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ETD

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IN TEACHING INNOVATIVE


ENGINEERING ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Andrew J. Czuchry, Leendert Craig, James H. Lampley


East Tennessee State University

Abstract

Classically linear analysis techniques have been pervasive throughout the curriculum; and
innovations in technology application in the marketplace and the corresponding transformation
in business models have been treated independently. Experiential learning is applied in teaching
the entrepreneurial thought process by translating theory into practice: 1) Lateral thinking; 2) A
real opportunity test linking the use of innovative technology and global markets; and 3)
Technology/business stories illustrating each concept. Coaching points are illustrated with a
mini case study based upon actual graduate student capstone Eureka moment experiences
grasping the excitement of successfully solving combined Business and Engineering Technology
problems.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to share our story of Experiential Learning in Engineering
Technology from three different but interrelated perspectives:
1. The student: this perspective will be shared by our Doctoral Fellow who is the second
author and has successfully completed his MS in Engineering Technology. He speaks in
the first person using I in the text that follows below:
2. The faculty who teach the Innovative Entrepreneurship Program at East Tennessee State
University (ETSU): Here the first person using we in the text that follows below:
3. And finally the community using the pronoun they is employed to illustrate
learning that takes place in the communities we serve.
In sharing the different perspectives of learning we may make a contribution by taking a
systems view of the topic Leadership versus Management in Engineering Technology
Organizations.
Definitions and Review of Relative Literature

Innovation is a term that has conflicting definitions but this is possibly a very good one:

Schumpeter was possibly the first theorist of innovation. He defines innovation as the
introduction of new products, the introduction of new method of production, the opening
of a new market, the conquest of a new source of supply of raw materials and the
carrying out of the new organization of any industry (1). This definition is particularly
interesting because it defines innovation as a process and not only as an object, by using
the term "introduction". This definition shows also an advanced understanding of

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

innovation because it is not limited only to the product innovation, but opens the door to
organizational innovations or still to process innovations (2).

Innovation is a nonlinear process so the teaching objective is how can we manage or lead a
nonlinear process. The 2014 National Baldrige Criteria makes innovation a firm requirement for
achieving organizational performance excellence (3). The challenge we face in innovation is that
linear thinking that we learned in our undergraduate engineering programs, i.e., superposition
does not apply.

When asked to define Entrepreneurship Ewing Kauffman said, People do not want to be
managed they want to be led! We begin our course by reviewing definitions and then
underscoring that management and leadership skills are both essential and complementary. See
http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/entrepreneurship (4) and the Harvard Business Review on
Leadership (5) for eight articles that give details of how Management provides people directions
to enhance the organizations performance, while Leadership inspires individuals to
enthusiastically take action to achieve extraordinary goals. We firmly believe that successful
entrepreneurs have a combination of talents. Among these are creative idea generation,
innovative practical implementation schemes, and an ability to listen to customers and
employees to solve problems that add value others are willing to pay a premium to receive. The
nonlinear nature of the combined business and technology problem causes changes that are
beyond the scope of management alone.

It is important to review the difference between open and closed systems in engineering and
business contexts. Engineering teaches a linear system is closed loop when it has feedback from
the output to the input. As an example an open loop system with a pole in the right hand plane is
unstable. However, taking the Laplace Transform we would add a zero to the feedback loop to
cancel the pole in the right hand plane making the system stable (6). So a closed loop system in
engineering terms is better because it has more stability. In a business context a closed system
means you keep your research internally to protect your key core competencies from your
competition and unfortunately your customer, too. In business an open system engages a client
or customer much earlier throughout the acquisition process.

Approach to Teaching Innovative Engineering Entrepreneurship

Experiential learning is a key discipline within our teaching innovative entrepreneurship. We are
seeking teaching outcomes summarized in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1: Experiential Learning in Innovative Engineering Entrepreneurship


Lateral Thinking; Real Opportunity Test
What value do we deliver to the customer?
Which one of our customers problems are we helping to solve?
Innovation
How will we implement the solution practically?
What additional core competencies do we need?
Strategic Business Model Innovations; Lateral Thinking
Investment in development of new technologies or use of existing technologies
Strategic mutually beneficial partnerships, mergers or acquisitions

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

In order to get these decided outcomes we look at growth of existing engineering organizations.
This analogy generally applies to small, medium and large engineering firms.
The way of growing an existing business is illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Classic Engineering Management Approach to Business Growth

A classic engineering management approach to growth tends to be a closed system in the


business context because the customer is not engaged until the final request for proposal comes
out. An improved model for engaging customers is shown in Figure 2.

In Figure 2 notice the feedback from the customer to the organization is earlier and continuous
through the acquisition process. This is effectively an open system that we create in innovative
entrepreneurial via lateral thinking. To illustrate the nonlinear thinking we look at the real
opportunity test and we recognize that we have to change our way of doing business. Notice that
if we try to use linear system theory we fail because the idea of partnering or competing would
be an afterthought and we already have our research and core competencies that are solutions
looking for problems.

