Sunday, August 30, 2015

How Much Internet Does an On-line Student Need?

Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas has expressed concern about the adequacy of the NBN ISS (Australian National Broadband Network Interim Satellite Service). Providing broadband in remote areas could be a boon for education. But what speed, latency and amount of data is needed by a student and does the NBN ISS provide this?

This is a sensitive political issue because the NBN ISS is intended to provide broadband Internet access to remote areas. These are areas which have limited educational facilities and so one obvious use of the NBN is to provide education. Also there are indigenous communities in remote areas and the adequacy of provision of services to these areas is in question.

Is the NBN ISS capable of providing an adequate service for remote students? In particular is this adequate for remote indigenous students, including teacher training?

If not managed well, the introduction of the NBN may increase disadvantage for those outside the cities. If city students have access to large amounts of high speed, low latency broadband, then educators are likely to design their on-line courses for this service. These courses may then not work on limited regional networks. In contrast, if the courses are designed for the limitations of the remote service they will still work in the city.

On-line Law Degree at Australian National University

The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra has announced it will offer a Juris Doctor (online) from mid 2016. This is a legal degree for people who already have a degree in another discipline.

The new program uses "Problem-Based Learning" (PBL) and has the option of a "capstone experience" designed for online students. The program also uses  what is termed "clustering", to overcome the usual narrow course boundaries.

The program has compulsory subjects and the student can then "select from over 80 elective courses". The large number of on-line courses now being offered by ANU came as a surprise to me. Six years ago, when I was designing the course "ICT Sustainability" (COMP7310) for ANU computing students, there were only a handful of other on-line courses. There were many "blended" courses, which have an on-line component, but few which did not require at least some on-campus attendance. But a quick search shows there are 125 Online ANU Courses for 2016, including, 19 undergraduate, 106 graduate and 22 from the ANU College of Law courses. I have the occasional law student in my course (along with many business students) and will be interesting to see how many from the new program take it up.

A curious aspect is that the announcement says "As an online program, the ANU JD (online) is only available to domestic students.". But one benefit from an on-line course is that students can be anywhere. This is especially curious as the Juris Doctor (on campus), which is equivalent to the online course, points out that students can "... gain real-world experience by ... spending a semester overseas...". If overseas experience is beneficial, why can't overseas students be admitted?

There are Australian visa restrictions on the proportion of on-line courses an international student can undertake:
"Students can study up to 25 per cent of their course by online and/or distance learning, but in each compulsory study period each student must be studying at least one unit that is not by distance or online."

From "Online and distance", National Code Part D, Standard 9 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act), Australian Department of Education and Training.
However, as Open Universities Australia point out, these restrictions do not apply to students studying on-line from abroad. These students do not need to be in Australia and so do not need a visa. The regulations make this clear:
"Note that the terms online learning and distance learning do not apply where the student:
  • does not hold a student visa
  • is resident in a country other than Australia; and
  • is undertaking a unit of study with a registered provider in Australia.
    Study of this sort is outside of the scope of the National Code 2007 (as the student does not hold a student visa)."
From "Online and distance", National Code Part D, Standard 9 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act), Australian Department of Education and Training.
It happens I am an international student at a North American university at present. There was no issue of visa requirements and the only real complication was in showing my Australian qualifications met the overseas program requirements. Apart from that I just needed a credit card to pay the course fees and Internet access to undertake the courses.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Speed Dating for Startups

Last night I took part in the "Get a Mentor" part of the Innovation ACT business model competition, held at Canberra Innovation Network's office. The Innovator ACT Mentors, each sat at a table (I am a mentor). Each team of higher education students then had five minutes to tell a mentor about their project. At the end of five minutes the teams moved to another mentor. The mentors noted which teams they wanted to work with and teams which mentors, so they can be matched up. This was an exhausting, but interesting experience, a bit like speed dating (not that I have tried that).

Some questions I kept asking teams were:
  1. What is the product or service?
  2. Who is the customer?
  3. Who is going to pay you?
  4. Are there more people on your team?
  5. Have you considered looking for a market beyond Canberra's university students?
  6. Is this another Mobile Internet App?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Equity and University Completion Rates in Australia

Edwards and McMillan (2015) from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University, report that students from a low socio-economic backgrounds, remote and regional areas are less likely to complete a degree than others. But the most striking finding is the high non-completion and drop-out rates for indigenous students.

This study focused on the university sector and it would be interesting to see if the results for VET were similar. Also it would be interesting to see if students to articulated from VET to university had a higher completion rate. The idea being that VET provides a more gradual transition from school to universality and also may keep students more engaged by teaching them more relevant hands on skills and using better trained teachers.

Also it would be interesting to see if providing quality e-leaning which allowed students to continue studies while meeting family and work obligations, would increase retention and completion. Also lower intensity courses extending over more of the year might help (one course, per term four terms a year, rather than two course, two semesters a year, for example).


Edwards, D. & McMillan, J. (2014). Completing university in a growing sector: Is equity an issue? URL

Education Works

Professor Jong-Wha Lee, Korea University, will speak on "Education matters", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12 noon, 4 September 2015.

This is based on their book, with Robert J Barro, "Education Matters: Global Schooling Gains from the 19th to the 21st Century"  (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Redesigning the Australian National University

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a forum is being held to redevelop "Union Court", the central space of the campus. Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington reminded us that the ANU was founded 70 years ago by people with a vision and while on-line virtual infrastructure is important for a university, it also needs physical infrastructure (buildings).

The aim is to redevelop the central courtyard and the adjacent library to showcase 21st century education. Some possible facilities are a maker space, co-working space and possibly a swimming pool. There is also scope for sculpture (I suggest something by Merick Fry).

A few years ago I looked at classroom design and learning commons across Australia and some other countries. I found that simple designs with rectangular walls, flat floors, movable furniture and white-board walls, were preferable. Gimmick technology, such as immersible displays, tended not to be used (whereas WiFi was). The best examples of this I have seen around the world are at University of Canberra, with their Inspire Centre and the Teaching and Learning Commons.

Canberra Start-up Business Boomerang
The new ANU buildings will likely include accommodation, as ANU guarantees all students somewhere to stay. One aspect I would like to see is considering the future nature of a university education, especially for promoting innovation. While  designing a course on innovation I noticed the similarities between the Cambridge (UK) which hosted thousands of new hi-tech businesses and the area between ANU an Canberra's CBD, which I have christened the "Canberra Business Boomerang".

ANU Union Court is on University Avenue, an important land axis of the 1912 plan for Canberra by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.  The ANU is on the site originally set aside by the Griffins for a university. This will therefore require consideration of the effect on the city of Canberra and the nation of any ANU plan. This is not just a matter for the university.

Some framework plans were show at the forum. These reminded me of the avenues at University of British Columbia,  Vancouver Campus, which I spent a week at last year.

But UBC's avenues are a little sterile, lined mostly with academic buildings and offices.  The proposals for ANU include not only cafes, but also student accommodation. This would  make the area more lively day and night.

One aspect of the ANU Urban Design Framework Plan which worried me is a proposal for a tower which appears to be about 13 stories high. This does not appear to be a building, but a non-functional sculpture (it looks like a miniature of the Shanghai World Financial Center, crossed with the Freedom Towers NY). But perhaps it is intended to bookend the American War Memorial at Russel Offices. Having a very tall and useless architect's folly is not in keeping with the rest of the plan. The ANU already has one more practical tower, the Physics Accelerator Tower.

