Examining Learners’ Failure Trajectories Across Their Computational Design Processes

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Toronto, Canada

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Failure is often portrayed in formal learning environments as a summative endpoint to learning, yet researchers and educators are embracing the concept of failure being part of the learning process. Kapur (2008), for example, proposed "productive failure," a method by which educators allow students early, low-risk opportunities to fail in solving complex problems. Scholars recently examined productive failure within more complex design processes like computational and game design activities (Litts, Kafai, Searle, & Dieckmeyer, 2016; Litts & Ramirez, 2014; Searle, Litts, & Kafai, 2018), in which failure is an embedded, necessary part of the process, such as with debugging code (McCauley et al., 2008; Papert 1980). In this project, we contribute new insights to this conversation by triangulating in-situ (e.g., screencasts) and reflective (e.g., interviews) data sources to trace students’ failure trajectories, or how learners’ perception of and engagement with failure varied, across their computational design processes.

We hosted four mobile game design workshops to teach youth how to design and develop a location-based game on the Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) platform, a narrative-based programming environment design for non-programmers (Holden, Dikkers, Martin, & Litts, 2015). Across workshops, 33 young people (ages 9-16) designed and developed their own location-based experiences over the course of three to six meetings resulting in 6-12 hours of design time (times varied across workshops). Our prompts in each workshop differed slightly, but all targeted local themes such as plants and animals or civic issues more broadly. We collected a range of data including in-process audio recordings, design artifacts, screencasts, fieldnotes, and final reflective interviews. We analyzed these data using coding methods (Saladna, 2009) that enabled us to capture learners’ perceptions of and engagement with failure throughout their design processes.

Findings describe learners’ failure trajectories and outline perceptions of and engagement with failure across participants. For instance, Doug, a 12-year-old boy, expressed his discomfort with failure: “When I was making my game, so many times I thought of like giving up ‘cause something wasn’t working” (Interview, 3/30/2017). He elaborated on how his discomfort shifted to accomplishment over time: “I really like that how I was just able to progress and I didn’t give up, and I really like that sense of...victory” (Interview, 3/30/2017). Jane, an 11-year-old girl, also explained how she developed a sense of accomplishment through experiencing failure: “[Bugs] were easy to fix once you figured out what the problem was, and it was really rewarding to fix them” (Interview, 12/7/2017). One motivator for participants’ persistence through failure was the connection they developed with their local community throughout the design process. For example, Mitchell, a 13-year-old boy, explained that he plans to “make more video games about [pollution]” (Interview, 30 March 2017) to draw attention to the environmental impact people can have by picking up trash. We share insights to how the messiness of an interdisciplinary, multimodal design process characterizes learners’ failure trajectories and how learners’ shift from understanding failure as an endpoint to a process.

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