Academic Writing and Feedback
Results from a Research Study
Department of Education, University of Bergen, Norway
eLC Research Update Meeting Tuesday, 22nd October 2013
Overview of lecture
• Introduction: multidisciplinary e-feedback research
• A qualitative research study at meso & micro level:
“ Feedback practices and study design in a 1. year Master of
Education programme “
• Implications of findings
• Feedback between researchers
– Authoritative and dialogic models of feedback
– Examples from my experiences of co-authorship
E-feedback research exists in several
• Writing research (response)
– Rationale: Feedback is a crucial part of the writing process
• Assessment research (formative assessment, ass. for learning)
– Feedback involves assessing student writing
• Education (learning processes)
– i.e. John Hattie’s metatudies: feedback important for learning
– i.e. e-feedback as a specific text genre
• Second language research L2
– Students particularly dependent on teacher feedback
• Technology enhanced learning
A case study of feedback practices & study design
“What’s the purpose of f.b. when revision is not expected?”
How is student learning afforded or constrained by the writing and
feedback practices in on-line courses in 1. y Master of Ed.?
Qualitity of feedback
– What are characteristic traits of the teachers’ feedback?
Use of feedback
– To what extent and how is the feedback information being used
Learning from feedback
– How does the study design influence student learning?
– Other factors?
• Evaluation of our study programmes:
• 2 year campus-based (hybrid) Master in Education program
– Year one: 4 courses
1. Educational Philosophy (on-line) – teacher feedback
2. Knowledge and Communication
3. Theory of Science & Methods (on-line) – teacher feedback
4. Project plan seminar
– Year two: research & master thesis
• 4-year web-based M.Ed.
Materials and methods
Qualitative study: document analysis, text analysis + interviews
• Data sources
I. - Study plans and programme committee decisions
– Assignments & teacher guidelines for each assignm.
II. - Student written texts (24)
– Feedback texts from 5 teachers
III. - Focus group interviews with 4 students
- Written course evaluations
• Model for analysis of feedback texts: Hattie & Timperley (2007)
• Sociocultural perspective
– The importance of contexts for giving and receiving feedback
(meso level, i.e. study design)
– The importance of dialogue for learning (Bakhtin 1986)
• Cognitive perspectives
– Model of feedback to enhance learning (micro level)
(Hattie & Timperley, 2007)
– Self-regulation (Nichols & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)
Feedback is evidence about:
• Where am I going? (Goals)
• How am I going? (Performance)
• Where to next? (Specific advice)
Findings from analysis of feedback texts
Qualitity of feedback
Finding 1: Lack of clear goals both in the
assignments and feedback
Examples from assignments
”Discuss how different forms of knowledge are represented in
”Use the literature as support and argue for…
”Use your own experiences as a point of departure for a text about
the value of education. Use literature as support”
Writing-to-learn-to-write? (academic text)
Example of comment relating to the goal of writing
”[The goal of writing] is to develop analytical lenses, not to find the
correct answer, but to be more reflective regarding your own and
others’ points of view” (group feedback/B)
Finding 2: Feedback primarily on Task level –
few comments on Process level & Self-regulation
Task feedback: how well is the assignment performed
”Too much repetition of literature and too little understanding”
”Be clear about the difference between analysis and interpretation.”
Process feedback: i.e. writing process, strategies for error
detection or problem solving
”Let the first draft rest and revise before handing it in”
” Read other students’ papers to get other perspectives than your own”
Self-regulation feedback: i.e. self-monitoring, selfassessment, self-discipline
”Trust your own voice and your own opinions and reproduce less of other
Discussion: Is task level feedback less transferable
than feedback on process and self-regulation?
• ”[Task feedback] is more powerful when it is about faulty
interpretations, not lack of information. One of the problems with
feedback at the task level is that it often does not generalize to other
tasks” (H & T, p 91) Confirmed by findings in student interviews
• Is the reason for lack of process feedback that HE
teachers in the disciplines don´t have knowledge of writing
process and learning strategies?
• Nicol & Macfarlane Dick (2006): Self-regulation main goal
of feedback: involving students in self & peer evaluation
When revision not expected – is another type of feedback needed?
Finding 3: Mostly implicit feed-forward
”Your conclusion is ’common sense’ ”
”Who talks in the text,- you or the literature?”
