How The Nice Center Teaches Entrepreneurship Online

Many universities are moving classes to be completely online in the face of COVID-19. Here are some tips, and how we can help.

Online Classes in the Age of Coronavirus

With the goal of entrepreneurship for all, online courses are central to our work at The Nice Center. Online learning increases access, especially for rural communities and students with non-traditional schedules.

What’s more, working remotely is an essential skill for much of the workforce. An online classroom can be a place where students learn to work remotely effectively.

In recent days, online learning has morphed from a tool to increase access to an essential strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19, or the coronavirus. Universities such as Stanford, Rice, the University of Washington, and Columbia have canceled in-person classes, moving everything online.

It’s unclear how many universities will follow suit, but it’s time for educators to prepare for the possibility. That’s why we wanted to share how we deliver entrepreneurship education online and offer to help any educators who need help transitioning. Just click here and book a call with Dane or Scott if you’d like to chat about that.

jake works remote for the nice center

Priorities for The Nice Center’s Online Entrepreneurship Courses

When designing our online entrepreneurship classes, we had a few priorities:

Access

Our mission is entrepreneurship for all, which means our courses need to be available regardless of time and location. Many of our students work at least one job, live in a rural area, or travel due to activities or work. Building our courses to be accessible is foundational.

Accountability

We have found students perform better when they have to show their work to a small group of classmates. For our entrepreneurship courses, we wanted to combine asynchronous content – such as videos and readings – and synchronous content, when they work live with their small group and have a deadline to share their work. By enabling the students to choose one hour a week that works in their schedule to meet with their small group, we ensure accountability while maintaining access.

Collaboration

Collaboration is central to entrepreneurship. Diverse ideas fuel creativity, and working in a team is how many students will develop ideas in the real-world. With that in mind, we wanted to maintain small groups/teams as a part of the course. Not only teams that they work with on projects, but also a small group to ask questions and explore ideas alongside.

Real-world Remote Training

We believe remote work is an essential skill, so our course should prepare our students for remote work. That belief encouraged us to use tools that remote teams use. These tools also scale, which has enabled us to grow our class size while maintaining small group work.

Tools for Our Online Entrepreneurship Courses

The backbone, or “stack,” of our online entrepreneurship courses includes:

Blackboard – CMS for Assignment Submission & Syllabus

Yes! That Blackboard. Despite moving to an online model that mimics the real world, we still found it easiest to submit assignments on Blackboard so it is similar to other courses and easy to submit grades.

Zoom – Video Conference for Small Group Meetings & One-on-One Help

Zoom is a video conference tool that is easy, fast and standard in the workplace. We purchased a 10-seat educational license with webinar capabilities. The 10 seats allow us to have multiple small groups meet at the same time. We assign a Zoom link to each small group, and they can then use that link whenever they need to meet. We also have a link reserved for the professors so we can quickly provide one-on-one help as needed. The webinar feature is used for our workshops like our remote work series.

Slack – Discussions with the Entire Class, Small Groups, & Sharing Opportunities

Slack is a popular chat tool that is our main channel of communication in the class. We encourage students not to send any emails to the professors and instead to keep conversation in Slack. This helps students answer one another’s questions and helps the two professors and one teacher assistant jump in and answer questions more quickly. We also announce events, job openings, and more on Slack. Students continue to have access to our Slack channels after they are in the course so we can keep them connected with the entrepreneurial activity on campus.

Of all the tools, I find the combination of Slack+Zoom most important, as we can quickly share links, ideas, announcements, and opportunities via Slack, and then jump on Zoom if further discussion is needed. We don’t pay for Slack. If we did, we could probably use Slack video calls and eliminate Zoom, but the accessibility and stability of Zoom means we want to keep it. Students and teachers can join calls anywhere they have their phone, and it always works.

zoom call for the nice center

Loom – Quick Video Lessons

Loom is a great way to make a quick screen-share video. When we receive multiple questions via Slack or our Zoom calls, we make a quick Loom video and then post it in our class’ Slack channel. These quick videos help avoid confusion that comes from an online course.

Update: Loom is now free for higher education users. More here.

