October 29, 2015

Overcoming Failure




Games assume that the player in a novice and present increasingly difficult challenges to assess the gamer’s skill level.  If a gamer is already familiar with the game mechanics, they will advance rapidly to the point where they are challenged.  If they are new to the game mechanics, they can learn in the low stakes introductory levels, slowly mastering the new skills before being challenged by the big obstacles later in the game.  One of the most powerful elements of games and what makes them so replayable is that they create this safe place to fail.  Whether you’re playing a multi-player game like chess or a single player game like the first Mario, you are expected to lose often. By creating a scenario in which you can lose, the game challenges you to learn from your mistakes and to improve controller skills and timing in a game like Mario, or understanding of the concepts, tactics, and strategy of a game like chess.  Well designed games use failure to make you want to not only play them but to master them.

In educational settings, failure is most often seen as final and irreparable. An F is the unhappy opposite of an A, and it can cause anxiety and fear. However, by incorporating failure into instruction and using it to challenge students to master the skills and content of the course, we can reduce stress for students. We’ve already discussed how scaffolding and difficulty curves can be used to ease students into a course. Rather than basing a the grade mix for a class around exams, where failing is final and significantly punitive for the total grade, using quizzes and self-checks that are lower stakes can help students and instructors identify and overcome weaknesses.  The gaming concepts of immediate feedback and multiple tries can transform frustrating obstacles into challenges to be iteratively attempted and surmounted.

In the classroom, we often assume that students enter a course with both learning skills and some fundamental knowledge of the course content already established.  To extend the metaphor of the game, we might assume that a player has held a controller before and understand the basics of how their gaming system works.  However, they have likely not played our game – taken our course.  We should thus use low-risk assessments early in the course, challenging the student to recognize their current skill set, and then allowing them to overcome difficulty that we have built into the course.  Through constant feedback and by structuring our assessments to allow for low-risk failure, we can help the students learn new skills and new content in a lower anxiety format.



How Games Empower Us – Education: Agency

Managing Failure in Education


Teachers’ reflections on their own failed implementation of various course assignments and what they learned from those failures:

  • Richard E. Bond, “Failing Lessons: Tales of Disastrous Assignments,” Perspectives on History (January 2013). (url)
  • Teaching Fails, permanent section of The Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy. (url)

Encouraging risk taking and failure in students to promote learning:

  • Edward Burger, “Teaching to Fail,” Inside Higher Ed, August 21, 2012. (url)

Analysis of the definition of failure and its inescapable role in literary composition:

  • Alison Carr, “In Support of Failure,” Composition Forum 27 (Spring 2013). (url)

On different types of failure in pedagogy and how each can be harnessed for improving education:

  • Brian Croxall and Quinn Warnick, “Failure,” in Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, ed. Rebecca Frost Davis, Matthew K. Gold, Katherine D. Harris, and Jentery Sayers (MLA Commons, 2014), ch. 1.  (url)

On applying growth mindset to student assessment and allowing for failure:

  • Geoff N. Masters, “Towards a growth mindset in assessment,” ACER Occasional Essays (2013): 1-5. (url, direct link)

Course assignments that ask students to blog and reflect on their failures in a course:

  • Mark Sample,”Flogging Reflection,” course assignment, 2016. (url)
  • Dorothea Salo, “Failure Assessment,” LIS 644: Digital Trends, Tools, and Debates course syllabus, Summer 2014. (direct link)


Curate for GOBLIN

Evaluate GOBLIN

Write Blog Post

Challenge Activity


  1. What is your plan to overcome any failures you experience in GOBLIN?
  2. How did you arrive at this plan?
  3. How do we empower students to overcome failure?
  4. How can we decrease the frequency of failures experienced by our students?
  5. What is a Growth Mindset?
  6. How does a Growth Mindset impact overcoming failure?
  7. How can assignments be altered to help students overcoming failures?
  8. How can courses be designed to help students overcome failures?
  9. Develop a plan to facilitate students overcoming failures in their learning experiences.

Suggested Games

These are games that we believe let players overcoming failure effectively: