About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Power of Failure

Karyn Romeis had an interesting post in which she spoke about taking the perfect photo (which was on this post) quite by accident.

I commented:

This actually reminds me of something I've been thinking of lately as my students expect me to "teach them how" rather than giving them opportunities to learn.

Many times, because of our inner critic, we are afraid to just let the situation go where it will, using a gut feeling. The difference between my husband's photos and mine, for example, is that I will take dozens with the hope that one or two will come out "perfect". I don't wait, but just DO. He tries to set up his perception of what perfect would be so he misses that odd photo where someone has such glee on their face. I'm looking at a picture I took when my son was 18 months old where he is smelling the flowers. It is perfect. It only took me about 10 different shots to capture.

So my question to you is, how to you get students to just let go and try things, knowing they may end up being total disasters? How do you get them to quiet their inner critic until AFTER they've experienced something they will learn from?

With that in mind, I went out to capture the recent winter storm we had which ended up in everything being iced over (the French word "glacee" comes to mind). Beautiful to look at (not so nice to drive in). The first picture is one of the ones I would term as "fail". It didn't capture the light and reflection the way I thought it might. I also was too close so it ended up being blurry.

The second one came out just as I would want it. There is contrast between the beautiful blue sky and the basketball net. The icicles coming off the net are unexpected. It only took me 10 photos before I came up with one that conveyed what I wanted to convey.

This was achieved with a combination of a set goal in mind (conveying the beauty of the ice, but also the "coldness") and trial and error. It also required that I keep checking, getting feedback (from the camera) and making changes until I achieved what I wanted.

Karyn's response gives further insight into this process:
Ah, the 64 million dollar question! That mindset is the result of generations of a results-focused education system, where getting it right is what counts, not the process by which we achieve that rightness. Or so I believe anyway. We have become so fixated on results that we have lost the courage to experiment.

I attended a presentation recently where the speaker said something along the lines of "the fear of failure is the enemy of success." We learn so much from failure. That presentation was part of the Learning Technologies conference and a key theme that emerged was how grossly undervalued failure is in our current culture.

I think we are limited in the extent to which we can make a difference, but we could do worse than praise students for trying, even (especially?) when they fail.

There is more to her comment and it is worth it to read her entire response. The gist is, if we don't try we won't fail, nor will really grow.

So what do you think? How do we get people to open up to failure? How do we support them as they fail to learn from those failures?

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