Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)
Doctoral examiners are usually asked to evaluate a thesis based on a set of institutional criteria. The expectation is for the examiners to evaluate and make a judgment on the quality of the thesis and also provide assessment feedback if certain goals are not attained. Therefore, an examiner report at the postgraduate level consists of two components: firstly, summative assessment where a judgment is made about whether the thesis has met the standards established by the discipline for the award of the degree, and, secondly, the developmental and formative component, where examiners provide feedback to assist the candidate to revise the thesis. Given this dual task, this paper aims to identify if examiners predominantly take on the evaluator or the teaching role. Doctoral examination is a unique assessment process. Unlike conventional forms of assessment, doctoral candidates are expected to take on board the views of the examiners and revise the thesis before final acceptance. In other words, examiners assess theses that are in fact work in progress (Bourke, Hattie & Anderson, 2004).
In this paper, we first validate our 2011 (Kumar & Stracke, 2011) results based on a larger sample from Australia and Malaysia from three major disciplines (Humanities, Sciences/Mathematics, and Commerce) (N = 30). We asked how PhD examiners from different disciplines approached the examination report. We provide evidence that confirms that examiners predominantly play the evaluator role. We also provide insights into how examiners in the different disciplines approach the task. We then argue that the role of the examiner in a doctoral examination is not only to evaluate but also to play a teaching role. Next we argue that this can be done through formative feedback if the examiners consider the doctoral examination process as a form of teaching. These findings have implications for assessment practice of doctoral theses across disciplines. We call for a stronger focus on feedback to ensure that the gap between current and expected performance is closed and that PhD students’ learning experiences contribute to the development of their graduate capabilities.
Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)
This paper addresses sub-theme 3 ‘Assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities’. Our research shows that PhD examination practice favours summative assessment at the expense of formative assessment and feedback. These findings have implications for assessment practice of doctoral theses across disciplines. We call for a stronger focus on feedback to ensure that the gap between current and expected performance is closed and that PhD students’ learning experiences contribute to the development of their graduate capabilities. Based on this research Higher Education institutions might wish to review their institutional criteria and, ultimately, PhD examination policies and procedures to support PhD students better in their learning during the last phase of their PhD journey.