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Are the principles of effective feedback transferable across disciplines? A comparative study of written assignment feedback in Languages and Technology

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This paper describes an investigation into the written feedback provided by tutors on Language assignments, together with students’ responses to it. The study replicates a previous study of assignment feedback in Technology in order to determine the extent to which the characteristics underlying common feedback practice and students’ perceptions of effective feedback vary according to discipline. Drawing on two Spanish modules, the researchers analysed over 4000 feedback comments on 72 scripts, identifying their category and depth in accordance with the classification used in the Technology study. With regard to categories, it was found that Language tutors’ comments related more to skills development than to content, the opposite tendency to that observed in Technology. With regard to depth, corrections formed a lower proportion of Language tutors’ comments, but the proportions indicating errors and providing explanations were both greater than in Technology. This analysis was followed by interviews with 20 of the students whose assignment feedback had been analysed. The differences and similarities between the ways feedback is perceived by students of Languages and Technology are discussed. The authors conclude that a methodological approach involving cross-subject replication is a powerful means of uncovering subject-specific assumptions on assignment feedback.

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