Hasso Kukemelk, Associate Professor, University of Tartu, Estonia
Päivi Tynjälä, PhD, Professor, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Opponent: Paula Kyrö, PhD, Former Professor, Aalto University, Finland
Future engineers need to develop skills beyond expertise specific to their field. They should be able to recognise and evaluate business opportunities and commercialise them. In sum, future engineers are expected to possess professional expertise, creativity, an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to apply these characteristics to real life situations. Nonetheless, while engineering education providers strive to take into account the need for innovation and creativity, they often overlook the importance of integrating this knowledge with entrepreneurship education. The lack of yet need for this type of knowledge is also highlighted in many reports within the European Union and abroad. Entrepreneurship education is believed to be able to fill this gap, since it is about spotting new opportunities, developing real products for real customers, coping with unplanned randomly occurring real-life events, taking risks, and discerning, evaluating and commercialising opportunities for today’s changing markets. Among other things, entrepreneurship education supports the development of generic skills, coping with uncertainties and being effective. Based on European Union reports and co-existing funding opportunities, ministries of education in EU countries have started to launch various programmes for promoting and integrating entrepreneurship education in curricula on all educational levels. However, educational institutions do not always see this development as an opportunity to modernise education and enrich and deepen students’ learning experiences. To promote modernising education through entrepreneurship education, a better understanding of how to integrate it into curricula as well as about entrepreneurial learning processes and learning methods is needed. Based on this line of thought, the overall aim of this dissertation was to acquire information about and increase the understanding of engineering students’ learning experiences in entrepreneurship education from the learners’ perspective. Students’ experiences were investigated from three different angles, with three specific questions, as follows: 1) How did engineering students experience studying entrepreneurship as part of their study programme? 2) What kind of conceptions of entrepreneurial learning did engineering students express during their entrepreneurship course? 3) What are the sources and dynamics of emotions in entrepreneurial learning? The entrepreneurship course that was investigated was designed based on the integrative pedagogy model (IPM). IPM is based on socio-constructivist principles and the integration of different types of knowledge, namely, theoretical/conceptual, practical/experiential, sociocultural, and self-regulative knowledge. The real value of this learning model lays in its functionality and offering practical tools for teaching, which means that it could be applied for developing generic skills across curricula, not only in engineering education.
The results of this doctoral study revealed variation in students’ learning experiences. The findings of the first sub-study resulted in four qualitatively different categories of experiencing entrepreneurship; namely, as: 1) a first step to self-directed learning; 2) a preparation for work life; 3) a path to possible self-employment; and 4) a context for developing leadership and responsibility for team achievement. The analysis of the second sub-study revealed four qualitatively different engineering student conceptions of entrepreneurial learning; namely, they saw its main use in: 1) applying entrepreneurial ideas to engineering; 2) understanding entrepreneurial issues in a new way; 3) learning action-oriented personal development; and 4) achieving self-realisation through collective effort. The third sub-study revealed three main sources of emotions toward entrepreneurship education; namely: 1) a new kind of learning environment; 2) a collaborative learning; and 3) challenging tasks. Furthermore, each source of emotions consisted of three subcategories. Pedagogical implications identified during this research highlight pedagogically important aspects that are crucial in order to support students’ more significant learning experiences. For example, the kind of effects the transition from a traditional to a socio-constructivist learning environment might have and what could be done to support such a transition. Team-based learning, which is central to socio-constructivist and entrepreneurial learning, has different phases and aspects that need to be addressed during learning processes. Other aspects of learning, such as time constraints, challenging tasks, interaction with the outer world were found to have a significant impact on learning experiences. Thus, pedagogically important aspects have to be taken into account while planning teaching/learning, as well as during the process and when assessing students’ progress. Being aware of pedagogically important aspects that can lead students toward significant and deep learning experiences should also be addressed in teacher training. This information can be used to improve teaching practices. It is also important to emphasise that the pedagogical implications presented in this dissertation are not limited to entrepreneurship education, but can be applied to different learning settings that feature authentic, real-life (simulating) content.