Assessment and Feedback

Day 3: Ideas and models for formative assessment


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Are formative assessments always tests or quizzes?

In the past, formative assessments have often been equated with “tests” designed to check understanding and knowledge, such as “achievement tests” or “progress tests” often in the form of objective questions. These types of checks are still often used in areas such as law, sciences, maths and languages, where there is a foundational¬† body of basic knowledge that must be mastered in order for students to tackle higher level learning tasks. They can have their place, and they can be spiced up with¬† gamification, badging or progress bars¬† for student engagement.¬† However it is now widely acknowledged that if learners are to be truly self-regulating, active learners, a wider variety of assessment models and types are required, including authentic assessments based on work tasks and projects.

If we want students to be motivated to participate in “assessment for learning,” best practice must ensure the activities are engaging and that they will provide students with real assistance to¬† learn key concepts and help them pass their final “summative” assessments.¬† If they do not seem relevant to high stakes summative assessments, they will not be prioritised. More recently, it has been suggested that assessments, whether summative or formative, should be authentic reflections of real work tasks (see our Coffee Course on Authentic assessment for further information).

Below we will look at just a few of the many possible forms that formative assessment can take and the range of tools and techniques used.


What specific tools and practices do you employ in formative assessment of students?  It would be great to compare examples here, before reading on to find out about different approaches that have been used.  Perhaps you are already at the head of the curve on formative assessment practice, or perhaps you are looking for ideas!

Advantages of applying a constructivist approach to assessment

Rust et al (2005) provide a useful discussion of how a social constructivist assessment process can overcome many of the known problems with traditional assessment models.¬† The tacit knowledge and implicit criteria within many of the assessment processes in specific disciplines are often not recognised in traditional forms of assessment, meaning that marking can take place against a set of criteria which is not explicit to the students. (There has been quite a lot written about “hidden curricula” and tacit knowledge within disciplines, where the assessing academic is applying criteria from their years of experience in the field, or from values frameworks that are not readily articulated and not available to the student, see Semper and Blasco, 2018, referenced below, for a great discussion of this in the Higher Education context).

A constructivist approach requires a rigorous constructive alignment, as per Bigg’s notion (1999, cited in Rust et al, 2005, p. 233), of not only learning outcomes, but the teaching methods must also be aligned with assessment approaches.¬† While it is now fairly common practice to adopt a constructivist approach to learning, this same approach is often dropped when it comes to assessment, in favour of the old transmission-oriented assessment models relying on essays and exams.¬† A constructivist approach to assessment also must provide transparency through clearly expressed criteria, such as rubrics.

A social constructivist approach relies on the formation of a community of practice, as the way students can construct, shape and evolve their knowledge (Rust et al, 2005, p. 233), which includes social learning through collaboration and connection with other learners and also experts in the field.

Discussion:  Can a class or cohort of students be a community of practice?

Do you feel that you are developing a community of practice with your students, or do you think there is a potential for this?¬† What role can you play, as an expert in your field, or can you bring in experts or experienced practitioners, for your students to gain “proximity” to their potential roles and expectations of them in the relevant industry or profession?

Examples and ideas



Automated Audience Response systems/polling – e.g. Poll Everywhere

Building Effective Interactive Polls for Lectures (Sydney University)

Using polling technologies to close feedback gaps

Gamification/quizzes/branched scenario – using Moodle quiz or Lesson, for example, with badges.

ANU Coffee Course – Play to Learn

Designing successful gamification practices in higher education

Rubrics combined with peer feedback and self assessment

ANU Coffee Course – Peer assessment and feedback

UNSW Student Peer Assessment

Blog post:  Interactive Rubrics as Assessment for Learning

Scenario based learning activities

How to get started writing a branching scenario for learning – Christy Tucker

Five Ways to Engage Students in Scenario-Based Learning

Group discussions and presentations

Group and collaborative learning ANU Coffee Course

MIT Guidelines for Teaching – Formative Assessment

Quick writes and exit tickets

Teach Learn Grow The Education Blog – Formative Assessment – Revisiting the Exit Ticket

Classroom Assessment Techniques:   Quick Strategies


The Stoplight Method:  An End-of-Lesson Assessment РVideo, Teaching Channel

Reflective activities/journals

JISC – Student self reflection

UNSW – Assessing with Blogs

Interactive videos – e.g. using H5P or Echo360

H5P interactive video sample

University of Sydney – Increasing engagement through active learning

Concept maps, infographics

Carnegie Mellon University – Using Concept Maps

Concept Mapping – What is it?¬† King’s College, London

Real or online collaborative spaces such as whiteboards – e.g. Padlet

Assessing with Wikis – UNSW

Facilitating Collaborative Learning:  20 Things you Need to Know from the Pros

Padlet site


Getting Started with ePortfolios – ANU Coffee Course

ePortfolios Australia


Share your thoughts on any ideas or tools you found interesting or potentially useful, or any others you know about or have discovered while browsing.


Rust, C., O’Donovan, B. & Price, M., 2005, “A social constructivist assessment process model:¬† how the research literature shows us this could be best practice” in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol 30, 2005, Issue 3. ¬†DOI:¬†10.1080/02602930500063819

Semper, J. V. O & Blasco, M., 2018, “Revealing the Hidden Curriculum in Higher Education” in Studies in Philosophy and Education, Issue 37, pp. 481-498 (2018)

2 thoughts on “Day 3: Ideas and models for formative assessment

  1. Outstanding collection of examples and ideas. Sometimes we forget good things we have done or encountered, so this is a great reminder.

    1. Hi Judy, thanks for that feedback. I am glad you find these useful. Usually I try to include a few things that might be interpreted as fun!

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