ExEC – Entrepreneurial Curriculum

At The Nice Center, we want our students to do entrepreneurship, not just read about it. ExEC is a perfection solution. It provides exercises that walk students through the business model canvas and force them to talk to potential customers and fall in love with a problem instead of a solution. The curriculum was originally designed for in-person courses, but we have worked with ExEC and modified what they have created to make it work online. This fall, they are launching a revamped edition of the curriculum especially for online courses, which will make our job even easier.

Structure of Our Online Entrepreneurship Courses

At a high-level, our entrepreneurship courses focus on first identifying a problem and then coming up with potential solutions to that problem. In the Tools of Entrepreneurship (ENTR 301) course we are teaching this semester, this means the students work individually to validate problems they are interested in. Even though they are doing this problem validation individually, they still meet weekly via Zoom with a group of classmates (more below). Then, after they have validated or pivoted from their problem, they work in groups to build solutions.

Our entrepreneurship course provides content on a weekly basis, including videos, readings, and podcasts. We have all of the content in Blackboard and they have assignments due every three weeks or so, always at the end of the day on Sunday. Students are expected to read the content before meeting with their small groups at a time of their choosing.

The small group meetings happen weekly, and typically one of the professors or teacher assistants join the call to see if there are any questions and check attendance. All calls are automatically recorded and transcribed in the cloud on Zoom, so if the teacher can’t be there, we can watch or read the replay to take attendance and see if the conversation stays on track.

In these small groups, the students have different roles that rotate.

Business Models from Product Hunt

One student brings a business model canvas from a company they found on ProductHunt.com and share it with the group. The goal of this weekly exercise is to expose them to a variety of types of business models and to start discussions about different businesses.

Discussion Leader

One student asks the rest of the small group a question about the readings to make sure everyone understood what they read, and to provide a little accountability to doing the work. They can also help one another with any homework assignments or individual projects.

Prompt Leader

One student helps lead the group in their weekly prompt. This could be an ExEC assignment or a group project like creating a business model canvas for a local business that was interviewed on video.

Lessons from Online Entrepreneurship Course Delivery

After a year and a half of testing different models of online delivery, we have learned a few key lessons.

Accountability matters

Initially, we did not take attendance for the small groups and thought that the social pressure would be enough to show up. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for everyone, so we started grading participation in small groups. Even that has allowed some students to fall behind, so in future cohorts we are planning a larger group meeting (5-10 minutes) before the students break into smaller groups.

Engagement matters

The synchronous model with asynchronous content works well and is much more engaging and sparks more discussion than completely asynchronous. With three of us on Slack, questions and discussions are answered almost immediately. Plus, we have trained the students to ask questions in their small group channels on Slack or to the class as a whole, so often questions are answered before we even see them.

Clarity matters

Problems have most frequently arisen due to a lack of clarity in the instructions or because the instructions were not read. We have had success with Loom videos to personalize the asynchronous content, but in future classes we might standardize that process and post a video every week to make sure students are reminded of what’s coming up and what to be thinking about.

How Other Experts Teach Entrepreneurship Online

We have much to learn on how to best inspire entrepreneurs digitally, and we would love your feedback. Through our efforts, we believe we have found a model that works, scales, and increases access while introducing our students to tools and methods they need to work remotely. We hope you can use our blueprint or contact us if you want help implementing it for your class. As a rural state, we know that the more comfortable our students are working remotely, the more opportunities they will have in their future careers.

Of course, there are many experts who have been recently sharing how to teach effectively online. This Twitter thread from Ethan Mollick gathered some of my favorite tips, including the experience of universities in Italy who were forced to immediately switch to online delivery.

More Resources for Online Learning

Changing a course from an in-person experience to online delivery is a quick change, but it can be done. Even highly collaborative courses – like entrepreneurship – can succeed remotely and even benefit from the online format.

Before we knew about COVID-19, The Nice Center was already thinking about how to train our students on remote work. If you would like to learn more, check out our four-part series on remote work. We invited four different experts to share:

  • Tools needed for remote work
  • How to work remotely
  • How to get hired remotely
  • How to build remote culture

These remote work replays provide insight for both educators and job seekers on leveraging remote tools.

We hope that life returns to normal soon for educators, students, workers, and economies around the world. In the meantime, remote work and online education are essential solutions. We hope this article provided a few ideas that you can take to inspire students, no matter where they are.

Posted on March 9th, 2020 by Scott in Ideas