Examination focus and what it might tell us about learning and teaching

Phillips (2005) includes the following quote

In most university subjects, the dominant mode of teaching consists of lectures, tutorials and laboratory practical sessions (Laurillard 2002: 81), with assessment strongly focussed on examinations.

This has some connections with some work a colleague and I are doing around what history can tell us about e-learning and some ideas I have about experimenting with the assumptions and/or mythic nature underlying lectures.


One of the points we’re liable to draw from history is that introducing new technology (or a new LMS) into a university is not, by itself, going to change the quality of learning and teaching. Mainly because the conception of learning and teaching held by the academics isn’t going to change.

The bit about “assessment strongly focussed on examinations” provides one potential indicator about what those conceptions might be. i.e. this perspective seems to suggest that

focus on examination = indicator of somewhat limited conception of L&T

That’s a very bald and poor way of putting it, there are all sorts of exemptions and limitations, but that’s the crux of it.

So what’s the case at our institution? And is there any link between how heavily weight assessment is towards an and how e-learning is used?

In terms of exams, I can determine that for the 2nd major term in 2008 the assessment database I have access to indicates:

  • 527 courses were offered;
    This does, I believe, include a number of post-graduate/research courses. This means the percentage of courses with exams might be off – more work needed here.
  • 164 of those had an exam;
  • the average weighting of that exam of total assessment was just over 54%.

Seems to be a particular focus there. I wonder if that focus converts into something observable in the use of e-learning?


The major connection with the work on lectures, but also the history stuff, is shown with the following quote from Phillips (2005)

Sometimes, ICT has been used to replace face-to-face activities, but, often, this has been an unreflective replication of existing activities (Collis and van der Wende 2002; Harris, Yanosky et al. 2003).

I hope the “lecture” work can start to highlight some of those assumptions (which go beyond simply assumptions about learning and teaching to include organisational assumptions).


Phillips, R. (2005). “Challenging the primacy of lectures: The dissonance between theory and practice in university teaching.” Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 2(1): 1-12.

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