Students as educators – Learning through mentoring

The latest study published by Engage showed that valuable learning can happen when students hold the role of educators in student-active and student-led initiatives, such as Spark NTNU.

By Tina Larsen and Dag Håkon Haneberg

A clear distinction between teacher; the one who teaches or facilitates learning, and the student; the one who is learning is still dominant in both practice and research. In traditional education, such a distinction can be meaningful. The problem arises when new student-active and student-led initiatives are initiated, where the practice of the people who or would have been divided into teachers and students is erased and in some cases disappears. One of several examples of this can be found in Spark NTNU, which is a partner in Engage.

Spark NTNU is a guidance service where students with some experience from starting their own business guide students who have an idea they want to start a business on the basis of. Spark NTNU is not linked to study programs or credit-awarding courses, but is a service offered to all students at NTNU. An important feature of Spark NTNU is that it is students and not university employees who are responsible for all supervision of new student contractors. That is, students hold the role of educators; that is, those who facilitate the development and learning of others.

Engage has previously published research on how Spark NTNU offers support to student entrepreneurs and their companies (Haneberg & Aaboen, 2020) and how the student entrepreneurs who receive guidance learn through the process (Haneberg, 2019). Recently, Engage has also published a peer-reviewed study of how supervisors in Spark NTNU learn (Haneberg & Aaboen, 2021). Ten supervisors were interviewed about being a supervisor in Spark NTNU using a technique that brings out the students’ thoughts and feelings through the use of metaphors (Zaltman & Coulter, 1995). The supervisors who were interviewed were also students at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship.

Findings from the study

The findings from the latest study show that there is valuable learning among supervisors who are on the “inside” of Spark NTNU while they facilitate the learning of new student entrepreneurs. Learning takes place in interaction with the student contractors and between supervisors. Interaction with student entrepreneurs challenges tutors to develop their entrepreneurial skills and their tutoring skills. Furthermore, the findings show that the supervisors learn beyond what they learn through NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, and that Spark NTNU thus represents a way to spread the knowledge in a specialized and exclusive study program to a wider range of students.

Based on the findings of the study, we can present the following proposals for the development of a mentoring initiative for student entrepreneurship:

  • Let entrepreneurship students and / or student entrepreneurs take the lead and be at the center of the supervision activity. This means that knowledge from entrepreneurship education can be utilized by students across the entire university, at the same time as the students as supervisors also get to develop their skills through other roles and practices.
  • Facilitate interactive communities between tutors. Interaction ensures knowledge sharing within the supervision group and greater reflection on possible practices in the supervision situation. In Spark NTNU, all supervisors meet every other week to discuss among themselves. In addition, Spark facilitates NTNU for tutoring activities in pairs.
  • Remember that important learning happens through teaching, facilitating and guiding! In Engage, we want a greater focus on the potential of students in teaching and supervisory roles and a critical reflection on the fact that students are often placed in a “receiving role” in a learning context.

Contact Dag Håkon Haneberg ( or Lise Aaboen ( if you have questions related to the study.