How FH Vorarlberg Explored Experiential Learning
– 100% Digital
Fachhochschule Vorarlberg (FH Vorarlberg), Dornbirn, is located in Vorarlberg, the most western federal state of Austria. FH Vorarlberg is a leading Austrian University of Applied Sciences and enjoys excellent relations with business and industry in its region (including eastern Switzerland, south-western Germany and the Principality of Liechtenstein). Many of the companies are ‘hidden champions’ and among world-market leaders in their areas. Close cooperation with these top companies means that students can choose from a range of internships and graduates have excellent job prospects.
One of its USP’s is FH Vorarlberg’s exceptional lecturer-to-student ratio of 1:12. The university prides itself in being able to provide students a high level of individualized support throughout their studies.
Lectures and programs are usually held in small groups to ensure maximum impact in its modern campus with multifunctional lecture halls, seminar rooms, high-tech labs, and multimedia rooms.
In its Bachelor program ‘International Business’ – students pick one of six areas of specialization, where experiential learning plays a large role in the pedagogic setup.
“Management simulations are a fundamental part of our specialization modules, and we have looked for a long time for a simulation that fits into our specialization in Entrepreneurship & Innovation,” explained Program Director Prof. (FH) Dr. Martin Hebertinger.
“The simulation is the last big module within the specialization, and it is where the students are expected to synthesize all the knowledge they’ve gained throughout the three-year program,” added Dr. Magdalena Meusburger, Director of startupstube, FH Vorarlberg’s startup enabling, facilitating, and consulting center.
Several management and business simulations have been tested – but none really captured the essence of entrepreneurship and gave their students the experience and rich learning they were hoping for.
“Many of the simulations we tested didn’t dive deep enough into the subjects we wanted to cover, for example – the investor scene,” said Meusburger.
“While it was relatively easy to find simulations for the other specializations within the program, we struggled a little in finding a suitable and valuable setup for the entrepreneurship and innovation major,” added Hebertinger.
Based in Silicon Valley, UC Berkeley industry fellow and lecturer Rick Rasmussen has been visiting FH Vorarlberg to lead the class on entrepreneurial simulation since 2017.
Together with Magdalena Meusburger, he teaches the classes in entrepreneurship and was part of the panel looking for the suitable management simulation FH Vorarlberg was looking for. Like his colleagues at FH Vorarlberg, Rasmussen was unable to find the kind of impact the team was hoping for as well.
When he finally met Christian Rangen from Strategy Tools and got a first insight to Scale Up! The Entrepreneurship Simulation, the team invited Rangen to FH Vorarlberg to co-run the simulation in 2019.
Together, they ran an intense three-day Scale Up! Entrepreneurship Simulation ‘bootcamp’ for the students specializing in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Combining years of experience in the startup world together with the Scale Up! simulation made for a rich learning environment for the students.
“I could teach them the basics of equity and fundraising but experiencing it themselves and the level of interactivity really helps them retain it a lot better,” said Rasmussen.
This resulted in great student feedback and was in general an overall success.
“I was rather impressed – as I saw what the students were doing and how they were acting; they were truly immersed and learning. Our students were amazed and it was really valuable to them in terms of learning how to run a startup and scale up.” said Hebertinger.
“This course was one of the best I’ve experienced so far.”
Student at FH Vorarlberg
The New Challenge
Due to its tremendous success in 2019, FH Vorarlberg planned to run Scale Up! for its students in 2020 as well, but running an intimate on-campus bootcamp proved to be difficult due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Hebertinger and Meusburger initially hoped that they could still carry on with the bootcamp on campus whilst still adhering to the COVID regulations, but with travel restrictions in place, neither Rasmussen nor Rangen could fly in for teaching and coaching the simulation.
They either had to go completely digital or cancel it altogether. The decision was to move it online.
“This year, in September, we had to quickly move and change and digitalize everything. Rick and Chris had two weeks to plan out the bootcamp online and ensure everything ran smoothly,” said Meusburger.
The Digital Solution
Over three days in September 2020, Rick and Chris ran the Scale Up! Simulation for this year’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation cohort – fully digital, with participants across multiple countries and time zones.
The major worry then was whether the simulation, after moving online, could still engage the participants the way that it used to in an in-person session. Will the students still have the same key takeaways? Will the screen-time tire them out? Will they learn as effectively?
‘’Rick and I decided the teaching program around a few key principles. Number one, short teaching modules in the intro phase. Two, 2/3 of the program as hands-on, interactive working sessions. Three, ample time for reflection, both in discussion format and reflection paper format’’, said Rangen.
These principles made for an all-round digital success.
“Rick and Chris managed to have everybody engaged in a completely digital environment, to immerse themselves into being a real startup looking for investors. It was really intense and they had a wonderful experience.” stated Hebertinger.
The reflection papers also gave some good insight into what the students thought of the Scale Up! Digital Simulation.
“The transition to online was more seamless than I thought it would be, and after the first couple of hours, we were just absorbed in the board and what was going on. It became an immersive in-depth experience,” explained Rasmussen.
“I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine.
I’d like to thank FH Vorarlberg and Magdalena for granting us this unique and great experience.”
Exchange student at FH Vorarlberg
A highly-engaging teaching method – 100% Digital
Highly impactful for students of the university program
Continued relationship with FH Vorarlberg on developing these simulations further
About the Interviewees
Dr. Martin Herbertinger
Dr. Martin Hebertinger is the Head of the Bachelor Programme ‘International Business’ at FH Vorarlberg and a professor for with a focus on accounting and finance. Before joining FH Vorarlberg he worked several years in consulting, M&A and in the financial services industry. He is coaching non-executive directors in boards of banks and acts as speaker in videos and podcasts for directors in financial institutions. Martin is a passionate skier and hiker.
Dr. Magdalena Meusburger
Dr. Magdalena Meusburger is the Director and Co-Founder of startupstube – the startup centre at FH Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences and is a lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Magdalena has a strong international background, plus wide-ranging practical experience as an entrepreneur and in the field of new venture creation. She has already started two ventures: one that has achieved impressive growth in just 5 years and a social entrepreneurship initiative for underprivileged youth in South Africa. Right now she is coaching several Startups and working on some of her own. On a personal note, Magdalena is an avid adventure traveller and loves mountain climbing and snowboarding.
Rick Rasmussen is an Industry Fellow for the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. He is a Silicon Valley native with direct experience and thought leadership across industry, government, venture capital and academia. He has been a part of executive teams in three separate companies that started with zero revenue, raised rounds from leading VCs, went public, gained Fortune 500 status, and sold for a collective $12B.
He has developed over 200 hours of coursework on entrepreneurship and teach the methodology on a daily basis.
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