Also an amphitheater is proposed on the banks of Sullivan's Creek. The artist's impression reminded me of the beach at the German Chancellery Building next to the Spree River in Berlin. In summer, the chancellor's staff sun themselves by the river. As well as educational activities, such an amphitheater would be an excellent location for plays, similar to the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival.

In environmental terms, it was claimed at the forum the new development will use only "half a planet" (a much smaller footprint than comparable developments). The development will also be designed to reduce the social isolation of the students. There are precedents at ANU for such plans, as described in Milton Cameron's 2012 book "Experiments in Modern Living" about the design of ANU's original buildings.

However, while union court will be symbolically important as the center of the university, it will rarely be seen by future students of the university. Within ten years, well within the design life of the new buildings, students will be studying mostly on-line. Typical studies will be about 20% on-campus. The campus will still be important for students, in some ways more important, but will be somewhere they do not spend much time at.

While the forum on ANU University Court was useful, it missed the important point that the on-line virtual infrastructure is now more important than the physical infrastructure.It is now routine to provide educational materials on-line before face-to-face events. This "flipped classroom" approach should also be applied to consultations on ANU Union Court. The plans should be provided on-line before, or at the latest at the same time, as they are shown at face-to-face event. This will help the small number of people who can attend as they can then provide more informed comment. More importantly, this will allow the majority who cannot attend to be informed and have the opportunity to provide input.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Low Cost Vocational Training for Canberra Residents

The ACT Government is subsidizing the cost of Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs for people in Canberra. The Skilled Capital Vocational Education Training Program covers courses offered both by commercial Registered Training Organizations and the Canberra Institute of Technology (where I got my Cert IV in T&A).

There is a wide range of qualifications covered by the courses, but there is a cap on the number of places in each. The list appears to reflect the demand for skilled workers in the Canberra. The subsidy varies from qualification to qualification and is up to half the course fee. It is not clear why the variation in subsidy, but perhaps this reflects the jobs priorities of the ACT Government.

There are limits on eligibility, for example being an Australian citizen or permanent resident,  living or working in the ACT.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Universities Can and Should Educate for Employment

Stefan Popenici, Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne argues that "Universities can’t, and shouldn’t, educate to suit employers" (The Conversation, 12

Friday, August 21, 2015

Problem Based Learning for Undergraduate Students

Greetings form the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Associate Professor Andis Klegeris, from University of British Columbia, is  speaking on "Generic problem-solving skills of undergraduate students: strategies for their development and monitoring". He is outlining an approach to use Problem Based Learning (PBL) for large classes of undergraduates, without needing large numbers of tutors.
Professor Klegeris points put that conventional lectures does not teach the skills looked for in graduates (typically described as "graduate attributes"). Lectures teach students to listen and take notes (hopefully), but not more active skills. He also pointed out that BPL has limitations, such as the knowledge the students learn is disorganized, evaluation is difficult and the amount of information transferred is lower.

Professor Klegeris described how he uses PBL for his biology classes of about 100 students. He uses two 90 minute lecture periods per week, with 57% made up of traditional lecture content (didactic), two problem based classes (23% of the time).

Professor Klegeris uses a conventional classroom, but up to 890% full to allow for group work. He switches from lecturing to facilitating mode during the sessions.  Students are preassigned to groups and immediately start reading the problem, working on it and discussing it in their groups, followed by hole room discussion. One interesting aspect is that there is no preparation required of the students. Also textbooks, computers and Internet access is not permitted.

This is interesting as it differs from the "flipped class" where the students watch videos and read materials to prepare for the classroom work. Professor Klegeris approach appears similar to the MIT iCampus, but without the specialized "TEAL" rooms and teaching assistants.

Also the banning of reference sources and Internet access is unusual. Presumably Professor Klegeris permits the use of devices for students who have disabilities.

One interesting point wast that Professor Klegeris allocates 5% of grade for group participation, which is peer assessed. He commented that since switching to peer assessment he has received no complaints from students.

Professor Klegeris presentation gives me the confidence to make some changes in the teaching of my own courses.

Professor Klegeris'  paper "Improvement in Generic Problem-Solving Abilities of Students by Use of Tutor-less Problem-Based Learning in a Large Classroom Setting" is available
on-line. He will be in Cairns next week for a scientific conference and is happy to repeat his presentation on PBL if a local institution can provide a venue.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Improving Doctoral Education

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Margot Pearson is speaking on "Enhancing the experienced environment for doctoral candidates in a diverse array of settings and arrangements". She  questions the assumption that candidates will be located in a university department. Dr. Pearson points out that some research training takes place outside universities, such as hospitals, CSIRO, Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) and industry. She has produced a number of papers on doctoral education.

Dr. Pearson also pointed out that the funding available to students may depend on "where" they are. She questioned if it was possible to achieve funding equity for the students due to the diversity of funding sources. It seems to me that equity is not relevant to most research funding, as this based on the need for the research, or for trained personnel, not to provide an education, or benefit to the individual.

It might be easier to deal with the location of doctoral education by "flipping" the approach. Rather than assuming students are normally at a university department and then work out how to deal with those who are not, instead assume students could be anywhere.

One thing I have discovered with teaching is that it is easier to adapt a distance education course to on-campus use, that the other way around. Similarly it would be easier to accommodate on-campus doctoral students in a program designed for off-campus students. Most PHDs do not end up working in universities and so it would make sense if they gained experience outside the university environment. Where students must be trained at a university, it could be in a simulation of an external environment, such as a company owned by the university.

Perhaps Australian universities need to accept that only about 2,000 research doctoral graduates are required each year for the research positions available. The other 8,000 or so graduates will be working in non-research positions in government and industry. These people will need some experience with research, but not need as much as a professional researcher. It would therefore make sense for them to undertake a professional doctorate, not a PHD. These students should undertake coursework and a project relevant to their work, ideally while working in the relevant industry.

ps: However, professional doctorates are not without their own problems. In a recent paper, Burmeister (2015), discusses the low completion rates for IT professional doctorates. The causes and solutions suggested are similar to those Dr. Pearson discussed at the seminar today for research doctorates: student engagement with supervisors, feedback on progress, student engagement in the course, and student involvement in institutional communities of practice.


Burmeister, O. (2015). Improving professional IT doctorate completion rates. Australasian Journal Of Information Systems, 19. doi:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Future Teachers May be On-line Casual Contractors

A  possible future for education is hinted at by two articles in the week's Australian Higher Education Supplement.Side by side in the paper edition of The Australian (19 August 2015) are "The Value of Experiential Earing" (Andrew Trounson) and "Jobs at risk as IELTS Checks Go Online" (John Ross). The first reports how Coursera is moving emphasis from individual free courses to paid-for ons verified with photo id and keyboard signatures.

The second article is about how IDP Education are moving to have IELTS examinations marked on-line. There will still be human markers, but these people will each be an independent contractor (needing an ABN number and $1M insurance). The contractors pay will be cut ro $3 pr written item and they must mark at least 50 written tests a day, six hours a day, three days a week, for a minimum of two weeks a month.

