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Following a well-attended CRADLE symposium keynote from Prof. Penny Jane Burke, CRADLE PhD student Ameena Payne reflects on the key points arising from the event.

What and who is higher education for? What are the purposes of assessment? Reminiscent of the work of bell hooks (aka Professor Gloria Jean Watkins) and Professor Aileen Moreton Robinson, these questions were at the heart of feminist scholar Professor Penny Jane Burke’s keynote at the 2021 CRADLE Symposium.

Assessment, in a Foucauldian sense, is a pedagogical technology that oversees our perception of knowledge progression. Throughout the keynote, Penny invited attendees to interrogate whose knowledge has mattered, who has had the right to higher education and to be conscious of how access and participation have differed among various socioeconomic classes in higher education. She advocated the need to transform pedagogical spaces.

The rise of measurement culture has had a profound impact on pedagogy. Penny argued that assessment has been driven mainly by marketisation (like job readiness and employability) instead of concepts that are not readily measurable (such as growth, liberation or emancipation). Further, this influence has increased rather than reduced educational inequalities. These disparities that are exasperated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Committed to the view that reimagining assessment requires an engagement with ethical reflexivity, praxis and social justice, Penny has taken from her own experiences. Including place and privilege – she acknowledges and challenges attendees to be cognisant of the Knowledges of Indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups historically excluded from higher education. This keynote centred on difference, communities of praxis and the ways in which contemporary discourses shaped who can belong and who can be a knowledge producer. Prof. Burke emphasised the need to embrace various ways of being and knowing.

Drawing from Professor Barbara Adam’s concept of timescapes and Dr Nancy Fraser’s social justice framework, Penny asserted that higher education is rooted in insidious forms of inequity, deficit narratives . The ‘regimes of truth’ that have shaped and limited our pedagogical imaginations. Thus, Penny’s work at the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education (CEEHE) centres around the politics of distributive justice, justice of recognition and what these mean for inclusive assessment.

Communities of praxis may provide the opportune space and time to transgress hegemonic power and embrace differences in perspective, approach and dialogue beyond performativity toward genuine reflection, action and transformation – where communities of practice have fallen short.

As we continue to reform higher education, and on the Paulo Freire’s birth centenary, this thought-provoking and timely keynote generated many intriguing questions and stirred conversation amongst the hundreds of registered attendees. Penny concluded with a series of reflexive questions that we might consider as we continue our interdisciplinary discussions on how we envision and structure the pedagogical dimensions of teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment. Please check out this tweet summary by Dr. Jo Tai as well as the full keynote video.