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5 Strategies for Formative Assessment in the Digital Classroom

Written by Stacy Hall on Sep 7, 2021

Related content: Digital Education

For educators who teach online, formative assessment can be conducted in a number of ways in the digital classroom. By using tools that are already at their fingertips, educators can move from very general (and sometimes intimidating) inquiries like “Do you have any questions?” to tasks that assess deeper understanding and call for critical thinking. Plus, it produces a nice side effect: Students will be engaged! Educators can also reconfigure typical turn-taking and increase participation from quieter students, or provide more equal space to international students who may have differing classroom culture norms.

Here are five quick strategies that the Faculty Engagement & Development team shares with educators who teach online courses in our university partners’ programs. But any online educator can use these strategies to formatively assess (and engage) their students in live classroom sessions!

1. Use Reactions

Tell students this:Using your reactions tool, select YES if you could clearly explain this task to your classmate right now. Or select NO if you would rather be the one who gets the explanation.”

Students’ responses will indicate to educators if more information can be introduced, or if some clarification might be needed.

2. Use Chat

Tell students this: “In the chat box, send me a direct message with either a question you still have about this concept OR a message that you’re ready to continue building upon it.”

Educators can answer students’ questions themselves or they can call out the questions without naming students. If other students also cannot answer this question, this is a sign that the educator might need to review that material again. If students can answer the question, then the activity has turned into a great moment of collaborative learning!

3. Use Breakouts

Tell students this: “In a five-minute breakout room with a partner, first individually take one minute to plan how to explain to a layperson a new concept from today’s live session or this week’s asynchronous material. For the following two minutes, each of you should then take one minute to ‘practice’ explaining to your partner as if they were that layperson. In the last two minutes, each of you can provide helpful feedback and discuss any questions with each other.”

This activity has students thinking about their learning, and this metacognitive task serves to help them solidify and retain their knowledge. Educators can also have students share some of their layperson explanations in a whole group debrief, to help gauge if students are on track.

4. Use Annotations

Tell students this:With your annotate tool on a virtual whiteboard, do two things. First, find an error or something that can be improved. Second, provide feedback so that it is correct or even better.”

Through this “search and fix” activity, students reveal if they have fully grasped key concepts and ideas. By having students provide a correction as well, they are also applying what they know.

5. Use Polling

Tell students this:Let me know if you think this statement is true or false by responding to the following poll...”

Polls can be a great way to get quick, quantifiable, and visible data to inform live sessions. Pairing a true/false or agree/disagree with a statement that invokes critical thinking helps educators and students visually see the group’s comprehension of a concept. The activity also helps students clarify their own understanding. Additionally, educators can anonymize the poll so that students feel free to respond honestly.


This article was adapted from an article originally published in 2U’s The Faculty Advocate.

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