With the sudden shift to online learning during the Covid-19 crisis, students are having to become increasingly more active in their learning. Students now need to think much more carefully about where they are now, where they are going and how to get there. However, this contrasts with students being predominantly consumers of knowledge in a campus-based setting.

Formative assessment is a pedagogical approach that refers to a wide variety of methods that are used to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. Formative assessments are for learning, while summative assessments are of learning and do not contribute to credit points (Black and Wiliam 1998). Equally, formative assessment is just as important for online learners as it is for traditional campus-based learners. Why? Because students become more involved in the learning process and from this, gain confidence in what they are expected to learn for a given standard. Furthermore, this is particularly true where students are now learning in isolation and checks on learning and progression can be much more challenging. As a result, assessment aims to ‘close the gap’ between a learner’s current situation and where they need to be in terms of their learning and achievement.

Formative assessment is one of the most critical online assessment strategies, as it focuses on what still needs to be learnt instead of what learners should already have mastered. Also, it gives the learner enough time to improve and acquire the necessary information and skillsets during course delivery. Consequently, the interaction between teacher and learner is paramount and requires tutors to make a regular assessment of learners’ understanding and progress. For instance, to identify individual learners’ needs and to shape online learning and teaching accordingly.

Key Principles for Effective Formative Assessment for Online Learning

  • Authentic assessment strategies should be used that are meaningful to both the learner and real-life situations. Also, try to develop tasks which are appropriate to the level of the students that have real-world relevance, which actively engage the learner in ongoing inquiry.
  • Engaging and supportive activities that take advantage of and recognise existing prior knowledge to build new knowledge. Activities should illuminate learner perceptions, prior knowledge and experience.
  • Construct knowledge collaboratively with activities that require and encourage learners to interact with other online participants, particularly tutors and peers. Furthermore, by building a learning community, students will be able to engage with others to socially negotiate and construct meaning from multiple perspectives.
  • Ongoing timely feedback that enables scaffolding learning and mentoring the learner in response to student questions and queries. Importantly, responsibility must be shared by both the tutor and the student to be effective. Associated with this is the need to model and encourage collaboration and peer feedback among students.
  • Opportunities for meaningful reflection should be created that enables self-assessment and encourages students to take responsibility for their learning. This aspect is promoted by the provision of authentic activities that are meaningful and relevant to the learner.
  • Ongoing documentation and monitoring of learner achievements and progress, associated with reflective practice supports learners to transition and mature towards self-regulated learning.
  • Being explicit with assessment activities and learning goals allows students to understand expected standards to enable them to perceive them as something real that will lead to a whole, genuine and meaningful outcome. In fact, promoting a shared understanding of learning goals and assessment requirements promote a strong online learning community and give clarity.
  • Flexible assessment activities provide learners with diverse opportunities to demonstrate their understanding and competencies. Additionally, flexible learning also drives learners to become more independent and self-regulating.

The Formative Assessment cycle

Examples of Formative Assessment for Online Learning

Many of the following activity examples can be facilitated by use of the Digital Toolkit using Blackboard, Padlet, Collaborate, Teams, OneNote and Socrative. If you need any help or guidance with any of these tools, please contact elearning@tees.ac.uk.

Formative Assessment tasks: Feedback:
Multiple-choice questions Peers, tutor, computer
Drafts, plans, proposals Self, peer, tutor
Quizzes Peer, tutor
Concept maps Peers, tutor
Progress Journal Peers, tutor
Discussion/debate Self, peers, tutor
Group presentation Peers
Critique (peer critique or professional practitioner critique) Peers, tutor, guest
Online discussions/blogs Peers, tutor
Q&A Peers, tutor
One-minute papers Tutor
Worksheets Tutor
Polls Self, peers, tutor
Exit tickets Tutor
Oral Questioning Tutor

 Key Points

  • Formative assessment is assessment for learning, as opposed to assessment of learning.
  • Key formative assessment techniques include feedback, questioning, encouraging learner talk, and peer- and self-assessment.
  • Feedback is at the heart of formative assessment, hence it should always provide information about how to improve performance.
  • Ensure all of the assessment methods take into account accessibility for all learners.
  • Finally, formative assessment can be difficult to implement due to time restraints. However, once you have developed a bank of assessment activities you can re-use and refine them.
References:

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London: King’s College London School of Education

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