Project Title: Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Written Feedback: Analysis and Comparison
Project Mentor: Krista Kecskemety – Engineering Education
Keywords: Written feedback, engineering education, undergraduate teaching assistants
The Fundamentals of Engineering Program (FEP) courses at The Ohio State University are taught by a teaching team consisting of one instructor, one graduate teaching assistant (GTA) and three or more undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs). UTAs in these courses are responsible for scoring most course assignments and providing feedback on student work. The training for the UTA role consists of completing and peer reviewing class assignments, and a one-time grading training conducted at the beginning of the autumn semester. Despite the proven importance of high-quality feedback to student learning, most of the focus for UTA training is on scoring. The written feedback portion of their role is left mainly to examples shown during the original training session. Because written feedback is mostly self-monitored by the UTAs, the quality of and experiences that inform UTA written feedback is unknown.
A group of UTAs, one instructor, one GTA, and one engineering technical communication (ETC) faculty member graded and left feedback on a large technical writing sample. Their comments were broken down into individual ideas and coded using two separate coding schemes synthesized from literature. The coding schemes categorized the ideas by their explicit content and their purpose or effect on the student. Coding was completed by two researchers and discussed until a consensus was reached for all coded ideas.
Results are examined through the percent of total ideas a code received per participant. The participants were then grouped by role and compared. The small sample size and qualitative nature of the data made statistical analysis not practical, so observations were primarily used.
In general, the distributions in both coding schemes for the UTAs and the Experts (instructor, GTA and ETC faculty) were not similar. This indicates that the UTA and Expert groups do not have a shared idea of what written feedback they should give to students on technical communication assignments. Within the UTA group, code distributions also had a large spread, indicating that the UTAs may not share common experiences to draw upon while leaving written feedback. Further studies are needed to confirm this using insight from the participants.