Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

You’re an innovative professor. You read blog posts about teaching entrepreneurship because…

You care about engaging your students.

It’s the same reason you’re always on the lookout for new tools to integrate into your class, and it’s the reason you’ve thought about (or have) ditched your textbook in favor of your own lesson plans.

The downside is, creating your own experiential curriculum from scratch is:

  • Time consuming. Researching and developing a full course of high-quality lesson plans that teach real-world skills, and are assessable, takes a massive on-going investment.
  • Disjointed. Every new tool you integrate into class runs the risk of creating a more inconsistent experience for students.
  • Redundant. This work has been done by others, it doesn’t make sense for you to roll your own from scratch.

So instead of starting from scratch, consider building on a strong foundation…

ExEC: Structured Experiential Curriculum

We’ve spent the last two years developing, and testing, the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) – a comprehensive, and structured, curriculum.

Because ExEC is written by a unified team of modern entrepreneurship teachers who practice what we teach. ExEC provides a consistent structure throughout 15-weeks of exercises:

Structure weekly courses

ExEC’s 25+ detailed lesson plans, exercises, and assessments provide the foundation for your entrepreneurship course, so you can teach real-world intra/entre-preneurial skills like:

  • Idea generation
  • Problem validation
  • Customer interviews
  • MVP development
  • and more…

…in a rigorous way, that can be consistently assessed.

Classroom-Tested

ExEC has been tested with thousands of students at dozens of Universities, including:


The results demonstrate the power of a structured, experiential approach. One student said:

“[ExEC] made me look at the creation of a product in a different aspect than I have before. It allowed me to think of solving a problem and not just creating a product to create one. It needs to be something that people will actually use. It made it easier for me to be creative and think more like an entrepreneur.”

Similarly, one professor reported:

“More than anything, I’ve enjoyed that we have spent 4-5 weeks exploring the issue of problem solving. In previous classes, students have been convinced they had the right solution to a problem by week 2 and no matter what research they found, they wouldn’t pivot appropriately given the new evidence.”

But like we teach our students, positive responses don’t mean we’re done. To ensure we continue innovating, we’re constantly on the hunt for new resources to include, and improvements to make, so…

ExEC is Always Up To Date

We collect feedback from students and professors on every exercise in ExEC, about how it felt completing, and teaching it:

We collect feedback on every exercise from professors and students

We use that data to inform what changes we need to make to ExEC for the next semester. With ExEC, you’ll always provide your students with relevant, and engaging, experiences.

Collaborate with Other Professors

When you use ExEC, you’ll also join a community of other modern professors using the curriculum so you can ask questions:

And share best practices and success stories:

Don’t Go It Alone

If you want to teach real-world, entrepreneurship skills in an experiential way…

You are not alone.

There’s a growing group of professors out there like you, and we’re here to help!

ExEC can be the structured, experiential curriculum that forms the foundation of your course. Next semester, spend less time compiling disparate resources, and more time consistently helping your students develop and apply their entrepreneurial mindset.

Try ExEC this Fall

Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum today and make this Fall the most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet!

How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

This exercise highlights the relevance of understanding the customer’s thought process when they make a buying decision.

More specifically, it will help your students:

  • Understand the importance of talking to customers before creating a product
  • Gain confidence in speaking with customers
  • Understand customer pain points by ‘walking in their shoes’
  • Gain insights and new ideas from seeing things from the customers perspective.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird


Students are placed in a situation that allows them to complete a ‘walk-a-mile’ immersion in a 50-minute time frame.

The complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: The Set Up

You will want to review Best Practices for Restaurant Website which are provided in the lesson plan. BJ Restaurant is an example that fulfills the requirements of a good site.

Step 2: Class-time

This class starts with students brainstorming, as a customer, what they would want from a restaurant website.

You can help students brainstorm ideas by asking: “what info did you look up the last time before you went to a restaurant?”

You can also suggest different scenarios, such as going alone, with friends, for dinner, for work, etc.

The goal is for students to ‘put themselves’ in a customer’s shoes. To gain an understanding of a customer’s needs and wants.

Step 3: Break out session

You will have students form teams, and give them 15 minutes to evaluate their favorite restaurant’s website, to see if it meets their list of requirements. Teams should also be on the lookout for particularly bad websites, which they will present in the next step.

