Teaching the Inevitable: Embracing a Pedagogy of Failure

By Lydia E. Eckstein, Amelia B. Finaret and Lisa B. Whitenack

This paper began in 2018 with the realization that all three of us were thinking about productive failure and incorporating different pedagogical strategies in our classrooms around this idea. Lisa gave a presentation at our institution on how she uses “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research” by Martin Schwartz (2008), which encouraged Amelia to reach out to her. At the same time, Lydia was conducting research on failure and held a “Failure Cafe” on campus. She invited Lisa to participate, which ultimately led to us collaborating on this paper. We presented our initial work at the Conference on Teaching and Learning at LaRoche University in the fall of 2019, however we half-joke that our shared failure is that it took another 3.5 years to get to publication. 

When the COVID19 pandemic changed the learning environment dramatically for everyone, we realized that many of the strategies we had been working on to promote productive failure in the classroom were more important than ever before. Many of our students had family-care responsibilities and/or job obligations to support themselves while studying from home during the spring semester of 2020. Indeed, we felt ourselves failing more often than we wanted to as instructors during remote and hybrid learning throughout the 2020/2021 academic year. Despite teaching mostly in person now, we do feel that our classrooms are different than before, particularly when it comes to both everyday and existential problems that our students face. Many of our students have come out of very challenging high school experiences, and we feel a responsibility to design courses that have both high expectations and provide the scaffolding that students need to succeed. Altogether, this highlighted the need to think about our pedagogy and our students’ growth holistically and hope it prompts others to do the same.

Read the TLI article here.

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