This project has richly benefitted from the participation of students, high school teachers, and university faculty, who shared their experiences and associations with failure via questionnaires and interviews. The diversity of the student population involved in this work makes this data all the more valuable; we are fortunate to study, teach, and research in such a diverse and dynamic place.
Recent research—much of it in scholarship on teaching and learning (SOTL), educational research, and STEM fields—has confirmed the pedagogical value of failure and encourages instructors to incorporate failure pedagogies into their classrooms. This literature mainly assumes that instructors and students engage with institutional teaching and learning environments that evenly distribute material resources (such as money, technology, and adequate staffing) and intangible assets (including time, support, and opportunities to experiment). However, pervasive inequalities structure how instructors and students conceive of, approach, engage, and learn from failure. Interlocking systems of power across race, gender, socioeconomic status, access, university hierarchy, and first-generation and international student status dramatically shape who can afford to embrace risk in teaching and learning, as well as who has the resources and support to fail and try again.
The world beyond the classroom often disappears in educational research on failure; the student or learner is often absent a subject position, save for their mindset and openness to failure. This is a significant gap that is foundational to understanding who can and cannot benefit from learning through failure. Failure is a highly classed, gendered, and racialized phenomenon. It is intractable from power and must be studied as such.
Opportunities to reflect on failure and the capacity to dust oneself off and try again are always more about power and position than they are tenacity and grit. We remain committed to finding ways to let failure be recognized as the important part of learning that it is: not a subjective judgement or measure of personal value, but a crucial element of iteration and process; a potentially generative experience requiring both micro and macro level interventions to be rendered truly accessible for all students.
For further reading on the specific scholars we draw from, see Kapur, 2008; Kapur & Kinzer, 2009; Bjork & Bjork, 2011; Steuer & Dresel, 2015; Kapur, 2015; Eyler, 2018; Bjork & Bjork, 2020; Dixson & Rousseau, 2005; Alexander et al., 2014; Spring, 2016; Kohli et al., 2017; Gopalan & Nelson, 2019.
The work of scholars such as Kundu (2014), Hallmark (2018), and Feigenbaum (2021) undergird our examination of the roles of power and privilege in instructor perspectives of failure and student learning.
In developing these Open Educational Resources, we aim to improve access to diverse resources on learning through failure; amplify untold stories of failures and missteps along the way to successes in order to de-stigmatize failure for students; emphasize the ways existing discourses on learning through failure neglect critical issues of power, privilege and positionality. Additionally, we advocate for the development of structural supports and infrastructure at various levels—within individual classrooms, departments, institutions and beyond—to make the potential for bouncing back from failure better accessible for all students. Input regarding these infrastructures comes from original qualitative data—interviews and questionnaires with undergraduate students and instructors who articulate the kinds of resources and supports that would serve them best in and beyond the classroom, across and beyond the institution.
Here and throughout our research, we acknowledge that access to grants, granting opportunities and institutional supports makes our research and dissemination of findings possible and amplifies its reach. This project is funded by a University of Toronto LEAF (Learning Education Advancement Fund) grant.
Statement of Land Acknowledgement
We wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years, it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.