China Garden – Example of a bad website.

Step 4: Debrief

After the teams had time to review websites, have each group present the worst website they found and discuss why they feel it was not a good website.

Questions to address after each team presents can include:

  1. How did they arrive at this decision?
  2. How did they feel when the website didn’t fulfill their requirements?
  3. How does a website that fulfilled their requirements improve their experience?
  4. How did they feel this exercise helped them connect with customers?

See the complete lesson plan below for more ideas and topics to cover.

Results

When I run this in class, students have an a-ha momentwhen realizing how a better website, a website they would use, is created when you understand the customer. By making themselves the customer, they see how they wouldn’t use a poorly built site and how it would affect their impression of the restaurant.

Students will realize the benefits of talking to customers before creating a product or business because they have discovered the importance of understanding the customer’s perspective and thought process surrounding the buying decision.

By having students go through this exercise early in the course schedule, you can draw on their experiences when they are developing ideas, and be planning out their customer development work.


This article is a collaboration with Naema Baskanderi, UX Lead & Researcher, and UX Instructor. The goal of this exercise is for students to understand a critical component of creating a product or business that fulfills a customer’s needs.


Get the “Walk A Mile” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Walk A Mile” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


Last Call for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us this Thursday May 10th. Jim Hart, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

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You Are Invited Into an Entrepreneurship Classroom

You Are Invited Into an Entrepreneurship Classroom

Get transported into a live learning environment!

In the video above Julienne Shields explains the experience she is offering our Digital Conference participants!

Join us for the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Digital Conference and you will work live with Julie’s students at Millikin University on an exercise focused on estimation, iteration, and failure.

Watch Julie teach a real lesson, with real students, during the conference!

In this session, you will:

  • Watch Julie teach her iteration, experimentation and failure exercise in real-time
  • See how Julie’s students respond in real-time
  • Interact with, and provide feedback to, Julie and her students

Are you looking for exciting tools and exercises to engage your students and enrich your classroom? You are why we created our Digital Conference Experiment!

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

 


Julie is Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Millikin University, is an entrepreneur through the historic farm she owns, and is an educator whose energy and passion for igniting students’ entrepreneurial spirit will leave you wanting more!

Join us for this unique digital conference format; we will guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

Join us May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!
Making it Real

Making it Real

How to create a true entrepreneurial experience for your students

In the video above Doan explains his exercise for getting comfortable thinking creatively!

If you want your students to get truly excited about your class from the first day, or refresh your own experience as a teacher, read on!

This exercise will get your students feeling:

  • The creative energy that comes with brainstorming a new business model
  • The anxiety of making a sales pitch
  • The exhilaration of making their first sale
  • The inspiration that comes from seeing they too can build a profitable business

In this exercise, we explore the question: How can we provide students a true entrepreneurial experience within a classroom context? In other words, how can we make it real?

“The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.”

– Seymour Papert   


This article is a collaboration with Dr. Doan Winkel, the John J. Kahl, Sr. Chair in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Edward M. Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University (and co-founder of TeachingEntrepreneurship.org). He developed this exercise so his students with had a powerful learning experience about entrepreneurship during the first moments of his course.

Doan developed this exercise to provide his students with the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship on the very first day of my entrepreneurship course. Students are placed in a situation that reflects many of the pressures, constraints, and reward incentives of new business creation in a compressed 30 minute time frame.

Doan’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: The Set Up

Scout out a location with plenty of shops and foot traffic. You’ll want this location to be nearby so students don’t lose too much time traveling. Doan gets students off campus so it feels more “real”, but some educators may be able to conduct the exercise on campus depending on the density of stores and foot traffic.

This location is where the class will meet on the first day. Once you decide on a location, be sure to get the word out to students regarding when and where to meet soon after registration begins. Send a selfie at the meeting spot, Google Maps coordinates, and anything else to help students find you on the first day of class. Email students reminders multiple times, including the day before classes start, to make sure you inform students as they add and drop courses. In case anyone does not get the message, put a notice in your classroom reminding students that the first meeting was offsite and to wait in the classroom until everyone returns – about 45 minutes.