IDP will only be marking Australian IELTS tests in Australia. But other educational organizations can be expected to select contractors globally, provided they meet the standards required. Australian educators can therefore expect to be competing with qualified personnel from developing nations, with lower living standards. This is likely to drive down remuneration.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Problem-solving Skills For Undergraduate Students

Associate Professor Andis Klegeris, University of British Columbia, will speak on "Generic problem-solving skills of undergraduate students: strategies for their development and monitoring" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 1pm, 21 August 2015. Professor Klegeris'  paper "Improvement in Generic Problem-Solving Abilities of Students by Use of Tutor-less Problem-Based Learning in a Large Classroom Setting" is available
"University science graduates, after entering the job market, will be required to independently navigate through large amounts of literature looking for reliable sources of information, prioritize their tasks and hypotheses, problem solve, work effectively in a team environment, network, and evaluate job performance of their peers. Even though the above skills are valued by both students and their future employers, most standard university curricula provide very few opportunities for students to develop such skills.

A tutor-less method of conducting problem-based learning (PBL) exercises in large undergraduate classes, which was developed to model the above aspects of post-university real-world workplace experiences of students, will be described. This method has been successfully used in two biochemistry courses on our campus. Our research conducted over the last five years, shows that this mode of instruction leads to statistically significant increase in student satisfaction and engagement. Students also demonstrate statistically significant improvement in their generic problem-solving skills. Data obtained through a large-scale campus-wide study of generic problem-solving skills of undergraduate students on our campus show that majority of courses delivering subject-specific content mainly through classical didactic lecturing do not facilitate development of generic problem-solving skills.

Our preliminary data indicate that working in small groups on ill-defined problems could be one of the strategies for advancing these skills. We believe that evidence-based application of instructional techniques that benefit student problem-solving skill development should be a high priority for curricular development of universities regardless of the programs and specializations that they offer."

Monday, August 17, 2015

International Students Raising Australian Higher Education Standards

In "Foreign students and declining higher education standards"(Online Opinion, 14 August 2015),  Associate Professor Murray Hunter says "Academic standards have slipped ever since the influx of massive numbers of foreign students. Higher education is not what it was before". That may be true at his institution, Universiti Malaysia Perlis, but is not my experience in Australia. Australian academics are respected by the community (look at them all on the TV News) and by students.

The classes I teach have about 25% international students, but this has not resulted in a drop in standards and instead has increased them. This has forced an improvement in the quality of teaching and assessment.

Language proficiency is an issue with international students (and also many domestic students). I give my students small writing exercises early in a course and send those who are having difficulty off for remedial writing classes. Some programs include compulsory "professional communication" courses for all students.

Professor Hunter's proposal for 'special English' in teaching would undermine the value of an Australian university education for international students, who can gain greater proficiency in the use of English for their future workplace. The training of university educators does include advice on the use of language and providing students with additional support, such as glossaries of special terms.

There are incentives for academics to improve teaching methods and there has been considerable experimentation with flipped classrooms, e-leaning and blended learning (I gave up giving "lectures" in 2009). I don't think today's students read less, it is just that academics have a more realistic idea of what students actually do. Some academics have difficulty coping with this new world of metrics and mobiles, but formal training in how to teach helps.

The field of Entrepreneurship (singled out by Professor Hunter) is one in which I believe Australia universities (in particular in Canberra) are making a considerable contribution. Recently I dropped in on the Cambridge University Entrepreneurial School and did not see anything to rival Canberra's blending of university and business at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review of Australian Research Training System

The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) is undertaking a review of Australia’s research training system for the Australian Government. There are a discussion paper and consultation questions available. Submissions close 31 August 2015.

In my view Higher Degree Research (HDR) graduates need to develop teamwork and communication skills for wider career pathways. These skills should be formally assessed. This can be done primarily using e-portfolios.

Graduates could be offered the opportunity to obtain other industry certifications alongside their research work, assessed via e-portfolio.

As many graduates entering academia will be teaching and those in industry will be conducting training, it would be useful if they were to obtain teaching skills. A suggested minimum level would be the equivalent of a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

Graduates need an understanding of business, so that they can assist with their research being applied. These skills can be gained through initiatives such as ANU TechLauncher for IT professionals. A more generalized version of that program could be developed, incorporating Innovation ACT. I am currently preparing a series of e-learning modules intended to help with this.

Reducing Australian Electricity Demand

Dr Hugh Saddler will speak on "Electricity demand and Australia’s renewable energy targets: where to?" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12.30pm, 26 August 2015.
"Average annual electricity consumption per residential consumer has been falling steadily in every state since around 2009. The presentation will examine the factors which may explain this reduction and speculate on where electricity consumption may go in the next few years. It will also include some preliminary results from an analysis of how low income households use electricity."

Online Teacher Training: US MOOC Versus Australian Vocational Training

University of California, Irvine are offering a Specialization Certificate  "Virtual Teacher Program" on-line through Coursera. The student undertakes four courses and a final capstone project. The courses are each 2 to 4 hours a week over five weeks and cost A$63 each. The capstone is also $63, making for a total cost of A$315 for the Specialization Certificate.

The courses are:
  1. Foundations of Virtual Instruction
  2. Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual…
  3. Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual…
  4. Performance Assessment in the Virtual Classroom
  5. Virtual Teacher Final Project
The certificate will require 50 to 100 study by the student. This is roughly comparable to the content and study required for the Australian VET Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (and about the length on one course at an Australian university).

Australian registered training organizations (RTOs) offer an on-line Cert IV T&A from $300 to $500 (or about $1,800 for the classroom course at a TAFE), making the US course cheaper. The US certificate also has the advantage of being issued by an institution called a "university".

The Australian government is currently negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the USA and other counties in the region. The details of the draft TPP are secret, but the intention is to reduce barriers to trade. One effect of the TPP may be that Australia will be required to accept qualifications such as US university Specialization Certificates as being equivalent to Australian VET qualifications. The result of this will be that government TAFEs and commercial RTOs in Australia will be competing directly with US universities for students.

This may require Australia to broaden its definition of a "university" to include what are now vocational institutions, or for the current universities to offer VET qualifications, so they can compete with US institutions.

Australian teaching universities will likely strengthen their links to the VET sector, so that students can start with a VET qualification and then articulate to university. But the high status "research" universities will be wary of damaging their reputations by being seen to be offering VET qualifications. They will likely continue to offer education programs at associated "institutes" but not highlight these are actually VET qualifications. Also research universities would have difficulty obtaining VET certification as their academics would not have the necessary teaching qualifications.

As an example of the open approach, Federation University Australia offers their own branded Technical and Further Education (TAFE) programs, which articulate to their university degrees.

In contrast, the University of Western Australia offers an "Advanced Management Program", in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Management Western Australia (AIM WA). The marketing material for this says participants can earn an AIM WA "Advanced Diploma" and status for UWA certificate and degrees. But the marketing is careful to avoid using the terms "VET" or "TAFE", as that would detract from UWA's image as a leading university. 


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Technologies That Changed Education

In"15 Technologies That Were Supposed to Change Education Forever" (Gizmodo., January 2014), Matt Novak took a lighthearted but insightful look at the waves of technology which were supposed to change the way we learn. As he points out it can be hard to tell the hype from the real advances (MOOCs are, in my view, the latest hype).

Mr. Novak's 15 technologies include various forms of audio book and audio-visual lecture, sent by wire, radio, TV, LP record, or film. Also there are various teaching machines based on the computer technology of the time. In addition there are mobile classrooms (by airship) and forms of high speed transport (such as gyroscopic tram cars).