”Where is your argument”
Do students recognize what to do? Do they know how to?
(cf. Chanock, Hounsell )
”formulate your own controling questions”
”present your own viewpoint”
”write in your own voice”
Does feed-forward mean ’how to’ or just ’what to’ do?
Clear, personal, confrontational, dialogic feedback
and feed forward functions best for students
Examples of dialogic & personal fb:
• ”I think this is unnecessary, - but you may disagree?”
• ”In my view … What do you think?”
• ”I am not convinced by your argument here”
The importance of
• a dialogic feedback style of teacher (micro level)
• dialogic spaces in the study design (meso level)
What did the students do with feedback?
Use of feedback
Finding 5: Not much? (difficult to determine)
• It did not improve the draft as they were not asked to revise
• Little evidence of transfer to next assignments
Finding 6: The study design counteracted student
learning from feedback
* The study design lacked
• clear goals for student writing
• clear purpose for assignments
• provision of dialogic spaces around feedback
• The study design did not require revision
• Tacit expectation: transfer of learning from feedback would
take place to next assigment
Practical implications of study:
What has changed in our study program?
– More presise goals for writing assignments
• Distinguish more clearly between ’writing-to-learn’
assignments and writing in academic genres
• Fewer assignments - revision expected
• Revision competence – part of writing courses
• Feedback in hybrid courses (campus + net)
More direct teaching
Seminar for teachers about quality feedback
Combination of written and oral feedback
Reintroduction of peer feedback in short courses
Additional finding at micro level: Different fb styles
IMPERSONAL STYLE of FEEDBACK
1. Little explicit (genuine) praise only ´ritual´ praise
PERSONAL & DIALOGIC STYLE
1. Explicit praise in marginal
2. Implicit critique
2. Explicit criticism, but explained
3. Extensive use of’mirroring’ (telling
what student has done, but few
examples to learn from)
3. Examples from students’ texts
used to illustrate a point +
4. Extensive use of passive,
inpersonal pronouns and lack of use
”It is necessary to ”,One should always”
”Descriptions are important…
”This claim is well supported”
”You use theory normatively” +
4. Use of personal statements and
examples from own research
Some overarching issues raised by the study
Students’ use of feedback
• How to make sure that students benefit from the great
amount of work teachers put into giving feedback?
– Ask for revision - Teach revision
– Be clear about expectations
• What are pros and cons of demanding student revisions?
– Revision means fewer writing assignments
• Is transfer from one assignment to another to be expected?
– Does it require a different type of feedback?
How to develop a writing culture with peer response in ecourses? How to develop response competence?
Feedback between researchers
• Our whole academic publishing system is dependent on
• Giving and utilizing feedback is therefore two crucial
competences that all academics need
• How to foster those competences at institutional level?
– Build in peer feedback in master & PhD courses
– Organise online writing groups
– Encourage co-authoring of conference papers & articles
How to give productive feedback?
Authoritative & Dialogic Models of feedback
• Authoritative model - the traditional perspective on fb:
– teacher/tutor/peer reviewer as representative of the
– Revision as correction
– Obviously not a model for feedback among researchers
• Dialogic model – feedb as joint activity (M. Bakhtin)
Two aspects of Bakhtin´s dialogism
• Meaning is created in the meeting point between
– An alternative communication model to Sender-Receiver model
• The productiveness of tension, disagreement, conflicting
– (cf. Piaget: socio-cognitive conflicts & Vygotsky´ intersubjectivity)
– Eugene Matusov: ”I respectfully disagree”
5 principles of good feedback
• Give specific, not ritual praise
• Be clear about the overarching goal of the text
• Remember ”Fokus – Form – Formalia”
• Be challenging – but in a respectful manner
• Invite dialogue: ”In my opinion …. What do you think ?”
Examples from my experience as co-author
The feedback process was very different
• With a close partner(s) at my own university
– Genuine dialogues, even provocations, based on trust
• With junior partner at a different university in Norway
– Clarify goals and roles; for example expertise in English
• With a senior partner at a university abroad
– Most problematic
– My strategy: reformulations: ”Is this what we want to say?”
• With junior partners at different institutions abroad
– ”walk the other mile” to give them ownership to text
How to ask for constructive feedback?
How to give constructive feedback without offending?
Thanks for listening!
Stryn, Nordfjord, Norway
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