You will be grouping students into teams of four, so get enough cash in $1 bills so that every team can start with $10.

Be sure to confirm with your institution that you are allowed to give students cash to use in the exercise

If your institution does not allow you to provide the cash, also let students know they need to bring 2 or 3 $1 bills with them the first day of class (depending on team size you will use).

Step 2: Class-time

Meet your students at the chosen location, team them up in groups of 4 as they arrive, and hand 10 $1 bills to each group.

Step 3: Announce the challenge

Teams have 30 minutes to make as much money as they can, legally. Whichever team makes the most profit, keeps all the money from all the groups.

Winner takes all!

Don’t provide any other specific guidance. Students will want to ask questions. Don’t answer them – walk away after reminding them to meet you back in the classroom in 35 minutes.

Step 4: Debrief

As teams arrive in the classroom, note on the board the profit made by each group and collect their money. Determine the winning team and disperse the winnings.

Start a debrief about the experience, starting with the winning team.

Questions to address can include:

  1. How did they arrive at decisions? Negotiate? Pivot their business idea?
  2. Did students work individually or as a team? Why?
  3. How did the ambiguity feel?
  4. How did it feel using someone else’s capital?
  5. How did they identify a market need?
  6. How did they identify and connect with customers?

See the complete lesson plan below for more ideas and topics to cover.

Results

Hopefully many will feel excited and motivated by the learning experience and competition. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Get students excited about class from day 1
  • Get your students feeling the emotions of entrepreneurship: excitement, anxiety, confidence, inspiration
  • Re-energize yourself with a more experiential class
  • Build familiarity and bonding amongst students.
  • Identify students who need more support with this teaching style.

By having students go through this exercise early in the course schedule, you can draw on their experiences when developing ideas throughout the term.

In addition, the exercise

  • creates a unique experience for students on the first day of class,
  • sets the tone for things to come, and
  • gets everyone (including you!) out into the world for some real learning in real time

Get the “Making It Real” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Making It Real” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


Companies aren’t built in classrooms. They’re built in often ambiguous and rapidly evolving markets with limited resources while imposing tremendous pressures on founders. Let your students discover what strengths they bring to a team of entrepreneurs.


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us on May 10th. Jim Hart, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

Join 4,000+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

This exercise will help your students develop more creative ideas and more creative solutions to problems!

How do we Teach Creative Confidence?

In the video above Jim Hart explains his exercise for getting comfortable thinking creatively!

This article is a collaboration with Jim Hart at Southern Methodist University, who developed this exercise to enable students to be more confident thinking creatively by breaking through their fear/judgment barriers. This exercises teaches students how to recognize what an impulse feels like, and to allow themselves to follow an impulse without judging or fearing it.

Jim’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

The Set-up

To help students feel more comfortable being uncomfortable, show a clip from “Whose Line is it Anyway?” demonstrating improvisation theater, like this one:

Tell your students that this exercise will help become more creative, so they can work on the ideas that matter to them and that will challenge them because they are more creative ideas. 

Tell the students that you’re all going to play a fun game like what you just showed them in the clip, where you may all look a little foolish. Encourage them to allow themselves to look a bit foolish.

Because students may feel a bit uncomfortable during this exercise, you need to 

Create an atmosphere where it is safe to be open-minded and say anything. 

Explicitly tell your students they will not be graded on this exercise. Reassure them that each of them has really creative ideas in them, but that most of us struggle to be creative publicly because we are afraid of sounding or looking foolish.

Attempt #1

Place students standing in a circle, facing inward. Randomly pick two students. One is Student A, the other Student B, and they exchange as follows:

B: “What are you doing?”

A: [says a random activity – for instance, “eating a banana”]

B: [mimes the activity A just mentioned]

A: “What are you doing?”

B: [says a random activity – for instance, “riding a bicycle”]

A: [mimes the activity B just mentioned]

B: “What are you doing?”

The two students continue to do this until one of them pauses in answering the “What are you doing?” question. When one pauses, make a buzzer noise and tell that student he/she is out. Go to the next student in the circle, and they begin again with the remaining student from the original pair.

What typically happens is that students worry about what their peers are thinking and so are consistently and quickly buzzed out of the exercise.

