4.1 Formative and summative assessment – feedback for learning, or feedback on learning

When students are working in project based courses, their knowledge and skills will frequently be “public”, or under observation. During coaching sessions, mid-term presentations, and laboratory sessions and so on, you will see how well they understand and apply different knowledge fields. By this, you as a teacher will be able to guide students quite closely in their learning progression. You might want to add an extra lecture on a specific topic or create a workshop on for instance how to write a good report. All these types of assessment situations, where you and students have insights into where students are in relation to the learning outcomes, and time to develop further before the final grade/mark, are different forms of formative assessment.

The heart of formative assessment is feedback. Feedback can be divided into three different aspects: feed up, feedback and feed forward (28). We need to have an idea of what we are supposed to learn and achieve (feed up). The analysis of what we have done, what steps we have made, how we carried out a certain task and why we chose the steps we did, is helping us see how well we relate to the expectations (feedback). The central part, the feed forward arrow, can help supervisors and students to realize and remember that the priority when giving feedback is to plan for the coming steps we need to take. 

When giving feedback, Hattie and Timperley (28) notice in their research, that too much emphasis is placed on inefficient matters for a good learning progression. They distinguish four levels of feedback, with the first giving the least for learning, and the last being what feedback should be most about:

  1.      Feedback about the self as a person - The least effective feedback is looking at the person how he/she is (clever, lazy and so on), and not what has been done.
  2.      Feedback about the task - Here the emphasis is on the task at hand, be it a mathematical problem solution, a written essay or a programming code and so on. The feedback will mainly focus on right/wrong, good/bad, and there is a risk that students will not gain much from this type of feedback.
  3.      Feedback about the processing of the task - Instead of looking at the solution to the problem, the discussions can deal with how the students worked with the problem. How sources were found, what implications were there along the way and so on. This is much more effective for the learning progression.
  4.      Feedback about self-regulation - This fourth and most effective level of feedback raises the discussions above the task at hand and looks at students’ development of skills for lifelong learning. How do I know what I know, what strategies do I have for learning and how can I be flexible with different types of tasks? All this is helping students to develop their metacognitive skills, which will help them perform much better on different tasks.

When doing the summative assessment, it’s the final time before the final grade, for students to show their knowledge and abilities in relation to the learning outcomes. This can be carried out in a variety of forms as well, such as final reports, oral presentations, demonstrations, debates or perhaps by showing your best work in a portfolio.

Both forms are important for learning and to assure that students have reached the intended learning outcomes. Very often in project courses, the formative and summative assessment tasks are interrelated. Teachers need to be clear on how and when different activities in the course are a basis for the final grade, since, in order for students to learn as much as possible, they will need to openly identify their knowledge gaps. And this will happen in a more honest and safe manner, if the assessment form is completely formative.

In big classes, many teachers use anonymous ways to formatively find out about students’ knowledge, by for instance anonymous mini-exams or clickers. In project courses, where you normally work much closer to the students, when coaching teams of students and following their work, being anonymous isn’t feasible or appropriate.

Creating a safe atmosphere is crucial. One way can be to let the students know that the coaching sessions are not a basis for the final grade. Another way, and perhaps more fruitful, can be to have the guideline that active involvement from the students’ side during the coaching sessions (lots of questions and discussions, and being well prepared) is a basis for the final grade. This can help the coaching sessions become a good learning experience, and open up discussions among students who might believe they should have the perfect solution or answers to the problem at hand.

An Example of formative and summative assessment in Lightweight Design/Naval Design:
At the start of the course we communicate the intended learning outcomes and encourage the students to gather evidence of how they work with the ILOs in their portfolios. In the middle of the course, we have a formative assessment. We have added the formative assessment at this stage since they, at  the end of the course, will be assessed in a way they have never experienced before. The formative assessment provides students with lots of feedback. At first, the students will write a one page summary – a narrative – each in which they should refer to all ILOs and describe how they have approached the ILOs. They should also refer to a reference list where all reports and presentations etc that they have completed in the course are listed.

The document is submitted to the teachers who bundles them all together and send out all narratives to all students in the course. They also receive a form in which each student will provide written feedback to all the other students in terms of their theoretical contribution, practical contribution and social contribution to the work of the group. The students will then receive all the feedback they have got from other team members. Eventually, they will write a reflection on what they have learned and what went less well. The students also grade each other, information that they will get in aggregated form. The process ensures that the teachers have all the feedback, they can see what grades the students gave each other and they can catch up with students who are not performing. Benefits of the arrangement include that students are forced to reflect and they also receive feedback after half of the course.

At  the end of the course, the process is conducted once again in a summative manner. Grades in the course are based on an overall assessment of the portfolios, written feedback, the feedback received and the proposed grades as well as the observed work effort in the project.

Suggestion: Use both formative and summative assessment since both forms are important for learning. Both of them also secure that students have reached the intended learning outcomes. As a teacher, you have to be clear on how and when you formative and/or summative assess the students. The students need to know when they are assessed for the final grade, and when they safely can show their knowledge gaps.

Administrator Oskar Bergman created page 18 July 2014

Administrator Marie Magnell changed the permissions 27 January 2015

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