interest rate. Denmark will likely pay interest on this loan for the decades to come, in terms of school drop-outs, social care costs, lower start-up rates and other kinds of interest rate that the future will stipulate for them.

As a general reflection, I see this as the usual neglect of the future. It’s a human fallacy, a pattern that we so often follow, despite its very logical consequences. It is the easiest decision to take, because nothing happens short term. And it feels safe, focusing on what can be improved here and now. Long term however, it is the path to death. At least for corporations. Countries seldom die, but they are likely affected in other detrimental ways. But then again, perhaps I am just a boring and too anxious person, over-emphasizing worries about the future. Let’s live in the present day. Who knows what and who will die in the future anyway? And who cares? Let’s go for a beer, it’s Friday!

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Do we really need yet another educational philosophy?

Just finalized my PhD thesis for the “end seminar”, i.e. the final test before I get the PhD badge. After six years I ended up proposing a new educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship. Strangely enough no-one seems to have proposed such a thing before. Please do correct me if I’m wrong here. And what would yet another educational philosophy be good for then? Might you ask yourself. Well, educational philosophies are teachers’ more or less silent wayfinders in a complex life of teaching. Some teachers are aware of this, others are not. And when teachers are asked by EU, OECD, World Bank or some national / regional / local educational policymakers to infuse entrepreneurship into education, they more or less unknowingly resort to educational philosophies. Here’s how it often goes.

“I’m gonna let my students work actively in teams on authentic problems, allowing them to learn in self-directed ways – isn’t that entrepreneurial pedagogy?” A teacher might ask. No, that’s progressive education. Invented centuries ago. “But what about taking students to a study visit, or even an internship where they can work at a start-up or at least meet the founders of some company, isn’t that entrepreneurial pedagogy?” Another teacher might ask. No, that’s experiential education. Invented in the middle of the 20:th century, or earlier, but at least described in detail in that century.

So what is then “entrepreneurial” in entrepreneurial education? Well, the answer to that is not easy to say. Unfortunately there is no “right” answer, only opinions. And for lack of a clearly elaborated set of opinions, which we sometimes call an “educational philosophy”, teachers end up constructing their own personal teaching philosophy that might do the job, but more often not, unfortunately. In fact, entrepreneurial education is most times a failure – leading to marginal approaches decoupled from core curriculum and relevant only to a very small minority of students, mainly on higher levels of education. But at least, failure is not alone in this case.  It is shared by centuries of failure for progressive educators around the world. As Labaree says – it has indeed shaped how we talk about education, but not what teachers do.

An educational philosophy is inherently prescriptive, a coherent set of beliefs. This is what I have tried to design in my thesis work, but this time for the first (?) time based on entrepreneurship theory and practice. I’ve developed a set of carefully chosen and hopefully coherent set of beliefs that teachers can apply when designing their “entrepreneurial” pedagogies. I don’t claim it to be the “right” or “only” set of beliefs possible, just one set of beliefs that teachers can use. If they like. It goes like this: Let students learn by applying their existing and future competencies to create something preferably novel of value to at least one external stakeholder outside their group, class or school / university. Or in short: learning-through-creating-value-for-others. It represents a more clear answer to a question most progressive and experiential educators struggle with: learning-by-doing-what?

It was developed through a five-year research process of constant iterations between theory and practice. A total of nine empirical studies on all levels of education were drawn from, involving a few hundred primary, secondary, tertiary and continuing education teachers, around 2000 students and around 100 different educational institutions in three European countries working entrepreneurially to varying extent. In addition to a new educational philosophy, it also resulted in a number of methodological developments, such as a new “proxy” theory of assessing entrepreneurial education, a mobile app based interview technique and frameworks for emotional events and entrepreneurial competencies.

If you want to read the thesis, just drop me an email or tweet me, and I’ll send it to you. If you prefer to keep it short, here is a summary of it. The end seminar is on Nov 6:th at Chalmers from 13-15. It’s open to the public if you want to chime in and hear what the discussant Saras Sarasvathy has to say about the thesis. The dissertation defense is planned for spring 2016, if Saras likes what she sees, that is.

