Research Output
Assessment and the Expanded Text: students' perceptions of the changing English curriculum
  The question of how assessment impacts on what students study and learn, and the lifelong learning models individuals develop whilst at university, have been the subject of much educational research ( Gibbs, 1992, Ramsden, 1992, Entwistle & Entwistle, 1991, Boud, 1990, Birenbaum, 1996). As Peter Knight (1995) writes:

'What we choose to assess, and how, shows quite starkly what we value. In assessing those aspects of chemistry or by assessing German in that way, we are making it abundantly clear what we value in this programme and in higher education in general.'

This paper is based upon the work of an FDTL project entitled 'Assessment and the Expanded Text'. The project starts from the premise that the discipline of 'English Studies' is currently 'an area in a state of flux' (Webster, 1990). The subject has changed to encompass perspectives and sub-areas that alter the definition of 'text' and how it is studied. In particular, there has been a general move towards embedding texts within diverse cultural contexts and an expansion of the text to encompass the study of film, creative writing and information technologies. We argue that this widening of the theoretical narratives underpinning the 'new' subject base is having a profound impact on the student learning experience. Whilst fostering the capacity and need to discover learning models which cope with the multi-textuality that is English Studies, students lack the confidence to develop them.

We present this case in two parts. Firstly, we show that although initially daunted by the very different experience of 'English' in Higher Education to that of school and access courses, 'individual students select studying behaviours from their own particular repertoire on the basis of the specific learning context the students find themselves in' (Nulty & Barrett, 1996). This interpretation is based on data gathered from students who were part way through the second semester of study. Following exploratory pilot work, in depth interviews were used to uncover the ways in which students' expectations of the nature and purpose of the English curriculum had been challenged and the sorts of skills and qualities they felt were being promoted and tested through the formal written assessment they were required to complete at the end of the first semester.

Secondly, we explore the data collected with a view to pinpointing areas of student learning which may enhance their experience of assessment. In conclusion, we argue that a formative model of assessment based on increased dialogue between staff and student is the first step towards enhancing student understanding of the multiple rhetorical strategies and epistemological premises on which the discipline of 'English' rests. More importantly, it is a way of overcoming the crisis of confidence which is silencing students at many of the stages of their learning.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    06 July 1998

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education

  • Funders:

    Historic Funder (pre-Worktribe)


Sambell, K. & Johnson, R. (1998, July). Assessment and the Expanded Text: students' perceptions of the changing English curriculum. Paper presented at Higher Education Close Up Conference, University of Central Lancashire, Preston




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