Anyone who has ever taught in a higher education institution for at least a semester will undoubtedly have experienced a ‘little’ teaching failure: a computer malfunction, a PowerPoint slide that contains out-of-date information, a ‘real-life’ example that doesn’t quite work. Occasionally, however, some of us are unfortunate enough to experience ‘big’ teaching failures—when a lesson simply flops or, worse, a whole class does. Following the perspective of the reflective practitioner, which encourages educators to reflect critically on their teaching practices, the motivation behind this short essay is to reflect on a personal experience of a biggish teaching failure—namely, an assignment that simply didn’t work. In order to better understand this teaching failure, and to draw out some broad pedagogical lessons from it, I compare it to an assignment that has worked extremely well over the years, and which I still use regularly in one of my classes. Rather conveniently, both assignments have been given to undergraduate students midway through a Communication Studies program, and both involve the analysis of advertising—meaning that the subject matter and level of student learning are similar in both cases.

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