Online teachers must be innovative and creative in order to keep online classes relevant, fresh, and fun to teach. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses what educators can learn from entrepreneurial business strategies. Learn how to apply the “five C’s” of entrepreneurship—credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution—in the classroom.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Have you ever noticed that there are several types of educators, but really two ends of a polarity spectrum? There are traditional approaches, where a person develops a class, teaches it over and over exactly the same way, and really relies on the presentation of the course, but preserves the content.
Then there are people who are a little bit more on the creative end. I’m not sure if you would label these as innovative or simply creative, but many people in the world would label this entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurial educators are more creative types, who want to change things up a bit. They’re always looking to meet students’ needs or find out what students really want to learn, even if the topics come from the same basic background, they want to change things up. They don’t want to do the same thing twice. They might do it twice to see how it’s working, but then add something to it the next time.
So along this spectrum of sameness—traditional approaches and variety, creativity, and edu-preneurial approaches—think about where you are as an online educator. In today’s episode, we will talk about entrepreneurial approaches to your online teaching, and we’ll be using five concepts from someone very interesting and unique in the business world.
Chinedu Echeruo, who was a serial entrepreneur, is a business person, has an MBA from Harvard and has really made a mark on the world through a history of doing a great job in business, starting with a travel app, Hopstop.com, that was sold to Apple, and a lot of other things that you can search the internet and find.
The five C’s of entrepreneurship we will be looking at today are credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution. So let’s jump in.
Credibility: Where Does it Come From?
As an educator, you likely already have some kind of credibility. Your credibility comes from your background, your knowledge on the subject matter, your expertise and your personal experiences that you access.
Some of us are very traditional. We want several degrees in a subject area before we teach it. We want to write a book on the subject. We want to write articles about it. Present at conferences. We want to be recognized for our expertise. And that’s where we think our credibility comes from.
Others of us are very authentic. We want to talk about it in real time, connect on a personal level and have something to say that may be changing over time, and we feel that our openness and vulnerability to be lifelong learners is part of our credibility. And we don’t necessarily need as deep or as long of credentials as some other people might have.
Credibility varies. Credibility really is something that comes across to others and is received by others. And then, is judged by others. In the educational world, some kind of credibility must be there from our credentials.
If you’re a K-12 educator, you have some kind of certificate to teach in the classroom. Even if it’s a temporary substitute-teaching credential, you have something that’s giving you the permission to be there. It’s like a stamp of approval, where someone out there has said, “Yes, you can enter the classroom and do something now.”
If you have been teaching a long time in K-12 education, you might have what we call a Professional Clear Credential, or something like that. It’s a little bit more long lasting, and you can just renew it over time. Sometimes you have to prove that you’ve been teaching to renew it. Other times, you might have to prove you have new units of study in your subject area, new educational credits to prove your credibility, and you can renew that credential. But all those credentials are usually based on some kind of college degree. And that’s part of your credibility.
In entrepreneurship, credibility is very important as well. If you come along with an idea and you share it with others and you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you haven’t done your homework, you’re not really sure where this is coming from, then it’s going to be difficult to get someone to buy your idea, much less, sell it, or gain support, or traction of any kind.
In the classroom, we similarly have that same idea of needing to prove our credibility. I’ve seen some online educators post their background on the front page of the classroom. They’re telling everyone where they went to school, where they studied. Perhaps they studied abroad, traveled to Ethiopia or Russia or South Africa or Brazil or someplace like that. And they may even have some pictures of their travel expeditions in the subject field.
For example, if you’re a business teacher, maybe you have images of you in a business setting. If you’re a communication teacher, maybe you have images of yourself on assignment somewhere. And if you’re a music teacher, maybe you have images of yourself conducting an ensemble or performing on an instrument. Whatever you put in the classroom, that initial credibility goes a long ways towards helping your students know that you’re probably someone who can lead them through this content.
Ongoing credibility is different. The way we show up in that online classroom every day and throughout the week and over the course itself, that credibility is essential that we maintain. We can’t really stand on a degree or a certificate or some pictures we put in week one, and hope that students just trust us for eight or 13 or 16 weeks of class.
Our credibility comes through in the way we teach. In the way we follow up with questions. In the way we give students sources or connect to the ideas out there in the real world. And in the way we help them dig in, without just telling them the answers.
Credibility in entrepreneurship and in online teaching are both critical elements just to get started and they have to be maintained throughout a project, or it’s going to fail. Our students will trust us immensely when we’re teaching online, as we establish credibility and also maintain it.
Clarity: Ensuring Students Understand Ideas and Concepts
The second idea of entrepreneurship is about clarity. You have this creative approach, this big idea, and you want to communicate it out and try to create a product or sell it somehow. How well can you communicate that to other people?
If you are going to be an entrepreneur, of course, you need to be able to express what you’re trying to achieve, what you’re trying to do, and who you’re trying to sell it to. Perhaps it’s a service, you’re trying to solve a problem for someone. In that case, the clarity in entrepreneurship is about the solution, the pain people are feeling, how you can help them solve it, how many people you can solve that for, and what assumptions you have about it.
You might have to do a little bit of market research to find out what really would help people and what they really would buy. And of course, you’d also have to find out if they really want this solution. Solving a problem can be great, but solving a problem that people want solved is even better.
