Informal academic networks and the value of significant social interactions in supporting quality assessment practices

Natalie Simper, Nicoleta Maynard, Katarina Mårtensson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
69 Downloads (Pure)


This research investigated social interactions within small significant networks across a range of higher education settings to determine their role in supporting improvements to assessment. Thirty-four academic staff from three higher education settings (Australia, Canada and Sweden) provided assessment change examples and drew network diagrams to explain their interactions. Significant social interactions were defined as engaged exchanges between people who trust and respect each other, around topics that hold common value. They led to an emotional response, promoted reflection and resulted in action and/or a shift in thinking. Significant social interactions were demonstrated to be effective in supporting changes in assessment practices. The qualitative findings were supplemented with quantitative investigation of the relational ties within the networks. The most significant relational ties related to changes in the assessment were the value of the interactions (d = .64) and the similarity between individuals (d = .50). Authors recommend that leaders in higher education heed lessons learned about how value was generated within networks and utilized for improvement activities. It is suggested that the following positive change-oriented behaviours be developed and actively encouraged: Building of diverse networks; appreciating reciprocity; forging trust; creation of time and space for significant social interactions; and external recognition of the shift toward quality assessment practices. This study builds on existing literature for improving teaching and assessment in higher education, and particularly highlights the benefits of informal academic networks and the potential for significant interactions as a mechanism for change toward a quality agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 1277-1293
Number of pages17
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number4
Early online date19 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


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