One of the most damaging things we do to student creativity and thinking is to stigmatize failure. But the truth is that failure is often the first step toward something amazing. Yet I routinely see students who carry with them the marks and anxieties of grade-based trauma, and the looming fear of failure is often central to the unsettledness they feel about trying out a new technology in classroom. From their perspective, they know how to write and take tests and respond to questions (standard academic fodder) because they’ve trained for those things their whole educational lives, and as they feel less comfortable with making a movie or designing a digital artifact they worry, in turn, about this 'lack' and its impact on their grade. Thus, what I try to do is foreground the value and importance of failure by embracing a fast failure, fun failure, and formative failure approach.
In the fast failure portion, I have students work through any number of inventive exercises to generate ideas and possibilities they might want to pursue for a project. Then we get in pairs or groups and engage in conversation. What matters here is not necessarily the good/great ideas, but rather helping the students toss out the failures (i.e., the ideas likely to bear less fruit). The sooner we get them off the table, the better. Then I repeat the process, with each subsequent inventive stage designed to extend the thinking or ideas that remain (or come up with new ones, combine old ones, etc.) and the subsequent conversation/discussion stages designed to filter the 'failures' from the pile.
In the fun failure dynamic, I have student share their trials and tribulations as a part of class—and I include my own mishaps and miscues. We engage in what games scholar Jane McGonigal refers to as happy embarrassment, taking the opportunity to share in these misfires and missteps, and to champion the best failures among us. I’ve even had students create and share class memes based on our failures, which range from technological nightmares to complete conceptual misunderstandings. But, as part of this, I also ask students to share what they have learned from the failure and to attempt to turn at least one failure from the semester into a functional success.
The last failure element is the formative failure, and I approach this as peer review. As a professional writer and digital scholar, everything I send off for publication gets reviewed and comes back with critiques, suggestions, requested changes, and the like. This is, at its core, what peer review does, no matter the medium: provide formative feedback to improve the work. Thus, while many do not traditionally consider this stage a failure, I lump it in here because (a) every revision of a paper or every re-edit of a video project means I didn’t get it right the previous time and (b) it situates failure as a critical component of academic work. So, in class I situate this process as formative failure, where what students have created at this stage is formative in its own right, but the feedback will also have a formative impact to help the project reach its potential.