Learning from failure

21 06 2013

In an article on the Secrets of mLearning Failures: Confronting Reality, Thomas Cochrane suggests that “Often the most significant breakthroughs in pedagogical transformation resulting from participatory action research are those borne of experiences of failure and critical reflection upon the surrounding issues” (p. 132). (Article available at: http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/19186)  This is an interesting point because I think that when we experience failure we tend to “feel bad” about it and we might end up not taking the opportunity to reflect on the failure and what we can learn from it.

This week’s ocTEL Mooc learning task is to reflect on a recent project, its successes and failures and to think about what could have been done in advance to mitigate the failure.

I have a recent, pretty small-scale, example of failures associated with a Professional Development Workshop for faculty on Using Moodle. The workshop was advertised as being a “hands on” session in which individuals could learn from colleagues and get tips on improving their online courses in Moodle. The workshop was available simultaneously to onsite participants and virtual participants via livestreaming.

Successes:

  • participants got to see a variety of different approaches to using Moodle
  • participants exposed to good practice which raised awareness of possibilities of using the platform

Failures:

  • “hands on” aspect wasn’t viable (due to wifi failure on the day)
  • “hands on” aspect also limited due to presenters talking too much
  • poor quality of audio in livestreaming made it difficult for virtual participants to hear and participate

Lessons learned and responses:

In response to these problems the organising team took some time to review the planning checklist for Professional Development Workshops. We have now added some extra items and check points to this list which we hope will help to avoid some of these issues in the future. For example: briefing presenters properly on expectations and ensuring that all presenters have time prior to the session to become familiar with using the specialised livestreaming equipment.

The experience of complete and unexpected wifi failure on the day was also a lesson in risk management planning. Further checks on equipment have been added to our planning checklist and backup options are being explored.

Further thoughts and reflections:

This is not the first time we have had problems with using technologies for Professional Development Workshops. The frustrating thing is that each time we have experienced a problem, it has been a different problem. So while we have been able to react to the problems after the event and implement new procedures to reduce the likelihood of the same problem occuring again, we haven’t been able to avoid new and different problems happening at the next event.

I suspect that a more disciplined approach to risk assessment and planning may help us to avoid some problems. But my question is, particularly for small-scale activities, how much effort is it worth putting in to work through all the potential technology disaster scenarios, compared with the likelihood of them happening? And a final question – can any risk assessment plan ever adequately cover all the potential risks, given the complicated nature and inherent frailities of our world, technologies we use and us people who use them??