Discipline Interdisciplinary

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.

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.

The Power of Student Agency: Looking Beyond Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap

Rhetoric’s of grit and determination surround discourses of student resiliency. While grit is necessary to overcome inevitable obstacles on the road to success, it is quite dependent on agency. Those without the free will to choose their own fate face limits on their ability to be successful, regardless of their grit. This book encompasses reflections of the unique academic experiences of 50 low-income students of colour and highlights named supports – such as school, family, faith, and mentorship – that foster agency. Kundu emphasizes a gap in opportunity, not achievement, and reflects on how equitable learning and success can be given to all students, especially those who are underprivileged.

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.

Visualizing the Power and Privilege of Failure in Higher Education

Learning from failure is a core component to education, however it is not often deliberately taught in university courses. In addition, while the rhetoric around taking risks, embracing failure, and bouncing back is pervasive in higher education, the corresponding structural supports are lacking. The purpose of the current work is to explore ways we can visualize and illustrate the power and privilege involved with embracing and learning from failure in the context of higher education. We offer three approaches to visualizing the same set of research data exploring student and instructor experiences of failure. The first figure is structured using a Venn diagram, the second uses a mobius strip, and the third draws on both puzzle imagery and the structure of a kernmantle rope to offer a more complex rendition of power and privilege in higher education. These illustrations are intended to serve as introductory guides to this topic. This work emphasizes that power is diffuse and mutable, and we underscore the critical importance of recognizing that each person will experience power and privilege differently in different circumstances. This exploration of illustrative concepts is a place to start theorizing about how students and instructors experience, resist, or wield power as they navigate academic institutions and engage with failure.  We note that each instance of struggle, failure, or recovery exhibits specific configurations of power as multiple vectors contribute more or less strongly to the situation. The exact topography of power will change as different people, areas of the institution, or social policies and values enter the equation.

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.