Prep for Attempt #2

After roughly 20 minutes, stop Attempt #1. Tell the students the following story:

In the movie The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American Civil War hero who is brought to Japan to fight and defeat the samurai. He is eventually captured and the samurai take him to their camp in the mountains. Winter arrives and Cruise is stuck at the samurai camp until the winter weather passes. The samurai start teaching Cruise their ways, but he cannot compete with their sword skills.

Play the following clip:

Tell your students they are minding too much, that you don’t want them using their mind.

Encourage your students to let their impulses guide their words.

Get your students excited by telling them that you will teach them a technique to dramatically increase the time they can last in this exercise, and that they will reap the following benefits:

  • They will become more effective communicators.
  • They will develop more creative ideas for solutions to problems.

Attempt #2

Stand in the circle of students. Have your students close their eyes and imagine they are sitting in a movie theater, looking at a movie screen. That screen is their mind’s eye, and they will see images on it. Tell them you will say a word and they should allow the image to pop onto the movie screen in front of them; they should allow the image to pop into their mind.

Ask your students to say “got it” when they’ve got an image of the word you say in their mind.

Say “apple” [students say “got it”]. Say “tire” [students say “got it”], say “desk”, “blue sky”, “birds”, “samurai” (each time waiting until the students say “got it”).

Have your students to open their eyes. Stand in front of each student and ask them to nod when they have the word you’ll say to them in their mind’s eye. Say a random word to each student, wait until they nod, then move to the next student, and do this with each student.

Now conduct the original exercise again, starting with the original student pair. Wait until one student pauses too long, buzz them out, add the next student, and so on.

Results

This exercise will help students follow their impulses and allow themselves to get into a stream of consciousness without judging it.

If your students can be more aware of the images and words in their consciousness, they can improve their creative confidence.

When your students are more creatively confident, they will develop stronger ideas and solutions to problems, and will engage in richer communication. This can be particularly useful if you have them making pitches later in the semester.

In the pitch process, students need to be very clear about every word they are saying, and need to be comfortable telling stories so they engage their audience. If they are more aware of the images and words they are trying to communicate, they should be better storytellers. This exercise will help them build that awareness!

Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


Thank You to Jim Hart

A big thanks to Jim for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Jim and the amazing work he’s doing at Southern Methodist University, click here.

 


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students, and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us on May 10th. Jim, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  1. Enable your students to work on big ideas
  2. Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  3. Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP  for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

Join 4,000+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Turn Your Students into Creative Superheroes

Turn Your Students into Creative Superheroes

“[Creativity] may be harder to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity.” (Baumol, 1999: 93)

Entrepreneurship is about innovation, problem solving, and creativity. We understand the innovation process well, and how to solve problems. Creativity is the elusive piece…

How do we Teach Creativity?

In the video above Dr. Emma Fleck explains her exercise for supercharging student creativity!

This article is a collaboration with Emma Fleck at Susquehanna University who developed this exercise to stimulate creative imagination by taking students back in time to when they were overflowing with creative confidence. Students get to embody their own superhero through imaginative play and the use of costumes, masks, and icons which represent this powerful time in their lives.

Her complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: Before Class

Your 5-Year-Old Students

Before this exercise, your students should ask family members what they were like as 5-year-olds.

superhero, creativity, entrepreneurship

They can talk to parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. – anyone who knew them at that age. It’s critical for this exercise they are reminded of their younger, more creative selves.

Encourage your students to bring a memento – a stuffed animal, a picture, etc. – something that represents that time in their lives.

TED Talk

In addition, any good lesson on creativity in schools should begin with Sir Ken Robinson’s classic TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?“, and Tony Schwartz’ article How to Think Creatively.  Assign this video or reading to be completed before your next class.

Step 2: Discuss School, Creativity & Entrepreneurship

Have a discussion with your students about the role of creativity in education, and whether the American education system supports or detracts from creativity.

Some of these ideas are controversial and can stir up a healthy debate. Take advantage of that to engage your students in a lively discussion.

Continue with a discussion of creativity in the entrepreneurial process, and how we can be more creative.

Step 3: Who is Your Superhero?

