Engagement with Teacher Feedback: An Exploratory Research into Chinese Student Experience in UK Higher Education

  • Fangfei Li

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis investigates how Chinese students exert their agency when they engage with teacher feedback in UK higher education. In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the agency of students in the feedback process. In relation to its efficacy in scaffolding the dialogical learning process, researchers have reconceptualise the notion of feedback, from ‘transmissive’ (i.e. information is transmitted from teacher to student) to ‘coconstructive’ (i.e. students act in a self-regulatory way to construct feedback information by interacting with all the participants involved in the feedback process).

Drawing on the co-constructivist view of feedback, this study explores how students construct their understanding of teacher feedback, and how they inform judgements in response to the feedback, through interaction with various contexts. The research questions guiding this study were 1) How do students from China perceive teacher feedback in the UK HE context? 2) What factors mediate the process of students transforming teacher feedback into practice? 3) What factors influence their engagement with teacher feedback in the UK HE context? This study is a qualitative exploratory research. It employs different types of semi-structured interviews (viz. background interviews, stimulated recall and retrospective interviews) to investigate feedback experiences of five Chinese postgraduate students at a UK university. Data collection covered two phases – the pre-sessional EAP programme and the first term of the MA (Master of Art) degree programme. The data were analysed thematically.

First, the research finds that participants perceived teacher feedback as having affective, cognitive and communicative dimensions. Findings suggest that participants had conflicting and mixed emotional responses to teacher feedback. They could learn from the feedback and relate it to further learning. The findings also reveal individual differences in the students’ views of teacher feedback, with some viewing it as a provider of knowledge, as a form of telling from teachers or as a springboard for communication between teacher and student.

Second, the process that participants transformed teacher feedback into practice was mediated by 1) their abilities to critically analyse inputs in different contexts (i.e. understanding of the denotative and pragmatic meanings delivered in teachers’ suggestions and comments as well as their evaluation of exemplars) 2) the linguistic knowledge they mastered on the syntax and semantics of English as well as academic-based knowledge on disciplinary concepts and referencing conventions, and 3) their proactivity in seeking a better understanding of feedback and applying it in practices.

Third, the research identifies factors (viz. student essentialist thinking, self-perceptions of performance as well as social and epistemological factors) that influenced the students’ engagement with teacher feedback. Findings suggest that participants’ essentialist ways of identifying themselves as ‘foreign students’ and ‘non-native English speakers’ affected their interpretations of, and responses to the teacher feedback. They forged their understanding of teacher feedback by comparing the feedback with self-perceptions of their performances. The students’ interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers influenced their
engagement with feedback. They made sense of teacher feedback by interacting with peers and triangulating the feedback provided by other tutors. The students’ trust in and adoption of teacher feedback were affected by their perceptions of tutors’ position, expertise and attitudes towards students’ inquiries and assignments. The students’ construction of meaning in teacher feedback was also moderated by their epistemic beliefs, namely dualistic and pluralistic ways of knowing.

Overall, this study contributes to the ongoing discussion on students’ agency in the feedback process and enriches the current understanding of students’ engagement with teacher feedback from students’ perspectives.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorXiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen (Supervisor) & Sam Carr (Supervisor)

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