As the summer slips quickly by, I've been doing some writing on the ways in which instructors can help students to learn from error, mistakes, and failure. In the course of my research, I ran across an exciting paper by Gabriele Steuer and Markus Dresel on what they call the "error climate" of the classroom. The paper is actually part of Steuer and Dresel's larger body of work on the subject (some of which was also conducted with Gisela Rosentritt-Brunn).
They define a "favourable error climate" as "the perception, evaluation and utilization of errors as integral elements of the learning process within the social context of the classroom" (263) and have determined the following elements as being fundamental to a course's error climate:
1. Error tolerance by the teacher
2. Irrelevance of errors for assessment
3. Teacher support following errors
4. Absence of negative teacher reactions
5. Absence of negative classmate reactions
6. Taking the error risk
7. Analysis of errors
8. Functionality of errors for learning (264)
Ultimately, they found "significant positive associations" with respect to the "interrelation between error climate and achievement" (272). They conclude by saying that "not only emotional climate aspects, but in particular the cognitive aspects of the error climate in the classroom seem to be important for learning from errors" (273).
Although Steuer and Dresel are primarily focused on the perception of students in German secondary schools, I believe their findings are applicable to higher education as well. As instructors in colleges and universities, we should strive to create what I would call an error-positive climate in our courses. In an error-positive climate, faculty believe that errors and mistakes provide valuable opportunities for growth and learning, and they design courses and assignments that reflect this belief.
In order to help college instructors assess the error climate of their courses, I have designed an Error Climate Inventory for College Instructors that draws heavily from the research of Steuer and Dresel. Please feel free to use this instrument and to share widely. We'd love to hear what you think!