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The aim of the pilot study was to examine data collection instruments that will be used in the main data collection. It is important that any tools of data collection should have a pilot study 'in order to iron out any problems of overlap of categories' (Cohen et al, 2005: 130). In other words, Drever (1995: 56) points out that the researcher in the pilot study is trying to do two things: 'first, to give the interview a trial run under realistic conditions; second, to get as much information as possible from the other person about how they interpret and reacted to the researcher's questions.
Two instruments of data collection were used in the pilot study: first, in class-essay writing sessions, this was done by asking students to write three essay drafts in three different writing sessions. The time allowed for writing the essay drafts was 90 minutes. The number of errors was used to measure the achievements of the students' accuracy in a new piece of writing. Second, conducting an interview with students first and then their tutors in order to know their expectations towards tutors' error feedback.
Students from the two colleges were selected and had informed that their writing work would be analysed and used for research and teaching purposes. First year students and second year students from each college were enrolled in three writing class sessions. The total number of students who participated in the study was ninety-seven students. Students assigned to two different groups: first group, students who received 'coded' direct written feedback focused on form and the other group who received 'un-coded' written feedback focused on form as well. English writing tutors were selected in the study and their number was four.
Pilot Study Procedures and methods of collecting data Used
Students were required to write three descriptive essays on different topics but on a similar context during six weeks' time. Tutors were asked to focus on correcting errors based on form, and they were given a list of types of errors that should be addressed on students' essay drafts. (See table 1)
Types of Error
Plural Nouns Errors
Verb Tense Errors
Tutors asked students to write between 250 - 300 words for the first essay draft for both first and second year students. All students were given 90 minutes to write their essays. Tutors asked first year students to write three descriptive essays in six weeks' time. The first essay topic was to describe your family and whether it is a typical family in Libya. In week two, they were asked to describe their best friends and why they were the best of their friends. In week six, students were asked to describe one of their parents and how they would describe them. Likewise, tutors asked second year students to write three descriptive essays in six weeks' time. The first topic was to describe any important Muslim event in their country and why it is important to them. In week two, students were asked to describe their national holiday event in their country and why it is important. In week six, students were asked to describe their favourite holiday place in their country and why it is favourite one.
Interview with students and then with their tutors
The place of the interview was selected in consultation with the heads of the English departments and was prepared to carry out the interview individually with students and tutors. A small quiet office, and free from interruptions was arranged to use it for the interview with the participants.
The plan was to interview two participants each day and that was because of the availability of the students and the tutors during their attendance in the college.
Students' selection was randomly, one student from each class was chosen, and that would be two students from each college. However, I informed the participants with the dates and time available during the week. Tutors' timetable was taken as well, and they were informed with the dates and time available. Participants were all informed that the time of each interview would normally take from 30-40 minutes, and they were also informed that their interviews would be audio-recorded.
The interview atmosphere was encouraging. The interviewees were enthusiastic and their attitudes towards the interview were positive. However, tutors' interviews were carried out without observing any negative side of their attitudes, and they were all cooperative with the interviewer. They were informed with the concerns had been given from the students' interview.
Concerns and suggestions raised during data collection of the pilot study.
A pilot study assisted me to know how to work out the procedures of the main data collection and looking at anything needs to be modified or changed. It also helps to create new and important ideas to the tools of data collection. The full benefits of conducting the pilot study can be seen after analysing the data gathered from the pilot study. Such analysis will show how effective the tools were.
The following points were initial concerns and problems I have face during the pilot study.
Three students refused to participate in the study, unless they had given bonus marks. These students were excluded from the study.
The other students who asked for bonus marks to participate in the study were accepted to participate in the study without getting any bonus marks when their tutors explained the importance of the study to the education system in Libya.
It had been noticed that few students who could write up to 300 words while the others were unable to reach 250 words. The number of words required for the essay writing should be reduced to 150 -200 words.
Two students were unable to finish their essay within the 90 minutes and asked to give them extra time. I negotiated the issue with their tutor, and we agreed that the 90 minutes given is adequate and fair enough for low-level students to write their essay in-class sessions. Those two students had written more than 150 words in total and thus 90 minutes are enough.
Few students showed no interest writing their essay insufficiently as they wrote few lines. After their tutors had assessed these essay drafts, and I was told that they did not do their best. I suggest that the final essay draft should be assessed based on the exam so the students would show their effort towards the quality of their writing.
It had been noticed that one of the tutors did not show or recognise his students' errors so tutors' experiences CV is needed for the main study.
Concerns and suggestions raised during the interview with students and tutors.
Students who participated in the interview were willing to share their views and concerns about their experiences.
It had been noticed that time assigned to the interview was shorter than it was expected; therefore, time should be extended from 30-40 minutes into 40-60 minutes.
Students' questions were understandable and students found it easy to answer with the help of the translation. The translation was used when it is necessary. Therefore, interview questions were appropriate for the interview.
There were two concerns with the tutors' interview questions. Question number one was changed from 'what types of written feedback do you think are helpful for students to improve their essay writing skills? Why?' in 'What type of written feedback do you think is helpful for students to improve their essay writing skills? Why?'
Tutors answered Question number 6 'Have you observed any midterm effects on students' essay writing as a result of using different types of written feedback? What are those effects, if any?' depended on their experiences not on what they had observed during midterm. This was because they could give their opinions if it was a midterm-based exam.