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University tutors’ beliefs about and practices in assessing undergraduates’ writing - A New Zealand case study

Although teacher cognition has been explored widely, university tutor cognition of professional activities, such as evaluating and giving written feedback on students’ written work, has rarely been explored. Very few studies on teacher cognition of giving feedback have included data of real practice collected by think-aloud, observation, and stimulated recall. Traditional teacher cognition studies mainly focus on individual teachers’ beliefs and practices without in-depth study on how individual cognition evolves through and interacts with its social context in which individual teachers participate. It is the research space above that this thesis seeks to occupy, through an in-depth case study of the beliefs and practices of sixteen New Zealand university tutors who were employed in one of the university’s faculties to provide feedback on undergraduates’ assignments. In addition to exploring the beliefs and practices of this specific group of tutors, and the factors that influence these, the study aims to contribute to both the theoretical and methodological construction of teacher cognition studies by employing a holistic socio-cultural frame work based on Vygotsky’ s key notions of cognition, distributed cognition, and an activity theory approach. Data were collected chronologically across an academic year by five methods: preliminary survey for bio-data of participants and their general attitudes to giving feedback across the faculty, individual interviews for beliefs on giving feedback, think-aloud sessions on the actual practice of giving feedback, stimulated recall discussions as reflection in action, and focus group discussion as a means of collective reflection of various factors underlying their beliefs and practices. Data were firstly transcribed, stored, and open coded by NVivo8 for preliminary analysis and then analysed manually for deeper understanding of themes. Constant comparisons were made through the whole process of data analysis between data from different participants and between different sources of data. The findings reveal that there were convergences and divergences among tutors between their beliefs and practices about providing assessment feedback to the written work by undergraduate students. The convergences and divergences were due to the contextual factors in the activity system and tutors' previous experiences. The convergences and divergences of tutors’ beliefs resulted in emotional reactions. Tutors’ emotion interacts with cognition and actions (ECA interaction). The ECA interaction is affected by contextual factors in the activity system. The contradictions of the activity system constrain tutors’ cognition, cause negative emotions, and are often barriers to tutors’ work, but also form the potential of cognitive development. Co-operative effort is needed in the wider context of the activity to facilitate tutors’ cognitive development, promote positive emotions, and achieve a better outcome for the activity. It is concluded that a holistic socio-cultural framework of teacher cognition contributes to the understanding of the complexity of teacher cognition. The study is significant for its practical implications for professional practice of assessing disciplinary writing and tutor development; its contribution to the development of teacher cognition and activity theory regarding the interaction between emotion, cognition, and action at both individual and distributed level; and a multi-method approach to teacher cognition studies.
Type of thesis
Li, J. (2012). University tutors’ beliefs about and practices in assessing undergraduates’ writing - A New Zealand case study (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6590
University of Waikato
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