Research interests:
educational responses to linguistic diversity; linguistic identity; bilingualism; second language teaching

Research update: Formative feedback research

Posted: May 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, teaching | 1 Comment »

In November 2015, I posted about two new research projects and promised an update as they progressed. Here is the update on one of them:

“Investigation of Students’ Receptivity and Use of Formative Feedback in Online Graduate Research Courses” – This is a collaboration with my colleague Dr. Man-Wai Chu and two research assistants Katie Crossman and Brianna Hilman. Our objective was to investigate how students react when peers and the instructor provide feedback to drafts of writing in a graduate course. In addition, we will explore whether they actually use this feedback in their final drafts.

We gathered data from one course that I taught in which students gave each other feedback on their writing for the course. They worked in groups of four so three peers looked at each draft and then I weighted in. Nine students consented to us using their papers as data so it was quite the task for Katie and Brianna to read and categorize each type of feedback and then look at the final versions of each paper of two assignments to see if the students actually used the feedback.

What did we discover? Students valued their peers’feedback almost as much as mine as judged by the amount of each type their took up. We also discovered an important distinction: feedback can be surface-level (fixing typos, etc.), meaning-level (referring to ways to improve the content of the writing) and rhetorical (not requiring any changes, but encouraging or discussing the content). These distinctions helped us look at why students do or do not take up feedback and also revealed the peers are more likely to give surface-level feedback, which is necessary and saves the instructor from having to do it, but does not improve the writing as much as meaning-level feedback. It also leaves the question as to how much rhetorical feedback is ideal and how much is too much, since there is nothing the student is required or asked to do after they read it.

We assumed that if students got valuable feedback they would use it, but that was only true about 80% of the time. This leaves us wondering how to improve the uptake of the feedback that is given. Is it just a factor of time or are students often confused by the feedback they receive? We dove more into the literature and discovered work that suggests students need to be trained to give valuable feedback as well as trained in how to take it up. I did some training in the course, but I also made the assumption that graduate students know how to give it and then what to do with it when they get it. That assumption is not unique to me, so I think one valuable aspect that is coming from this research is the recommendation that training be more explicit and embedded in courses where students are expected to both give and receive feedback.

If you want to here more, we will be presenting at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Calgary in October http://www.issotl.com/issotl15/node/172. I will update this blog with a link to the program when it is available. Look for an upcoming article as well.