Learning from Failure: Crucial Engagement with Learners

April 4, 2022

For the next three weeks, Clemson Online’s Monday Blog will feature content from a Workshop Wednesday presentation entitled: Learning from Failures. This week, one of our Digital Learning Strategists, COFFEE facilitator, and teaching with Canvas expert, Sharyn Emery, PhD. has graciously contributed what she has learned through failure.

Crucial Engagement Teaching Tip and Canvas Tech Tip

Teaching Tip:

When you’re teaching an online class, just about anything can go wrong if you haven’t carefully prepared: the little things really are the big things. You could have the best course site, the best assessments, the best interaction plan – but if you don’t hit that “publish” button in Canvas, either on the entire course or for an individual element, it won’t ever matter. But even if you have been careful and dotted every single i and crossed every single t, mistakes will still happen. How you handle these inevitable errors – and the students who point them out to you – is a crucial moment of engagement; you have the opportunity to model effective revision, and can even build instructor presence and student rapport at the same time. 

When a learner points out an error, I typically thank them for pointing it out, give a brief explanation of what happened (that’s optional), and tell them it’s fixed. An additional option is to post an announcement that tells the whole class that the error is fixed. It can be a great way to demonstrate humility and problem solving, thus building rapport within your online class community. And it can be a nice surprise to learners if you thank them for their sharp observation. They may be expecting to embarrass you, or even worried you’ll be upset, but by thanking the student, you instead welcome them into the activity of course creation and maintenance. It’s something we could call “The Andrew Luck response.” The great Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was infamous for not just taking hard hits from his opponents, but for responding to each and every slam with a chirpy “nice hit!” or “great work!” Needless to say, this was disarming to the opposing team, but it can also serve as a helpful model for dealing with your own mistakes being brought up in an online (or any mode) classroom. 

Tech Tip:

Utilize the Canvas Inbox to make course communications simple and efficient, while adhering to your stated response time. (You should always include your email response window on your Syllabus.) An occasional immediate response is fine, but you don’t want to feel pressured to reply immediately every time, emergencies notwithstanding. Consider the following:

1) delaying response slightly gives you time to compose a better, clearer, more thoughtful reply

2) students can sometimes figure problems out on their own, once they have offloaded their panic onto the instructor email

3) you don’t want students to expect immediate replies the ONE time you aren’t able to respond right away.

The Canvas Inbox is an effective tool for managing your email since it sits right in Canvas and all of your students have access to it. You can email one student or the entire class, and as many students in between as you like. The Inbox has both archiving and search capabilities so you’ll never lose an email and can always find what you’re looking for. So, when those students find a mistake, just use your Canvas Inbox to tell them, “great job!”

Faculty Resources

COFFEE – Canvas training courses

Faculty Resource Center

Upcoming Live TrainingLockDown Browser Icon

Quick Hits: Lockdown Browser


  • Though a month away, now is the perfect time to start planning on how to ensure academic integrity in your online finals exams! This week, we will demonstrate how to use Lockdown Browser to ensure that your learners are able to demonstrate their mastery of your content under a fair opportunity. Join us to learn what Lockdown Browser is, how to use it, and to questions about the technology and the pedagogy of this tool.
  • Facilitated by Clemson Online’s Learning Technology Specialist, Gray Jackson.
  • Register in Tiger Training to join us.
  • Thursday, April 7th from 3:30-4 PM.

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