Here is your chance to be a superhero! Don a mask, a cape, and any other superhero accoutrement – sell your students on the excitement of remembering their superhero dreams!

Take your students back to when they were 5 years old. Ask them:

  1. What inspired them?
  2. Who did they look up to?
  3. What did they dream they would be when they grew up?
  4. What were their favorite activities/toys?
  5. What were the limitations in their lives?

Take your students back to a time when there were no imaginary boundaries, no limitations, and when they had the ability to see the world in a different capacity. Encourage your students to share about their past, their history, through what they learned from family members.

Step 4: Become Your Superhero

Ask your students what happened between when they were 5 years old and today. What happened to those dreams of astronauts and figure skaters? This discussion brings a large dose of reality (and excuses!) into the room.

Fill your classroom with costumes, masks, and craft materials.

Play music from when your students were 5 years old. Play superhero music. Encourage your students to embody their 5 year old superhero. Take lots of pictures, and encourage your students to take lots of pictures – these will come in handy later in the semester as reminders to embody that superhero, when they find themselves in a creativity rut.

Talk about superhero characteristics.

Drive home the notions of endless possibilities & no limitations that encapsulate what their concept of a superhero ignites in them.

Step 5: Reflecting on Creativity

Ask your students to write a reflection based on these questions:

  1. How do you feel during this exercise? What element of this exercise had the most impact on you? Why?
  2. How can we capture that feeling of creativity and lack of imagination as our 5-year old selves and use it for future endeavors within entrepreneurial problem solving?

This works well later in the semester when you need your students to think around problems, to imagine endless possibilities and no limitations.

Remind them of their superhero and enable them to take the leap!

Results

This exercise has been tested over an 18-month period within four entrepreneurship courses:

  • A high-school summer entrepreneurship course (17 students aged 15-18)
  • An undergraduate introduction to entrepreneurship course (24 students aged 18-19)
  • Two upper division undergraduate entrepreneurship courses (48 students in total aged 20-23)

In gleaning feedback from all participants, Emma noted the following:

  1. If left as a single touch point, this exercise has limited impact. The reflective elements outlined above are essential to the success of the exercise where students are challenged to acknowledge the feelings associated with the exercise.
  2. Students acknowledged that their creativity had been stifled due to an immersion in their degree program and that this activity helped them to remember that they were creative problem solvers.

    This being my last year of college, I have realized that a lot of the time you are conditioned to overanalyze, memorize for exams and get good grades but this showed me that sometimes you really do need to go back to the most basic, innocent way of thinking. While this was fun, it did have a powerful impact on me and I have already started using this way of thinking in, and outside of school situations.”

  3. A small number of students, specifically older students, reported feelings of discomfort such as “I felt very silly. I just don’t like to be silly in class.” It is imperative that students are made to feel comfortable in the classroom environment when taking part in the exercise and in sharing their personal experiences.

    You should reassure students that the classroom is a safe environment and photographs must only be taken with permission.

    Further support should be given to these students in attempting to let go of their inhibitions and this is addressed if the educator can immerse themselves in the activity by dressing up which alleviates the discomfort of those students.

The more you can help your students feel safe, by being embodying the principles of the exercise yourself – creativity, self-expression, childishness – the more your students will be able to re-discover their hidden creativity.

Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “Embodying the Superhero” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Embodying the Superhero” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


Your students want to fly. They want to dream. They want to believe. It's our job to say yes! Click To Tweet

Thank You to Dr. Emma Fleck

Emma Fleck, Susquehanna University

A big thanks to Dr. Fleck for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Dr. Fleck and the amazing work she’s doing at Susquehanna University, click here.

Dr. Fleck is also one of the professors who piloted our forthcoming Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC). Her insights and feedback have been some of the most formative we have received. We strongly encourage anyone who gets the chance to collaborate with Dr. Fleck, to jump at the chance.


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Activate Your Students in 60 Minutes

Activate Your Students in 60 Minutes

Immersion pressure challenge chaos motivation 60 minute MVP

If you haven’t already run the 60 Minute MVP exercise in your class this term, now is the time. It’s the most popular exercise on our blog – over 500 students having done it this month alone.

