More planned failure

We need more planned failure in the college experience.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve mentioned this before but I am still not satisfied that I have added planned failure in any large-scale way. This quote comes from the Tomorrow’s Professor Msg.#2171 posted Sept. 16, 2013. The main premise of the post—to make college more like a video game—is centered on the idea that learning takes place after failures and to improve learning, we need to add more planned failures. The most important part of these planned failures is that they are low-stakes. In other words, we don’t mean more F’s, we mean more times that the student a) makes a mistake, b) has quick feedback, and c) has another low-stakes attempt. Video games reinforce this style of learning, hence the thesis of the post. In a video game, there is no cost to a mistake other than the time it takes to try again. Why should mastery of an academic concept be different? 

Of course I don’t know the best way to do this for a physics class, let alone for any class, but I am interested to find out what people are trying. To summarize my earlier thoughts, I would like to craft a set of 50 questions that a student should be able to answer after having completed the class. To translate this plan to the video game analogy, these 50 questions would be the 50 levels of the video game. To move past (or `beat’) a level, students would have to answer that question correctly. The stakes gradually increase because you not only have to answer one question correctly, but you have to answer all prior questions too. Video games punish late-stage failure in different ways, but many handle this by sending a player back to the beginning `Game Over’.

While I don’t think this analogy is perfect, there are certain strengths that are worth exploring, and I will continue to think about ways to add low-stakes planned failures to my classes.

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