With the old illustrations this all looks very quaint. However, many of these technologies were introduced and are still used where there is a specific need. Audio and audio-visual materials have been used routinely for training, particularly in the military, for decades. These have also been used for various "open" universities (the Open University of China is, in Chinese, literally the "Radio and TV University"). Australia has its "School of the Air" for outback students to learn via radio (now using the Internet).

Forms of computer based instruction have also been used routinely for training in industry (also pioneered by the military).

The Queensland Education Department for decades provided a mobile "School for Travelling Show Children", transported by truck, with teachers who would follow carnivals around Eastern Australia (now replaced with e-learning).

While not glamorous, provision of public transport so students can get to school quickly and safely, has been important in many parts of the world (and is always a hot political topic).

What perhaps sorts the technological hype from realty is a need. If students are isolated in outback areas far from a school, then there is a need for a school of the air. Similarly if you need to train millions of soldiers quickly, then audio visual materials and training machines make sense. If you need to study while holding down a job and looking after a family, then distance education may be your only option.

However, if you are in an urban area and can afford to attend class (or send your kids to class) and can afford to pay for a teacher, then the technology makes less sense, except as a supplement.

What happens is the physical structure of the educational institution remains, with classrooms and teachers, but this is supplemented with technology. Most students will still go to class, but will get course materials and submit assessment on-line. Also much of the administration can be done on-line. This is not very visible, or glamorous, as hover-cars, but can improve education and provide flexibility.

An example is the National University of Singapore's  annual "e-Learning Week". The university rehearses the procedures needed for the university to continue to operate if staff and students are unable to attend due to a pandemic, or other emergency. A severe hail storm on 27 February 2007 damaged 70 buildings at the Australian National University and closed much of the campus for almost week. Staff and students used on-line facilities during this period.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Business Planning Competition for Canberra University Students

Professor Michael Cardew-Hall
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Innovation ACT 2015, a business planning competition for Canberra's university students is being launched. Professors Michael Cardew-Hall and (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Innovation, ANU) and
Frances Shannon (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, University of Canberra).

Students are taken through a ten week program with one topic a week to produce business model. There are five weekend workshops (starting this weekend) and a series of weekly seminars. The first task for the students is to learn to work together and perhaps is the most valuable part of the program. The students also have to produce a pitch about their idea, which can be fun to watch.

As well as universities, IP Australia are supporting Innovation ACT. One interesting aspect of Innovation ACT is that anyone can participate. Only staff, students and graduates can enter the competition and win $50,000 in funding. Teams have to be at least 50% students.

There is a handbook for participants and another for mentors.

Digital Colombo Plan

In a submission to the Australian Government's  Draft National Strategy for International Education, AARnet have proposed a “Digital Colombo Plan". Australian students would use video conference and collaboration tools, during and after their studies (as reported in The Australian). I proposed something similar in my paper "Chinese and Australian Students Learning to Work Together Online: Proposal to Expand the New Colombo Plan to the Online Environment" presented at the 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE). Vancouver, Canada in 2014. However, I suggest the emphasis should be on the skills the stud nets need to be able to work together effectively. AARnet's submission emphasizes having quality telecommunications links to university in the region, which would certainly help, but the staff and students need formal training in how to use the technology they have.  

ps: When teaching a couple of dozen students how to design web pages at the University of Samoa, my class managed to use up all of the bandwidth allocated to the entire university (fortunately the course was during vacation time). 

Viewbooks for Australian Universities

Apparently "viewbook" is the US term for: "a promotional booklet with pictures that is published by a college or university and used especially for recruiting students; also: an online version of such a booklet" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2015).

It might be worth Australian universities having the word "viewbook" on their web pages, so that international students using US term can find it. Some Australian universities, such as UoW, do use the term. However, just using that term it could be confusing for students who are not familiar with it. I suggest including the term, but not making it too prominent.

I came across the term in a posting on an EDUCAUSE mailing list.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Flipping Your University Class

Dr Eric McCreath, Research School of Computer Science, will speak on "Flipping Your Class - Without Flipping Out" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 1pm 13 August 2015:
"The traditional approach to teaching has the teacher deliver core content as lectures, after which students go off and complete exercises, labs, assignment, etc. with often little help from, or interaction with, teaching staff or other students. The idea of "flip teaching" is that lecture material is recorded and listened to outside of class. This frees up class time to focus on the more interactive aspects of education.

Given dwindling lecture attendance (students where just watching the lectures at home anyway), in 2013 and 2014, I flipped my Introduction to Computer Systems class, providing students with pre-recorded lecture content and reorganised class time. This talk will summarise the changes I made to the course, overview the tools used, and reflect on the educational outcomes. Overall this has been a positive experience and I plan to refine and continue this teaching approach in coming years."
It seems to me that Eric's approach can be used not only to address dwindling lecture attendance but also issess of students cheating. If students are required to be active and involved in class, then it is more likely they will learn and so have less incentive to cheat on assessment. Also if they are required to do many small tasks spread over a whole semester it will be much harder to carry out the mechanics of cheating than for one large assignment or examination.

Doctoral Education for the Global Research Enterprise

Margot Pearson will speak on "Enhancing the experienced environment for doctoral candidates in a diverse array of settings and arrangements" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12:30pm 20 August 2015.
"A significant feature of contemporary doctoral education is the continuing trend for research and research education to migrate beyond discipline-based institutional teaching and research structures.  As stated in a government consultation paper DIIRS 2011.

Although the majority of formal training is undertaken within a university environment, research training can also take place in a wide variety of settings. Besides university environments, research training occurs in medical research institutes and hospitals, in the CSIRO, Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) and in office and industrial settings.
The result is a diverse array of settings and arrangements for doctoral education linked to an increasingly global research enterprise.

Opportunities for funding and access to other resources including expertise can vary across doctoral programs and within them. The resulting experienced environment of doctoral candidates is one that that can afford them opportunities and challenges for completing their candidacy. Drawing on recent research it is argued that in this fluid and distributed environment attention needs to be on the individual candidate and how they negotiate their candidacy within a framework for exploring the doctoral experience that is candidate-centred; a framework that includes a focus on candidate agency, personal-academic connections, and networks."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Shorter Programs for Vocational Qualifications

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Japanese Government will expand business programs and vocational training at the expense of liberal arts ("Japan Rethinks Higher Education in Skills Push" by Mitsuru Obe, 2 August 2015). If the objective is to produce graduates with vocationally relevant business and technical skills, then cutting back liberal arts makes sense. However the question needs to be asked if this is what universities are for and if degree programs are the way to provide these skills. 

It does not make a lot of sense to take a non-vocational university degree program and try to retrofit work related skills to it. If individuals have years to devote to a liberal education followed by vocational studies, that is fine. However, if there is not the funding for that, then it would be better for the individual to spend their time and money learning the essential vocational skills, get a job and then worry about a liberal education when, and if, they can afford it. In Australia you have the option of doing six months to two years of vocational education to get a qualification for a job and worry about a degree later.

ps: A senior person at the business school of a prestigious European university  commented to me recently that the liberal arts students enroll in business classes shorty before they are to graduate, when they realize they are "two terms away from unemployment". ;-)

Marketing Universities

Universities are all selling the same products (research and education), so it is not surprising if their marketing is similar. Prestige institutions use their research reputation to market education ("We have a Nobel Prize winner!"), while those without a research record use vocational relevance ("We will get you a job!"). Australian universities seem to be going through a spate of re-branding at the present.

