How do we know our students are learning, and how do students themselves gain insight into their own learning progress? One way is to use formative assessments throughout the course. Formative assessment both helps faculty understand what students are learning and helps students see their own progress and also their gaps in learning. Formative assessment prioritizes the learning process, providing immediate feedback to both instructors and students during a learning activity. This information is then used to modify subsequent learning activities to promote new content understanding or revisit prior content knowledge. We have already introduced you to learning assessment techniques in part III of this series that provide ways to implement formative assessments. Consider also that incorporating technology into formative assessments can provide valuable insights into students' progress and comprehension, making it easier to identify areas where students are excelling and where additional support is needed. Beyond its primary purpose of giving students (and instructors) an opportunity to assess their learning, formative assessments can also help build student confidence by developing the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the goals of the course .
Digital assessment tools can immediately show where things are working very well in a class, where a student requires more support for their learning, or where faculty might consider changing their own pedagogical approach. But what does a technology tool for formative assessment look like? Here are just a few technology tools and assessment ideas that work well with small groups of students followed by those that work well with the whole class.
Google Docs: Google Docs can be used to facilitate small group activities both in person and online that involve collaborative writing, peer editing, research and collaboration, and group projects. In-person students can work together on the same document, while online students can meet in breakout rooms in Zoom to discuss. As the student groups work, the instructor can also participate by monitoring progress in the Google Doc for each group and assessing where each group is making connections to the content and where additional support might be necessary for better understanding. Google Docs allow focus on the process of collaborative work instead of just the product, thereby short-circuiting the usefulness of generative AI (Artificial Intelligences) tools.
One way to create a formative assessment is using Google Docs and the jigsaw technique. In this approach, students are initially divided into small groups (round 1) and each group is given a specific section of a larger text or article to read and summarize. Once each group has completed their task, groups are reshuffled (round 2) so that each group now has one representative from each article who is considered the expert in their topic. These experts then teach their respective sections to the new group, sharing their insights and understanding to help build a collective understanding of the material. This technique encourages students to work collaboratively, helps to foster deeper learning, and provides opportunities for instructors to recalibrate the next activity.
Google Slides: Just like Google Docs, Google Slides can be an effective tool to show how students are implementing concepts from your course content. Students can use it to create collaborative presentations where they share their knowledge with one another and experience different perspectives on the course material. They can see others' changes as they make them, and every change is automatically saved. In-person students can work on the same slide deck, while online students can work together in a Zoom breakout room to collaborate and edit the presentation. Google Slide activities can promote and encourage student collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills while also providing invaluable assessment opportunities to the instructor (particularly if the instructor is also dropping into Google Slides, as a participant, where they can offer praise or course correction in real-time).
VoiceThread: VoiceThread is a collaboration tool that reinforces students’ interaction with one another, provides peer and instructor feedback about where there might be knowledge gaps, and, used effectively by asking the right questions, shines a light on the student’s own life experience as it ties to the course content. It allows the student to respond using the media tool of their choice. The most effective VoiceThread activities tie course content to students’ own life experiences and provide space for all students' voices, both of which are incentives to not rely on ChatGPT and similar recent AI technologies.
Padlet: Padlet is a highly engaging online tool that allows instructors to create a virtual canvas for collaborative activities such as brainstorming, discussion, sharing resources, creating multimedia content, exit tickets, and interactive icebreakers. Instructors can design the Padlet to allow students to respond anonymously and upvote other students’ contributions. By allowing the students to respond anonymously, it provides opportunities for more honest responses that will allow instructors to better gauge content understanding across the classroom.
Poll Everywhere: Poll Everywhere is an online polling tool that allows instructors to create a variety of interactive activities that allow for formative assessment in the classroom, including live polls, surveys, quizzes, word clouds, and open-ended questions. Students can respond anonymously to questions using their own devices, and instructors can view the results in real time. This enables instructors to quickly assess students' understanding of the material and revisit the content to clarify muddy areas or reinforce accurate understanding of concepts. It also provides an opportunity for students to reply honestly, interact when they might otherwise be too shy, gauge where their responses are situated within the student group and develop community.
Custom Google Maps: Custom Google maps allow you and your students to create maps with markers, routes, and layers. It can be a desirable alternative to ChatGPT, as it allows for a more interactive and immersive learning experience where students get to explore, document, and present information in a spatially meaningful way. Students can work on the same custom map to work collaboratively on a class project or research assignment. For example, history and geography students can create maps highlighting important locations, events, or landmarks related to their topic and/or their own lived experiences. This tool is especially useful when the assessment is addressing the relationship between a learned experience and a personal experience. The information can provide insight into culturally and socially relevant ties and/or departures related to course content.
As instructors, it is important to remember that assessments serve a broader purpose than just assigning grades to students. In fact, many formative assessments work better when offered as low- or no-stakes activities. When we intentionally incorporate technology into assessments, not just because the tool is convenient but because the tool serves an objective purpose, we help students to become familiar with the technology while achieving formative assessments that provide more immediate feedback for both faculty and students. And remember, when introducing assignments that allow the use of innovative technologies, you might also want to provide resources and guidance on how to use tools ethically and responsibly. This will better prepare students for a world where evolving and innovative technology is a constant reality.
If you’d like to learn more about using and/or adopting one of these tools or exploring other tools, feel free to schedule a consultation with the CAT.
 Angelo, Thomas & Cross, Patricia. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. 2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 1993.
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Emtinan Alqurashi is Assistant Director of Online and Digital Learning and Jennifer Zaylea is Digital Media Specialist at Temple's Center for the Advancement of Teaching.