In education, we have the exact same scenario. We want to teach people clear ideas. By the end of a course and the end of a degree program, we want them to be able to do certain things and know certain things, and be able to apply all of that in the real world.
We need absolute clarity when we’re teaching a class, about what we’re trying to get at the end of that class. What should students be able to do? And every time we are in the discussion forum or in the assignment space or evaluating their work, that should be forefront in our mind. So in an entrepreneurial way, we need to be finding out all the time, whether we’re reaching our students. And also, are they able to communicate with clarity back to us.
Conviction: Persevering to Help Students Understand Difficult Topics
The third area of entrepreneurship is conviction. In many episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge, I’ve made reference to a tool called the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, the TPI. This is a great tool to just double check your orientation as an educator.
Conviction in your role in education comes from either your experience, a problem you see that needs to be solved in the world, the way you care about people, what you’d like to help others become. There are just so many ways you can approach education or teaching your subject matter. And your conviction is critical to seeing through those long classes, to persevering and helping people understand difficult topics and really getting through an entire career as an educator. Just like an entrepreneur, conviction has to be clear because we’re going to be on a long journey with our students.
If you’re interested in taking the TPI, it’s free and available online, and I have a link to it in my podcast notes. If you want to pursue your ideas with students or help them to pursue these topics in the future, think about your conviction.
How invested are you in helping your students learn about this topic? If you’re teaching a class that you really hate teaching, you don’t like the subject matter, and it’s just part of your job because that’s what you do in this particular institution. Maybe it’s time to either reframe the class, find a way for it to be a lot more relevant, or to ask to be relieved of teaching that class, and teach the others that you have much more conviction about.
You want to pursue that because you need to enjoy what you’re doing as an educator and your students need to get from you, what they need to turn that subject into something applicable in their lives or relevant to their work. So think about your conviction as part of your work as an educator. Much like an entrepreneur would be thinking about pushing an idea through and investing.
Capital: Accessing Resources to Help Teach
Now, think about capital. Capital is an interesting business idea. Of course, we need people to support us if we’re going to be putting a product out there and we also need ideas, we need material resources, we need financial resources. So human capital is not the only thing we need in entrepreneurship.
And in education, really, we’re thinking about the subject matter, the people in the class. There might actually be a lot of other people with expertise we can bring in, that can contribute to this endeavor.
For example, if we’re writing a course, we might not need to write that entire course just ourselves. We might be able to pull in experts from the field, have quotes from them, have a little cameo where maybe someone you know in your field is willing to be interviewed by you. And you could put that into your course to share with your students online, with permission of the person you interview.
There are so many different resources you may have as an educator. You can creatively draw those into your online class. Long, long ago, when I was first a band teacher, I remember tapping into the local university and inviting students who were learning to play their instrument at a very high level to come in and perform for my students, who were junior high kids.
So, for example, I might have a college level tuba performance major come in, talk about playing the tuba, perform on his tuba a little bit, and demonstrate some really amazing, beautiful tuba playing. Students could ask and answer questions. And there could be a whole exchange there. He could also work with the tubaists in the junior high and give them a little bit of a masterclass, which would be the one-on-one or small-group coaching that a tuba player might give a small group of musicians.
These ideas can be done online. Now, the masterclass or the live group interaction might not, but the interview with the tuba player would be very easy to record, to create a transcript for, and to place in that online classroom.
So there are a lot of resources and capital you may have out there that could be part of your class, that maybe you’re not thinking of. Most of us think about taking a textbook and creating the activities. And we’re sort of in this closed space of just looking at these resources, but remember all the people resources you have out there. All the real world resources, and you may find that what you have to teach and what you have to share in your classroom is much greater than just a textbook.
Concentration in Execution: Finding What Works
Lastly, when we talk about concentration in execution, this is your focus and the way you stay true to what you’re trying to accomplish. In a business sense, this would be pushing through difficult times as well as prosperous times.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to have a slump in the beginning when you’re really trying to get things off the ground or get things started. You might not even make money the whole first year that you’re trying to work in a new endeavor. It might rise. It might fall. There could be waves of high and low throughout the entrepreneurial journey. A lot of people who are entrepreneurs come up with many creative ideas. They try them on and they move on to other ideas. And eventually, something works really well.
In our educational pathway and teaching online, we can have a similar entrepreneurial approach. We can try new things in our assignments, in our content, in the way we find out how things are landing with our students. And, when those things work really well, we can refine them and use them over and over, or we can pass on them when they don’t work well, try something totally different, or simply tweak those things.
Being committed to concentration in execution means that we’re very focused on what we’re trying to execute and get through, without totally changing it up all the time. Before we make modifications to things, we need to know why we’re changing it, what’s working, what’s not working and not just reinvent things from scratch. That could be totally exhausting and something that online educators do not have a lot of time for. So we definitely want to know what’s working and build on it and keep moving forward with our students.
To tie things up, today we’ve been talking about entrepreneurial behavior and concepts in our online teaching. And I’ve been drawing through some concepts that Chinedu Echeruo shared, and I put the link in the podcast notes. So please check it out. The five C’s of entrepreneurship; credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.