The University of Western Sydney (UWS), a vocationally orientated institution with a good reputation, is re-branding itself "Western Sydney University" (WSU or "W" for short). This seems a reasonable change to make, but there has been some criticism that a large part of the $20M marketing budget will be spent on this. See "University of Western Sydney to get new name and logo", by Melanie Kembrey, Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 2015.

 A more questionable case of re-branding is that Central Queensland University (CQU), a modest university (in, as the name suggests, central Queensland), is reported to be changing to "Australian National Regional University" (ANRU"). CQU is a regional university in Australia, but the problem is that the new name would be very close to that of the "Australian National University" (ANU), one of the country's leading research universities (where I am an Adjunct Lecturer). See "University games: protect ANU from CQU's rebranding overreach" by Ross Fitzgerald, The Age, 6 August 2015.

MOOC Providers Moving to Shorter Vocational Courses

In "Coursera changes course on courses" (The Australian Higher Education Supplement, 5 August 2015), it is reported that the Cosera is part of a trend by MOOC providers for skills training and professional development, rather than liberal arts courses. This should not be a surprise for those with a background in distance education (DE). MOOCS are just a recent form of distance education and one of the lessons you learn as a student of distance education (as I am) is that the primary motivation for most DE students is vocationally related. DE students want skills to get them a job, or to qualify for further education to then get a better job. This is not to say that there are not some students who want to learn for the sake of learning, but these are in the minority. It can be especially hard to keep doing the work required for a DE course unless you have a powerful motivation to learn. The thirst for knowledge is a motivation, but getting a job (or a better job) is a powerful one.

When English universities (including Oxford) started offering extension programs, more than one hundred years ago, it was intended to improve the general education of the population. But the universities soon discovered that the students did not want to just broaden their minds, they wanted practical training in subjects which would help with employment. This same lesson was re-learned more than fifty years ago when the Open University UK started offering distance education. A significant proportion of students were teachers who wanted to improve their career prospects.

The first MOOCs were adaption of semester long university courses. The MOOC courses have tended to get shorter and more vocational, resembling those which have been offered for vocational education at Australian TAFEs and privative colleges for decades. While vocational teachers are used to preparing courses in small practically orientated modules with pass/fail assessment, this can be a difficult skill for university professors to learn and a difficult goal for them to come to terms with.

Fraud Alleged in Australian Vocational Colleges

Australia has a widening scandal over colleges issuing students with qualifications they have not earned. The Australian Federal Police have charged the owners of one college with fraud and others are being investigated. The fake qualifications were allegedly used to get the students work with the government owned "Australia Post" postal service. See "Exploitation fears as students pay for 'fake skills'", by Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 2015.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Learning About Mobile Learning

Ally and  Tsinakos (2014) provide 255 pages (4.2Mbytes of PDF) of free readings on Increasing access through mobile learning. This is divided into three parts:
  1. Designing Mobile Learning
  2. Implementing Mobile Learning
  3. Using Mobile Learning in Education and Training

A few weeks ago I attended the Second International Conference on Open and Flexible Education (ICOFE 2015) at Hong Kong Open University. The theme of the conference was "Making Learning Mobile and Ubiquitous". While there were many papers and workshops presented on on e-leaning in general (you can read my notes on some), few were specifically on mobile leaning (m-learning). In e-learning courses I try to make the materials compatible with mobile devices, but this assumes that students will use these materials in the same way as on a desktop (or laptop) computer.

Clearly the experience of interacting with a mobile device on a bus is different to using a laptop in a private place. Does this change the nature of the learning and so should the content and activities be different.I assume a student may read notes and reply to a forum question (which requires a short answer) from a mobile device. But will the student try to prepare a 4,000 word essay on the bus? Should I break the assessment tasks into smaller components to suit this environment? Should I tell the student how many hours of "desktop" time they will need to complete the course (as opposed to palmtop time).

Ally and  Tsinakos (2014) goes some way to answering some of those questions.


Ally, M., & Tsinakos, A. (2014). Increasing access through mobile learning. Retrieved from

Monday, August 3, 2015

Designing an Innovation Course: Part 5: Wikpedia Book of Readings

In Part 4 I prepared an "An Introduction to Entrepreneurship" for a course in "Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship in Technology". To complement this I have produced a 129 page book of readings: “Commercialisationand Entrepreneurship: Technology, Business and People”. This material is selected from the Wikipedia.
Searching for OER on “Entrepreneurship” I found a 96 page ebook "Entrepreneurship: A group of ideas around entrepreneurship". This had an excellent summary, with images and references. The material was so well presented that it took me some time to realize that this is a “Wikipedia Book”, that is a collection of Wikipedia entries, which have been rendered to book format. So them I produced my own modified book, with more Wikipedia entries. Unfortunately there appears to be no easy way to render this in HTML format for incorporation in a Moodle book.

The re-purposing of Wikipedia content in this format may go some way to reducing concerns from teachers over its use. The selection of the Wikipedia content for the e-book can be curated by a course designer and once rendered to a PDF book the content is fixed and not subject to change. Also, rather than tell students not to use the Wikipedia, this shows an acceptable academic use.

Table of Contents

Definitions 1

1.1 Entrepreneur1
1.1.1 Definition1
1.1.2 Extended definition of entrepreneurship2
1.1.3 Entrepreneurial Cognition 2
1.1.4 Psychology of entrepreneurship4
1.1.5 Predictors of entrepreneurial success4
1.1.6 Entrepreneurship as a science of artificial5
1.1.7 Entrepreneurial Finance5
1.1.8 Other elements of entrepreneurship6
1.1.9 History6
1.1.10 See also7
1.1.11 References7
1.1.12 Further reading9
1.2.1 Definition10
1.2.2 Extended definition of entrepreneurship11
1.2.3 Entrepreneurial Cognition 11
1.2.4 Psychology of entrepreneurship12
1.2.5 Predictors of entrepreneurial success13
1.2.6 Entrepreneurship as a science of artificial14
1.2.7 Entrepreneurial Finance14
1.2.8 Other elements of entrepreneurship15
1.2.9 History15
1.2.10 See also16
1.2.11 References16
1.2.12 Further reading18
Startup company18
1.3.1 Definition18
1.3.2 Evolution19
1.3.3 Startup business partnering19
1.3.4 Startup culture20
1.3.6 Startup investing20
1.3.7 Internal startups21
1.3.8 Trends and obstacles21
1.3.9 See also22
1.3.10 References22
Entrepreneurial economics23
1.4.1 Theories of the Economic Functions of the Entrepreneur24
1.4.2 See also24
1.4.3 References24

Innovation 26

2.1 Innovation26
2.1.1 Inter-disciplinary views26
2.1.2 Measures29
2.1.3 Rate of innovation29
2.1.4 Government policies30
2.1.5 See also31
2.1.6 References31
Product innovation33
2.2.1 Introduction33
2.2.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Product Innovation33
2.2.3 New product development34
2.2.4 Stages of New Product Development34
2.2.5 Existing Product Development34
2.2.6 References34
Disruptive innovation35
2.3.1 History and usage of the term35
2.3.2 The theory36
2.3.3 Disruptive technology37
2.3.4 High-technology effects38
2.3.5 Practical example of disruption38
2.3.6 Examples of disruptive innovations38
2.3.7 See also38
2.3.8 Notes39
2.3.9 References40
2.3.10 Further reading40
2.3.11 External links40

