Thesis on how academics judge

08 December 2007

How do new academic staff members learn to judge student performance in very different academic disciplines? What is required of them and how do they work it out?

There's certainly no set of standards, nor a manual. Not when the assessment tasks are varied and complex, stretching from professional design, requiring more public assessments, to the broad social and natural sciences, which require very different appraisal techniques.

This question has long intrigued graduand Jeff Jawitz, an academic staff development practitioner in the Centre for Higher Education Development.

"It puts our assessment system at risk," Jawitz said. "Often people can't defend their marking judgements. I'm fascinated by how an institution of higher education can be so dependent on a system that is so at risk."

Drawing on theories of social practice and situated learning, Jawitz's PhD thesis examined three case studies in academic departments with "very different relationships" between teaching, research and the profession.

"In contrast to the view that learning in the workplace is informal and unstructured, learning to judge student performance was found to happen through participation in a series of assessment practices along a 'learning to judge trajectory'.

"Relationships between colleagues, opportunities for conversations about assessment and the kind of capital valued in assessment practices impact significantly on that learning process."

It's timely research that Jawitz can apply directly to his work.

"There is a very practical link between this research and the work that I do."

This is particularly significant as next year he takes over as head of CHED's Higher and Adult Education Studies and Development Unit.

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