As Thomas Nelson, one of our new Experiential Curriculum (ExEC) pilot professors from the University of South Alabama, told us after running this exercise:

“One student described it as like a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.” 

In just 60 minutes, your students will…

Design Landing Pages

Your students will build a website that describes the problem they’re solving, like this one Thomas’ students built:

Here’s one from Emma Fleck’s class at Susquehanna University, another of our pilot professors:

Create Explainer Videos

Your students will build an explainer video to show how their solution solves that problem, like this one from Thomas’ class:

Your students will build a currency test to validate demand for their product, like this:

Teach your students this critical entrepreneurship lesson:

We’ve documented all of the instructions your students need to follow in the lesson plan below.

You want to do this exercise in your class. Your students need you to do this exercise in your class.

Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, and videos for your students are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “60 Minute MVP” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “60 Minute MVP” exercise walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

Reminder: Learn From Professors Who Teach Without a Textbook

If you want to replace all your lectures with activities like the 60 Minute MVP, join us on Nov. 13th, to learn from four professors who have done just that, and to learn if the same will work in your class. They will tackle the most common problems, like:

  1. How do you grade/assess my students without a textbook?
  2. How do you engage students who aren’t into entrepreneurship?
  3. How do you set student expectations when they’re used to traditional classes?

Teaching Without a Textbook

An online panel discussion

Nov. 13th. 1:30 – 2:30 pm Eastern Time

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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Create a Syllabus Students Will Read

Create a Syllabus Students Will Read

We love creating and sharing resources to make classrooms more engaging. We are not alone in that passion. This week, it is our pleasure to collaborate with a kindred spirit, both in terms of teaching experientially, and in sharing resources to help others do the same.

Dr. Colleen Robb is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Associate Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at California State University, Chico. Check out the fantastic tips, tricks, and lessons she shares on her blog.

The Infographic Syllabus

After reading her post How to Get Your Students to Read Your Syllabus: An Infographic, and given our perspective on co-creating your syllabus, we had to collaborate with Dr. Robb!

In her post, copied below, Dr. Robb shares her journey of turning her syllabus into an infographic so students would read and remember it.


Click to view Dr. Robb’s full syllabus infographic.

I know, we’ve all been there. It’s the end of the semester and students suddenly realize your late work policy, your attendance policy or your quality work policy.  I’ve actually talked to students about this and they cite reasons such as:

  • It’s just like every other syllabus they’ve read
  • It’s too long
  • It doesn’t apply to me
  • I never really look at it until I have a bad grade

Like it or not, our students these days are just as distracted as we are.  They simply do not take the time to read the syllabus.  So, this term, I thought about why that might be.

It turns out, I am just as guilty as they are.  I don’t thoroughly review the credit terms on my credit cards or the terms of agreement when I buy a song from Apple. Why should I?  They all read the same.  It’s blah, blah, blah.

Well, this term, I decided to up my game and get my syllabus up with the times.  I created an Infographic version of my syllabus.  I actually decided to upload that image directly to Blackboard so it is the first thing students see.

Piktochart also offers a “Presentation Mode” for your infographic

I made a list of all the things students seemed to forget about my class (attendance policy, plagiarism policy, late work policy).  I then took all of these frustrations and put them in beautiful, colorful visuals so they would actually look at them.

Piktochart is a free site that allows you to create professional looking infographics for any purpose.  I made an infographic for my Introduction to Entrepreneurship course so the students understand where the course will lead them. It has been the most successful by far. You can see the full infographic here.

Whether this visual tool is used for a class project or an overall class syllabus, the students’ response has been tremendous.  For the first time, I’ve had students send me emails that they are aware of the class policies!


Create your Syllabus with your Students

What appealed to us so much was not just the creativity of Dr. Robb’s approach, but that it very quickly and easily allowed students to understand the structure of her entire course. We love that she saw her syllabus as an opportunity to try something different to better engage her students.

As we’ve talked about in a previous post, your syllabus presents a unique opportunity to listen to your students’ problems and to turn those into a plan of attack together. Co-creating your syllabus with your students is an effective way to begin your semester because many students don’t think entrepreneurship will be relevant to them in their career.

Through this co-creation process, you can understand the problems that are most salient to your students, and then weave those into the syllabus, so they understand which weeks you’ll be solving problems most relevant to them.

