By then end of this module, you will be able to: 

  1. Discriminate between formative, summative and collaborative assessment;
  2. Evaluate your students’ learning through formative or collaborative assessment methods.


In online contexts, traditional instructor centred examinations are still the primary method of assessing student performance, leaving collaborative, and formative assessments methods largely marginalized. Assessment is here defined as,

“…an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analysing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain and improve performance” (Swan, Shen, & Hiltz, 2006).

There are several methods of assessing your students’ learning; however, this section will focus on formative and collaborative assessments, as they are considered particularly effective in encouraging and shaping active learning.

Formative Assessment 

Formative assessment is critical to support your ability to adapt lessons and check for understanding. It refers to measuring student performance with the objective to help your learners attain intended learning goals as distinguished from formative evaluation, which refers to judgments about how to improve your program’s effectiveness throughout the implementation of an instructional strategy. Formative assessment is also defined as “assessment for learning” due to its emphasis on forming judgments about learners’ progress in a manner that informs the subsequent flow of instruction (Spector et al, 2016). It differs from the more traditional summative assessment, which focuses on making judgements about how well individuals did at the end of an instructional sequence, and is often considered assessment of learning.

So what are the key purposes of formative assessment? This approach allows you to:

  • Determine prior and current knowledge levels of learners
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of learners in relation to desired learning outcomes
  • Review the learning progress of individual learners
  • Set target goals for future efforts
  • Guide and advise individual learners to address their weaknesses and build on their strengths and interests (Spector et al, 2016).

Here is a video that provides an introduction to the principles of Formative Assessment.  Even if the discussion focuses on formative assessment in secondary education, the principles are still valuable for higher education.



In Hattie’s Visible Learning, formative assessment is rated as one of the most effective methods to encourage student achievement, resulting in high student performance. Formative assessment creates opportunities to promote the development of student’s skills of explaining, interpreting and reasoning.

Formative assessment, in the form of timely and informative feedback, can support effective problem based and inquiry based learning that is especially sensitive to and dependent on formative feedback for learners, thereby expediting learning.

The outcomes of formative assessments should enable you to make instructional decisions and enable students to set goals. It also allows students to evaluate their performance and change their approaches to learning, while actively engaging them in their learning. Formative assessment supports the improvement of skills and knowledge, while motivating and allowing your students to become independent learners.

Implementation Tips

Here are some suggestions to support the implementation of formative assessments:

  1. Both self-assessment and peer assessment can be meaningful forms of formative feedback and comprise a major form of assessment as learning. For students to be able to improve their performance, they must develop the capacity to both monitor the quality of their own work, as well as obtain the knowledge and skills to be able to compare their work against high quality work. So a suggestion is to provide access to expert performances, either through videos, multimedia activities or real case studies. Also, allow your students to publish their results, compare their work, and reward peer feedback.
  2. Design intentional and objective students’ self assessments. A suggestion is to create technology enabled quizzes and tests to support your learners’ ability to evaluate and validate their learning process through automated feedback. Use the results of these assessments to address common problems during your lectures.
  3. Create appropriately challenging assessments.  The trick is not adapting the task to fit each individual student’s abilities, but rather in creating a task that forces individuals to think while applying their creativity in the details.  The difficulty or degree of challenge is critical.  “The performances of students who have the most challenging goals are over 250 percent higher than the performance of subjects with the easiest goals” (Hattie, 2011).
  4. Use clickers or open questions to quickly assess your students’ understanding of content learned outside of class prior to your lecture.
  5. A challenge for timely and meaningful assessments include large and multi grade classrooms backgrounds. So, use cooperative or collaborative strategies to strategically address differences in knowledge and capabilities.
  6. Create a database containing the subject to be learned along with common problems encountered with links to remediation, for instance, a FAQ section easily accessible through your LMS.
  7. Track Individual student achievement.  A suggestion is to use ePortafolios as a method to track the progression of learners’ throughout the semester.
  8. Promote online asynchronous discussion via chat, forums, blogs, wikis, mobile devices, interactive whiteboards or online resources.   In this way, participants have the opportunity to reflect on their classmates’ contributions while creating their own. This supports a certain mindfulness and reflection among students and promotes feelings of community.
  9. Create an assessment rubric that clearly states success criteria.

Here is a video that will provide you with tips to how to turn your quizzes into formative assessment opportunities:


Have a systematic method in place to check all available communication channels. Making your presence known in the discussion forums will have a positive effect on your students’ confidence to voice doubts, questions or problems about content, affordances of technological tools, or projects. This will allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of your instructional strategy, and will inform your judgement of how your students are progressing through the content.

