Failing out in the Open


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Chuck Olsen

Failure. Scary, scary word. We are taught that failure is bad, “failure is not an option.” “Do or do not, there is no try.”

More than enough people have talked about the importance of failure. It makes sense to me in a lot of ways although I admit, I have a visceral reaction to failure that usually involves some high grade panic. I’m working on it though. I managed to survive an incomplete PhD program, walking away without writing my thesis. It felt like failing in a lot of ways. I did, however, learn a lot from the experience.

Digital and Open Failure
Failure is not just about receiving a low grade or not completing something, though. When we are talking about using social tools, about digital citizenship, then what does failure look like? More importantly, what happens when you fail in a digital and open setting?

I know this is something that has come up in EC&I 831as we all try to better use social media, blogging, and other tools we may or may not be comfortable with. What is a good way to use Twitter? What is a bad way? Can you fail at Twitter?

Obviously, if students are completing an assignment, it is possible to fail. What does that mean, though, when that failure can be seen?

What is failing in the open?
We know what failing is when it is about a grade. When it comes to open learning, however, failure starts to have a few more nuances. There are far more ways to fail.

  • Not get comments or a response (or friends or followers)
  • Offend someone – on the internet, this is almost a guarantee, but you may or may not hear about it
  • Be made fun of through retweets or shares or “makes writing better as people tend to put more effort in when they know it will be seen by more than a single person. So you are less likely to fail just by working in an open environment because you are more likely to work harder.

    Open failure also results in more examples of what to do and what not to do. We have numerous examples of blogging well such as Cog Dog. Sue Waters joined us to talk about an Introduction to Blogging, giving us pointers about how to do it well. We can see when someone else’s work does not seem to be working and learn not only from our own choices, but theirs also.

    One awesome part about failing online is that you often encounter people who want to help. This is especially true when you have set up a support community for a particular situation. For non-credit participants and network mentors. Everyone is invested in the community and one of our goals is to help one another out. When someone sees you “failing” in that kind of context, they are much more likely to give you some suggestions or guidance than if you are off writing or working by yourself.

    This community also means that even a failure can result in inspiration. This is the point anywhere, but when working in an open environment, you are more likely to have your failure result in suggestions or ideas on how to do it differently. Comments and discussions about a failure can result in new directions much more easily when others can see what happened or get an idea for a new trajectory.

    The downside
    The obvious negative to failure in a digital way is that more people see it. If you fail on a paper or an exam, that information is kept confidential. If you fail online, anyone can read what you have written or see what you did. It isn’t private anymore.

    Tied to that is that anything that is put online is there forever. Sue Waters also talked about digital footprint and how students are more aware of this now. This is good, but it is worth really thinking about it. If you post to social media, share an image, write on a blog (or comment), someone has probably saved it somehow. It may be in the Google cache. It could be in Storify or someone’s FlipBoard. Even if you delete it, it will never truly be gone. The stakes are higher.

    So now what?
    So far, I have generally done okay. I have been lucky and gotten guidance and suggestions and no mistake has come back to bite me. I’ve found working in the open to be rewarding and worth the risk. I’ve still experienced the feeling of failure, blog posts that get no comments or comments that get disagreement, tweeted questions that result in no response. It happens. I’ve gotten better at accepting that and trying to channel things differently. I’ve learned a lot, including from fabulous people willing to give me a hand and teach me.

    What about you? Have you failed in the open? How do you feel about weighing the pros and the cons?

5 thoughts on “Failing out in the Open”

  1. Hi Kirsten, what a great post. You really give some food for thought here! We think of these tools as being an opportunity for those students to share and have a voice when they would typically choose to be silent in the classroom. But, they are still taking a risk and putting themselves out there. As you mentioned, there are a number of negative possibilities that could occur. And as we start to put ourselves out there through this class, we know all too well how it feels to not be recognized.

    Two things come to mind for me: Sue’s wisdom on the importance of getting out there and reading, learning and commenting on others work. This will help create a community for yourself and will also bring people to your ‘writing’.

    Is this A tough sell for narcissistic teens though?

    1. You (and Sue) are totally right that if you can build a community for yourself, that helps tremendously. You can get tips and suggestions, have someone catch things you are doing that could end poorly. Or give you support if things do go badly.

      But for teens, or even the young adults starting out in university? If there isn’t a grade, they may or may not understand the value of that community. They might want it, but the “how” of building it may not be apparent to them. Especially true with the risk of bullying. I know in our online classes we try to get instructors to put together clear rubrics and guidelines for responding to forum posts. But maybe we need to work more on the aspect of building a community and HOW to do that, the value it has. Not just the why to comment, and the what not to say or the “how to get marks.” I fully admit that in face to face classes in university I often had no community and didn’t go out of my way to get to know other students. But in the digital world, you really, REALLY need it.

      The work Alec has done to get network mentors also suggests some ways to build the community that can help guide teens. Find ways to bring in outsiders to support the work and demonstrate community! Alec does it a lot in presentations and on Twitter, asking people to notice something or to respond and show just how big his community is. I know there are ways to connect with other classes. Bring in other colleagues, connect with your own community to help support your students. Having the examples can help a lot.

  2. Great post. We are implementing a number of different technology initiatives at the division level and have considered the idea of failure. One term we have adopted is this: FAIL is a First Attempt At Learning. When experimenting with new ideas, especially those which utilize technology, a person needs to be prepared to fail. Looking at it as a first attempt at learning suggests that subsequent attempts will be made. However, there is no doubt that a supportive network helps a person feel they can take a risk and fail.

    1. That is fantastic, Dean! Sorry for the delay in responding! I like that way of looking at “fail.” It’s true, it’s only a first attempt. Or sometimes the third (like in Audri’s Monster Trap). It should be okay not to get it right the first time. I’d love to hear more about how you are building this in at the division level.

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