Letting Your Students Fail: A Grounded Theory Study of Overcoming Failure Experiences in Undergraduate Experiential Education
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This research aimed to understand how students overcome and learn from failure experiences in a non-clinical undergraduate health-related experiential education program. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to address this question. In-depth interviews were conducted with ten previous students from an experiential education program (I-EQUIP) using a semi-structured interview guide. Reflexive journaling and memo-writing were also employed as methods of data collection. A theoretical explanation was generated highlighting how students overcome failure through altering their expectations in four themes: 1) evolving expectations of self, 2) managing expectations of others, 3) modifying expectations of project, and 4) building flexibility of expectations. This research describes failure as a tool for learning, supporting it as a positive experience as opposed to a negative one. It also presents recommendations for pedagogy on failure in experiential education programs, describing necessary supports, how to build flexible thinking, and the importance of introducing failure early in the curriculum. Ultimately, results of this study inform a framework to help students overcome failure in experiential programs, identifying how to harness these as learning opportunities and highlighting opportunities for program improvement.