‘I wouldn’t try that with my students – they would revolt!’
We were at the Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK) conference in September, sharing our experience of piloting Savvygoat – an online platform that supports team-based entrepreneurship projects.
We had introduced the platform to students at Hull University Business School. Initially doubtful, by the end of the project they had clearly both enjoyed and benefited from using it. They liked the way it helped them understand their strengths and organise as a team (we use Belbin Team Roles), structure their project, manage their progress, get feedback and – a particularly popular feature – compete against other teams.
So why this vehement reaction from an active proponent of enterprise education? It certainly wasn’t because they thought Savvygoat lacked potential – on the contrary, many at the conference were keen to explore its possibilities.
However, apart from the difficulty of getting institutional support for a new technology solution, a number of them were doubtful that their students would accept it. Several described a general reluctance to engage with the new or unexpected. Some said that if a tool like Savvygoat wasn’t mentioned in the prospectus, their students would refuse to use it.
Why is team-based learning so difficult?
Interested in understanding more about such challenges, we carried out a small-scale survey at the conference, asking about team-based learning. While 100% of respondents told us that such activities helped to develop students’ employability skills, only a third said that they improved that crucial higher education success measure – student satisfaction.
One possible reason for this was revealed by some of the other findings. Almost two-thirds said that success was impacted by poor collaboration, nearly half by significant conflict within teams, and a third by teams being poorly organised. Compounding all this, almost 40% of the educators found it difficult to monitor what was happening.
Asked what would make a difference, over two thirds were looking for that holy grail: higher levels of student engagement and enthusiasm.
Are ‘consumer’ students reluctant to engage?
This got us thinking about the ‘students of today’, and how different their experience is to our own. After all, we went to university back before 50% participation, tuition fees, uncapped student numbers and competition for our ‘custom’. Nobody mentioned employability skills, it didn’t occur to us that we might not get a ‘graduate job’, and we certainly didn’t know if our institution had good ‘graduate outcomes’.
Now – particularly in England – the policy discourse focuses on students as consumers, ensuring value for money, and graduate earnings as a key indicator of institutional quality.
The Office for Students guide to the Teaching Excellence & Graduate Outcomes Framework (TEF) tells us: ‘Students invest significant amounts of time and money in their higher education. They rightly expect a high-quality academic experience.’[i] This is undoubtedly true, but HE colleagues tell us that, in seeking to measure that experience, the TEF fails to recognise different starting points, aspirations and career preferences, not to mention the wider benefits of HE. Some also worry that there is a growing sense of entitlement among students, and an unwillingness to put in extra or unexpected effort.
Recent student surveys offer some reassurance
A Universities UK (UUK) poll[ii] finds that students’ main reasons for going to university are interest in the subject, to start building a career, and because they enjoy learning and having new experiences. Well over 80% agree that university helps them develop skills essential for life and work, with independence, confidence, research and time management scoring highest, and teamwork not far behind. The majority think the Government should do more to emphasise the broader benefits of HE.
At least some understand that there is no gain without pain: HEPI’s Student Academic Experience survey[iii] finds that those who have put in more effort are more likely to say they have had good value for money. Another HEPI survey[iv] finds that university is seen as an important time of transition to adulthood, and suggests that it could: ‘…usefully offer a safe place for challenge and experimentation, helping students to develop adaptability and resilience…as well as traditional employability skills’.
Entrepreneurship for all?
Interestingly, only 15% in the UUK poll felt that university developed their entrepreneurship skills, despite all four UK governments considering these critical to economic success. Of course, this may be because the word ‘entrepreneurship’ is still only associated with business start-ups.
The 2018 QAA guidelines for enterprise and entrepreneurship education (EEE)[v] define ‘enterprise’ as ‘[combining] creativity, originality, initiative, idea generation, design thinking, adaptability and reflexivity with problem identification, problem solving, innovation, expression, communication and practical action’. ‘Entrepreneurship’ is then the ability to apply these skills to create cultural, social or economic value. This may be by starting a business, but can also be as an ‘intrapreneur’ within an existing private, public or voluntary organisation.
These are precisely the skills that employers tell us they need, consistently ranking aptitude and attitude ahead of formal qualifications[vi]. We know that they enhance graduate employability, will be of particular use to the growing number of graduates joining small businesses, and are critical if we are to solve the many ‘wicked problems’ we face today. Advance HE’s recently published EEE framework emphasises its potential value to any learner[vii].
With our students entering a job market that is changing rapidly as technology advances, we surely need to do everything possible to help them develop these skills, even if they may initially resist the challenge.
Supporting student engagement
Working with Savvygoat, the students at Hull did engage in team-based entrepreneurship. They also recognised how the platform helped them to overcome the issues inherent in a group of disparate individuals trying to work collaboratively under pressure.
They said that it: helped with focus, discipline and time management; improved group communication, decision making, accountability, and how they handled conflict; made them more proactive in seeking solutions; and generally motivated them to achieve more. They also appreciated the faster and better-quality feedback from their tutors.
As a result, their work improved and there was a noticeable impact on academic results. Their final presentations amply demonstrated their enterprise skills to the panel of local business judges.
These particular students were a little older than the norm, so were perhaps further through their ‘transition’ than the average undergraduate. We are considering whether postgraduate students might be better able to derive value from the experience.
However, our experience suggests that students won’t necessarily revolt when asked to engage with a new challenge, may be more satisfied as a result, and will surely benefit in the longer term.
To fond out more about SavvyGoat and Belbin Team Roles, please get in touch!
[i] OfS (2019) The Teaching Excellence & Student Outcomes Framework (TEF): A short guide to the awards. https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/media/0c6bd23e-57b8-4f22-a236-fb27346cde6e/tef_short_guide_-june_2019_final.pdf
[ii] ComRes (2019) Universities UK – Students and Recent Graduates Research – September 2019. https://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ComRes_UUK_Students_and_Recent_Graduates_Research_Final_Tables_September_2019.pdf
[iii] Neves, J & Hillman, N (2019) Student Academic Experience Survey 2019. https://www.hepi.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Student-Academic-Experience-Survey-2019.pdf
[iv] Unite Students in partnership with HEPI (2019) The New Realists: Unite Students Insight Report 2019. http://www.unite-group.co.uk/sites/default/files/2019-09/new-realists-insight-report-2019.pdf
[v] Quality Assurance Agency (2018) Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK Higher Education Providers. https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaas/enhancement-and-development/enterprise-and-entrpreneurship-education-2018.pdf?sfvrsn=15f1f981_8
[vi] CBI (2018) Educating for the Modern World: CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Annual Report. https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1171/cbi-educating-for-the-modern-world.pdf
[vii] Advance HE (2019) Essential Frameworks for Enhancing Student Success: Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education. https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets.creode.advancehe-document-manager/documents/advance-he/Framework%20for%20enterprise%20and%20entrepreneurship%20education_1573034408.pdf