It’s spring, and a lecturer’s thoughts turn to revising modules while there’s still time to get the new proforma in front of the board. If you are considering moving towards formative assessment, what options do you have for components, and what should you watch out for?
Start with outcomes.
Revising your module outcomes is a rather trickier process than changing assessment components, as it may require coordinating with multiple colleagues whose modules build up to or on from your own. Accordingly, the easiest way to start is by working back from your outcomes to think of different ways they can be met.
As you begin, ask yourself: has the old assessment method really worked to prove competence or knowledge, or has it offered opportunities for students to cram, pass and forget, or assemble information without really understanding how to use it? The answer is likely to “yes, at least in part,” so use that knowledge to think what action actually would provide proof of growing skills.
Formative assessment implies assessing mastery of skills or concepts at regular intervals. Assessments can stand alone and be compiled together for a final result, but it makes more sense to connect them to create a kind of assessment portfolio.
Your options go well beyond quizzes or short essays instead of one final exam or long essay. Possibilities to consider include:
- Individual or group presentations
- A series of two or more finite experiments or research projects, which can be documented via written essays, completed workbooks, or video evidence
- Study diaries, in which students record what they have read or done and write short “reviews” that include questions they have about the material
- Face-to-face interviews or focus groups where students must discuss their reading or work and how they interpret it (in the context of small-group teaching or tutorials)
- Structured workbooks in which key concepts must be written with backing bibliographies, or process can be documented.
- Peer review exercises
- Conducting and reporting on interviews with experienced practitioners or people whose lives are the subject of academic inquiry in your module
- Competency checks in vivo (lab or field)
- Portfolios that combine different forms of assessment
Whenever possible, think beyond paper-based proofs. Good-quality video evidence can be easily shared with other students, for example, making it a powerful tool for building both competence and confidence. Actually seeing your students successfully carry out a procedure in real life or in the lab is the surest form of “competency check,” and systems can be created that make the process less labour-intensive for lecturers—such as peer checks.
Carefully created formative assessment can get students away from working for marks rather than mastery, and help you avoid “teaching to the test.” Many methods are more accessible for students with disabilities, and most produce the kind of demonstrable results that employers value. That makes this a change that both you and students can really benefit from.