The Cambridge Phenomenon 41

3.1 Silicon Fen41
3.1.1 41
Business growth
3.1.2 Area characteristics42
3.1.3 See also42
3.1.4 References43
3.1.5 External links43
ARM Holdings43
3.2.1 History44
3.2.2 Operations45
3.2.3 Technology45
3.2.4 Licensees45
3.2.5 Sales and market share46
3.2.6 Partnerships46
3.2.7 Senior management47
3.2.8 See also47
3.2.9 References47
3.2.10 External links50
Raspberry Pi Foundation50
3.3.1 Foundation50
3.3.2 Raspberry Pi51
3.3.3 References52
3.3.4 External links52

Investing 53

4.1 Angel investor53
4.1.1 Etymology and origin53
4.1.2 Source and extent of funding53
4.1.3 Investment profile54
4.1.4 Geographical differences54
4.1.5 See also54
4.1.6 References55
Business case55
4.2.1 Reasons for creating a business case56
4.2.2 Development and approval process56
4.2.3 Not Public sector projects56
4.2.4 See also57
4.2.5 Notes57
4.2.6 References57
Content of a business plan57
4.3.1 Audience57
4.3.2 Content57
4.3.3 Presentation58
4.3.4 Revising the business plan58
4.3.5 Legal and liability issues58
4.3.6 Open business plans59
4.3.7 Uses59
4.3.8 Not for profit businesses59
4.3.9 Satires59
4.3.10 See also60
4.3.11 References60
Business model60
4.4.1 History61
4.4.2 Theoretical and empirical insights to business models61
4.4.3 Categorization of business models61
4.4.4 Applications62
4.4.5 Business model design62
4.4.6 Definitions of business model design or development63
4.4.7 Examples of business models63
4.4.8 Business model frameworks65
4.4.9 Related concepts65
4.4.10 See also66
4.4.11 References66
4.4.12 Further reading68
4.4.13 External links68
Content of a business plan68
4.5.1 Audience68
4.5.2 Content69
4.5.3 Presentation69
4.5.4 Revising the business plan70
4.5.5 Legal and liability issues70
4.5.6 Open business plans70
4.5.7 Uses70
4.5.8 Not for profit businesses71
4.5.9 Satires71
4.5.10 See also71
4.5.11 References71
Venture capital72
4.6.1 History72
4.6.2 Funding75
4.6.3 Firms and funds76
4.6.4 Geographical differences78
4.6.5 Confidential information80
4.6.6 Governmental Regulations80
4.6.7 In popular culture80
4.6.8 See also81
Venture capital financing82
4.7.1 Overview83
4.7.2 Venture capital financing process83
4.7.3 At Last86
4.7.4 See also86
4.7.5 References86
4.7.6 Further reading86
Seed money87
4.8.1 Usage87
4.8.2 Types of early stage funding87
4.8.3 Other sources of seed funding87
4.8.4 Government funds87
4.8.5 References87
Rate of return88
4.9.1 Calculation88
4.9.2 Comparisons between various rates of return89
4.9.3 Uses91
4.9.4 Time value of money92
4.9.5 Compounding or reinvesting92
4.9.6 Returns when capital is at risk92
4.9.7 See also94
4.9.8 Notes94
4.9.9 References94
4.9.10 Further reading95
4.9.11 External links95
4.10 Initial public offering95
4.10.1 History95
4.10.2 Reasons for listing95
4.10.3 Procedure96
4.10.4 Largest IPOs (unadjusted)99
4.10.5 Largest IPO markets99
4.10.6 See also99
4.10.7 References99
4.10.8 Further reading100
4.10.9 External links101
4.11 Exit strategy101
4.11.1 In warfare101
4.11.2 In business101
4.11.3 See also102
4.11.4 References102
4.11.5 External links102

5 Incubators and Plans

Business incubator103
5.1.1 The incubation process103
5.1.2 Types104
5.1.3 Goals and Sponsors104
5.1.4 History104
5.1.5 Incubator networks105
5.1.6 See also105
5.1.7 References105
5.1.8 External links105
Virtual business incubator 105
Strategic planning106
5.3.1 Process106
5.3.2 Tools and approaches107
5.3.3 Strategic planning vsfinancial planning108
5.3.4 Criticism108
5.3.5 See also108
5.3.6 References109
5.3.7 Strategic plan examples109
5.3.8 Further reading109
New business development109
5.4.1 Technology110
5.4.2 Business networks
5.4.3 References111

Designing an Innovation Course: Part 4: An Introduction to Entrepreneurship in Technology

In Part 3 I looked at an "Introduction to Innovation" for a course in "Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship in Technology". After more open access searching I identified the Open University (UK) module on "Entrepreneurial behavior" to be most useful.

The OU UK course notes were 6,925 words (equivalent to 15 pages). This is far in excess of the amount of material needed for a one to two hour learning module. The OUUK document contained some copyright material which I have deleted. Reducing some of the verbose language, reduced the notes to about half the size (3,200 words, six pages). The images in the OU module were also too low resolution to be usable and have been omitted and new images added from OER sources. The OU notes used images to show tables, contrary to web accessibility guidelines, so some of these had to be transcribed (others omitted). The notes also contained more student exercises than could be undertaken in 90 minutes and two thirds of these have been omitted. I added some new video (as the OU video was of too low resolution), activities and adapted questions.

The OU course materials included interactive quizzes for the student. However, these where simply free-form text questions. Without anyone to provide feedback to the student, these are of little value. As a result the quiz questions have been adapted to forum topics for students to answer and then discuss in a Moodle forum with other students. Students can then rate the responses from each other. Where the OU quizzes were, a new multiple choice quiz, using some of the course content has been added.

An Introduction to Entrepreneurship in Technology


Entrepreneurs may be broadly defined as people who manage a business with the intention of expanding that business by applying some form of innovation and with the leadership and managerial capacity for achieving their goals, generally in the face of strong competition from other firms, large and small. The overall aim of this unit, therefore, is to provide you with opportunities to consider and reflect on the personal aspects involved in transforming an innovative idea into an entrepreneurial product.

Learning outcomes

After studying this unit you should:

  • understand the nature of entrepreneurship;
  • understand the function of the entrepreneur in the successful, commercial application of innovations;
  • confirm your entrepreneurial business idea;
  • identify personal attributes that enable best use of entrepreneurial opportunities;
  • explore entrepreneurial leadership and management style;
  • identify the requirements for building an appropriate entrepreneurial team.

Economic function of the entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs have two roles in the economy: to introduce new ideas, and to energise business processes.The term entrepreneur, derives from the French words entre (between) and prendre (to take), referred to someone who acted as an intermediary. The term was originally used to describe the activities of what today call an impresario, a promoter or a deal maker. The role of the entrepreneur now is to conceive a business idea in terms of an innovation to be brought successfully to the market and to find the wherewithal to make this happen. The entrepreneur does not necessarily need to have the design, production or delivery skills, nor do they shoulder all of the risk, but the successful management of risk is an important entrepreneurial attribute.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter (1934), who has had a seminal influence on entrepreneurship, as well as innovation, placed the entrepreneur at the centre of his theory of economic development. Schumpeter defined the entrepreneur simply as someone who acts as an agent of change by bringing into existence a ‘new combination of the means of production’. New combinations include process, product and organisational innovations. The means of production includes capital, equipment, premises, raw materials, labour and, in recent times, information. Currently, knowledge has been added to the list as the indispensable ingredient for business success in the new millennium.

