Hospitality management students' understanding of and response to assignment feedback at a University of Technology.
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This research is a case study investigating how students respond to formative assessment feedback. The study centres around gathering and analysing data on the way in which students perceive and interact with assignment feedback when it is provided to them in a process orientated, drafting-responding approach rather than a product approach. This study also aims to reveal whether the feedback provided by a lecturer is used by students to make changes to the overall quality of their revised assignment. Within this context, I also explore students' opinions and expectations of feedback. The participants in this study are students from the Hospitality Management Sciences Department based at the Durban University of Technology. The participants are from a diverse group in terms of demographics such as age, gender, racial breakdown and language. This research was informed by the interpretive research orientation with overlaps from the social constructivist and critical paradigms. Data collection involved two aspects. The first aspect consisted of document review, that is, copies of all student participants' assignment drafts and their revised copies along with the associated lecturer comments. The second aspect included transcripts of semi-structured interviews conducted with students between May and June, 2007. During the interviews, copies of the students' draft and revised assignments were used either as a point of reference or as tools to stimulate, tease out and probe each student's thoughts, perceptions, understanding and experiences of the feedback provided within the drafting-responding process. I used the data repertoire from my field texts to produce my research text and used Nvivo as a data management tool to identify, group and code recurring themes or to highlight any unique differences within the data transcripts. Discourse analysis was used to analyse the interview transcripts. Findings are that feedback is predominantly perceived by student participants as error correction rather than as a springboard to advance their learning via guidance from a more informed other. Moreover, high stakes assessments dominate the way students are assessed, from school through to tertiary level. This results in a student body that is mark and 'cue' orientated rather than learning focussed. These characteristics in turn, propel students' learning towards the competitive rather than focussing on learning from each other or learning as a community. Another theme that emerged is that students' lack of past experience in using feedback as a process-orientated approach meant that they were ill-equipped to deal optimally with the qualitative feedback provided in this research context. Several issues regarding conflicting literacy practices also emerged. For example, differing academic practices were observed between school and tertiary levels. Students also exhibited an inability to adopt the norms and values desired by the tertiary discipline due to a lack of shared understanding between lecturers and students, as well as difficulties resulting from differing mediums of feedback, including differing perceptions of feedback between lecturers and students. Despite these and other findings, students felt that they did benefit overall from having a drafting-responding process for their assignments. They especially welcomed the qualitative nature of comments provided, the combination of verbal and written comments, the combination of in text and cover comments, the ability to get timely clarity from the lecturer and the scope to dialogue and develop a 'relationship' with the lecturer. This study supports the need for assessments to be positioned for the purpose of learning rather than merely focussing on the assessment of learning. Essentially, when assessments shift from dominant high-stakes to low-stakes, it can encourage students to adopt a deep and active approach to learning (Elbow, 1997). A roll-over effect is that lecturing staff can realign their teaching to respond more fully to students' needs.