Examining the role of feedback on agricultural communications students’ writing self-efficacy and self-determined motivation
The agriculture industry depends on agricultural communicators to present scientific information and convey complex agricultural issues to diverse audiences (Watson & Robertson, 2011). As such, written communication skills have consistently been identified as the top proficiency agricultural communications graduates should possess to fulfill the demands of the profession (Doerfort & Miller, 2006; Irlbeck & Ackers, 2009; Morgan, 2012; Sprecker & Rudd, 1997; Steede, Gorham & Irlbeck, 2016). However, employers across the industry agree agricultural communications graduates do not demonstrate career preparedness in this skill area (Banwart, 2017; Irlbeck & Ackers, 2009; Leal, 2016; Morgan, 2010). The motivation for this study was to capture how agricultural communications students’ experience writing and provide practical recommendations for improving writing instruction.
Self-efficacy is one promising avenue researchers have supported in improving writing education and performance (Pajares, 2003). Additionally, feedback plays a powerful role in helping students become effective writers and can serve as an important source of self-confidence (Ahrens, Meyers, Irlbeck, Burris & Roach, 2016). Previous studies in agricultural communications have loosely explored how feedback (i.e., social persuasion) influences agricultural communications students’ beliefs about writing. In order to improve students’ writing skills, faculty should understand how students perceive and respond to the feedback they provide.
The purpose of this study was to examine the role of feedback in the development of agricultural communications students’ writing self-efficacy within the context of the courses they enroll in at Iowa State University (ISU). The study addressed three research objectives: 1.) explore how agricultural communications students perceive their writing self-efficacy, specifically what sources shape their self-efficacy beliefs, 2.) identify student preferences toward different types of feedback practices, and 3.) investigate how agricultural communications students’ motivation to write is influenced by feedback. Phenomenological qualitative methods were used to answer the research questions.
Findings from the study indicated agricultural communications students use a variety of sources to inform their self-efficacy beliefs including their interpretations of their writing performance and education, interactions with modeling and assignment expectations, feedback messages and their perceived value of writing, feelings of anxiety and optimism, self-regulated learning strategies, such as prewriting and drafting processes, different types of writing, such as academic writing versus industry writing, and different types of courses, including agricultural science and communications courses. Several patterns in feedback preferences and points of divergence between current feedback practices and student preferences were also uncovered. These discrepancies helped to reveal implications for which practices align with a feedback seeking orientation versus a feedback avoidance orientation. Finally, the study identified what factors diminish or drive students’ writing motivation as they approach the revision process. Factors such as level of depth and explanation, students’ receptivity toward feedback, student-instructor relationships, and various levels of feedback analysis were considered. Overall, the findings were consistent with previous studies yet yielded new findings for expanding future research. Several recommendations for practice were also provided.