Invisible pedagogy? The state of research on supervisor feedback

Year: 2018

Author: Starfield, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The essentially dyadic nature of doctoral supervision and its duration over a number of years demarcates this pedagogic relationship as fundamentally different from other forms of learning/teaching in higher education. Unlike other forms of university assessment, the feedback that takes place over time in this ongoing relationship is, to a large extent, formative, as the writing of the doctoral thesis or papers for publication is iterative, going through numerous drafts. Formative feedback or ‘feed forward’ – input that enables the student to move ahead with their writing and research - is the chief means by which this learning takes place as the doctoral student learns, over time, how to write the thesis and become an independent scholar. ‘Timely, relevant and articulate’ feedback can ‘allow students to see draft texts in a new light and to revise them’ (Paré, 2010, p. 107). However, as Paré ‘s (2010) research argues, supervisor feedback is often experienced by doctoral students as ‘ambiguous, enigmatic, and coded’ (p. 107).
Through a mix of feedback, questions, suggestions and instruction on their students’ writing, the doctoral supervisor’s role is in part to scaffold the students’ production of the written thesis. While written feedback on successive drafts is one of the key means by which doctoral pedagogy is enacted, little is known about how learning takes place in what Pare has called ‘this high stakes, intimate tutorial’ (Paré, 2011, p. 59). As Starke-Meyering (2011) has pointed out, many supervisors are challenged by the ‘paradox of writing in doctoral education’: that is those already socialised into the disciplinary community’s knowledge-making practices (supervisors) are not able to explicitly induct/instruct newcomers into the culturally-specific ways of seeing, being, doing, writing and thinking of their disciplines. This presentation discusses an emerging body of research that has begun to explore what could be termed the ‘invisible’ pedagogy of written supervisory feedback in the development of doctoral writing and the academic/disciplinary socialisation of doctoral students from the perspectives of both supervisors and students.
Paré, A. (2011). Speaking of writing: Supervisory feedback and the dissertation. In L. McAlpine & C. Amundsen (Eds.), Doctoral education: Research-based strategies for doctoral students, supervisors and administrators (pp. 59-74). Dordrecht: Springer.
Starke-Meyering, D. (2011). The paradox of writing in doctoral education: Student experiences. In L. McAlpine & C. Amundsen (Eds.), Doctoral education: Research-based strategies for doctoral students, supervisors and administrators (pp. 75-95). Dordrecht: Springer.