2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Mirror Mirror: Reflection and the Building of Mindsets

Presented at Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 11

It has been said that entrepreneurship is a contact sport, meaning that there is a biased toward action. In a dynamic world, iteratively testing ideas in the real world (action) seems to work better than building and executing complex plans (strategic thinking). But real entrepreneurs also stresses continuous learning and having the “right” mindset. The entrepreneurship education community has taken on the tricky topic of mindset, but we disagree on 1) exactly what a mindset is and 2) what an entrepreneurial mindset might contain. In this paper reflection is proposed as the key to tackling these two questions.

The first half of the paper will introduce reflection as a way to make sense of experiences by creating networks. Reflection can in fact process experiences in two different ways to generate two fundamentally different networks. One network is about making sense of the world – with the end result being a model of the world. Entrepreneurs use their model of the world when they speculate on how a perturbation (e.g. a new product) will change the world. The second network is about turning experiences into a model of the self. In this regard a mindset is simply the interconnections between attributes (e.g. grit, self-efficacy, growth mindset, curiosity) that have been derived from experiences. A mindset is therefore unique to the individual and emerges over time from both experiences and how those experiences were processed. The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that we should stop trying to define what a mindset is, or what its contents should be, and instead focus on the experiences and means of processing those experiences (reflection) that will enable an individual to build their own mindset. Throughout this half of the paper, relevant learning theory literature will be referenced for those who wish to explore the theoretical components more.

The second half of the paper will explore pedagogical implications. Several short case studies will be given to highlight how the author has used reflection in learning environments ranging from required and elective courses to co- and extra-curricular environments. A pedagogical tool will be introduced called the reflection ladder. The ladder is composed of a series of rungs that encourage a learner to reflect more and more deeply so they can form robust models of the world and self. The higher up the ladder one climbs the better they can see where they have been, where they are, and where they may wish to go next. The paper will also explore some preliminary work in coding reflections (using www.leximancer.com) in a way that allows for tracking the development of individual student mindsets. The paper will conclude with future work and resources for further exploration.

  1. Prof. Joe Tranquillo Bucknell University [biography]
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