Research in international entrepreneurship (IE) has grown considerably during the last decade, primarily investigating the antecedents and outcomes of early internationalization (Jones et al. 2011
; Keupp and Gassmann 2009
; Zahra and George 2002
). Interestingly, little research has been devoted to IE pedagogy, leaving a significant gap in knowledge related to the link between the courses and teaching methods on educational programs, and IE practice. This article aims to address this gap by evaluating an experiential teaching innovation in the area of IE—the Global Board Game Project (GBGP). Specifically, given the dearth of theory regarding IE pedagogy, we use the partially grounded approach to assess this teaching innovation, designed as a Community of Practice (CoP), through analysis of students’ self-perception of their abilities related to defining, recognizing, and evaluating international business opportunities; designing and validating a business model based on such opportunities; and creating a plan for pursuing these opportunities. Our study also provides some evidence that, by promoting learning through practice, the CoP-based teaching method has impacted upon students’ emotions, self-efficacy, and self-perceptions of their entrepreneurial intentions.
As we describe in greater detail in the next section, the design of the GBGP was rooted in IE literature. The GBGP involves semi-structured online collaboration between undergraduate student teams from three different countries to ideate, develop, and market a product (a board game) to another country. The emphasis is on communication within and between teams to learn, experiment, and test assumptions towards creating a tangible board game prototype and developing a viable market entry plan. The IE literature informed the intended outcomes of the teaching method in terms of specific knowledge domain, students’ attitudes, and mode of instruction. We therefore followed the social constructivist theory of learning (Bandura and Walters 1977
), which suggests effective student learning requires opportunities for them to develop an active role in the construction of their knowledge through interactions with others (Bae et al. 2014
; Nabi et al. 2017
). This perspective is in contrast with previous thinking, in which knowledge was thought to be learned in a classroom and then seamlessly transferred to a real-life setting. To this end, the GBGP was designed to allow students to experiment (and learn) in the process of ideating and creating a real product (a board game) with the aim of selling it in a foreign market. Involving students from three different universities in three countries, the GBGP was designed around a CoP, which can be defined as a collaborative approach to learning, and through practice, facilitating both knowledge sharing and creation within a specific domain. By adopting the CoP approach, we sought to respond to calls from the literature (Fayolle 2013
; Wiklund et al. 2011
) that entrepreneurial education research and practice should be more theory-driven. By examining the impact of the CoP-based teaching innovation on IE-related learning outcomes and on entrepreneurial intention, as well as discussing the challenges of the process, we seek to, at least partially, address this gap in the IE literature.
We offer evidence showing students found the CoP format adopted in the GBGP effective by providing them with the specific skills applicable in the area of international venturing. Furthermore, our findings suggest that a number of participating students attributed their greater desire to become an entrepreneur to participating in the GBGP. This contributes to both the IE literature and the literature on CoP (Zhang and Watts 2008
), which has suggested that CoPs can be used effectively to foster learning in an online environment.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we review the relevant literature on IE that informed the design of the GBGP. Second, we discuss the rationale for utilizing the CoP framework as an approach to promote entrepreneurial learning in an international context. This is followed by a brief description of the design and implementation of the GBGP and the method used to evaluate its efficacy as an IE teaching innovation. We conclude by presenting findings of the analysis and discuss their implications for international entrepreneurial learning.
2. International Entrepreneurship in Higher Education
In reviewing the literature relevant to the IE pedagogy that informed the design of the GBGP, we identified three core elements for designing a teaching tool that would be relevant and effective for students of IE. These include the content domain, student attitudinal outcomes, and the mode of delivery.