The essence of Schumpeter's approach is that entrepreneurs are competitive and always strive to gain an edge over their competitors. When they begin to consolidate and slow down, they revert to being ordinary managers and, in Schumpeter's terms, are no longer entrepreneurial. Thus attitudes to growth and the actual attainment of growth are essential elements of the concept of entrepreneurship. The attainment part of the concept, of course, implies a high level of managerial competence in all these five stages:

Idea > attracts > Entrepreneur > seeks > Capital > enables > Team/Firm >compete > Market
Table 1: Business Completion Chain
Also a high competence in social and commercial interactions outside the firm with other firms, regulators and, above all, customers and consumers is required. This implies that entrepreneurial firms that innovate successfully and encourage new innovations are likely to be different from most other firms. They appear to be more open and supportive of different opinions and ideas. If you are developing your own idea as part of an organisation (or if you feel that your idea will need the combined efforts of a firm for its implementation), Activity 1 will help you identify where you need to develop and negotiate support both inside and outside the firm. The art of negotiation is a key entrepreneurial skill.

Activity 1

Referring to the characteristics of successful innovation, complete the Characteristics of the entrepreneurial firm checklist.

Consider the ideal firm for bringing your idea to market (or if your ideas have not yet crystallised, an enterprising group or firm of at least two other people you know). Make a note about the purpose of the firm or team before you answer the questions.
Try to answer the following questions (pausing for reflection if you need to.) If the answer is ‘Yes’ write a brief example. If the answer is ‘No’, write the main reason.

Characteristics of the entrepreneurial firm checklist

Try and record detailed answers to the following questions in your learning journal. Select the question mark if you need advice:

  1. Does the first have strong confidence in its technical capabilities and knowledge?
  2. Is there a strongly shared culture and values?
  3. Is there a strong customer focus?
  4. Is development and project work carried out in cross-functional teams?
The characteristics of entrepreneurial firms that are successful at launching innovations have been widely studied and are reflected in the questions asked in Activity 1. However, at this stage you may be a long way off starting, or helping to start, your own firm. The checklist should serve as a useful tool for gauging the innovative support from your current situation and as a guideline for the sort of atmosphere that needs to develop in a firm in order to maximise its entrepreneurial potential. When faced with very real resource constraints, maintaining motivation to set up and run such a firm can be very tough. The main motivation for entrepreneurs to overcome the barriers of economic pressure and uncertainty, according to Schumpeter (who was writing in the 1930s), were the prospects of upward social mobility into the capitalist class. At the start of the 21st century, with the almost universal dominance of market-based economic systems and a hugely increased middle class, the need to cope with the direct and indirect threats of ‘globalisation’ is now often cited as the spur to innovation. For others, economic survival or the chance to create something of value are the driving motivators. Whatever the personal ambitions of entrepreneurial small firm owners, their role in introducing innovations and in improving overall economic development and efficiency is important.

Basically, the concept of development from an economic viewpoint means the growth of goods and services in an economy usually measured in total or per capita rates of growth in all goods and services, known as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the Gross National Product (GNP) when nationally owned overseas goods and services are included. In advanced industrial economies such as Britain, France, Germany and so on, policy objectives tend to be targeted on improving economic performance rather than development per se. As an alternative to an economic approach, one of the best known psychologically based economic development models that is still very influential, David McClelland's achievement motivation model, pays less attention to structural factors while the psychological determinants of economic behaviour are more strongly emphasised:

Some wealth or leisure may be essential to development in other fields the arts, politics, science, or war but we need not insist on it. However, the question why some countries develop rapidly in the economic sphere at certain times and not at others is in itself of great interest, whatever its relation to other types of cultural growth. Usually, rapid economic growth has been explained in terms of ‘external’ factors favourable opportunities for trade, unusual natural resources, or conquests that have opened up new markets or produced internal political stability. But I am interested in the internal factors in the values and motives men have that lead them to exploit opportunities, to take advantage of favourable trade conditions; in short, to shape their own destiny. (McClelland 1968, p. 74)

McClelland's preferred entrepreneurial motivator, the need for achievement or nAch as it is usually abbreviate – ‘a desire to do well, not so much for the sake of social recognition or prestige, but to attain an inner feeling of personal accomplishment’ – is a more psychologically-based theory. McClelland himself summarised an alternative economic development theory as ‘a society with a generally high level of nAch will produce more energetic entrepreneurs who, in turn, produce more rapid economic development’. However, McClelland was quite disparaging about the profit motive as the mainspring of entrepreneurial activity:

Since businessmen had obviously shifted their concern from intrinsic worth to money worth, Marx and other economists endowed man with a psychological characteristic known as the ‘profit motive’. The capitalist, at any rate, was pictured as being driven by greed, by the necessity of making money or keeping up his rate of profit.

That such an assumption is a typical oversimplification of rational or armchair psychology has recently begun to be realised by historians in particular who have studied the lives of actual business entrepreneurs in the nineteenth century. Oddly enough, many of these men did not seem to be motivated by a desire for money as such or by what it would buy. (McClelland 1961, p. 233)

Clearly, the ‘oversimplification’ of the profit motive determining economic development has survived longer than McClelland believed it would and remains a central pillar to current business and economic analysis. Other motives include the need for autonomy, to ‘be my own boss’, to support a preferred lifestyle, to provide security for the family, to achieve social status and so on. Nevertheless, earning profits and making money also feature as important motives and the potential profitability of a new product is still usually the acid test of its likely viability. And well know entrepreneurs to the press and public are usually very successful and very rich business owners.

Entrepreneurial qualities

It is now widely accepted that, apart from the start up phase, most small firms in Europe are more concerned about survival rather than growth and relatively few are especially entrepreneurial (Gray 1998). Consequently, a lot of research in this field has focused on finding the characteristics that set entrepreneurs and their firms apart from others. Elizabeth Chell (1985, 1999), a social psychologist, has examined numerous psychological trait-based approaches and concluded that, whilst psychological aspects such as ‘entrepreneurial intention’ and the ‘ability to recognise opportunities’ are strongly linked to entrepreneurial behaviour, the context in which the entrepreneur operates is also very important. Entrepreneurship reflects complex interactions between the individual and the situation, which has to be dynamic because business situations are always changing.

