I recently visited Qingdao (China) as part of my work as President of the International Council for Small Business. While there I had the opportunity to visit some of its 3rd level colleges, particularly Qingdao Feiyang Vocational & Technical College (where I spoke with an audience of approximately 1,000 students) and Qingdao Entrepreneurial Incubator Center of College Students.
China is currently going through a very interesting phase with its new leadership seeking to develop its economic activities internationally. Much of the entrepreneurial activity in China is family based and the majority of these firms are small-and-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) located in the eastern coastal provinces. They primarily engage in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade and many of the business owners are now over 50 years of age. Therefore there is a need to encourage young people to develop their entrepreneurial skills while simultaneously understanding that many Chinese parents want their children to have a the highest level of education to ensure a promising path to a successful future.
The Qingdao Entrepreneurial Incubator Center of College Students does a number of things that are highly innovative. The first is that the Center is for students from every 3rd level institution in the city and is not just an initiative of one university. Students from all disciplines and colleges go to the Center to receive their entrepreneurship education and so participants mix with a wide variety of fellow students. Perhaps most interestingly, the Center uses Lego to teach entrepreneurship which is a very unique pedagogy in terms of entrepreneurship education. At the earliest phase of the programme, students are broken into cross-discipline and cross-college teams and asked to design a product. During the next phase they develop a prototype using Lego and they then design the manner is which it will be assembled in a factory setting. The Center has its own physical assembly line where teams are expected to develop its operations for producing their product which includes having people at various points of the assembly line. Thereafter, the students develop their finance and marketing plans, meet with bank and government officials (role playing), before finally beginning the process of selling. Throughout the different rooms and phases, students appeared to be highly engaged, proactively learning, and having a whole lot of fun. It struck me that these are three attributes that every teacher would love to see in their classrooms.
Since that visit I have explored further the notion of using Lego in the classroom. You might be interested to learn that Lego have a particular initiative geared towards the classroom called Lego Education (http://educatorsweb.lego.com). Lego offers a variety of products and concepts for classrooms from pre-school to professional development, plus trainers can take a 2-day professional course on how to use these products in the classroom. The only barrier regarding these courses is that they are currently only available in Denmark and USA. As a parent with kids who love Lego, I have watched their imagination flourish and their ability to construct and redesign develop significantly, so I am now seeking to identify ways in which I could have such fun in the classroom with my students, and how I could use Lego to help engender a greater entrepreneurial spirit amongst university students !