1. Innovative use of technology and/or development of new technology via internal or funded
research and development efforts.

Experiential learning is applied in teaching the entrepreneurial thought process by translating


theory into practice. In a course involving experiential learning, one of the local mayors,
presented our group with a real world problem that the county was struggling with, which was
the high cost of laying fiber through the difficult mountain terrain of East Tennessee. The mayor
wanted to be able to share teachers with classes at other schools without the teacher having to be

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

physically present. The county had hired several consulting firms and they had all reached the
same answer: it would require high speed internet and fiber, that would have to be installed to all
the schools that he wanted to have involved. The cost of $200 million was prohibitive and so the
board rejected the recommendation of fiber to the individual schools.

Figure 2: Entrepreneurial Approach to Engaging Customers

2. Marketing of core and new business.


I suggested using an old existing technology that could do everything that they required at a
fraction of the cost: Amateur Radio and Amateur Television. In this case the mountainous terrain
was now an asset. This is an example of disruptive innovation: using existing technologies in a
non-conventional way to solve a new problem (7).

This is an outstanding example of how we as a faculty learned from this experiential process and
a way of explaining Christensons disruptive innovation that we never would have thought of
ourselves (7).

These technologies would allow two-way audio and video as well as slow speed data
transmissions. Because no special equipment was required, other than a television for reception,
home schooled students could also join in the live classes. Teachers and students from multiple
schools could interact, as well as ask questions, and it also had the ability to access the internet.
This solution met the needs the mayor had outlined for us. This showcases the potential for using
disruptive innovation to solve a problem. It is also an excellent example of how they, the
community, learned that they were both dealing with a similar problem. This is another example
of lateral thinking in the use of technology and a change in the model itself that the community
had to make in recognizing they were working the same problem.

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

The mayor was very excited about the solution, because it could be implemented in many
different ways that could have also had the benefit of helping to teach students more regarding
the applications of STEM curriculum. As part of our final graduate student presentation the
mayor brought several of the board members along to decide if this was a plan that they would
like to move forward. Unfortunately for the project, it was a victim of scope creep: after the
presentation one of the board members questioned me about security. Security was not one of
the requirements that we were informed about when asked to find a solution. When asked about
security, without having considered it previously, the board member and I had conflicting
definitions of security. At the time of the presentation, I did not realize that we were divided
over the definition of security, or I could have suggested alternative options. This proved to be a
key part of the experiential learning process for me. It is also a marvelous example of learning
for the community because they realized they had to have security as part of their baseline
requirement.

This was not a wasted effort. The mayor learned that by removing the constraints of the project,
many other options became possibilities. The mayor now looks for answers in all the challenges
that are presented by first removing the constraints, and considering what other solutions are now
possible. To find solutions the problem must be redefined correctly.

This also taught the graduate students, the faculty and the community that we were trying to
solve the wrong problem. This is a Eureka moment for us and issues started the combined
learning that takes place with experiential learning in solving a real world problem that does not
have an answer that is in the back of a classic textbook. This is also an excellent example of a
nonlinear solution to a nonlinear problem. See Figure 1. The classic business approach would
never have solved the security problem. Hence the linear approach did not address the
fundamental security problem that was not in the initial problem statement.

The problem the faculty and student team were given was not adequately defined because the
community had not recognized the essential need for security. We were stuck with a linear
solution to a nonlinear problem that was intractable. I redefined the problem and ended up
creating a new web portal that better addressed the problem. This new answer has shown so
much potential that a mayor from a second county has come on board supporting the project. The
mayors realized that they were both trying to solve the same problem. This is the first time in
many years that the mayors from these two counties have been actively working together on a
joint project. One of the mayors also invited mayors from six more counties and several cities to
become involved with this project, as they have recognized the potential this project represents
for future economic development.

This can also have applications outside of the classroom. Often businesses will use a closed loop
system to monitor production. ABET accredited engineering curriculum requires teaching of the
closed loop system for use in industry. The closed loop system lends itself well to statistical
process control, as well as continuous improvement, and six-sigma. It can be very difficult if not
impossible to measure a systems consistency within itself. Hence obtaining an accurate
assessment of current conditions leaves little room for innovation.

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

3. Innovative transformation of business model.


One of our ETSU professors Dr. Andrew Clark, a biochemist entrepreneur, uses a different
approach for developing products to market. Clark starts by surveying medical doctors to learn
the most common nutritional related medical problems. Identifying a specific product that
remedies a specific medical ailment tends to work better than developing a product and then
seeking medical applications for a product you invented yourself. However, we still must allow
time for FDA approval in any event before you can generate revenue for this invention.

Because innovation often requires thinking outside the box the closed loop business system
can obstruct innovation. Utilizing lateral thinking we can open the business system by engaging
the customer. This allows a greater number of variables into the feedback loop and produces
opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. An example of this would be having
customers evaluate a product to determine if its value is something they would pay money to
receive. Opening the business system will allow innovative ideas to emerge. It can also help
determine if the analysis we are reaching in a closed loop system is actually accurate or not. In
addition it facilitates innovation being pulled through the supply chain.

