The role of student feedback in university teaching at a research-led university

Petersen, Melanie (2016-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Student feedback is widely accepted as a useful source of information about the quality of teaching and as a potential professional learning tool to enhance university teachers’ teaching. A review of the literature, however, revealed a shortage of systematic research about how student feedback influences university teachers’ teaching practices. A similar gap in knowledge was identified at Stellenbosch University. Preliminary studies at this institution indicated dissonance between university teachers’ perceptions of the potential value of student feedback and how they actually made use of student feedback in their teaching. In researchled university contexts, teaching is often perceived to have lower status than research. This study therefore set out to explore how university teachers at this particular research-led institution experienced the role of student feedback in their teaching. A case-study research design was followed, with the potential relationship between student feedback and university teaching practice at a research-led university constituting the unit of analysis. Qualitative data was generated by way of semistructured interviews with 16 purposely selected university teachers. Institutional policies relating to student feedback, teaching and learning and human resource management were also included as secondary sources of data to ascertain how university teachers’ experiences of student feedback related to institutional policy directives. Activity theory was used as analytical framework to interrogate the data. The findings of the study indicate that the research-led context at Stellenbosch University plays a significant role in how university teachers experience and respond to student feedback. The perceptions of research being more valued than teaching in terms of recognition and rewards, limits the optimal use of student feedback for the purpose of improving teaching. Raising the stature of teaching would thus be a necessary requirement for promoting the use of student feedback to improve teaching. Furthermore, the potential role of student feedback in university teaching practice at Stellenbosch is influenced by other subsystems, in particular the performance appraisal system. A concerted effort should be made at institutional level to come to a common understanding of what good teaching is considered to be. In the absence of such a common understanding, the growing culture of performativity has led to student feedback being reduced to a mere quantitative measure of the quality of teaching in many cases. Since mid-level university management carries the biggest responsibility for managing the performance appraisal processes in academic departments, they also exert a significant influence on how university teachers would use student feedback for professional learning and the enhancement of their teaching. The diverse practices followed by mid-level managers in the various academic departments represented in this study further pointed to the possible need for a guiding framework to support an ethics of practice approach to the use of student feedback. Based on its findings, this study is considered to have made a contribution to the body of knowledge regarding the contextual and relational nature of student feedback, particularly within a research-led university context.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Studenteterugvoer word algemeen aanvaar as ‘n nuttige bron van inligting oor die gehalte van onderrig en as ’n potensiële meganisme vir professionele leer ten einde die gehalte van dosente se onderrig te verbeter. ‘n Oorsig oor toepaslike literatuur het egter gedui op ‘n gebrek aan sistematiese navorsing oor hoe studenteterugvoer dosente se onderrigpraktyke beïnvloed. ‘n Soortgelyke kennisgaping is by Universiteit Stellenbosch geïdentifiseer. Voorafgaande studies aan hierdie universiteit het gedui op ‘n teenstrydigheid tussen dosente se persepsies oor die potensiële waarde van studenteterugvoer en hoe hulle in werklikheid van studenteterugvoer gebruik maak in hul onderrig. In navorsingsgerigte universiteitskontekste, word die status van onderrig dikwels beskou as laer as dié van navorsing Hierdie studie was dus daarop gemik om ondersoek in te stel na hoe dosente by hierdie spesifieke navorsingsgerigte instansie die rol van studenteterugvoer in hul onderrig ervaar. ‘n Gevallestudie is as navorsingsontwerp gebruik, met die potensiële verwantskap tussen studenteterugvoer en onderrigpraktyke aan ‘n navorsingsgerigte universiteit as eenheid van analise. Kwalitatiewe data is genereer deur middel van semigestruktureerde onderhoude met 16 doelbewustelik geselekteerde dosente. Verder is institusionele beleide ten opsigte van studenteterugvoer, leer en onderrig en menslike hulpbronnebestuur as sekondêre bronne van data ingesluit ten einde vas te stel hoe dosente se ervarings van studenteterugvoer aansluiting gevind het by institusionele beleidsriglyne. Aktiwiteitsteorie is as analitiese raamwerk gebruik om die data te ondersoek. Die bevindinge van die studie dui daarop dat die navorsingsgerigte konteks by Stellenbosch Universiteit ‘n beduidende rol speel in hoe dosente studenteterugvoer ervaar en daarop reageer. Persepsies dat navorsing van hoër waarde geag word as onderrig in terme van erkenning en beloning, belemmer die optimale benutting van studenteterugvoer vir die verbetering van onderrig. Bevordering van die statuur van onderrig blyk dus ‘n noodsaaklike voorvereiste te wees vir meer optimale gebruik van studenteterugvoer as meganisme om onderrig te verbeter. Verder word die potensiële rol van studenteterugvoer beïnvloed deur ander sisteme, veral die prestasiebeoordelingstelsel. ‘n Daadwerklike poging sal op institusionele vlak aangewend moet word om ‘n gedeelde begrip te ontwikkel van wat as goeie onderrig beskou word. In die afwesigheid van so ‘n gedeelde begrip veroorsaak die groeiende kultuur van prestasiegerigtheid dat studenteterugvoer dikwels tot ‘n blote kwantitatiewe meeting van die gehalte van onderrig gereduseer word. Aangesien middelvlak-universiteitsbestuur die grootste verantwoordelikheid dra vir die bestuur van prestasiebeoordelingsprosesse in akademiese departemente, oefen hulle ‘n beduidende invloed uit op hoe dosente studenteterugvoer vir professionele leer en die bevordering van hul onderrig gebruik. Die middelvlakbestuurders in die onderskeie akademiese departemente in hierdie studie het uiteenlopende praktyke toegepas in die benutting van studenteterugvoer gedurende prestasiebeoordelingsprosesse. Dit het gedui op die moontlike behoefte aan ‘n riglynraamwerk wat etiese praktyke ten opsigte van die gebruik van studenteterugvoer kan ondersteun. Op grond van die bevindinge word hierdie studie geag om ‘n bydrae te lewer tot die kennisveld met betrekking tot die kontekstuele en relasionele aard van studenteterugvoer, veral binne ‘n navorsingsgerigte universteitskonteks.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100178
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