Audience Instructors

In-Class Learning from Failure Interventions

Looking for a simple way to bring equity-attuned conversations about failure into your classroom? These interventions are designed to facilitate open introductory discussion about struggle, failure, and recovery (and the ways they are framed in and beyond higher education). They are structured around five decks of PowerPoint slides that can be individually tailored to your particular discipline/course and incorporated into class discussion.

Fish Outta Water Podcast

Welcome to Fish Outta Water, your unofficial university survival guide! In this podcast, hosts and UTM students, Harleen and Loridee talk all about the transition into university, overcoming failure, and what it’s like to be thrown into the swirling rapids of undergrad without a life jacket. Learn how to survive these treacherous waters through a mixture of fun stats and stories, alongside never before heard interviews with your favourite professors.

Learning Journal

These Learning through Failure Journals can be done as in-class reflective activities at multiple points during term.

Telling Students it’s O.K. to Fail, but Showing Them it Isn’t: Dissonant Paradigms of Failure in Higher Education

Educators increasingly extol failure as a necessary component of learning and growth. However, students frequently experience failure as a source of fear and anxiety that impedes risk-taking and experimentation. This essay examines the dissonance between these generative and stigmatized paradigms of failure, and it offers ideas for better negotiating this dissonance. After conceptualizing the two paradigms, I examine various factors that reinforce failure’s stigmatization. I emphasize precarious meritocracy, a neoliberal ethos driven by hypercompetitive individualism that makes success a zero-sum game, and that causes especially significant harms on students who are already socially stigmatized. Efforts to ameliorate paradigm dissonance tend to focus on changing student dispositions or lowering the stakes of failure. I instead propose wise interventions that include analyzing the systemic roots of stigmatized failure and making failure a more communal experience. I then briefly address the systemic transformations necessary to cultivate generative failure more broadly.

FAIL Is Not a Four-Letter Word: A Theoretical Framework for Exploring Undergraduate Students’ Approaches to Academic Challenges and Responses to Failure in STEM Learning Environments

Navigating scientific challenges, persevering through difficulties, and coping with failure are considered hallmarks of a successful scientist. However, relatively few studies investigate how undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students develop these skills and dispositions or how instructors can facilitate this development in undergraduate STEM learning contexts. This is a critical gap, because the unique cultures and practices found in STEM classrooms are likely to influence how students approach challenges and deal with failures, both during their STEM education and in the years that follow. To guide research aimed at understanding how STEM students develop a challenge-engaging disposition and the ability to adaptively cope with failure, we generate a model representing hypotheses of how students might approach challenges and respond to failures in undergraduate STEM learning contexts. We draw from theory and studies investigating mindset, goal orientations, attributions, fear of failure, and coping to inform our model. We offer this model as a tool for the community to test, revise, elaborate, or refute. Finally, we urge researchers and educators to consider the development, implementation, and rigorous testing of interventions aimed at helping students develop a persevering and challenge-engaging disposition within STEM contexts.

Instructor Perspectives on Failure and Its Role in Learning in Higher Education

Reflecting on failure is a critically important component of the learning process. However, relatively little scholarship to date has examined instructor perspectives of failure, including how failure informs their approaches to teaching and learning. This case study explores instructor perspectives on failure using data collected from a series of semi-structured interviews conducted across disciplinary departments at the University of Toronto Mississauga. When contemplating how and/ or whether to incorporate failure pedagogy, instructors considered how interlocking systems of power shaped both their own and their students’ positionalities and willingness to engage with failure. Three interlocking themes emerged, with instructors describing (1) failure as privilege, (2) failure as simultaneously a valuable pedagogical tool and an institutional risk, and (3) a disconnect between instructor desires to facilitate generative failure and the limitations of institutional policy in supporting such endeavors. The study finally explored how instructors, in light of existing power structures, suggested navigating institutional politics, incorporating new pedagogical techniques, and constructing support systems that could aid students in embracing, learning from, and bouncing back from failure.

Instructor Wishlist for Institutions

Compiled from a series of semi-structured interviews conducted in 2020 with tenured, pre-tenure, contingent faculty and postdoctoral fellows across the University of Toronto Mississauga, this “wish list” captures a snapshot of pedagogical techniques and changes desired by these instructors to facilitate equitable teaching, research, and policy around failure in higher education.

Student Wishlist for Institutions

This “Wishlist” has been compiled from responses to a student survey distributed electronically at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Spring 2021. The survey, which solicited responses from students across disciplines and academic years, was composed of quantitative questions posed on a seven-point Likert scale, as well as qualitative open-response questions. Over 300 respondents from a wide range of disciplines engaged with the survey.