To truly evaluate a closed business system, it must be opened to engaging customers in


identifying real opportunities that may exist. With the current pace of change of information
technology we can use this change to remove constraints. This opens up an opportunity to
explore older technology by removing financial constraints. Such an approach creates options
useful in technology we did not have before and those who can master it can gain a competitive
advantage. This can be viewed as a lateral thought game changer.

A closed system is one that relies on its internal research and development and tends to pull
innovation through the supply chain to deliver to its customers (8). Examples of closed system
innovation can be seen in Apple Computer. Open systems in business literature, on the other
hand, tend to engage the customer more directly in the innovation process. Innovations can then
be pushed and pulled throughout the supply chain.

On the engineering literature side of the equation, closed loop control systems employing
appropriate feedback are more stable than open loop systems. Closed loop tracking is now
pervasive in quality management systems such as ISO and Baldrige and has even become a
requirement for university accreditations. Shewhart introduces closed loop tracking via
corrective action systems such as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) (9).

The innovation process begins with an idea. The idea must be assessed as to whether or not it
can create value. The UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) define innovation as the
successful exploitation of new ideas (10). According to economists implementation and
exploitation are both part of the innovation process (11).

Ideas are normally formed out of need. Many times an existing idea or technology can be
examined, and through creativity can be altered in a way that it can help to solve the need.
Having the knowledge to understand and analyze a problem is also a necessary part of the
innovation process. The idea must either be transformed into a process or a product. This is

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

usually accomplished through the addition of knowledge. Innovation is the end result of these
things all occurring to create something that meets a need and creates value.

Some of the things I learned through this experimental learning process are: Often the most
productive way to proceed is to completely throw away the old ideas or process so that you can
make room to explore new ideas without artificial constraints. It is also critical to be sure that
the problem you are trying to solve, is actually the problem. You can come up with an
outstanding solution to the wrong problem in a closed system, opening the loop can bring a
better understanding of the problem and also help you make sure you are solving the correct
problem or problems as well as continuously considering what other problems may arise
Defining the problem and being certain it is defined adequately can save a lot of time and
resources. Treat the solution like a moving target, keep your sights focused on it continuously to
ensure you are moving towards it. Keeping the end result in mind can help guide you to the
correct answers.

Conclusion

Student projects do not have to end in success for experiential learning to take place. We have
presented an example of a student project that initially did not result in success. However,
collaboration among all the parties led to the problem being redefined and a workable solution
being found. Well-defined case studies are often preferred for student projects because the
variables can be easily controlled in an artificial environment. This case study presents an
excellent example of an actual, real-world project leading to experiential learning in unexpected
ways.

1
Schumpeter, J. A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the
Business Cycle, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1934.

2
El Bassiti, L., & Ajhoun, R. (2013, December). Toward an Innovation Management Framework: A Life-Cycle
Model with an Idea Management Focus. International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology, 4(6).
Retrieved October 12, 2016.

3
Baldrige National Quality Program (2013-2014). Criteria for Performance Excellence, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

4
Kaufman Foundation. Entrepreneurshp. http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/entrepreneurship.

5
President and Fellows of Harvard College (1998). Harvard Business Review on Leadership. Harvard Business
School Press, Boston, MA.

6
Khan Academy (accessed February 14, 2016). Introduction to the Laplace Transform,
https://www.khanacademy.org/math/differential-equations/laplace-transform/laplace-transform-tutorial/v/laplace-
transform-1
7
Bower, J.L., and Christensen, C.M. (1995). Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. Harvard Business
Review, January-February.

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

8
Czuchry, A., Yasin, M., & Peisl, T. (2009). A Systematic Approach to Promoting Effective Innovation: A
Conceptual Framework and Managerial Implications. International Journal of Business Innovation and Research, 3
(6), 575-595.

9
Moen, R., & Norman, C. (n.d). Evolution of the PDCA Cycle. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), Shewhart Cycle.
http://pkpinc.com/files/NA01MoenNormanFullpaper.pdf.

10
Innovation Unit, UK Department of Trade and Industry, 2004.

11
Mohr, L. Determinants of Innovation in Organizations, The American Political Science Review, 63, (1), pp. 111-
126, 1969.

ANDREW J. CZUCHRY received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1969 and was inducted into the
Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2011. He has coauthored more than 100 articles in refereed journals and
proceedings of professional organizations related to his field.

LEENDERT CRAIG graduated from East Tennessee State University with a Masters in Engineering Technology in
2015. He currently works in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis department at ETSU as a doctoral
fellow while pursuing his Ed.D. in Private Sector Educational Leadership.

JAMES H. LAMPLEY received his Ed.D. from East Tennessee State University and currently serves as a Professor
and Research Specialist in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Department at ETSU. His research
interests include online delivery and graduate education. He spearheads research opportunities as often as possible.

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education
ETD

Proceedings of the 2017 Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration Copyright
2017, American Society for Engineering Education