A quick report of initial survey findings on how students view risking failure in their coursework.

Just over a month ago, I conducted a survey of all students in our graphic design program at Miami University and just under 30% of students responded to the survey. The questionnaire was designed to determine how students defined success, how open they were risk failure in their coursework, and what motivated them to do their work. The survey consisted of eight questions, with two being open-ended and the rest where students selected the most accurate answer for the question.

Here’s a quick look at the response data for only the “select the answer that best applies” questions:

What most accurately captures “success” for you as a design student?
79% selected “strong design skills and increased knowledge”
16% selected “praise from instructors and fellow students”
5% selected “high grades”

Would you be willing to take risks in your work and possibly fail in order to earn what you selected above?
89% selected “yes”
11% selected “no”

What statement most accurately captures how you would feel if you were to try to create an innovative design solution and have it fail?
84% selected “I learned something from it and I will keep trying”
11% selected “I should have stuck to what I do well and not pushed it”
5% selected “I must not have what it takes to be a designer”

What would you say motivates you most when doing your design work?
58% selected “the fun of making things and solving problems”
26% selected “pride that everyone knows I created something excellent”
5% selected “fear of failing in front of my instructor, parents, and/or fellow students”
11% selected “I don’t know yet”

If you were given a reward for taking risks with your design on a project, which would you choose?
32% selected “praise from instructors and fellow students”
21% selected “bonus points on your grades”
21% selected “no reward would be necessary”
16% selected “an excused absence to have a day off from class”
11% selected “a harder project the next time to push your skills further”

This is just a quick report-out on the data gathered but the qualitative data added insights into the responses above. Overall, responses indicated that students were comfortable taking risks and that the learning gained from risk-taking was what made it valuable. A very low percentage of students seemed to feel that high grades were their ideal. This data will all be analyzed and reported more formally in an upcoming paper.

The project is now being operated with a class this semester to test how students react when they have opportunities to take risks in their coursework.

Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University