. The meaning of the term “international entrepreneurship” has evolved over the past few decades and the research on the topic has grown substantially, primarily focusing on international new ventures (INVs) and “born globals” (Andersson 2011
; Jones et al. 2011
; Schwens et al. 2018
). In their seminal article, Oviatt and McDougall
) defined an INV as “a business organization that, from inception, seeks to derive significant competitive advantage from the use of resources from and the sale of outputs to multiple countries” (p. 49). Using this definition, the subsequent IE literature has investigated the antecedents of new ventures’ early internationalization. In light of criticism that this IE definition excludes corporate entrepreneurship in international markets (Zahra and George 2002
), McDougall and Oviatt
) later proposed a new definition in which IE was conceptualized as innovative, proactive, and risk-seeking behavior (Covin and Slevin 1989
) that crosses national boundaries. In addition, it was suggested that a critical element of IE is the development of an entrepreneurial orientation and value creation. Incorporating more elements from the core entrepreneurship field, the subsequent IE literature continued to focus more on the concept of entrepreneurial opportunities as the main defining element of IE. Specifically, IE scholars pointed to Shane and Venkataraman
) definition of the study of entrepreneurship as “the examination of how, by whom, and with what effects opportunities to create future goods and services are discovered, evaluated, and exploited”. Accordingly, Oviatt and McDougall
(2005, p. 540
) modified their IE definition further by proposing that “international entrepreneurship is the discovery, enactment, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities—across national borders—to create future goods and services”. This definition of IE has been widely accepted by scholars (Jones et al. 2011
; Schwens et al. 2018
), and thus was also used as a basis for the GBGP.
Given the emphasis on market validation in the entrepreneurship literature (Shane 2003
; Martin et al. 2013
), we also incorporated foreign market validation as an important element in the GBGP and included planning and implementation of foreign market entry strategies (Unger et al. 2011
). With that in mind, the GBGP was designed to provide students with knowledge in three specific areas: (1) defining, recognizing, and evaluating international business opportunities; (2) designing and validating a business model for such an opportunity; and (3) creating an offering for and translating the proposed business model to a specific international market.
. Besides providing students with appropriate content in specific knowledge domains, the aim of entrepreneurship education to increase students’ intention to own or start a business is another important outcome of entrepreneurship education (Bae et al. 2014
; Souitaris et al. 2007
). According to the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen 1991
; Ajzen and Fishbein 1977
), as students enroll in entrepreneurial education, they should be exposed to examples of successful business planning and proactive interaction with successful practitioners. These pedagogical elements facilitate coping strategies, which help maintain motivation and interest, leading to greater expectations of success and increased entrepreneurial self-efficacy (Noel 2002
). Indeed, the meta-analysis developed by Martin et al.
) supported the positive relation between entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial intention. Thus, increasing students’ intentions to become international entrepreneurs was also a desired outcome for the GBGP.
Mode of Delivery
. As a pedagogical method, the GBGP was designed to emphasize situated learning on the assumption that learning should be driven by students (Bandura and Walters 1977
), that much of what is learned is specific to the situation in which it is learned (Lave and Wenger 1998
), and that interactions with others are an important learning element (Béchard et al. 2005
). Accordingly, we followed the precept that teaching should be conceived as a strategic intervention to create learning environments, facilitating practice and knowledge transfer among students (Neck et al. 2014
). This way of understanding teaching in entrepreneurship gives teachers a role that is different from the traditional role of transmitting knowledge. Teachers must become the manager and facilitator of the student learning process (Löbler 2006
). Accordingly, the GBGP was designed to enable students to develop situated learning in the process of ideating and developing a product (a board game) and proposing a business model used to sell it in a foreign market.
4. Study Findings
The partially grounded approach to evaluation of the GBGP as an IE pedagogical tool provided some interesting insights. First, as Table 4
shows, consistent with the intended design aimed at the key domains of the IE field, the textual analysis of student reflection summaries indicates that students participating in the GBGP felt they engaged in processes related to the definition, recognition, and evaluation of international business opportunities (a total of 51 quotes). Based on the number of quotes, it appears that the GBGP was effective in stimulating students’ efforts in identifying international opportunities (29 quotes) and, to a somewhat lesser degree, validating such opportunities (22 quotes). Specifically, students expressed sentiments such as “[we] came up with a new idea that is unlike anything in the market
” and “[we] developed an idea that seemed fun and interesting
”. In other words, most of the GBGP participants felt the project provided them with space to search for and define a business opportunity in the board game market (e.g., “we first had to think about a market and what goal we wanted to reach
”), but they also committed themselves to gathering additional data to “adapt and modify [the product] in the early stages to create the best idea possible
Drawing on the IE literature, we also sought evidence for students’ learning to design and validate a business model based on their idea. Forty-nine quotes were identified to be related to this theme. Twenty-four related to business model design, while 25 quotes reflected students engaging in business model validation. For example, students felt that through GBGP participation, they acquired knowledge that made them feel “able to write the business model canvas and develop it by interacting with [the partner team]”. They also referred to the need to identify the principle components of a business model by understanding “what my product is, who the target market is, how to find them and how to come up with a general idea for sales and revenue”.
