Assessment at the boundaries: service learning as case study

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British Educational Research Journal

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

This article explores the value systems which inform assessment practices in higher education, specifically how particular forms of knowledge valued in the curriculum shape and constrain assessment practices. The data for this article is drawn from two courses which participated in a service learning research and development project at the University of Cape Town. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein, the article argues that the location of these courses—within the field of higher education and a particular kind of institution, faculty and department—shapes their assessment systems, practices and outcomes in certain ways. What is valued in this field (Bourdieu) is a form of knowledge production which requires students 'to step out of the particularities'. This form of knowledge operates as a regulative discourse, constituting what counts as legitimate. Using the assessment system as a 'window', this article explores how these service learning courses constitute and are constituted by the regulative discourse of the field. While the constraints of the field are powerful, this project offers some hopeful signs of forms of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that, at the very least, name and challenge these underlying value systems.

This is the accepted version of the following article: Shay, S. 2008. Assessment at the boundaries: service learning as case study. British Educational Research Journal. 34(4): 525-540. DOI: 10.1080/01411920701609406., which has been published in final form at