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Entrepreneurial education – a scholarly field with no future

I will never forget the day I met Dénis Gregoire, an entrepreneurship researcher who deliberately stopped doing research in entrepreneurial education. We met in 2011 at the BCERC conference in Syracuse, USA. I had read his work with admiration, and was indeed starstruck when I met him at one of the evening receptions. What he said has stayed with me ever since: “Ah, so you are doing research in entrepreneurship education! Very interesting field indeed. But it has no future, so I have had to leave it” (or something along those lines, I did not have ny dictaphone on). And indeed he has left: his last cited article on the topic according to his Google Scholar profile is from 2007.

Stubborn and new to doing research (I was an IT entrepreneur for a decade prior to signing up for PhD studies), I was not put down by his comment, but pursued research explicitly and exclusively focused on entrepreneurial education in its many shapes ever since (i.e. both enterprise and entrepreneurship education). But now, four years later, his comment has started to reappear in my head again. And I will try to summarize why.

How a scholarly field evolves

Burbules has stated (here) that the development of a scholarly field is determined not only by what research is done and what findings emerge, but also by who is included and excluded through the conditions set up by journals, conferences, editors and reviewers. Each decision to include or exclude a contribution / contributor shapes the future of that field. And while rejects are being issued every day in the academic field and need to be considered a part of the painstaking process of doing research, their stated reasons also say something about the future of a field. In his case it was Burbules’ own scholarly field “philosophy of education” which in the 1980s had come to realize that it had excluded women over a period of several decades. Indeed a limitation for a scholarly field to only include male contributors. If you were a woman in a Philosophy of Education conference evening reception in the 70s, someone could certainly have said something in line with Gregoire’s comment, had it been a woman talking to another woman new to the field: “There is no future for women in this field”.

ETP: “Don’t even think about it – we WILL desk reject you!”

Back in 2012 one of the leading journals in entrepreneurship (ETP) put up a note on their website that they no longer accepted any contributions in entrepreneurship education. It was later taken down, but it sent a powerful message to the research community. Don’t bother us at ETP with any educationally relevant findings. We don’t want them in our fine entrepreneurship journal. And sadly it makes sense. For a scholarly field to reach academic legitimacy, it must keep clear lines between what counts and what does not count as part of that field. Entrepreneurship has its own academic legitimacy problems it needs to take care of. And education obviously is a very different field from entrepreneurship, so the message was logical. And it added to Gregoire’s statement of the scholarly dead-end of entrepreneurial education.

Some recent failures

What made me think of Gregoire this year was my soon-to-come PhD defense, meaning that I need to hand in those last couple of articles for publication attempt. I emailed a contact at one of the leading journals in my field, one of the very few ones with ambitions beyond entrepreneurship (AMLE), to ask if they were interested in my work. The reply was disappointing, and with implications beyond my own work. The study objects in my work were not entrepreneurs or business school students but students in primary education, so the editor was not interested whatsoever. Go see a general learning journal was the polite reply. So now we know that in order to be relevant for top journals in the scholarly field of entrepreneurial education, we need to be careful not to pick the wrong kind of students to study. This is exactly the kind of interdependence Burbules talks about, now shaping the scholarly field of entrepreneurial education. Who knows how many rejects have been issued, by AMLE and by others, due to “wrong” dataset in the interdisciplinary field of entrepreneurial education, or due to other delimitations deemed necessary to stay within the narrow confines of “entrepreneurship”?

