Entrepreneurship Education, Randy Pausch style?

Randy Pausch is the inspiring professor behind “The Last Lecture“, the Entertainment Technology Center, and many other impressive accomplishments.  Along the way he knew he wanted to empower students to follow their creative dreams.  
At first he mentored individual students.  Not satisfied to help only a handful of students at a time, he next crafted a powerful, non-traditional course that proved a sensation.  Soon he was helping hundreds of students.  Again he was not satisfied, so he partnered with others to create a masters degree program that used his inspiration course as an introduction. The program has spread to five other colleges from around the world.  But he still wasn’t satisfied.  
Before his untimely death, Prof. Pausch co-founded Alice, a video game where kids get to create their own “movies” – and along the way they are secretly taught computer programming, graphics, modern audio… did I mention these are elementary school kids? 
Clearly, Prof. Pausch and his compatriots were social entrepreneurs of staggering ability.  And what’s more, the very thing they were teaching looks a LOT like entrepreneurship education to my eyes.  Why not borrow from their success to help teach entrepreneurship?
Here are some ideas on how one might map the Pausch (and friends) successes to UMass EI.  If these ideas gain some traction, then an in-depth review of exactly what Prof. Pausch did (as opposed to my 1 hour of web research).
Step 1 – Make a 3-credit class that looks like Prof. Pausch’s
  • Initial weeks – Orientation & training to prepare students for…
  • Project 1 – Split the students into randomly assigned teams.   Give them two weeks of training in class, but outside class they must work on developing a poster-session + elevator pitch for their idea.  On the last class of the second week, every team must deliver their pitch.  Each student must evaluate their teammates via anonymous written feedback.
  • Project 2 – Randomly re-assign people to completely new teams.  Repeat the process above, except that the in-class content they learn is different (the next content in the syllabus).
  • Repeat this for 4-6 projects (until semester is over).
  • At end of semester show students the cumulative feedback they have received from their peers (a graph showing who is easiest to work with/adds most value all the way down to who is the hardest to work with).
This kind of course design stresses students getting their hands dirty with the practical skills of entrepreneurship – team building, idea generation, evaluation, and communication.  The practical nature of the class, and the student’s ability to build on an idea of their own design, will hopefully provide additional passion to fuel student participation.
Step 2 – Take the project-based nature of the flagship/intro course and expand upon it.  Now students would form their own teams around their own ideas and invest an entire semester into taking that idea to the next level.  Each succeeding semester would see them move the idea further up the development curve.  By the end of the program, they should have everything they need to launch their business on their own.  That doesn’t mean that they have the money, it means they have the relationships and skills to try and raise the money.  It doesn’t mean they have the whole team, but it does mean they have enough of the team to start, and enough relationships to start recruiting the rest of the people they need.  
Step 3 – Create an “Alice for entrepreneurship.”  Create a video game that seems to be about something fantastically engaging and accessible – but is really teaching students the core skills of entrepreneurship.  A game like this teaches the basics, inspires vast numbers of kids (pre-college) to take interest in the entrepreneurial career path.  When they get to college, hopefully they’ll sign up for entrepreneurship courses like those described above (or ones better designed :)).
Here is a link describing the curriculum of the the master’s program Prof. Pausch helped create: http://www.etc.cmu.edu/curriculum/index.html 

4 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship Education, Randy Pausch style?

  1. One of you kindly wrote in with this comment: I like it! The video game aspect of your idea is a bit vague for me, but then again, you are the expert in that field! As my entrepreneurial career has developed my number one challenge has been cultivating management teams to spearhead the growth of our business. A class which focuses on the development of inter-personal skills in an entrepreneurial context is an excellent idea. The skills which I have found to be the most valuable in a team context are:1. Knowing when to lead, follow or just getting (the fuck) out of the way.2. Having the self awareness to know what your strengths/weaknesses are and seeking people with complimentary skill sets.3. Creating a vision which all team members buy into.

  2. The past post asked about the design of the game I had in mind. The basic idea is to take the notion behind a Sim or Tycoon game and find a way to make SimEntrepreneur. But I don’t want it to be a single player experience – those exist and they really miss the point. I want it to be a massively multiplayer online game where the entire in-game economy (or nearly all of it at least) is run by the players. This would give anyone a chance to get a feel for what it is like build a business in a place where failure has no real-world implications.I think that the people who build EVE online have done by far the closest thing to what I'm imagining. However, their game has a very steep learning curve, requires massive investments of time to generate any real results, and has violence as a major component. I have no problem with games & violence, but for the game I'm dreaming of would focus on economics.

  3. Another kind friend wrote in with these thoughts: think a long sequence of many 3 credit courses of the kind you describe istoo much. It becomes a minor or major at that point. I think students shouldminor or major in a “substantive” field like history or physics. Theirtechnical, research, and writing skills will develop more within regulardisciplines.A real danger in education is that people who went through a traditional systemadvocate for radical alternatives, without realizing how much they got out ofthe traditional system–in your case, physics education.We see this all the time in the humanities with leftist professors debunkingold fashioned writing classes, memorization, etc. The result is that theprofessors themselves are knowledgeable and literate but their students areilliterate and ignorant.Large entrepreneurship programs run the risk of being the conservative orlibertarian’s version of the same fiasco.A sequence of 1 credit courses does make sense. First course, random teams.Second course, form teams deliberately. Second course could be 2 credits tocreate a 3 credit combination… Actually, offering this as a Tuesday/Thursday combo makes sense.More than two courses might over-extend the concept, make it repetitive, andtake away the excitement.

  4. In response to the last post:My main intent with this blog posting is to enjoy an open-ended brainstorm on what we could learn/borrow from Randy Pausch’s extremely successful program. Currently EI has a flagship course, similar in some ways to the flagship course that Prof. Pausch created (called Building Virtual Worlds). But then he evolved that course to become course #1 in a masters degree program (Curriculum here). So the questions I meant to focus on were: 1. Is there something to the design of Building Virtual Worlds that could inspire/improve the EI flagship course?2. EI is continuing to grow, we will no doubt expand our offerings. When we do, what aspects of prof. Pausch’s masters degree program would be worth imitating? RE #1 – Our flagship course is constantly evolving, but it has some key components that seem to be solidifying nicely. To redesign it to be more like Building Virtual Worlds would be to tear it apart and throw away many pieces. I’m not sure that is the right move. Maybe we combine them, and our current course becomes “basic training” and we add a new course more like Building Virtual Worlds (or maybe the other way around!) Or maybe we do make our flagship course more like Building Virtual Worlds, and push all the non-related content into a separate course (a speaker series perhaps?)As for #2 – that is far enough away that I can’t say – and I am too far removed from academia to know what would be best. But having some way to continually mentor our most dedicated students as they grow their ideas seems like a vital part of our future – with or without a masters degree :).As for respecting the educational system as it is – I did not mean to imply that I do not approve of it nor that it should be radically changed. Indeed I benefited greatly from my physics training. And by far the MOST valuable part of my phsycis training (gievn that I am not a physicts :)) was the work I did in the labs.Other people at UMass are already doing the important lecture-style aspects of business and entrepreneurship education. But I think students need (and crave) more “entrepreneurship laboratories” where they can get their hands dirty.

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