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The F Word In The Classroom: Fail And Learn

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Tools of Teaching

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1151.1 - 7.1151.5



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Paper Authors

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Dave Cress

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu Session 1630

The F Word in the Classroom: Fail and Learn

David Cress

Associate Professor Petroleum Engineering Marietta College


Each semester, I pick one or two bulleted points in our college mission statement and develop new exercises to address them. Five years ago, I chose, “preparation for lifelong learning and professional development.” The behaviors I associate with lifelong learning involve regular reflection on and assessment of failures and successes as well as devising plans for improvement. Students need to examine their own learning and thinking processes, practice learning from failure, and embrace continuous improvement. Such skills are essential in professional practice, but young people are often reluctant to use these opportunities for learning. I searched for a way to encourage these traits and developed an exercise where students explicitly practice these processes. They conduct the exercise after each of two major exams in my courses.

The process consists of three parts. First, students correct their exam. Second, they conduct a “failure analysis” of their mistakes to examine why they made them. Finally, students create an “avoidance strategy” to minimize the likelihood of repeating the same (or a similar) mistake. They submit the corrections along with comments documenting the process. Many instructors use the first step – correction – in their classes. I used to stop there, or sometimes retested on the same material. The real key to improvement, however, has been inviting students to follow through with the failure analysis and avoidance strategy - making the entire self-assessment and improvement process explicit. The exercise is voluntary, but virtually all students participate.


In addition to the lifelong learning goals listed above, the exercise addresses two other goals of the college and our petroleum engineering program; improving critical thinking and encouraging leadership behavior.


I first used this three-part exam correction exercise in an introductory Statics course. It was so successful that I now use it in all of my courses, including Strength of Materials, Fluid Mechanics, and Thermodynamics. Students majoring in Petroleum Engineering at Marietta College take all four courses and develop reinforced expertise at this kind of self-assessment.

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Cress, D. (2002, June), The F Word In The Classroom: Fail And Learn Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11094

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