Fathoming prevailing assessment discourses through a social realist lense in a small comprehensive university
Assessment is one of the most powerful lever used to determine if teaching and learning have taken place because it transcends the allocation of a mark. In this paper, we argue that assessment is influenced by emerging impediments associated with personal threshold pertaining to culture and structural positioning as well, as how academics exercise their agency. This paper explored impediment discourses in relation to assessment of and for learning in a South African comprehensive university. Margaret Archer (1995)’s social realist theory was used as the theoretical lens of the study because in its application it parades structural, cultural and agential conditions within a particular context, which are either enabling or constraining in relation to what is being assessed. This was a case study set in a small comprehensive university in Limpopo Province, South Africa wherein, a social realist approach embedded within the qualitative design was adopted to examine deeper level morphogenesis interplay between, structure, culture and agency. In-depth interview and document analysis were adopted as data collection strategies to mine data from unit of analysis (stakeholders i.e. academics, management and students) who were conveniently sampled. Data extracted from interviews and documents was analysed with theoretical tools embedded in Archer’s framework and the key findings were categorised based on the evident of emerging prosodic themes. The findings reveal that nuance discourses that lecturers constantly encounter are due to structural challenges within the institution such as structural deficiencies, which are apportioned to lack of proper infrastructure. Though a small sample was used, the implications are far beyond this sample because they extend to all university’s’ stakeholders in terms of institutional and disciplinary cultures pertaining to assessment.
Key words: Assessment; Social realist; Comprehensive university; Dominant discourses