Each semester we ask the thousands of students using our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum a few questions to understand the challenges they face:
- What’s the hardest part about being a student?
- Why is that hard?
What we learn informs our curriculum development. It also helps me, as a professor, formulate a strategy to approach my first day of class so it will be memorable, engaging, and so students want to come back for the 2nd day.
The main challenges we hear are:
- Time management
- Knowing what they want out of life
- Staying focused
- Staying positive
Students struggle because they balance so many roles – student, athlete, leader, friend, child, teammate, and so on. They share with us general strategies they use to combat the stress and anxiety they face, such as scheduling their days, having an accountability buddy, asking “adults” for help, etc.
Mostly what we hear is that students don’t carve out the time to dig into what matters to them and how they can leverage their college experience to prepare for a meaningful career around what matters to them.
Understanding the challenges our students face gives us the foundation upon which we can change their path. If we build our course experience knowing they struggle with things like time management, finding meaning, and staying focused, we engage them and provide them tools to become successful.
Here we share three exercises that help students think about what is meaningful to them. Implementing these exercises gives you a chance to map your course learning objectives, modules, and assignments onto specific issues students bring up.
They will feel engaged. But more importantly, they will see your course as useful.
#3: Curiosities + Fears = Engagement
The key to engaging students is making lessons personally relevant.
To discover what matters to your students, you can ask two simple questions:
- “When you think of life after college, what are you curious about?“
- “When you think of life after college, what are you afraid of?”
When you ask students to brainstorm their fears and curiosities individually, and then in small groups, your class will buzz with excited and nervous energy about the future.
Then when you ask students to share what they came up with, you’ll instantly know how to make entrepreneurship relevant: yours is the class where they’ll get to learn about their curiosities, and allay their fears.
This exercise will help you discover your students’ fears and curiosities – which will likely revolve around making money and finding a job they like after they graduate. While it may not be your natural inclination to help solve those problems for your students during an entrepreneurship course, those topics are the key to fully engaging your customers (i.e. students), because those are the problems they care about most.
Students start by jotting down fears that come to mind when they think of life after graduation. You might ask a few students to share, to help create a safe environment where students can be vulnerable.
Students next jot down what they are most curious about when they think of life after college. For this part of the exercise, using a think-pair-share structure will help students connect. As students begin sharing the curiosities they identified in pairs, use a (digital) whiteboard to identify categories that are consistent across the entire class. You will likely end up with categories related to employment, financial, and social concerns.
Your goal here is to show your students how the material and skills they will learn and practice in your course map onto the things they are currently curious about.
You want to rephrase and connect their curiosities to demonstrate you’ve heard your students well and understand them. For example, “It sounds like you’re curious how to find a job you’ll like, you’re good at, and can make enough money at. Does that sound right?”
This is a critical part of this lesson, you’re asking for your students’ buy-in. The better job you do listening to your students’ curiosities and incorporating them into your description of how you’ll resolve them, the more engaged your students will be throughout the course.
Thank your students for any input to clarify, and tell them that their curiosities align well with your objectives for the course. Tell your students how your course is designed to teach them exactly what they’re most curious about:
Tell them if they are curious about finding a job they’ll like, they will test out several jobs in this class, such as:
- Product Design
- Graphic/web design
- Being your own boss/CEO
If your students are curious about what it takes to get a good job, you can tell them the vast majority of people get their job based on personal recommendations from someone in their network, and that in this class, they’ll learn the skills they need to grow their network, so they can find better job opportunities.
To maximize student buy-in, this exercise allows you to frame the course for your students in a way that will fulfill their curiosities.
Your Course in Students’ Context
Return next class session with the fear and curiosity categories mapped onto the content/lessons/modules/skills you cover in the course. For instance, if you lay out each week in your syllabus with the topics you will cover, add one column for “Fears” and one for “Curiosities”. List in each column the fear and curiosity categories to which each particular topic relates.
This last step is the most critical. It is your chance to reinforce the connection between the course material and the things your students are currently thinking about. Show them how you will give them the tools to address each one of their fears, and each one of their curiosities.
Students Now Have the Context to Launch
After this activity, your students will understand the value of what they are about to learn. They will be more engaged because the learning is now very real for them.
Click here for the complete lesson plan of the Student Fears and Curiosities exercise.
Want 30+ Lessons Like These?
Check out ExEC.
#2: High-Functioning Teams on Day 1
Your students will work in teams, but they’re not looking forward to it. Helping them form functional teams will increase both their motivation throughout your course.
The Skills Scavenger Hunt is not only a fun way for students to get to meet one another, it’ll help them discover who in the class can help them build a diverse team with aligned goals.
During this quick exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:
- Social Media
Students progress through each section, checking any boxes for skills they possess so they find students with complementary skills. Split students into groups, in which students go through each box, and if they possess that skill they share, in 30 seconds or less, details about how/why they achieved that experience.
As this process evolves, each student writes down names and quick notes about any students who possess skills they don’t possess. We suggest shuffling groups at least 1 or 2 more times, to allow students to learn about as many of their classmates as possible.
After the class session, students should post in a discussion board on your LMS what skills they possess and a quick sentence about that particular skill. Students with gaps in their worksheet can identify other students to fill those gaps on this discussion board.
As students meet each other and learn more about their classmates, they set themselves up to execute better, and conflict less, by successfully assembling their own high-performing teams.
Click here for the complete Skills Scavenger Hunt exercise!
#1: Uncover Their Passions
Students who come into our classes passionate about entrepreneurship are easy to engage.
How do we engage students who aren’t passionate about launching a company? Help them discover what they are passionate about…and help them launch that!
The Pilot Your Purpose exercise help students explore areas that motivate them:
- Interests that spark their curiosity
- Skills they want to develop
- People they want to impact
The combination of these three elements defines a “purpose“ for your students – a personal mission statement that taps into their passions to help others.
Once students have a purpose, you can ground each class session in that purpose. You don’t have to talk abstractly about difficult or stressful topics like customer interviewing or entrepreneurial finance. Instead, your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!
Your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!
Interests + Skills = Passion
The easiest on-ramp to identifying passion is interests. Students think about:
- What friends say they always talk about
- What they would spend time doing if money was no object
- What they were learning about the last time they lost track of time watching Youtube or scrolling on social media
The next step is identifying skills students think about. Similar to interests, students do this by thinking about:
- What friends say they are good at
- What they would like to get better at doing
- What they think they are above average at doing
To identify their passion, students:
- Look back at their interests sheet and jot down what excites them
- Look back at their skills sheet and jot down what they are interested in getting better at
- Think of ways to combine interests and skills
Passion + Impact = Purpose
With a passion identified, students now turn to the impact they want to have on the world. To do that, students think about:
- Groups of people they’re excited to help
- Problems in their community they’re interested in solving
- Global problems they’re interested in solving
Students are now ready to identify their purpose:
- Look back at their Passion sheet and jot down what stands out
- Look back at their Impact sheet and jot down what stands out
- Think of ways to combine passion and impact (which is their purpose)
When your students identify a specific purpose, they can weave it throughout the rest of the course, as they are developing their entrepreneurial mindset and skill set.
As you begin each module of your course, students will stay motivated as they see the direct application of the particular material to their purpose!
Get your copy of the Pilot Your Purpose Worksheet here!
Want 30+ Lessons Like These?
Check out ExEC.
In an upcoming post, we’ll share a new exercise for helping to normalize failure so students fear it less.
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