Our students are not engaged. Disengaged students drag down the energy in any class, which makes learning is harder to create. In any class, engagement starts with the syllabus. This article will help you create an engaging entrepreneurship course, starting with an engaging syllabus, which we have a template for (which you can download below).
Students are trained to expect spoon feeding, and professors have been trained to deliver. Look at almost any syllabus – it is filled with boundaries, limitations and administrative legalese. Imagine your syllabus as a promise; what if your syllabus invited students on a journey to discover their passions and path in life? What if your students believed this promise and were excited for every class session?
Many professors spend the majority of the first class reading through the syllabus. This is a student’s first impression of you and your course (other than maybe a perusal through www.ratemyprofessor.com). Think about teaching entrepreneurship – what first impression do you want to give?
Do you want to spoon-feed your students, or do you want to wake them up to the universe-altering, career-accelerating and impact-creating power of entrepreneurship?
Look at your syllabus. Seriously – print a copy and lay out the pages on your desk.
What message does that document send your students? Are you inviting them into a conversation? Does the language encourage students to be curious, to explore, to take risks? Would you be excited to take your course?
Is it really all that shocking that students are not engaged?
Imagine inspiring your students with your syllabus. What if you gave your students permission to leap through the language and tone of your syllabus?
Start With Your Syllabus
My goal is to challenge and enable faculty to create engaging classroom environments. It begins with our syllabus, but can also happen in many other ways (I highlight some of my crazy thoughts in my TEDx talk).
We need to trust our students and invite them to co-create their learning experiences. It begins with our syllabus. We as professors need to relax our iron-clad grip on our classrooms. Our insecurity, manifested in our need for control, is our students’ greatest enemy. It begins with our syllabus.
As my brilliant colleague Julie-Ann McFann points out:
“Parker Palmer, in his classic book, Courage to Teach, describes a workshop where the faculty were complaining about their unenergetic students. Just then, classes got out and these supposedly lethargic students were full of life, talking and laughing with each other. Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, has a terrific TED talk where he compares a photo of students in a very large lecture class looking bored out of their minds with these same students at an American Idol audition (looking anything but bored). The solution is easy:
Stop spoon feeding them and get out of their way so that they can take ownership of their learning.”
Overhaul Your Syllabus
Don’t read your syllabus to your students. As Woody Allen points out, they’ve been doing their own reading since the first grade. While research outstanding professors, Ken Bain discovered an approach to creating a more engaging syllabus. He presented this approach, which he calls a “promising syllabus”, in his phenomenal book “What the Best College Teachers Do”. A promising syllabus
“fundamentally recognizes that people will learn best and most deeply when they have a strong sense of control over their own education rather than feeling manipulated by someone else’s demands.”
The key to engaging entrepreneurship students is to not treat them like students. Instead, engaging entrepreneurship teachers see their students as their customers.
If you want to unlock your students’ energy and enthusiasm, realize what you want to teach is irrelevant. The problems your customers can solve with what you’re teaching them is the only thing that matters.
Just like we tell our students, customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students don’t care about the skills you want to teach them. Those are the products that you shouldn’t be selling them. When you focus solely on selling products, your business (i.e. your class) will fail.
What your students care about are the problems those skills will solve for them. Just like any business, if you want to engage your customers/students, focus on their problems, not your products.
Imagine your students feeling a sense of control over their own experience in your class. What if your students trusted you? As you are building a syllabus, keep one question in mind. It is the only question that matters in our interactions with students:
What will help them learn?
Make a promise
Tell students what you hope they will discover, gain, and take away from your time together. Present your students with opportunities your course offers them. What questions will your course help them answer? What goals will your course help them achieve? Students want to know what problems they will wrestle with during the quarter or semester, so tell them what those problems are.
The template (which you can download below) I use has the following headings:
- My Promise To You
- Your Opportunities
- Our Conversation
Explain how students can fulfill that promise
Invite students to engage with opportunities to discover, learn and grow (otherwise called activities). Help them believe that learning happens once they commit and engage. Share your expectations about thinking, reading, writing, and doing. Ask for their expectations.
The template (which you can download below) I use has a section titled The Nitty Gritty. Here I share my perspective of the overall goal, deliverables, learning objectives and questions to answer for the course.
I also include a schedule for the entire semester, including General Topics, Suggested Deliverables, and Suggested Worksheets from the FOCUS Framework tool that I suggest they use.
Begin a conversation about students’ learning
One reason many students are not engaged is because the class is not a two-way conversation; faculty do not ask about and students do not feel comfortable sharing their expectations, their skills, and what and how they want to learn.
If you want a more engaged classroom, your students need to believe that you want to hear them, and that you’re willing to adjust to what you hear.
I include the following language in my template (which you can download below):
This is your journey – I encourage you to create it, own it, and execute it.
Your Conversations Starts With Your Syllabus
Your class is a conversation, with each and every student. With a promising syllabus as an introduction, you create a learning paradigm in your classroom. Your role is a facilitator, not an actor. You design and play games with your students instead of delivering information.
Students create their own learning.
You participate by creating a game plan. It all begins with your syllabus.
Students construct knowledge, they don’t receive it. They learn by asking questions and seeking answers through active exploration. Students fail, quickly, and you help them regroup, process, and take aim again.
You become a supporter, a mentor, and a learning partner.
You can give students a new perspective on learning by inviting them into an entrepreneurial experience. It all begins with your syllabus.
Get the Teaching Entrepreneurship Syllabus Template
We’ve created a syllabus template to help you engage your students. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.
Use it as a basis to begin and guide your own conversation 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 the comments below so we can improve it!
In an upcoming post, we talk how to create a living, breathing syllabus with your students that solves their real problems!
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