Perceptions and judgement are, therefore, key elements in this process. Indeed, more than 20 years ago, Mark Casson (1982) identified ‘judgement’ as one of the qualities that distinguishes the successful entrepreneur from the much larger group of non-entrepreneurial SME owners. As mentioned before, business judgement can reflect an innate ability but most frequently it directly derives from experience (or, more accurately, learning from experience). However, past experience can also filter out our ability to spot new opportunities or threats. Cultural effects related to family, locality and friends can help us interpret the world but they can also colour what we see. The same may be true of the influences from various networks that business owners often belong to (ranging from business associations such as Chambers of Commerce, business clubs and so on, to more social links related to, say, sport or leisure activities). And, of course, our own expectations and motivations of what we hope for in life, at work and in terms of a career will affect both judgement and business behaviour. The Open University Business Schools (OUBS) has conducted research in this area over the years. The findings from many different entrepreneurial firms, which reveal various influences and feedback loops on the owner-manager's decision-making. Apart from the effects of the various influences that can affect business judgements, the main points to note are:

  1. Business situations consist of real challenges, constraints and opportunities that directly impact on the business performance of a firm.
  2. However, it is how entrepreneurs perceive these that guide their judgments and actions (which is why accurate market information, the ability to learn and experience are so important).
  3. Business perceptions are also influenced by personal and business motivations, peer pressures and cultural influences (it could be argued that entrepreneur's perceptions are more closely aligned with reality).
  4. Entrepreneurial behaviour is guided by the entrepreneur's expectations rather than a rigid set of strategic objectives (again, it may be that the entrepreneur's expectations are more realistic and, maybe, more ambitious than those of other business managers).
  5. The process is not static but very dynamic with feedback and signals from the market consciously and indirectly affecting later decisions and actions.
As each context and set of market signals reflect industry, regional and life-cycle influences, it is difficult to believe that each entrepreneur needs the same set of skills in order to achieve success. To date, researchers have not been able to identify a core and necessary bundle of attributes, characteristics or qualities that mark out successful entrepreneurs unerringly from the large crowd of business owners. However, a commonly quoted empirical and desk research study of new venture start-ups, that has stood the test of time over the past quarter-century, was conducted through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Jeffrey Timmons and colleagues (Timmons et al. 1977). They identified 14 important entrepreneurial characteristics of successful enterprise owners (see Table 2) which still frequently crop up in entrepreneurship research.

Table 2: Behavioural charcteristics of entrepreneurs

  1. drive and energy
  2. self-confidence
  3. high initiative and personal responsibility
  4. internal locus of control
  5. tolerance of ambiguity
  6. low fear of failure
  7. moderate risk taking
  8. long-term involvement
  9. money as a measure not merely an end
  10. use of feedback
  11. continuous pragmatic problem solving
  12. use of resources
  13. self-imposed standards
  14. clear goal setting.
Timmons admitted that few entrepreneurs would possess all traits but felt that strengths in one might compensate for weaknesses in others. Many of these characteristics are self-explanatory (such as high personal drive and energy, self-confidence and setting clear goals) and some appear to be linked. Others may be less obvious or well-known, such as money and profits being used as a measure of success compared with others but less as an end in itself. Helping you to develop the last quality in the list, the ability to set clear goals, is the ultimate objective of this unit.

Activity 2

  • How many of the entrepreneurial qualities listed in Table 2 do you feel already, in the main part, apply to you?
  • Which ones do you feel a need to find out more about?
  • Which ones have you already identified as needing more development?
These characteristics appear consistently in other entrepreneurial research studies. For example, more than 20 years ago in a study of Irish entrepreneurs, Cromie and Johns (1983) identified achievement, persistence and self-confidence as general successful business characteristics as well as internal locus of control and commitment to the business, as the characteristics peculiar to entrepreneurs. Some of the qualities that people often find a bit obscure include tolerance of ambiguity (which basically refers to the ability to accept contradictory or unexpected evidence of something while keeping an open mind) and fear of failure (which can lead to pushy, goal-dominated behaviour but, in fact, is the opposite of need for achievement. The anxiety caused by the fear can sometimes be strong enough to cause the individual to deliberately bring about the failure that is feared). Low fear of failure means that the entrepreneur is prepared to risk things going wrong and can handle setbacks without being deterred. High achievement motivation is a great driving force but low fear of failure may be very useful in times of business chaos and uncertainty.

Entrepreneurial work style

The need for supportive, open and communicative policies, structures and cultures in effective entrepreneurial firms as the optimal crucible for successful innovations comes through very strongly from studies of innovation and successful entrepreneurship. However, the strong internal locus of control of successful entrepreneurs suggests there may be a difficulty in accepting the influence of others, powerful or not. And, the strong need for autonomy does not suggest a personality open to sharing of ideas or knowledge. Indeed, the popular image of a successful entrepreneur can sometimes be that of a determined autocrat who lets nothing stand in the way of success. How can these two conflicting pictures of successful entrepreneurship be reconciled? The answer is that, just as there is no one ‘entrepreneurial personality’ and people have different styles of learning, so too are there different management and leadership styles that vary between particular entrepreneurs, in their particular firms facing their own particular set of circumstances.

In looking ahead to the launch of a successful entrepreneurial idea, we have already highlighted the importance of social process in innovation so it is important to avoid getting too fixated only on the role and capabilities of the entrepreneur. It is the overall capacityof firms, real and perceived, rather than just the individual abilities of their owners, managers or employees that determine the scope of their activities. Perceptions of their own and their staff's capabilities plus their perceptions of competitors’ capabilities has an important part to play in determining small firm owners’ expectations of success. However, there are also likely to be cultural factors of a more general nature which influence perceptions of desired abilities, resources and skills. Entrepreneurs may well be able to identify crucial skills and tasks more accurately than other small business managers. Entrepreneurs can also be defined in terms of their ability to perceive and to respond to these changes more quickly than other business managers. With reasonable feedback, it is relatively straightforward to discuss opportunities and to identify the gaps between reality and perception. However, customer and consumer needs are often ill defined, hidden from view and difficult to quantify Certainly, the perception of many lower level needs (either the needs of entrepreneurs or of customers) are even more strongly determined socially through broad cultural or more immediate occupational influences.

It seems reasonable to hold that effective business judgement reflects the correspondence of an individual's perceived capacities, opportunities and threats to their objective possibilities and the individual's ability competence) to act upon that information. It is not too difficult to then interpret the list of common entrepreneurial behavioural characteristics in Table 2, in terms of business competence. The successful entrepreneurial firm needs the right balance of competences in the team as a whole rather than seeking them in a single individual. Modern management theory is certainly moving in this direction and away from older hierarchical, scientific management or management-by-objectives models. In reality, your leadership and management styles will be determined by what you feel most comfortable with and what you feel is the norm in the circumstances (but remember that the people you are dealing with also have their feelings about what is a ‘normal’ management or communications style for the circumstances). By now we shall assume that you have worked out many of these issues to your own satisfaction but, if you need more help, the following activity on teamwork issues may help you consider them more systematically.

Key points

The important points this unit has covered include:

  • Defining the entrepreneur in terms of economic function and role.
  • Identifying the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms.
  • Considering the role of entrepreneurial motivation in decision making and business behaviour.
  • Identifying leadership and management styles appropriate to an entrepreneurial firm
  • Considering the entrepreneurial team needed to support your idea.

Now Read

  1. Entrepreneurship innovation, (video and transcript), by Diane Amanti, MIT.

Forum Discussion Questions

  1. Characteristics of successful innovation:  Report the answers you gave in Activity 1 on the cand discuss with other students: Referring to the characteristics of successful innovation, complete the Characteristics of the entrepreneurial firm checklist.

Consider the ideal firm for bringing your idea to market (or if your ideas have not yet crystallised, an enterprising group or firm of at least two other people you know). Make a note about the purpose of the firm or team before you answer the questions.
Try to answer the following questions (pausing for reflection if you need to.) If the answer is ‘Yes’ write a brief example. If the answer is ‘No’, write the main reason.

  • Entrepreneurial qualities: Report the answers you gave in Activity 2 on entrepreneurial qualities and discuss with the other students:

    • How many of the entrepreneurial qualities listed in Table 2 do you feel already, in the main part, apply to you?
    • Which ones do you feel a need to find out more about?
    • Which ones have you already identified as needing more development?


    Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It is a derivative of "Entrepreneurial behaviour", The Open University (2013).