For the past three years, I have taught a social entrepreneurship course with a semester-long project called Climb Above Addiction. This social venture supports prevention and recovery from drug addiction through a field-day type fundraiser themed around rock climbing. During COVID-19, my students were willing to accept the steep challenge of re-imagining a live fundraiser as a virtual event in just five weeks. As the event surpassed our expectations, I would like to share some of our learnings with you.
1. Purpose-driven learning. Encouraging students to discover a problem worth pursuing and then nurturing cognitive and behavioral passion can drive students to show heroic effort in pursuing learning goals and achieving success. For us, living in a state that is among the top five for opioid related deaths made our purpose very real. Students felt the emotional connection, and through our class developed cognitive and behavioral passion. According to Professor Chen (2009) at the University of Washington, cognitive passion is displayed through preparation, thoughtfulness, and logic, while behavioral passion is demonstrated by commitment of time, responsibility, and even one’s own resources.
2. Power of imagination. Our journey began by re-imagining the teach-learning environment and together visualizing what our virtual event would look like. Students met for the first half of each class in small groups via Zoom to brainstorm, plan, and develop ideas for creating and implementing a new event plan. They sparked their imagination by reading, visiting websites, sharing ideas with friends and family, and even spending time virtually socializing and having fun together. During the last half of class, we all zoomed together to discuss progress, the fit and feasibility of ideas, and next steps; and we shared our screens when necessary to show our ideas, accomplishments, and assigned tasks. We also used a Google doc to share and combine our contributions to the event plan, and Moodle announcements and group texts allowed us to stay in touch throughout the week. Having a website and online agenda allowed students to see the event take shape, which heightened their creativity by helping them visualize the possibilities. We learned we could use Facebook Live, Zoom, Kahoot, Padlet, and pre-recorded videos to re-imagine and deliver our virtual event.
3. Co-creating with the community. Knowing the assets in our community and developing collective capacity were critical to the success of our social venture. Students had their own social networks, but guiding them to expand those resources within the community and teaching them how to communicate and build relationships enabled them, without any financial resources, to co-create the day-long, virtual fundraiser. The agenda included live-streamed music, meditation, virtual prayer, yoga, a draw along, cooking classes, make-up tutorials, rock climbing seminars, a fitness workout, dancing, motivational speakers, and a featured production by an actress re-telling the story of a teenager recovering from heroin addiction, followed by a live Q&A session with the actress and recovering addict. My students were able to do this by connecting with the internal and external community to access the many assets needed to co-create their solution.
4. Building a growth mindset. This year’s virtual Climb Above Addiction had great value in supporting a growth mindset in my students. It helped them recognize their ability and what they are capable of achieving even when faced with adversity. I must admit, I quietly worried about the possibility of technical failures while delivering a virtual event using our own Wix website solely managed by the students, but I never discouraged them from trying or made them worry about failure. As a result, they developed a can-do attitude and figured out even the most detailed tasks, such as learning how to embed codes on our website for Facebook Live streams. At the end of the event, students responded that the results exceeded their expectations. This kind of positive, supportive confidence-building experience helps students believe in their potential to solve complex problems in the future.
5. Shared leadership in a team environment. By sharing leadership, each student on our team brought unique skills and abilities to each challenge. They helped host and lead event activities, arranged for speakers, promoted attendance, managed logistics, and communicated with community partners. Eventually, one of the students emerged as our event manager to help coordinate activities, although never formally appointed to the role. It would have been impossible to assign this role to the newly created team in the beginning of the semester; but as the class evolved, he earned this role. Together, we had the combined leadership of the entire class, which helped balance responsibilities and overcome what could have become an overwhelming and stressful experience.
6. Boosting student motivation. If you are a believer in intrinsic motivation, then you know autonomy, mastery, and purpose are key drivers of performance and satisfaction. According to Pink (https://www.danpink.com/books/drive/), we all have “the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” It was this sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose that drove our entrepreneurship students to take what some thought was impossible and make a dream come true. Giving up the reigns and allowing students a sense of autonomy takes courage from any faculty member. It also requires experience of knowing when to step in and when to let go, but in the end, creating an empowered learning environment and fostering life-long learning is worth every challenge.
7. Achieving higher-order learning. Purpose driven, community-based projects that nurture a growth mindset, shared leadership, intrinsic motivation, and imagination result in higher order learning. According to the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (2002), these critical thinking skills include the ability to analyze, evaluate, and create new ideas and ways of thinking. Creating involves “putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product (generating, planning, producing).” As we work to assess learning and demonstrate student outcomes, it is reassuring to know that real-world projects can engage students in achieving the highest levels of learning.
Bonnie Bechard, EdD, teaches social entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and event marketing courses at Plymouth State University (PSU). Dr. Bechard is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship and also serves as the faculty advisor to the PSU chapter of Enactus, an international student organization devoted to taking entrepreneurial action. She is passionate about fighting homelessness, drug addiction, and developing the next generation of social entrepreneurs.
Chen, X.P., Yao, X., & Kotha, S., (2009). Passion and Preparedness in Entrepreneurs’ Business Plan Presentations: A Persuasion Analysis of Venture Capitalists’ Funding Decisions. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52(1), pp. 199-214. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/2245523/Entrepreneur_passion_and_preparedness_in_business_plan_presentations_A_persuasion_analysis_of_venture_capitalists_funding_decisions
Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books, New York. Retrieved from https://www.danpink.com/books/drive/.
Krathwohl, D. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. EBSCO Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.depauw.edu/files/resources/krathwohl.pdf