Two points particularly caught my attention at last Wednesday’s session. First was that many of the comments from students and from the subgroups seemed to have an underlying theme expressing the student’s excitement and engagement in being a participating member of their discipline or area of study. This was seen in comments about being given responsibility to inquire, not just given detailed instructions on how to complete an assignment. Second, was the use of the word “freedom” in several of the comments. That included the freedom to explore, to learn under their own terms, and to fail (“It is good to flounder and be confused.”).
Failure is an important part of inquiry. As a professional in my discipline, someone engaged in discovery research, the personal draw is to gain knowledge about that which is currently unknown. Achieving that knowledge most often means making mistakes and failing. I have often heard others in my general field talk about how perhaps only one in ten experiments results in the expected success. That has been my experience, too. Our best educated guesses are still only guesses. However, we also learn from our failures, often more than from our successes. This education stuff is all about learning.
If failure is part of our inquiry process in real life, then shouldn’t it be part of our students’ inquiry process? How often do we tell a student that it is OK to fail? How do we establish the learning environment that disassociates failure during inquiry from a failing grade? I think it can be done, but requires a very different way of thinking about how we evaluate learning in our students. I am sure that we will discuss this more later in the semester.
Thanks for your interest and contributions to the Learning Community. - Walt