Resource Type Scholarly Works

Productive Failure

This study demonstrates an existence proof for productive failure: engaging students in solving complex, ill-structured problems without the provision of support structures can be a productive exercise in failure. In a computer-supported collaborative learning setting, eleventh-grade science students were randomly assigned to one of two conditions to solve problems in Newtonian kinematics. In one condition, students solved ill-structured problems in groups followed by well-structured problems individually. In the other condition, students solved well-structured problems in small groups followed by well-structured problems individually. Finally, all students solved ill-structured problems individually. Groups who solved ill-structured problems expectedly struggled with defining and analyzing the problems, resulting in poor quality of solutions. However, despite failing in their collaborative efforts, these students outperformed their counterparts in the well-structured condition on individual near- and far-transfer measures subsequently, suggesting a latent productivity in what initially seemed to be failure.

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.

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.

The power behind the screen: Educating competent technology users in the age of digitized inequality

Digital technologies are deeply embedded in social, economic, and political hegemonies both past and present. Understanding the power dynamics, inequalities, and oppressions at work in and through digital technologies stands as a precondition to educating fully literate, fully competent digital citizens and technology users. This article is situated within an area of overlap between digital literacy and digital competence; that is, it is situated at the overlap of functional and cognitive skills, pedagogy and policymaking. We argue that it is crucial to introduce students to the language and theoretical frameworks examining what power is and how it functions in order to empower students to critically engage with the tangled ethics and power structures attendant with digital technologies and their data.

Science students’ perspectives on how to decrease the stigma of failure

Failure is hard-wired into the scientific method and yet teaching students to productively engage with failure is not foundational in most biology curricula. To train successful scientists, it is imperative that we teach undergraduate science students to be less fearful of failure and to instead positively accept it as a productive part of the scientific process. In this article, we focus on student perceptions of the stigma of failure and their associated concerns to explore how failure could be better supported within and beyond a university context. Through a survey of first-year biology students, we found that societal and familial pressures to succeed were the greatest contributing factors to students' fear of failure. In student suggestions on how to reduce the stigma of failure within and beyond the university context, the most common theme identified across both contexts was for increased discussion and open communication about experiences of failure. Importantly, student comments in this study bring attention to the role of factors beyond the classroom in shaping student experiences of failure within their biology courses.