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Tuesday, July 2 • 11:00am - 11:40am
Pride and prejudice: The one-sided nature of the feedback dialogue

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"It is a truth universally acknowledged that feedback given, is feedback ignored. Research has shown that tutors often lament students’ perceived unwillingness to learn from, implement or even read their written feedback (Chanock, 2000; Burke, 2009; Carless et al., 2011). Tutors may find themselves commenting on the same issues across successive assignments, thereby making it seem as though students are not interested in feedback. This, however, is in spite of the fact that research has shown that students do in fact read and engage with feedback (Weaver, 2006; Orsmond, Merry and Reiling, 2005), though seemingly not in the way that tutors intended. Consequently, feedback remains an unsatisfactory experience for both tutors and students.

Underlying this dilemma is an often overlooked (or under-considered) aspect of feedback, namely that it is in essence a dialogue between tutor and student about their work (Higgins, Hartley and Skelton, 2001). Yet, it is a rather unequal dialogue, as tutors may often use it to indicate their (superior) knowledge of the field, while students may be unfamiliar with the concept of dialogic feedback and therefore do not know how to act on the comments (Kapp and Bangeni, 2005; Weaver, 2006). Practice wisdom, however, suggests that the blame, so to speak, for the ineffectiveness of feedback is largely placed on students and their perceived indifference towards feedback, thereby suggesting that tutors are engaging in a one-sided, unreciprocated dialogue through their feedback-giving practices. This paper hopes to show, however, that the one-sided nature of feedback is not necessarily caused by students, but by the tutors themselves, and specifically, by how tutors’ pride and prejudice may hinder the feedback dialogue.

Using Semantics, I hope to show how the problem lies not with students failing to implement feedback, but rather that feedback is often un-implementable. Semantic gravity will be used to unpack how context-dependent comments are, that is, whether comments are bound to a particular essay (SG+) or whether they are more generally-applicable (SG-) (Van Heerden, 2018). Semantic density, on the other hand, will be used to unpack how many actions are implied in a comment, that is, whether comments are easy to implement (SD-) or require some unpacking before it can be implemented (SD+) (Van Heerden, 2018). A semantic wave can therefore be used to trace the implementability of the feedback given.

I will be focusing on the written feedback that two students received over the course of a semester in an English Literary Studies course. Student A received a consistent fail grade, while Student B received an A-grade. In both instances, the feedback they received may have (inadvertently) locked them into certain marks categories, which may both impede their attempts at becoming better essay writers and at achieving the underlying developmental aims of the course. This paper hopes to show the potential danger in tutors not taking into account how their pride - assuming that they are giving useful, implementable feedback - and prejudice - assuming that students are neither willing nor able to engage with feedback - may affect the feedback dialogue. Ultimately, the aim of the paper is to show that we need to (re)consider and (re)conceptualise what constitutes implementable feedback before the blame gets placed solely on students.


Tuesday July 2, 2019 11:00am - 11:40am SAST