Office for Digital Learning

Assessment and Feedback

Digital Formative Assessment

Posted on: 03 Feb 2016

There is an increasing shift in focus from the assessment of learning (summative) to the assessment for learning (formative), with continual learning being monitored. Formative assessment allows students to receive feedback from the tutor, peers and themselves, giving students the opportunity to improve. It promotes Bigg’s constructive alignment, with continuous alignment between the learning outcomes, teaching and assessment.

The students are engaged in active learning activities across the timeframe of the course/module, which link together and can inform the final summative grade. In the DLE there is a wide range of communication, collaborate and formative assessment tools that can be used to scaffold regular learning activities for each module at Ulster.

A range of varied activities can enrich the curriculum. These could involve discussion, blog, journal, wiki, quiz, audio and video, peer review, group work, etc. The communication and collaboration tools can be made gradable, which creates a column in the Grade Centre (for tutors) and a row in My Grades (for students). Proving low-stake grades for regular activities can encourage student to engage in the activities, perhaps awarding several marks for participation.

Regular discussion activities related to learning topics can contextualise the learning and allow increased understanding of a topic. Dialogue enables social learning and peer support and can build a learning community. The ODL e-Tutor course teaches the skills to craft such an online community with a student cohort.

The tutor can monitor student progress and act upon any issues that arise, in a timely way. Formative assessment activities can be used to evidence learning and gauge performance. It encourages students to take responsibility for their learning, developing self-regulated and independent learners. It can inform teaching, with tutors planning activities based on the learning progress, for example, revising a topic that hasn’t been fully understood.

Each module in Blackboard provides a secure private area where students can continually engage in learning activities. It is available to students 24/7 from a desktop browser or the Mobile Learn App on handheld devices. A student (or tutor) can create content using the camera, video recorder or microphone on their personal device and then easily upload and share this via the App.

Digital formative assessment can be applied to blended, open or online learning. This aligns with Ulster Digital Futures 2015-2018, a digital learning strategy with a vision where blended is the norm. It enables the flipped classroom pedagogy, which is being increasingly adopted in higher education due to proven learning benefits for tutors and students.

It links with the Ulster Principles for Assessment and Feedback for Learning including clarify good performance (1), encourage time and effort on task (2), provide opportunities to act on feedback (4), encourage positive motivational beliefs (5), develop self-assessment and reflection (6) and encourage interaction and dialogue (7). An Assessment and Feedback area is available to all staff in Blackboard. This course outlines how formative assessment can be applied using the Bb tools, based on best practice assessment and feedback principles.

Digital Opportunities

Test Knowledge MCQs (Bb Tests) can be used to test knowledge throughout the course. Feedback can be automatic and help students to self-correct. The tutor is able to assess students understanding of a topic and can use the results to inform future teaching. A question pool can be built up that can be reused with different cohorts.
Patchwork Text Bb Assignment and Turnitin GradeMark can be designed so that a large summative essay to be broken down into smaller chunks. The students can submit these over the timeline of the course with formative feedback provided. These can then be improved and complied into a final summative essay.
Practice Skills Bb Assignment tool allows for multiple submissions, with feedback to allow students to improve and resubmit. This could be useful to practice writing skills. Other tools that could help with practicing skills include Bb Tests, ShareStream Media Assignment, Discussion, Blog, Wiki, etc.
Multimedia Activities The ShareStream Media Assignment tool allows for students to upload video content for an assignment. The tutor can view, grade and share the videos with the rest of the cohort.
Blackboard for Reflective Practice
Bb Tests and Surveys
Learning Community Synchronous (Collaborate) and asynchronous (Discussion, Blog) tools are available to encourage dialogue around learning. Students can discuss, debate and contextualise their learning and support each other to create a learning community.
Peer Review Students can receive feedback from their peers using the Bb Self & Peer Assessment and Turnitin PeerMark tools. Peer Review has been shown to help students improve their own work.


Collaborative Learning The Bb Group tool can be used with the Bb Assignment tool to create Group Assignments. They are provided with a range of tools to help them work together and document their effort. The Bb Wiki tool allows students to work collaboratively on the same text, with individual student effort monitored. This promotes teamwork skills, important for the workplace.
Originality & Referencing Skills Turnitin Originality Check allows for papers to be checked for originality against a national repository of papers, to potential help with plagiarism detection. It also helps students with referencing and citation skills. Note do not submit draft submissions to the repository.
Reflect on Learning The Bb Journal tool is like an online diary that allows students to reflect on their learning. This has been shown to help the students improve. The Bb Portfolio tool also helps student reflection by building an online record of achievement.
Monitor Engagement There are a number of tools in the Ulster DLE that help tutors monitor student engagement. In the DLE Control Panel > Evaluation area tools include Performance Dashboard, Retention Centre, Reports and Grade Centre. The Performance Dashboard provides a good overview of all the students with columns detailing last access, Discussion postings, etc. The Retention Centre allows for the tutor to set up thresholds, e.g. relating to access or grades, and receive alerts based on this, e.g. students achieve fewer than 70% in a Test. The tutor can then act upon this information. Monitoring engagement helps the tutor know how students are progressing and can inform teaching.
Evidence Learning Continual online assessment activities creates a record of progress to evidence learning. Such evidence includes Test and Assignment submissions; discussion, blog and journal postings; Bb Collaborate and ShareStream Media Assignment recordings; wiki and group work contributions; and peer review comments.
Portable/ Accessible Continual assessment activities can be created and viewed via the Bb Mobile Learn App on a range of handheld devices.
Blended & Flipped Learning Online formative assessment activities can be used to compliment classroom activities to create a blended learning curriculum. Flipping learning can involve the delivery of content online, allowing active and collaborative learning to take place in the classroom.