Asa Lindberg-Sand

  • Sustainability and survival – analysing examination processes as conditions for students’ and teachers’ work in higher education

    Åsa Lindberg-Sand, Department of Education, Lund University, Sweden
    Thomas Olsson, Lund Institute of Technology, Lund University, Sweden

    Research paper

    Theme: assessment

    Examination in higher education is a complicated and manifold business involving university culture, formal rules, teachers’ professional knowledge and students’ learning efforts and fears of failing. In Sweden, as in many other European countries, the Bologna process will change the preconditions for assessment thoroughly. In a previous project the changes in assessment practices in five different university courses were described (Lindberg-Sand, 2005). These practices are normally slowly changing processes deeply embedded in a discipline-oriented teaching culture.

    In a recently started project the aim is to research the structure of the examination system in different university programs and to describe the interplay between the formal classification of assessments and the development of students’ and teachers’ work in the different courses. A further future aim is also to follow the changes induced by the Bologna process in the programs.

    The conceptual frame-work for the project lies in combining different strands of social practice theory. The formal aspects of assessments will be viewed as classification systems (Bowker & Star, 1999). These are also working as boundary objects in relation to different expert systems (Giddens, 1991) including both scientific and educational communities of practice (Wenger, 1999). The concept of teaching-learning regimes (Trowler & Cooper, 2002) is utilised to explore the context of assessment design and practices. The description of examination practices will focus on “momentums of torque” (Bowker & Star, 1999) in student learning and in teachers’ work in relation to the formal examination system, thus treating the examination process as a whole.

    The project consists of three different parts which are mutually dependent on each other and creates an action research design close to practice:

    • An initial project consisting of mapping and analysing examination systems in university programs at Lund Institute of Technology, Lund University,
    • Teachers’ action learning while exploring their own assessment practices in relation to the examination systems described (framed by a teacher training course),
    • Research building on the encounter between on the one hand the formal examination system and on the other hand student learning and teachers’ experiences of their work in the process of examination.

    The presentation is building on the initial results from the ongoing project related to the theoretical frame-work described above. Based on the results we will discuss the character of the critical interactions between student learning and the formal examination system as utilised by different communities of practice and/or teaching and learning regimes.


    • Bowker, GC and Star, SL (1999). Sorting Things Out. Classifications and its Consequences, Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press
    • Giddens, A (1991). The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press
    • Lindberg-Sand, Å (2005). Examination as an enacted view of knowledge: Internal development versus external demands in Swedish higher education. Submitted to Higher Education.
    • Trowler, P and Cooper, A (2002). Teaching and Learning Regimes: Implicit theories and recurrent practices in the enhancement of teaching and learning through educational development programmes, Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 21, No. 3.
    • Wenger, E (1999). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge University Press