Grow From Failure

Growing up in Illinois in the 90s, I idolized Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, considered by many to be the greatest NBA player ever. In this 30-second commercial, he lists all his competitive failures and then attributes them to his overall success.

Professors also encounter failures that guide us toward success. When a teaching technique fails miserably or a manuscript get rejected, we reflect on the feedback, learn from the experience, and improve our follow-up performance. This is a skill we should teach our students.

Too often, students hide their mistakes, keep quiet if they’re unsure of the answer, and feel ashamed for getting test questions wrong. But there are benefits to making mistakes in college. To F.A.I.L. is to make the First Attempt In Learning. Failure is a victory in disguise. As long as learning and growth occurs for students, failure can be celebrated. As this article about failure in higher ed states, “failure is success’s constant companion.”

Faculty have the power to reframe the perception of failure from a negative, and often emotionally distressing, event to a celebration of learning. We can leverage failures (both our own and those of our students) to teach persistence, patience, and resiliency.

Incorporate Active Learning

As you begin this fresh new semester and explore innovative pedagogical techniques to enhance student learning, consider active learning as part of your curriculum. There is an enormous body of literature on the topic, most of which demonstrates that students learn more and fail less when they participate in the learning process rather than just passively listen to lectures. Lecture is, of course, a valuable tool for student learning but it can usually be supplemented with active learning techniques to increase engagement and understanding. Here are just a couple strategies but there are countless journal articles, books, and websites you can search that are dedicated to this topic for any discipline from Math to Art to Kinesiology.

The undeniable potential of active learning was summed up in a meta-analysis by Freeman et. al (2013). They examined 225 studies comparing lecturing to active learning. Results showed that average exam scores improved significantly in active learning sections. They also found that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 55% times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning. They concluded with one of the strongest statements I’ve ever read in this type of research…“If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition [lecture only] might be discontinued because the treatment being tested [active learning] was clearly more beneficial.”

Fringe benefit #1 of active learning is that students who resist learningbecome engaged learners and can no longer get away with not participating.

Fringe benefit #2 of active learning is that since students are often out of their chair moving around, they will likely be more awake, more engaged, and getting some physical activity.

Have a great spring semester!