Student projects: giving & receiving feedback

Helene Dyrhauge |

Feedback is important for a research project, and it is central to student project work at Roskilde University, both as peer-feedback between students and feedback from supervisors.

Feedback enables the students to engage in a dialogue with peers and with their supervisor about how to progress with their project ideas, develop coherent research strategies and write up research projects.  We all know from our own research how useful it is to get comments from colleagues and often we hear ‘you have at least two papers in this paper’. Giving and receiving feedback enables the students to reflect on how to improve their projects. The Danish word for feedback is ‘konstrutiv kritik’ (constructive criticism), which have negative connotation for many. It is important that feedback is giving through an open dialogue, where comments are received as suggestions for how to develop the project further.

The problem area seminar is one of the first opportunities the students have for receiving feedback on their research statement, a two-page document outlining the group’s research topic, research questions, proposed methods and possible theories. The problem area seminar consists of three to four groups and one supervisor. The supervisor’s role is to facilitate the feedback between the groups and to give comments to all the groups.  In advance of the problem area seminar, the students receive a guidelines about what they should emphasise in their feedback. Not all students are familiar with giving feedback, so the guideline aims to help the groups identify gaps in the research statements.  The aim of peer-feedback is for students to learn how to give feedback and learn from other students. Moreover, strong groups sometimes complain that the feedback they received was not useful. Other students get confused if the supervisor present during problem area seminar is not their supervisor, and might offer different advice from their supervisor. Indeed, one of the key lessons of receiving feedback is to understand which comments are useful – just think of some of the comments we sometimes receive from reviewers!

Importantly, the groups are required to take contact to their supervisor and set up the first supervision meeting. The onus on the students to contact their supervisor is instrumental in the pedagogical principle of being responsible for own learning. However, some supervisors contact their groups first to let them know of his/her availability.  In supervision meetings, students often ask questions about the role of methodology, which reflects the interdisciplinary element of the degree, where the BA programme requires the students to carry out interdisciplinary projects. For example, the second semester project must include two of the four basic courses (political science, sociology, economics and human geography) thereby ensuring that the projects are interdisciplinary.

Students might write a sociology project one semester and an economic project another semester, as a result they will have supervisors from different disciplines. Similar the students become good at navigating between different disciplines, but they struggle to understand that interdisciplinary projects do not involve one economic chapter and one political science chapter. Indeed, I spent considerable time during project group formation and teaching qualitative methods to explain that inter-disciplinary research is a marble cake not a layer cake! Hopefully, the students got the message and have developed inter-disciplinary research statements and thus projects.

Other students just want to study one subject and struggle to develop interdisciplinary research projects, here, the role of the supervisor is important to make sure the students fulfil the project requirements. Moreover, the supervisor helps the students with literature suggestions, gives comment on draft chapters, and helps the students to use the feedback from the problem area seminar constructively in their project progress. Overall, feedback, both from fellow students and supervisor, aim to give the project group suggestions for finishing their project.