Classroom Inc. – Apply the Principles of Effectuation to Improve Learning


Authored By Maria Schellhase,
Professor, College of Southern Nevada

Recently, the ACBSP selected me as the International Best of Regions Presentation Winner at their National Conference. Considering the incredible depth of candidates who represented each region at the conference, I was surprised yet delighted to receive this tremendous honor.

The title of my presentation: Classroom Inc.: Applying Effectuation Principles to Inspire Students and Classroom Innovation

After spending more than 15 years working in leadership roles for organizations such as Merrill Lynch, Station Casinos, Continental Airlines, and SunTrust Bank, I made the decision to leave a successful corporate career behind to pursue my passion for teaching.  The decision was not easy. Although I taught as an adjunct business instructor for 5 years, I was nervous about the transition but was willing to explore the opportunity to teach full time.

Upon entering “the land of education” on a full-time basis, I made several observations:

1.    There was an awful lot of talk regarding student engagement or lack thereof.

2.    Teaching methods were mostly traditional which ignored certain learning styles.

3.    Completion and retention were also items of interest as it related to the student’s educational journey.

Being new on the scene, I watched and listened. My corporate experience came in handy as I began to design course learning outcomes and objectives. I began attending and speaking at conferences very quickly because in my opinion, this was a terrific opportunity to exchange ideas with like-minded individuals. In 2014, my department chair asked that I attend the NACCE Conference to learn more about programs in entrepreneurship. Although excited at the prospect of learning, I was nervous because my business acumen and background was as an intrepreneur NOT an entrepreneur.

The Game Changer: I attended the NACCE Conference as asked. While at the conference, I attended a session administered by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy. During her session, she asked that we speak with the attendee to our right and exchange information regarding our experience with entrepreneurship. Embarrassed that I may not be a good partner for the exercise, I apologized explaining that my background was not in entrepreneurship and that I would likely not have as much to share as she did. After listening to my story, she disagreed with my assessment. From her perspective, I had plenty to draw from AND suggested that I was already an entrepreneur. I was the entrepreneur of my own classroom~ Brilliant! Immediately, a light bulb came on and I began applying the principles of effectuation, as explained by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy, “reimagining” my courses.

Upon returning from the NACCE Conference, I conducted some research of my own. primary and secondary. I was not convinced that student metrics whether it be engagement, completion, or retention were solely a student issue.

According to Gallup (2014):

·     69% of teachers surveyed were either actively disengaged or not engaged as it relates to job satisfaction, were not emotionally connected to their workplaces and were unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work.

·     Only 31% of teachers surveyed were engaged in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work.

·     13% of teachers surveyed were so disengaged that they were likely to spread negativity to their coworkers.

·     55% of the students surveyed felt that their school built upon their strengths and they believed that they have at least one teacher who makes them excited about learning.

·     45% of the students surveyed were either not engaged or actively disengaged.

What is effectuation? Effectuation is a way of thinking that is unique to entrepreneurs as they begin the process of starting a business (Sarasvathy, 2008). There are three areas of interest as it relates to Effectuation.

·     Ideas – Guiding the idea process from conception to reality and making sure the idea is not only desired but also valued

·     Stakeholder Commitments

·     Decisions

The five principles of effectuation:

1.    Bird in Hand – Conduct an analysis of who you are, what you know, and who you know that will would be willing to help

2.    Affordable Loss – What are the risks? What are benefits of taking calculated risks?

3.    Lemonade – Embrace the unknown by embracing technology, discovering new tools that add efficiency and effectiveness, and if the worst case scenario happens, turn the bad experience into a learning opportunity.

4.    Patchwork Quilt – Network with internal and external colleagues to brainstorm ideas and form a support system that encourages continuous improvement and change.

5.    Pilot in the Plan – Focus on what you are able to control and take action on things that will produce desired outcomes.

Applying Effectuation into Your Classroom – A Place to Start:

·     Bird in Hand – Conduct a SWOT Analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Lead with your strengths and minimize weaknesses (remember these are internal and specific to you). Then explore opportunities and consider threads (these are external – things that may upset the synergy within your classroom). Busteed & Seymour (2015) suggested that the SWOT Analysis is a valuable tool and when used regularly, can benefit individuals and organizations alike. Adding educational and industry trends into the mix also helps with keeping classroom materials, discussions, assessment, methodology, and technology current.  Mind Mapping points of focus and exploring avenues to tackle each objective is also an excellent assessment tool to begin the classroom reimagining process.

·     Affordable Loss – Discover the potential challenges you will face as you begin the classroom reimagining process. Do you need assistance or training? Will you need grant money or financial assistance? Make a list of the hazards involved in the process. Consider developing contingency plans to keep the reimagining process moving forward.

·     Lemonade – Here is the fun part! Do not be afraid to learn something new. If something you try in class does not work the first time, do not be so quick to give up. Use your imagination to identify new tools that will excite learners. Be creative and take chances. Make technology your friend. While there will always be a certain amount of lecturing within the classroom, Gen Z and Millennial students need more interaction enjoy using technology in the classroom. For example, is a great tool that does not cost anything and will assist you when quizzing students in the classroom using their phones. Implementing active learning into classes will increase creativity and appeal to multiple learning preferences.

·     Patchwork Quilt – Collaborate with colleagues. Share information and form a brainstorming alliance.

·     Pilot in the Plan –  Assess student performance often enough to make changes where needed. Consistently make changes to activities, assignments, discussions, or learning materials if you believe it is not effective. Create best practices and share with others.

My Experiment: I formed a brainstorming alliance with 10 colleagues where we each committed to applying the five principles of effectuation as we reimagined our classes. We met consistently and discussed learning gaps as well as areas of opportunity. Each of us brought something new to the table and supported each other in embracing technology and as well as trying new learning techniques.

Applying the Principles of Effectuation as the Entrepreneur of your own classroom works! I witnessed/observed the following:

1.    Increased student AND instructor engagement.

2.    Increased collaboration/information sharing among colleagues.

3.    Increased willingness among faculty to test existing paradigms and take risks along the way.

4.    Increased use of assessment (course and student) becoming more proactive rather than reactive.

Try it~ With little effort you will experience a boost in student performance and engagement while also feeling more engaged yourself in the process.

3 thoughts on “Classroom Inc. – Apply the Principles of Effectuation to Improve Learning

  1. Very exciting. Great professional development example. How was the experience of your other nine partners? Do you continue to improve the application of effectuation principles? I would imagine after three or four classes you would have the application working at fifty percent efficiency. What do you think?

  2. Hello Dr. Parscale and thank you for your post!
    The effectuation process is ongoing; therefore, the instructor should always search for opportunities to improve.
    My brainstorming group continues to collaborate and interestingly enough, our group is expanding. Partners believe in the value of the collaboration and it is a safe place for older faculty who are not comfortable with technology to ask for help one-step at a time.
    One thing is certain; this process improves every aspect of teaching. Assessment, delivery, innovation and the list goes on.
    Please feel free to email me with any questions.