Your syllabus is not just a contract between you and your students. It is not just a bunch of words. As Dr. Robb suggests, it can come alive and be a model of how you want your students to think and to act. We so enjoyed learning about Dr. Robb’s approach that we dove into combining her approach of creating an infographic with our approach of co-creating a syllabus.

Here’s a quick video extrapolating how these two approaches combine to create an even more powerful approach to engaging your students from day one.

Co-Create your Syllabus Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your students. It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it. All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it so we can improve it!

Get the lesson plan


And don’t forget to check out Dr. Robb’s blog for more resources and guidance on making your classroom experience more engaging!


What are you Working On?

If you’re working on an innovative way to impact students in your class and want to share with the 1,500 members of TeachingEntrepreneurship.org, let us know. This is an experimental collaboration, and if it works out, we may do more like it!

What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will interview co-founder Justin Wilcox!  Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

ExEC is an experiment to see if we can revolutionize how entrepreneurship is taught in college classrooms.

Halfway through our first pilot semester, we wanted to share the results so far – warts and all – so the entrepreneurship education community at large can learn along with us.

The Numbers

We’re grateful to have 10 schools across the United States and Canada piloting with us this Fall:

  • Rowan University
  • Brandon University
  • East Carolina University
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)
  • University of South Alabama
  • Gulf Coast State College
  • Xavier University
  • John Carroll University
  • Susquehanna University
  • Georgia State University

Across these institutions, we have nearly 500 undergraduate students using the curriculum.

Just as ExEC challenges those 500 students to do, we’re testing the curriculum’s assumptions and iterating its design. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

The Good

Our pilot professors and students have told us ExEC stands out with respect to other curricula in a couple areas:

Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset

We want students engaging with their customers, discovering problems that can be solved instead of just thinking of new ideas to create.

One professor told us:

“More than anything, I’ve enjoyed that we have spent 4-5 weeks exploring the issue of problem solving. In previous classes, students have been convinced they had the right solution to a problem by week 2 and no matter what research they found, they wouldn’t pivot appropriately given the new evidence.”

Students are also sharing their excitement at better understanding how entrepreneurs think. One student said:

“This activity made me look at the creation of a product in a different aspect than I have before. It allowed me to think of solving a problem and not just creating a product to create one. It needs to be something that people will actually use. It made it easier for me to be creative and think more like an entrepreneur.”

Another student told us:

“The exercise was a very clear, somewhat concise explanation of the mindset needed for successful entrepreneurship. It shows the clear relationship between successful startups and outlines the key consistencies for success.”

And perhaps our favorite student feedback:

“[The Business Plans vs. Business Experiments exercise] made me think like a kindergartener again and that made me excited.”

Replacing Lectures with Experiences

ExEC provides professors with comprehensive lesson plans, and constant support, so you can create experiences like this that will excite students about experiencing entrepreneurship.

One of the exercises uses marshmallows to teach students about the danger of hidden assumptions, and why business plans lead to failure more often than not:

Pilot students have been sharing their excitement with the exercises as well. They are seeing how they can apply what they are experiencing in class:

This really showed me what it takes to develop an idea. Also helped me get more in touch with who I’m trying to target with my idea and how it can help [him/her].”

“I can use the [exercise] for all business ideas that come to mind and when analyzing other companies.”

Students have shared how the exercises have shifted their thinking:

“I feel I will perform better in the future when completing a project because now I know the value of prototyping, also, now I understand the importance of identifying the hidden assumptions which cause many times good ideas to fail.”

“Knowing how feelings play a part in buying and decision making is interesting and will help with my business model. I did not really think or relate the two before this class.”

“This provides a clear understanding of what it takes to solve a problem and come up with ideas to solve those problems. It showed me some key resources that I did not know before to help start a company through problem solving.”

Getting Students Interviewing Customers

We want students having real conversations with real customers about the customer’s problems. This is the essence of entrepreneurship, and a skill we heard most professors struggle teaching.

One professor told us:

“Given the previous exercises on identifying the early adopters and clarifying the problem statement, [The How To Ask for Interviews exercise] was a very positive exercise. Students were able to quickly identify the interview channels that their early adopters might use (social media, blogs, interviews) and plan how to initiate that conversation using the strategy outlined in this exercise. By the end of today, the students felt very confident about getting out and learning about the problem.” 

