The Role of Feedback in Doctorate Level Education

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By Dr Liam Anderson

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

As a regular receiver and provider of feedback on work that I produce, I’ve been reflecting on the best way to provide it to Doctorate level students who are producing pieces of work. Feedback within Doctorate level education I feel is a cornerstone of growth and excellence, but the student must be on board for the journey and understand the process. Unlike undergraduate or master’s level studies, Doctoral level education is a unique landscape (even more so when they’re embedded within applied environments) where students are expected to delve deep into their individual research topic, push boundaries, and provide a significant contribution to the field. Therefore, feedback can act as a in two ways, where you can provide students with a critique of their work, but also an opportunity to learn, develop and refine practice. 

As students’ progress through their Doctorate, their research and critical analysis skills should develop, so they are no longer passive recipients of knowledge. Consequently, the feedback they receive must reflect this as they progress through. One concept that I’m attempting to use now is a sliding scale of getting students to think more critically within feedback. Whilst in a traditional sense, it would mean that as the student progresses through the doctorate programme, it slowly moves from prescriptive to through provoking feedback, it can be dialled based off the task and what the student requires at that time.  I’m hoping that this will get students to challenge assumptions, explore alternative perspectives and become an independent critical thinker. As is often the case when supervising research, the effectiveness of this approach remains difficult to evaluate. That is why, within the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice, Dr Paul Garner is investigating the effectiveness of our supervision to Doctorate level students of which effective feedback will certainly be an important element. 

That feedback at Doctorate level is important is not contested, and it should be timely and ongoing throughout, especially with applied doctorates, where students work independently for extended periods of time whilst also managing fulltime employment. Regular touch points and feedback can help guide students through some of the complexities of this type of work. It’s now high up on my priority list to experiment with different forms of feedback when working with students, as I firmly believe that a variety of delivery modes can be effective, including video recordings, written, comments or audio files etc. Indeed, within these modes, the feedback may not solely come from the supervisor but can be facilitated by the supervisor to come from the student. Whilst this may not happen early on in supervision, it is hoped that the development of the student from early on within the doctorate process will nurture this and feedback can eventually become a two-way process.  I’m certain that some students will prefer different types but that is all part of the person-centred approach that we’re trying to use within the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice. 

Feedback isn’t just a routine part of assessing work within doctoral education, it is the fundamental lifeblood that students need to grow, develop, and become independent researchers. I am by no means an expert in feedback, but I believe it deserves our explicit attention as a vital part of how we operate. For me to improve and become more person centred within my approach, it is important to continually push the boundaries and understand more about the process.

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