Blending Offline and Online Feedback on EAP Writing

Electronic submission of students’ written texts, especially through online platforms, enables tutors to give feedback in a variety of different modes, and several publications have attempted to determine what makes for good feedback using the affordances of technological developments. Cloete reports on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project, which evaluates one method of blending offline and online feedback in EAP writing classes. It analyses students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards this approach to feedback, which highlight its strengths and lead to the conclusion that pedagocially rich feedback can be achieved through the considered blending of electronic feedback, face-to-face interaction and lesson activities.

Article:

Cloete, R. (2014). Blending offline and online feedback on EAP writing. The Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes, 2 (4), 559-571. Retrieved from: http://espeap.junis.ni.ac.rs/index.php/espeap/article/view/178 

Study:

This study investigated the multifaceted options for giving feedback which are afforded by EAP students submitting their work through the Turnitin platform.

turnitin-slide     Link: www.turnitin.com

  • Participants: pre- and in-sessional EAP students at Uni. of Bedfordshire (UK), and tutors of these courses.
  • Initial survey of feedback given to students via Turnitin prior to study (358 student papers).
    • This informed the creation of
      • an electronic set of ‘quick feedback comments’ which could be inserted into the text,
      • a more detailed grading rubric,
      • an electronic  list of ‘common problems’ feedback notes, including links / references to further practice resources.
  • Intervention: EAP clases re-scheduled to enable writing sessions in computer labs ~ students submit essays electronically ~ tutors’ provide feedback via Turnitin ~ students view feedback  in subsequent writing session ~ tutors’ feedback comments to guide peer review activities in class.
    • Feedback was given by inserting pre-formulated comments into text’s margins, comments referring to rubric, individual feedback comments, highlighting text in different colours, and inserting notes on ‘common problems’.
  • Data analysed from focus group discussions.
    • This emphasised positive perceptions of
      • in-class guidance & oral feedback at drafting stage (~ both students and teachers),
      • direct feedback on spelling, tenses, vocabulary, and text structure (~students),
      • larger scope of feedback given, due to rubric & online software (~tutors),
      • post-feedback writing sessions working with feedback and on common weaknesses (~ both students and teachers),
      • option of using Turnitin for electronic peer review (~ both students and teachers).
    • But highlighted some issues:
      • tutors’ attitudes correspond to their adeptness at using the software & thus the time-efficiency of giving feedback electronically,
      • students didn’t seem to engage as intensively with standardised ‘quick feedback comments’ as with specific, individualised feedback.

Discussion

This project serves to provide some insight into how a blend of offline and online feedback delivery can be incoporated into EAP writing instruction, and demonstrates students’ and tutors’ positive attitudes towards implementing such an approach. Cloete concludes that the benefits stem from the amount of feedback that can be given, and the scope to provide feedback in various modes simultaneously. Nonetheless, the study notes that Turnitin was actually not intended for use with L2 learners, and thus needs some customising to be useful for giving specific language-related feedback. Moreover, it is important to mention that this blended approach to feedback and moving writing classes to computer labs may be subject to time constraints and teachers’ negative preconceptions, though Cloete claims that ‘[f]eedback on student writing seems to be enriched when the messages which are conveyed encompass a range of areas and when the modes by means of which feedback is delivered are multi-dimensional.’ (p. 569), which may then justify, to a certain extent, these changes.

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Clare Maas
Lecturer in EFL and EAP at Trier University (Germany)
Clare holds post-graduate qualifications from the University of Wales and Trinity College London. Before moving into tertiary education, she taught English at German grammar schools, and English for Specific Purposes at several language academies in the UK and Germany. Her professional interests include EAP materials development and CPD for teachers. She also blogs at ClaresELTCompendium.wordpress.com.

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