The assessment of undergraduate final year projects : a study of academic professional judgment

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The premise of this study is that the assessment of student performance is an interpretive process. This raises a fundamental validity question: on what basis do academic communities evaluate the soundness of their interpretations? The central problem which this study explores is how academic assessors validate their interpretations of student performance on complex tasks. I explore this problem by focusing specifically on the assessment of final year undergraduate projects through two case studies of disciplinary communities of practice, one in the Humanities faculty and the other in the Engineering faculty of a South African university. Drawing on Bourdieu's theory of social practice on the one hand, and the methods of critical discourse analysis and ethnography on the other, I construct a theory and method of inquiry which illumines aspects of assessment as an interpretive process, aspects which have been obscured by traditional approaches to assessment. This analysis privileges the context of assessment, the inevitability of difference in assessment interpretations and the equally inevitable effects of power. My methodological approach identifies four elements which constitute social practice- social structure, conjuncture. event and text. These constitutive elements operationalize into a series of analytical stages which expose different aspects of social practice. My approach is consistent with Fairclough's method of critical discourse analysis, although I also include ethnographic methods.

Bibliography: leaves 213-218.