Next up was an attempt to get a paper accepted in a special issue by another leading journal (JSBM). This time they had explicitly asked for contributions that addressed the disconnect between entrepreneurship and education. Great! Let’s submit. And so we did, and got a “revise & resubmit” in April, happy so far. But then in second round we were rejected. And why? Well, for many reasons probably, but a primary reason was that our paper was addressing the wrong audience – educators. It was not deemed to be within the audience of the journal, which is arguably entrepreneurship, or “small business” as the journal title reads. So not even when a special issue editor asks explicitly for interdisciplinary contributions it is okay to be just that – interdisciplinary. In addition to that, the main reviewer rejecting us asked how we could posit that Customer Development by Steve Blank was entrepreneurship and how we could assume that a reader was familiar with Sarasvathy’s work. Some dark part of me wanted to reply: “Let me Google that for you”, but by then the scholary discussion was already over. For the sake of openness to readers to make your own interpretation, I provide the full review here. It constituted the only viewpoint on which the decision to reject was taken. Its resentful style could be viewed as rather amusing, had it not been for my career taking a further step down the drain from it and leaving other interdisciplinary ent-ed researchers at similar peril.

Be careful out there!

The learning generated from this anecdote has implications far beyond our little contribution attempt. This was likely a reviewer anchored in education, and thereby not so well versed into the scholarly field of entrepreneurship. It seems not only doing research is difficult in an interdisciplinary field, so is reviewing and editing such work. You would perhaps need to double the amount of reviewers – two from education and two from entrepreneurship – since neither field arguably understands its neighboring galaxy (yes, they are that far apart these two domains). And have both a guest editor and main editor committed to interdisciplinary work, which seems to have lacked in this case. Otherwise you risk ending up in a situation of the deaf trying to communicate with the blind and vice versa – leading expert in one field, not even novice in another.

This leaves entrepreneurial education scholars with no high ranked outlet for their work. And in academia you will not survive for long without at least one or two articles in a relatively high ranked journal. Performativity requirements are being enforced everywhere. So you leave the field. Or you die sooner or later as a scholar in the field by being ejected from the system for non-performance. Or you have it as a hobby. That is what Gregoire saw in 2011, and that is what I now see too in 2015.

Some survival strategies

One of my articles is about two distinct flavors of entrepreneurial education – egoistic versus altruistic. We want it into a high ranked journal, so we are considering to cleanse it from any mention of education. Given that it is a requirement for all top journals. That way we at least have a chance of getting it into a leading journal, and stay in scholarly business as researchers. Another way to survive is to do quantitative research with massive randomized controlled trials. But while that method renders highly publishable work, you end up on the far side of the rigor versus relevance scale. Such results are thus not deemed so useful for practitioners according to many educational researchers (I won’t bore you with a long list of references here, but check out Reeves here). It is a way to stay in business, but perhaps not a scholarly way to make an impact on educational practice.

Another option is to do research outside of the academic system. And that path I am also testing. Some of my largest studies are done from my newly started research methodology venture. But that is not something we can count on many scholars to do. Instead we will likely see a strait jacket development of the field for many years to come. And the continuous stream of lower ranked journals accepting a wide stream of articles with varying quality (some very good indeed).

A final option I will test before putting out the light is to try getting published in top education journals. But if their understanding and appreciation of the scholarly field of entrepreneurship is as low as evidenced above, it will turn out to be yet another dead-end. Indeed, the educational researchers in my home country of Sweden have been frowning at entrepreneurship entering their field ever since they heard about it, probably asking themselves “What can those capitalists possibly contribute with that we haven’t already thought about?”. When you are done explaining the most basic aspects of how entrepreneurship indeed can contribute, you will most likely have run into the 8000 words limit, excluding a possibility to also make a novel contribution.

POST EDIT: Stuck in the middle with you

This blogpost generated a fair amount of feedback through social media when initially posted. Researchers from more than one European country outside my own stated that they very much recognized their own situation in the above description. One had been advised to leave the field since it was deemed uninteresting by many editors of leading journals. Another had tried publishing in educational journals instead, but had encountered similar interdisciplinary challenges but from the other end. Yet another had received good advice from education journal editors, which signifies that it could be a viable survival strategy – of course depending on university policy at those places you are employed today or where you want to get employed in the future. Many entrepreneurship scholars are limited by what ABS ranking stipulates, which limits possible action. From this we can conclude that entrepreneurial education will in the forseeable future repel talented scholars and thereby limit its progress as a scholarly field of study. Practice will thereby have to continue spearheading any developments, leading to a continued theory deficit in the field – particlulary learning and education theory.

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