Our analysis of the reflective summaries also suggests that the GBGP gave students the opportunity to practice creating an offering for a specific international market (35 quotes), which required taking into account the specific characteristics and differences of that market. For example, one student commented, “Throughout the whole process I also experienced that when you design a product you have to consider the impact of culture”. Another stated, “I have learned that you can’t just design a product but have to adapt it to the target market in order to make it appealing”.
Besides creating an offering (i.e., a product) aimed at international markets, participation in the GBGP also required the key components of a business model to be adapted so as to suit the specific international market. The textual analysis returned 42 quotes related to this theme, indicating that students had to take into account how to market and distribute their product and use partnerships and alliances to enter the market.
Consistent with the CoP design, a large number of quotes (176) were identified to indicate the GBGP was effective in stimulating situated learning through knowledge sharing and learning through practice. Specifically, in 122 quotes, the students expressed sentiment that their interaction with their counterparts in another country was valuable in the process of gaining new knowledge and skills related to IE. For examples, the quotes suggested that the “creative conversation”, “working together” across time and space, and “building up trust” among student teams contributed to the acquisition of “helpful insight” and “[improving] skills and competences”. Moreover, an additional 54 quotes provided preliminary evidence that the CoP approach to learning via the GBGP project enabled students to learn through practice. “Applying theory to practice” and engaging in “a different way to learn and to be able to practice all the theory learned previously” represent some examples of student sentiment relating to the GPGP as a tool for learning about IE.
Informed by the previous literature on entrepreneurship education, the partially grounded analysis also sought to discover evidence of students’ self-assessment of their attitudes toward becoming international entrepreneurs and/or pursuing IE in the future. Thirty-three quotes were identified to be consistent with this theme. Specifically, students expressed their desire either to pursue the project after the semester end (e.g., “launch our game in 2018–2019”) or to “create my own product in the future”.
In addition to the a priori themes discussed above, there were several other themes that emerged from the textual analysis of the student reflection summaries. First, 92 quotes indicated that students appreciate the opportunity that GBGP provided in terms of their cross-cultural competencies. Some of the comments, such as “[the project] enhanced my understanding of differences between cultures
” and “for me especially the cultural aspects of these projects are interesting. I love the differences in culture and this project took that completely into account
”, indicate that GBGP participation made students aware of the impact of cross-cultural differences affecting the creation of new products for foreign markets, and accompanying sales and marketing plans. Second, 35 quotes related to student’s self-efficacy. Specifically, students expressed confidence that participation in the GBGP enhanced their ability to deal with the challenges of IE such as product design or working in a cross-cultural setting. This finding is not entirely surprising given the strong theoretical link between entrepreneurial self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intention (Baidi and Suyatno 2018
; Noel 2002
; Susetyo and Yuliari 2018
). Our preliminary findings suggest that the self-efficacy is also important in the IE domain. Third, 27 quotes have indicated that students participating in GBGP felt a variety of emotions. For example, students felt “scared
” and “excited
” at the beginning of the project, experienced “ups and downs
”, “moments of stress
”, and being “disoriented
” during the various stages of the project. Nevertheless, students reported they found the overall experience rewarding. Lastly, the analysis resulted in identification of 119 quotes related to various challenges experienced by GBGP students. In particular, they highlighted difficulties communicating across different time zones and not always getting a timely response from their counterparts in the other country.