Here is a video where a real teacher provides you with insights on how to use Apps and other technological tools to facilitate your formative assessment:

Supportive Materials

Now, you can work on designing your tasks, resources and support. Click on the following links to access guides to support your design process:


Write your Learning Objectives              Design a Learning Task/Assessment 

    Create an Assessment Rubric                           Evaluate Your Design


  1. Examples of Formative Assessments 

Collaborative Assessments

Collaborative learning is a key characteristic of most active methods, but is often overseen in summative exams.  Students can collaborate to resolve a problem, create a project, resolve a case study, do a class presentation, simulation, role play, or write an essay. The results from these learning activities can be directly assessed with the help of a clear and explicit assessment rubric.  Another clear example of a collaborative assessment is an online exam in which small groups of three to five students create, answer and grade each others’ questions. Then the instructor reviews the suggested grading and rationale and assigns the final grade.

Collaborative assessments go beyond checking comprehension, they often support the development of 21st century skills.  As such, they differ greatly from the instructional sequence of traditional assessment methods.  Here is a graphic representation to show you what this means:

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 11.08.30 PM.png

Figure 1: Instructional sequence in different exam modes. Taken from (Swan, Shen, & Hiltz, 2006, p.55).


Small-group collaborative learning has been shown to result in higher achievement, less stress, greater student satisfaction, and greater appreciation for diversity.  Learners engaged in collaborative group acquire greater experience in teamwork, communication, time management, and technology use.

Research suggests that collaborative learning may be very effective online. Active involvement in online exams significantly reduce the use of surface approaches, promotes group cohesion and deeper processing. Overall, students report significantly higher perceptions of learning in collaborative exams than other exam modes (Swan et al., 2006).

Here is a video to further your understanding of the benefits of collaborative learning:

Implementation Tips 

Here are some useful guidelines specific to help you design online collaborative exams:

  1. Organize students into groups of three to five.
  2. Assign a topic to each group. Students need to discuss the topic and create a number of thought provoking questions. Another suggested strategy is to assign and rotate roles such as discussion leader, facilitator, reporter, observer, and participant and develop separate assessments for each role.
  3. Have students from other groups answer each other’s questions.
  4. Have the group grade their classmates responses based on a predetermined rubric. The following are suggested behaviours that support collaboration to include in the rubric:
    • Giving and receiving help and assistance
    • Exchanging resources and information
    • Explaining resources and information
    • Sharing knowledge with others
    • Giving and receiving feedback
    • Challenging others contributions
    • Advocating increased effort and perseverance among peers
    • Monitoring each other’s efforts and contributions.
  5. Have students provide a rationale for their grading.
  6. Review the suggested grading, rationale for grading, and assign a final grade. Students are graded not only on their answers, but on the quality of their questions, and judgments on the performance of others.

Here are other general suggestions for collaborative assessments:

  1. Use assessment rubrics that reward collaboration. Develop grading rubrics that assess specific discussion behaviours designed to identify characteristics of messages that would support the established goal.
  2. Reward peer feedback. Assess posting based on the discussion threads they engender, making thread initiators responsible for sustaining collaborative discussion. Students could get credit for their individual postings, motivating them to collaborate. Grade individual contributions but also give a group grade based on an average of these.
  3. Use ePortafolios to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of course material, as well as their participation in collaborative processes. When used longitudinally, ePortafolios allow you to see how their understanding change over time.
  4. Request individual group members to complete an observation report on interactions among group participants, a reflective journal or an essay evaluating the effectiveness of their online group.


Promote a sense of identity and community. Ice breaker activities that are fun and encourage self revelation are recommended. Another suggestion is to create online modules that explicitly initiate students in the process and etiquette of online collaboration.

Here is a video that will give you final insights on effective assessment strategies in online courses:

Supportive Materials

Now, you can work on designing your tasks, resources and support. Click on the following links to access guides to support your design process:


Write your Learning Objectives              Design a Learning Task/Assessment 

    Create an Assessment Rubric                           Evaluate Your Design

Additional Readings

  1. Robinson et. al., (2014) The impact of an alternative professional development model on teacher practices in formative assessment and student learning.
  2. Spector et. al., (2016) Technology Enhanced Formative Assessment for 21 Century Learning.
  3. Swan et. al., (2006) Assessment and Collaboration in Online Learning.