Our interviewing exercises push students to think about learning from actual customers, instead of industry or product “experts”, as shared by one professor:

“I LOVE [Who Are Early Adopters?] exercise!!!  So many times, I have had conversations with my students who are going to interview their dad, friend, someone who works in the industry and this exercise really takes the time to dispel this myth that these are important.”

The students are also realizing how powerful interviews are, especially in comparison to surveys, thanks to an ExEC exercise that makes them survey and interview customers, and compare the results:

“The [Student Challenges Survey exercise] is showing how surveys do not capture the full picture from a consumer whereas an interview lets the customer give more feedback.”

After half a semester, we are confident the pilot students are engaged in their class experience. Through that engagement, we see them developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and honing their customer interviewing skills.

The Bad

We preach iteration because there’s no way to get everything right the first time around – and that’s the case with ExEC. Here are a couple areas we need to focus on going forward.

Less is More

We created too much content. We originally wanted to arm our professors with more experiences and exercises than they could ever use, so they could build a customized syllabus specifically for their class.

That strategy has started to backfire as some professors have, understandably, began feeling pressured to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time. One told us:

“I was extremely nervous . . . to teach a class that had so many new components that I was learning day by day.”

Another shared:

“I think there are too many lessons on interviewing, although I see its utility.”

ExEC has 30+ experiential exercises, which is simply too many for one semester, especially when life readjusts the class schedule, as it did with Hurricane Irma for a couple professors.

The Fix

Based on the exercises students find most impactful, we’re streamlining ExEC’s content to focus on a subset of activities.

Restricting Access

We were so excited to share ExEC with as many schools as possible, we initially weren’t as rigorous as we should have been in restricting access.

ExEC has a lot of moving parts, several of them untested before this semester. We should have started with a slightly smaller, more targeted, pilot cohort so we could iron out ExEC’s wrinkles (details below) more efficiently.

The Fix

Having been through trial by fire this semester, we think we have a handle on the major issues. That said, we’ll be limiting access to our upcoming Spring Pilot, just to err on the side of caution.

The Ugly

There is one area we really missed the mark this semester. Because of it, we’ve already started the redesign process.

Poor Design Choices

We made some incorrect assumptions about the technical comfort of some of our students and professors – which really means we made poor design choices on our end.

Our pilot professors and their students are less familiar with technology than we anticipated. We expected more feedback like this from one professor:

“I have taken one class at a time, one new element at a time and really enjoyed exploring the new materials.”

But one professor told us:

“I like to think I’m not stupid, but working through this to get it ready for my students makes me question that.”

And one student told us:

“I’m absolutely thrilled that [I] bought a program coded by a team of incompetents.”

While our professors certainly aren’t stupid, and we (hope we) aren’t incompetent, any experience that makes even a subset of customers feel that way needs to fixed immediately.

The Fix

We’ve already begun making to several exercises, but there’s more work to do.

We’ve started redesigning both the professor and student experiences from the ground-up; while the content will largely remain the same going forward, the way professors and students interact with it will be completely revamped.

Takeaways

So far, this has been a perfect pilot!

Not perfect in that we got everything right – we certainly haven’t – perfect in the sense that this is what pilots are for. With the help of our amazing pilot professors, we’ve been living the Build, Measure, Learn loop.

We’re really excited about ExEC’s and while we haven’t gotten everything right so far, we’ve made some great progress on some of the hardest parts:

  1. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset
  2. Replacing lectures with experiences
  3. Getting students interviewing customers

Next up, we’ll polish our rough design edges so everyone feels confident engaging with the content!

Want to Shape Entrepreneurship?

As mentioned above, we’ll be limiting access to the Spring Pilot, but if you’re a progressive entrepreneurship professor willing to get your hands dirty in the name of improving entrepreneurship education…

Check out ExEC and schedule a preview.

We’ll accept a handful of programs into the Spring Pilot, which will not only get you early access, as you can see, you’ll also play a significant role in reshaping how entrepreneurship is taught at colleges around the world.

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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