Overall, students’ comments suggest the GBGP has been quite effective in terms of enhancing entrepreneurial knowledge for international venturing. Given its design as an online CoP, students from different universities in three countries were able to interact purposely and, in the course of this interaction, gained knowledge on IE. As the students’ comments reveal, the CoP approach was successful in fostering situated learning through practice and information sharing. In fact, the analysis of the student reflections indicates online CoPs are not limited to tacit knowledge sharing, but also include explicit knowledge (Lave and Wenger 1991
). Consistent with Aljuwaiber
), we found evidence that the online CoPs (in our case, utilizing the Ideator.com
virtual space) can contribute to sharing of both tacit and explicit knowledge in the IE domain. However, that is not to say that this process was without challenges.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
The purpose of this article was to address a gap in the IE literature by reporting on the evaluation of a novel teaching tool, the GBGP. Involving student teams from three institutions in three countries, the GBGP was designed to provide students with practical knowledge in three key areas: (1) defining, recognizing, and evaluating international business opportunities; (2) designing and validating a business model for such an opportunity; and (3) creating an offering for and translating the proposed business model to a specific international market. Adopting the CoP approach (Wenger 2000
), the GBGP involved creating an online space and was structured to facilitate experimentation and knowledge exchange among participating students (Neck et al. 2014
The qualitative analysis of student reflections on the project provided preliminary evidence that the GBGP, as a teaching tool, was effective in helping students create a more tangible link between IE theory and practice. In addition, it indicated that participating in the project influenced students’ attitude toward entrepreneurship as a career path. Specifically, a number of them expressed the desire to start their own business or pursue the project further after the end of the semester. However, these findings must be viewed and interpreted with caution. While we find evidence that a number of students have expressed that participation in the GBGP made them consider or even desire pursuing entrepreneurial careers, we cannot claim that these students will indeed become entrepreneurs or that their intention will persist. This is a weakness that is typical of many studies on entrepreneurial education (Nabi et al. 2017
Besides some preliminary evidence that CoP design of the GBGP had impact on student learning in the area of IE and stimulated situated learning through practice and collective information exchange, our findings provide some additional insights related to some unexpected, emergent themes. These include the GBGP impact on student cross-cultural learning, self-efficacy, and the emotional experiences accompanying participation in the project. While investigated in the context of pedagogical interventions (Tuleja 2014
), the role of cross-cultural competencies has been relatively understudied in the area of IE in general, and IE pedagogy in particular. Our preliminary findings suggest that working in the context of a virtual, cross-cultural CoP such as GBGP may enhance students’ cross-cultural intelligence. Both self-efficacy and emotions have been studied in the general entrepreneurship literature (Baidi and Suyatno 2018
; Baron 2008
; Biraglia and Kadile 2017
; Noel 2002
); however, neither has been thoroughly examined in the context of IE pedagogy. While very preliminary, our study suggests that to simulate the IE process in the classroom effectively, students need to be exposed to tasks that, to some degree, will engender both negative and positive feelings but eventually enhance students’ confidence in themselves to complete such tasks.
The analysis also pointed out some challenges—mainly related to communication problems between the partner teams. This leaves a room for ongoing improvement and modification of the project. Specifically, the GBGP participants may need to be better prepared to deal with communication difficulties related to different time zones.
Our study suggests that GBGP-like projects that follow the CoP principles are a promising tool for teaching IE, allowing students to build up their ‘real-life’ experience in a supported, scaffolded space, and to gain knowledge through practice. However, it was not possible to fully simulate a real-life situation.
As one of the first studies to examine the link between a specific teaching method and IE-related learning outcomes, its findings should be taken as preliminary evidence highlighting the need for more research in the area of IE pedagogy. In particular, our research centered on subjective assessments of students’ perceptions. While accounting for only a small percentage of the final grade, these could be subject to social desirability bias. Future research should consider evaluation of a broader repertoire of pedagogical tools for teaching IE and using more objective measures of achievement of student outcomes.
Besides adding to the IE literature, our study also contributes to the literature on CoP. Recent studies examined whether virtual spaces are useful for sharing knowledge (Brown et al. 2013
) and some suggested that virtual CoP tends to elicit sharing of explicit rather than tacit knowledge (Aljuwaiber 2016
). Our study suggests that the GBGP structure coupled with the dedicated online space allowed students to experiment and develop skills that enhanced their confidence within key areas of the IE domain.