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Board 71: Innovation-Based Learning. Learning by Failure

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division (CEED) Poster Session

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division (CEED)

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Paper Authors


Isaac Heizelman University of North Dakota

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Isaac Heizelman is a third-year undergraduate engineering student at the University of North of Dakota.

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McKenna Rose Matt

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IBL (innovation-based learning) is a classroom structure that lets undergrad students choose their own focus in projects while relating it to the core principles of the course. It takes a hands-on approach, allowing students to work on projects that have an impact on the world. Students track their effort and learning via tokens in an online LMS. More importantly, it provides them the opportunity to fail, and learn from their failures. A major problem with the traditional class structure of today is that it relies heavily on the pass/fail aspect of the course, putting pressure on undergrad students. Most students have not been previously exposed to the material before coming into the class, yet they are not allowed to fail assignments or tests without their final grades suffering. Whether they learned from their mistakes or not is irrelevant, because their grades have already suffered irreversibly. With IBL's structure, students have the opportunity to make mistakes as they learn, while still being able to succeed in the course. Instead of being punished for having a beginner's knowledge of the subject and making naive mistakes, undergrad students are encouraged to begin from a place of curiosity and devise a ‘moonshot goal’ which will require them to study, form hypotheses, perform calculations, and create prototypes/experiments. Often, the hypotheses are disproven, the calculations reveal impracticality, and the prototypes fail to satisfy requirements. In short, they often fail. Understanding why failure occurred at each stage deepens students’ understanding of the material and strengthens their ability to tackle complex problems in the future. This ability to fail, coupled with IBL’s willingness to let students explore topics they are personally invested in, grants students a unique agency in their learning. Undergraduate students, under their IBL professor's support, are able to present their work at conferences when they would otherwise never be afforded the opportunity. IBL students are able to participate in applied research at a level normally reserved for graduate students. By being afforded the ability to take on large projects with complex problems, undergrads under the IBL structure develop professional skills and have access to experiences well ahead of those entering the workforce through traditional educational models. This better prepares them for the challenges they’ll come across in their careers, strengthening the knowledge they have after undergrad programs. This paper will provide a first-person account of one undergraduate team’s experience during their first semester in IBL. Students will reflect on their developing self-image as student engineers, not as engineering students. Students will share their initial project aspirations and the failures, pivots, and learning which occurred during the semester. Students’ use of tokens to manage planned work and learning achievements will be discussed.

Heizelman, I., & Matt, M. R. (2023, June), Board 71: Innovation-Based Learning. Learning by Failure Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland.

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