Recap: Learning from Mistakes

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October 18, 2023
Scientist useing an eye dropper to put liquid into test tubes

Image: Scientists and engineers at the High Throughput Testing Core (HTTC) work in the lab on July 27, 2020 at UT Austin.


This week the Provost’s Teaching Fellow Ruth Shear (Chemistry) facilitated a PTF Think Tank titled Learning From Mistakes, during which participants discussed the important role mistakes and failures play in learning environments, and how the new UT Honor Code emphasizes the need to embrace mistakes. 

Here are a few takeaways from the conversation:
To be able to teach about failure, we have to be comfortable with failure and vulnerability as well.
Creating an environment where mistakes are seen as an important part of the learning process begins with the instructor. Openly talking about our own mistakes (in the classroom, in research, in life) helps to foster this environment, as does sharing examples from other scholars and researchers (such as #FieldWorkFail and #OverlyHonestMethods on social media apps like Twitter and Instagram).

Utilizing productive creativity can turn failures into new ideas.
Giving students the opportunity to have an uninhibited brainstorm, where no idea is a bad idea, followed by selective pruning, where ideas are separated based on feasibility or interest, is one method to get students engaging with one another and participating without fear of being “wrong.”

There are a variety of ways to implement the UT Honor Code in our courses.
The final portion of the Think Tank included a discussion of methods to honor and implement the new UT Honor Code by embracing mistakes. 

A few of the ideas that were generated:

  • Don’t move past an assessment/feedback opportunity before students have a chance to revise and learn from the feedback.
  • Incorporate “productive struggle,” the principle that students are more interested in the ‘answer’ (and remember and connect to it better) when they’ve struggled through it themselves.
  • Implement a completion-based grading system for some assignments (such as check/check -/check +), so that students get credit whether or not they’ve succeeded, and also get feedback on whether they’re on the right track.
  • Implement low-stakes quizzes throughout the semester to take some of the weight off of exam grades and give students a chance to practice before the exam.
  • Acknowledge effort and perseverance in grades in some way, to help students feel seen and know they aren’t working hard for nothing

If you missed this Think Tank and would like to talk more about this topic with other instructors, contact us so that we can connect you with future sessions. You can also attend either of our upcoming PTF Think Tanks: Teaching Neurodiverse Students (Oct. 26) and Using Art in the Classroom (Nov. 16).