Using Biography to Teach Entrepreneurship

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Despite the continued debate about whether entrepreneurs are made or born, there is a continued rise in undergraduate entrepreneurship programs (Finkle, Kuratko, and Goldsby 2004; Honig 2004). Accordingly, an emerging question is how to best teach entrepreneurship. In one review of the research in this area by Bechard and Gregorie (2006:22) it was noted that "A whole corpus of research literature has been developing at the interface of entrepreneurship and education (cf. Greene et al., 2004). This research has been reviewed--and criticized--before." Bechard and Gregorie's (2006) approach to reviewing the literature of entrepreneurship education is distinct from other reviews because of their approach to the analysis. They integrate a framework from education pedagogy into the analysis of the articles they highlighted, addressing not only where the gaps were in the research, but also areas for enhancing the classroom. Specifically, they describe how the "socio-cognitive", "psycho-cognitive" and "ethical" dimensions are under-addressed in the literature of entrepreneurship education which is probably a reflection of the fact that they are not addressed as much in the practice of teaching entrepreneurship. For example, the authors note, "it means that what we know about counterfactual thinking--that is, the extent and kind of regrets that individuals may have about their education or career decisions (cf. Baron, 2000; Markman et al., 2002)--has found few echoes in how entrepreneurship educators approach the teaching of entrepreneurship" (Bechard and Gregorie 2005: 36). This points to the need for new directions that bring these and other aspects into the entrepreneurship classroom.

With few notable exceptions (e.g. Honig 2004), innovative approaches to teaching entrepreneurship have not been well-documented in the literature of entrepreneurship. In this paper, we describe the use of biographies in the entrepreneurship classroom as an approach that addresses some of the shortcomings inherent in the normative approach to entrepreneurship education. We begin by describing the use of biographies in other fields and then present how biographies are used in a unique entrepreneurship course in a four-year university program. Implications and conclusions are presented at the close of this paper.

THE USE OF BIOGRAPHIES

While biographies are not a common tool in either entrepreneurship programs or in business schools generally, there is precedent for the successful use of biographies as a teaching tool. Leckie (2006) argues:

   (Biographies) are superb teachers' aids because as members of
   humankind we do not simply live out the life of our species.
   Instead, we display a variety of native abilities, and our
   personalities are shaped by our consciousness of our gender and
   race, environmental influences, and the choices we make.

Leckie writes from the perspective of a history professor, yet many of the lessons that she noted in her use of biographies translate well across disciplinary lines. Biographies help deconstruct some of the myths around seminal figures. Biographies enable students become more aware of the social conditions that either facilitated or inhibited their actions. Biographies challenge some of the students' preconceived notions about the appropriate paths to success. This is helpful not only for history students but for entrepreneurship students as well. Leckie (2006) continues, "As our globe becomes smaller and our communities more diverse, biography, which breathes life into dry census data and puts faces on demographic tables, will become the means by which new groups will weave their stories into our national fabric."

Similarly, Nielsen (2009) in her work teaching disability history, argues, "Teachers can take advantage of biography's special appeal to teach students about the interplay between individuals and structural forces in history. …