How Students Experience Failing a Course: A Descriptive Phenomenology



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Background: Existing research explains academic course failure with two narratives. In one narrative, course failure is a problem to be avoided. In another, it is a source of valuable lessons for students who have failed courses. Understanding students’ perspectives on experiencing course failure can help reconcile these contrasting narratives and guide approaches to course failure. Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative, applied transcendental phenomenology is to illuminate the experience of failing a class from the perspective of undergraduates who were in good academic standing at a public, regional university. Participant interviews were used to describe the phenomenon of academic course failure and to uncover the underlying structure of the experience of failing a course. Methods: This study employed a descriptive phenomenological method to analyze secondary qualitative data in the form of six interview transcripts. Findings: This study revealed that the phenomenon of academic course failure is comprised of 12 essential, equal, and interdependent constituents. Conclusion: The experience of the phenomenon of academic course failure is dynamic and multi-faceted; it involves multiple actors and sometimes conflicting actions. An accurate understanding of academic course failure can inform meaningful research and has practical implications for higher education policy, student-faculty/staff relationships, and institutional retention efforts.



Course failure, Higher education, Phenomenology