19 SES 09 A, Young People, Digital Identities and Online Places
An ethnographic online research on students’ communication in Facebook groups makes it possible to highlight a topic that so far has not been taken into account by education research, i.e., informal practices of students dealing with academic examination requirements and rules.
Although there are a number of studies that have investigated assessment practices and testing situations, most of them refer to a school context. These studies have shown how marks and scores serve to produce “student categorisations” which are used for processing classroom knowledge or structuring classroom activities (Kalthoff 2000; Zaborowski et al. 2011) and how marking classroom tests is organised as “allocation work” referring to a concrete students group and their sorting (Kalthoff 1996). Research in the fields of second language learning and testing has indicated that in some aspects the interaction in the IELTS Speaking Test is organised differently than the interaction in the (L2) classroom and in university seminars, workshops and tutorials. In particular, the teacher’s evaluation that is common in (L2) classrooms is generally absent in the Speaking Test (Seedhouse & Egbert 2006). Furthermore, the function of repair in L2 assessment contexts (achieving a pragmatic basis for assessment) is different to the function of repair in the L2 classroom and university settings where it usually serves to “improve language proficiency or to negotiate meaning for conversational purposes” (Hirschberg 2016).
Although a few studies have been conducted on the interaction during oral academic exams, there still remains a curious paucity of research literature on the practical constitution and accomplishment of university exams. For example, Wolff et al. (1977) outline some interaction rules, such as a complementary “listening maxim”, constituting of oral exams; Dederding and Naumann (1986) describe “exam specific management mechanisms” of examiners; and Meer (1998) reconstructs the relationship between structural requirements of communication in oral exit exams, in particular their asymmetrical character, and following consequences for participants. The study of Icbay and Koschmann (2015) shows how the assessment of professional competence of medical students is practically accomplished. However, a detailed empirical description of practical demands and problems examiners and examinees are faced with in a concrete exam situation (especially in written exams) as well as their ways to deal with them still remains to be done. It is also open how university students prepare for exams and what it means for them to prepare for and to pass an exam.
In the social network Facebook one can find a lot of public and closed groups university students use to discuss various questions relating to the study organisation and exam preparation. Some Facebook groups exist several years and have data archives in which various exam relevant materials can be uploaded and downloaded. The group members also discuss whether and where such materials can be found or how to get them. These communication practices are one of the focuses of the ethnographic project “The Hidden Life of University Exams”. The purpose of the project is to investigate what practical demands and problems students and lecturers face in oral and written exams and what local practices they develop to deal with them.
The main research questions are:
- What explicit and implicit regulations are to be found in written and oral exams in their practical organisation and situated accomplishment? What practical demands or problems are they intended to deal with?
- How do participants, students and lecturers, practically deal with explicit and implicit exam regulations and requirements? What control mechanisms and strategies are mobilised and employed by members?
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