Since 1987, the Motivation and Instruction Lab at Teachers College has been focusing on research in the three primary areas: Persistence, Cognition, and Failure. The Education for Persistence and Innovation Center will continue these research efforts, while branching into innovative methodologies with the additional resources available to EPIC as a larger research institution. As work begins, the Center will work alongside other renowned academic research institutions to improve the cognitive situation in children worldwide.
One of EPIC’s primary goals is to research cognitive function. As it turns out, recognizing that visionaries such as Albert Einstein experienced failure can actually help students perform better in school. In 2016, the researcher Dr. Xiaodong Lin-Siegler of Columbia University’s Teachers College published a study that found that high-school students’ science grades improved after they learned about the personal and intellectual struggles of scientists including Einstein and Marie Curie.
What Does EPIC Study?
EPIC stands for Education for Persistence and Innovation Center.
A major question that faces the field of education is: which knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs are most important for students to learn in schools? What will benefit students the most in the world outside the classroom?
For decades, most research in education has focused on subject matter knowledge and skills. There is no doubt that these knowledge and skills are important. Vital outcomes, such as admission to top-tier universities, are based in large part on the assessments of students’ subject matter performance. However, the foundational belief of EPIC is that even high-quality instruction may yield disappointing results if students give up when they encounter failure. When children in the United States experience failure in the first few grades, many give up and perform poorly throughout school thereafter. To benefit maximally from school and life beyond K-12, students need to utilize the information that comes with failure as well as success and learn how to use that information to succeed in life. Yet, a large majority of research in motivation and education has focused on achievement and success. Therefore, EPIC focuses on what failure means to children from various backgrounds, sources of students’ failures, determinants of reactions to failure, and how to help students cope with failure. Thus, EPIC addresses central questions about human development and education.
How Do We Study?
Researching failure and its role in human’s growth and success is a complex and adventurous endeavor. Depending on the research questions asked, EPIC uses
- Naturalistic Observation and Interview Methodologies to collect detailed psychological and physiological data about students’ goals, understanding, values, reactions and coping of failure. This method is often used to identify the ecological sources and nature of the problems to be further studied.
- Laboratory and Classroom-based Intervention Methodologies to test how various ways of changing instructional variables (e.g. different learning activities, or new ways of presenting materials or technology simulations, social media, etc) will impact students’ learning and the ability to perceive and react to failure. This method is used to explore how to improve student’s motivation and to learn by changing what is normal in classrooms, and to test the effectiveness of new interventions. For instance, we have used nobel laureates’ struggle stories to normalize failure as human growth and success in some of our studies. We use narratives to reveal the processes and strategies of a person, and how they can learn from failure by using the lessons of the failure experiences to achieve great success.
Why Is EPIC Work Innovative?
For decades, most motivation research has focused on achievement and success. However, EPIC’s research shows that studying success without also studying failure creates a misleading — if not entirely wrong — picture of what it takes for humans to succeed in their lives. Few studies exist on how failure can lead to success and how to educate our youth about this process. EPIC research makes this hidden process explicit, especially for children, by using personal narratives about people’s struggle, so the road map to success is more realistic and less misleading. The goal is to help students recognize that failure is essential to future success.
We built on the basic insight that students may misinterpret their failures as signs of weakness and incapability rather than viewing failure as a natural part of the growth process. Our research is focused, rather than being based on general bromides about effort or hard work. We investigate how stories about scientists’ accomplishments compared to stories about how scientists struggled through failure produce different effects on motivation and class performance in science classes (subject, contexts, and content specific). When viewing failure as something that any success won’t happen without it, students are more willing to face challenges in schools and everyday life (Hong & Lin-Siegler, 2012; Lin-Siegler et al., 2016).
We have four strands of research projects.
- Perceptions and Reactions to Failure
- Recognition that Failure Is Essential to Future Success
- Social Cultural Foundations of motivation
- International Communication
How to take advantage of the failure:
- Lin-Siegler, X., Ahn, J. N., Chen, J., Fang, F. F. A., & Luna-Lucero, M. (2016). Even Einstein struggled: Effects of learning about great scientists’ struggles on high school students’ motivation to learn science. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 314.
- Hong, H.Y. & Lin-Siegler, X. D. (2012). How learning about scientists’ struggles influences students’ interest and learning in physics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(2), 469-484.
- Lin, X. D. & Bransford, J. D. (2010). Personal background knowledge influences cross-cultural understanding. Teachers College Record, 12 (7), 1729-1757.
- Hong, H.-Y., & Lin, X. D. (2008). Introducing people knowledge into science learning. In G. Kanselaar, V. Jonker, P.A. Kirschner, & F.J. Prins (Eds.), International perspectives in the Learning Sciences: Creating a learning world. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference for the Learning Sciences – ICLS 2008, Vol. 1 (pp. 366-373). Utrecht, the Netherlands: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
How to Support Students’ Metacognitive Development?
- Lin-Siegler, X. D. Shaenfield, D. & Elder, A. (2015). Contrasting case instruction can improve self-assessment of writing. Educational Technology Research & Development, 63 (4), 517-537.
- Lin, X. (2001). Designing metacognitive activities. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(2), 23-40.