Slides from “The Invention of Failure”

Last night at the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Professor Cathy N. Davidson presented a workshop on “The Invention of Failure.” She addressed a number of issues: what is the relationship between the assembly line mechanics of “making the grade” and “grading” as a summative practice of assessment in higher education? What is the role of “failure” as a concept in formal education in general and in informal learning practices? How is failure racialized by standardized testing?  How are both racial and economic inequality mirrored and masked in the language of meritocracy in higher education? What is the difference between “experimentation” as a learning model and “failure” as a model? Finally, the talk ends with some practical suggestions designed to support the success.  How can success, rather than failure, be built into the undergraduate syllabus from the start?  For doctoral students:  what is the relationship between “professionalization” and “risk”? And how does “playing it safe” in one’s research influence the shape and success of one’s future?

Cathy Davidson is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Duke University, and Distinguished Professor and Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, The City University of New York.   She is cofounder of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.


Here are the slides from her presentation:

Video of the Capuchin monkey fairness experiment


One thought on “Slides from “The Invention of Failure””

  • What about the ability to vote on blog enreits, comments, and so on? A way to indicate you like something, for example (to borrow from the social networking world). This is a driving principle behind sites like or, and it is a very nice way to sample the feeling of your audience. It also allows, for example, an easy way to track which blogs and posts are generating a lot of interest a great way to find things to include on the front page, for instance. I realize there are potential problems (what if a student posts something and everyone downvotes it, for example), but taking a cue from Jim Groom perhaps these worries would not manifest or perhaps they would work themselves out . I’d be happy to hear some thoughts for and against this.An excellent example for a general audience, worth a visit, is (always interesting links, some more serious than others, with a great community of people commenting on them).

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