An Anatomy of Feedback - A phenomenographic investigation into undergraduate students' experiences of feedback
Feedback is considered to be a fundamental part of the learning process and is a critical link that connects students’ and teachers’ activities. However, definitions of feedback in the higher education literature are problematic. For example, views of feedback seem to be mechanistic in nature and isolated from the learning context; there is minimal contribution of students’ perspectives in these views; and, there is an assumption on the part of researchers of a common understanding as to what feedback actually is. In addition, the ways in which students respond to feedback are not well understood. Therefore, an objective of this research was to investigate students’ experiences or conceptions of feedback, in order to determine the underlying meaning that feedback has for students. A further objective was to investigate students’ responses or ‘approaches’ to feedback. Data were collected from 28 undergraduate physiotherapy students via individual, semi-structured interviews and then analysed using a phenomenographic approach in order to determine the ‘what’ or referential aspects, and the ‘how’ or structural aspects, of students’ conceptions of feedback. The focus was on the variation across the data, as well as on the relationships between the different experiences in the data. The ways in which students responded to or approached feedback were also analysed with regard to these relationships. One main finding of this study was the identification of a superordinate notion across the data of feedback as ‘information’. However, results indicated that students experienced feedback as ‘information’ in four qualitatively different ways. These differing experiences or conceptions were designated as A: Feedback as ‘telling’, B: Feedback as ‘guiding’, C: Feedback as ‘developing understanding’ and D: Feedback as ‘opening up a different perspective’. These four categories of description represent the outcome space for the research. Each category was subsumed by the next and what was emphasised changed as the categories expanded, demonstrating a relationship of increasing inclusivity and complexity between the categories. Another finding of this study was the variety of factors identified by students as influencing their responses or approaches to feedback. If sufficiently significant, these factors formed barriers to responding to feedback. Furthermore, results revealed a relationship between students’ conceptions of feedback and their responses or approaches to feedback. The relationship was inverted: the more inclusive the conception of feedback, the less barriers there were to responding to feedback. Several conclusions emerge from this research. The results of this research validate the assumption made by researchers of a common understanding of feedback as ‘information’. This feedback information, however, is experienced and responded to in differing ways, relating to students’ underlying conceptions of feedback. In presenting students’ voices, this study provides a view of feedback that is integrally connected to students’ learning contexts. This research also has implications for teachers. Understanding how students conceptualise or experience feedback provides teachers with insights on how to engage students with meaningful feedback. Engagement with feedback, including reflecting on feedback, is a crucial part in developing self-regulation of learning.
Advisor: Nicholson, Helen; Bond, Carol
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anatomy; Higher Education Development Centre
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: feedback; students' conceptions; phenomenography
Research Type: Thesis