Best practice in supervisor feedback to thesis writers
An 18-month project to investigate what supervisors and research students in New Zealand universities identified as best practice in providing feedback to thesis writers. A collaboration of AUT University and University of Auckland.
The main aims of the project were to:
- see whether or not there are similarities and differences in supervisor and student perspectives within and across disciplines
- identify any differences in the nature and delivery of feedback to speakers of English as a first language (L1) or as an additional language (L2)
- produce advice on what supervisors and students consider to be best practice in thesis supervision.
A mixed-method (quantitative/qualitative) approach was taken which included:
- questionnaires undertaken by students and supervisors
- in-depth interviews with a sub-set of participants
- text analysis of draft thesis samples.
Professor John Bitchener
Project leaderAUT University
Dr Helen BasturkmenThe University of Auckland
Dr Martin EastThe University of Auckland
Heather MeyerAUT University
Findings indicated that:
- A wide range of beliefs and practices about feedback are held by supervisors.
- Best practice was typically explained as that which is most appropriate for an individual student at the time feedback is provided.
- From the student perspective, direct or ‘to-the-point’ feedback was easier to understand and act on.
- Written feedback, followed by face-to-face meetings, is useful in allowing discussion to ‘flesh out’ and clarify points that are made and to help students move forward to the next stage.
- Supervisors and students recognised the fact that the relationship between them needs to be framed as a partnership of equals.
- The content focus of the feedback was generally the same for both L1 and L2 students but sometimes supervisors found it necessary to provide some L2 writers with a greater amount of feedback on linguistic accuracy and appropriateness than was the case with most L1 students.
- Professional development for supervisors is necessary to support supervisors in identifying and diagnosing problems in students’ writing.
Recommendations for further research included:
Quantitative study | Carry out a further quantitative study to examine the extent to which supervisors and students hold the various ideas suggested by the respondents. A series of behavioural and attitudinal statements could be developed and these could include both Likert-scale and ranking questions.
Disciplinary differences | Recruit a larger sample size and a more equal participation from the three discipline areas. This would provide a more solid basis for investigation of disciplinary differences.
Feedback practices | Investigate other forms of practice (such as, supervisory meetings and feedback sheets) to provide a more complete description of feedback practices.
Comparative study | Make a comparative study into the nature of feedback given at early and later stages of the supervision process.
Effective practice | Carry out a longitudinal study to gain insights about effective practice over the entire supervisory period from the perspectives of supervisor and supervisee.
A research report prepared by JohnBitchener, Helen Basturkmen, Martin East and Heather Meyer.
(PDF, 607 KB, 58-pages).
- 7 December 2011