Assessment is how an instructor learns what a student does or does not know about the course material and is often described as falling into two categories: formative and summative.
Formative assessment occurs during the instructional period to determine how students are engaging with the material as it is being taught. They are most often used to “form” the instructor’s instructional plan (i.e., whether it’s time to move on to new concepts or spend a little more time on something). They also give students important information about their progress and about areas in which they may be struggling. Summative assessment takes place after the instructional period to gauge how much the students were able to retain, i.e. test the sum of students' knowledge. The goal of assessment is to determine two key concepts: How effectively am I teaching these concepts? and What have students learned?
To select an assessment approach, consider the following:
- Do I want to inform my teaching and possibly make adjustments based on what I learn (formative) or measure how much my students have learned at this point in the course (summative)? E.g. I am not sure my students have understood a foundational concept and I wonder if I need to go over the concept again next week in a different way? (formative assessment)
- What sorts of things could my students do that would constitute evidence of desired learning? E.g. If my students could explain the concept in their own words and then identify the phenomenon in their daily lives, I would feel they understood it thoroughly enough to move on to the next unit.
- How will I carry out the assessment? E.g. After my next class session, I will ask students to complete a two-question Canvas quiz for a participation point. The first question will ask them to explain the concept in a way one of their friends who is not in the class would understand. The second question will ask them to give an example in their daily lives. Because my class is so large, it won't be practical to read all of them, so I will select 30 at random to read. That will be enough to see if students adequately understand.
For more examples of what constitutes formative and summative assessments, watch this video from Illinois State University. To get an idea of the many ways formative assessment can be done, browse this database of assessment techniques featured in Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angleo and Cross (1993). There are techniques for assessing course-related knowledge and skills, learner attitudes, values and self-awareness, and learner reactions to instruction. The majority of techniques can be adapted to large and small classes as well as for in-person or online use. If there is a technique that you would find useful and you would like assistance in adapting it for your class, contact one of the instructional designers for your college.
Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. (1993). "Classroom assessment techniques: a handbook for college teachers." San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.