Since becoming a Senior Fellow in 2019, I have reflected heavily on how I can improve the quality of entrepreneurship-related education and learning, and to build in greater gender inclusivity as part of my teaching practice, in an emerging economy setting like Malaysia. The latter is a particular problem in emerging economies settings, where gendered stereotypes and norms often curtail female student participation and skill development during entrepreneurship education.
A key aspect of entrepreneurship education and learning is developing students’ entrepreneurial mindset, skills and competencies. Often this is done by providing students with real-world experiences of ‘entrepreneurship life’ through action learning, skills-based courses, mentoring sessions or through entrepreneurial/business idea competitions. At the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM), such practices are built very much into the foundations of the final-year capstone module New Venture Creation (NVC). Such approaches to learning about entrepreneurship and developing entrepreneurial skills and competencies are ideally suited to a pre-Covid environment, where students could freely interact with one another and reflect on the experience of working in teams to run a venture. One might suspect that the shift to online teaching, density restrictions and strict SOPs may have presented a significant challenge to delivering a module like NVC and achieving its learning objective to many entrepreneurship educators around the world.
My own experience suggests otherwise. Switching to an online delivery mode, and utilizing serious games such as Simventure to deliver the module not only made the process easier, but also provided two unique opportunities. Firstly, enhanced development of students’ entrepreneurial mindsets and competencies for future entrepreneurial acts in a safe learning environment and increased gender inclusivity and participation in entrepreneurial learning.
The game represents a business simulation that incorporates start-up components as part of gameplay. Students take the role of a manager and compete with a computer to make tactical decisions in starting a business. It can also be loaded with custom scenarios built by instructors to better fit course content. The ability to use the simulation online was particularly useful for delivery when the UNM campus was closed to students, and where many students were prevented from physically being in Malaysia due to the government’s decision to close international borders.
Several key things stood out to me following the use of the simulation as part of the module. Firstly, gamification provided much value in the education process by allowing students to engage in experiential learning that is fun and engaging and one which was in a in a safe and risk-free environment. Secondly, it helped individual students and teams develop stronger problem-solving skills and engage in reflective learning as it allowed for near instantaneous feedback from problem-solving situations. Additionally, the online simulated venture experience allowed closer observation of student behaviours amongst themselves throughout the experience.
Finally, learning through crises events is considered a key aspect of entrepreneurial learning (Cope, 2011). Being able to develop custom scenarios, or change the terms of simulation as an instructor proved invaluable to the delivery of the module and in students’ understanding of the entrepreneurial process. For instance, one student team’s virtual venture was doing very well, so to liven up the learning experience, and to get students to appreciate how failure can stem from many sources in a new venture, I encouraged the team to develop a completely new product and launch it into a new market. The team in question embraced this challenge with considerable passion and enthusiasm. However, as their venture and new idea began to underperform in the new market, the students were able to reflect more deeply on the emotional aspects of their simulated venture. The above mentioned example was much harder to achieve via the traditional method of teaching.
Within the scholarly community debate continues as to whether entrepreneurship education can promote the entrepreneurial skills and capabilities of women. In fact some research suggests that female students may actually benefit less from entrepreneurship related education compared to their male counterparts. This, in part, has been attributed to the macro-social factors in society which establish gendered norms, and which influence underlying assumptions regarding women’s behaviours in society and groups.
One particularly interesting observation from using serious games, was it that it helped to break down gendered stereotypes and barriers and more importantly facilitated greater participation and voice among female students. As a safe learning environment, serious games allowed female students the time and space to consider their decisions and their proposed actions. This, in part, could be attributed to the fact that many students had to communicate their ideas to other team members via online chat tools. Secondly, as it provides instant feedback, it was observed that female students felt more comfortable in expressing their ideas or even disagreement with other ideas, as there was often ‘hard’ evidence to back up their claims.
The game also involved student teams managing an already established business idea, which was rather ‘gender’ neutral in nature. In previous iterations of NVC, student teams tended to focus on rather more ‘masculine’ business ideas or concepts. Often business ideas posed by female students were either voted down or dismissed by other team members as they were seen as being ‘not what the market wants’ or not ‘likely to succeed’. Interestingly, this may have led many female students to feel a lack of ownership towards the team’s business idea, thus making them less willing to invest their energies in the tasks. In contrast, the game helped to embolden female students to participate in decision making and in raising concerns regarding the decisions of other team members.
My experience of using serious games to deliver a capstone entrepreneurship module at UNM has shown me that entrepreneurial games can place students in interactive virtual environments that can be immersive, and allow students to test out decisions and build entrepreneurial preparedness in a safe and risk-free environment. More importantly, virtual entrepreneurial simulation games can help alleviate some of the developmental and skills shortages supposedly experienced by women in entrepreneurship education.
Given that some women may perceive a lack of fit between themselves and the entrepreneurial role due to the entrepreneurial education they received, entrepreneurial simulations may serve as an important means through which they can enhance their risk perceptions, entrepreneurial and management skills and competencies. In sum, the whole experience has gotten me to reflect more deeply as a Senior Fellow on how to build and sustain gender inclusivity in higher education.
Michael Mustafa is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurial Management, and the Head of School for the Division of Organisational and Applied Psychology (DOAP) at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. Michael has been involved in developing and delivering entrepreneurship education in the Southeast Asian region for over a decade.
Cope, J. (2011). Entrepreneurial learning from failure: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Business Venturing, 26(6), 604–623.
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