How to Create Authentic Formative Assessments Online

When students participate in class activities, they begin to invest in, and eventually drive their own learning. However, engaging today’s students — especially during online learning — can be a struggle. Yet, as educators, it’s our responsibility to teach every learner how to engage.

Students have a choice when it comes to learning. Research shows that they can either be actively engaged or actively disengaged. (Berry, 2020) The research suggests that any move toward active engagement increases the amount of student learning.

Regularly checking for understanding is an important way to keep your students invested in their academic progress. But assessing students online can be challenging, regardless of grade level. Following are some proven assessment techniques you can use to help your students become active learners and increase their chances for higher learning gains.

Technology-Enabled Assessment with Universal Response

Motivating students to participate during online instruction isn’t easy. As in the physical classroom, simply asking questions during class isn’t an effective way to assess student understanding, as only the same few students tend to respond. However, with universal response techniques, teachers can gather micro-assessments in the form of simultaneous replies from every student.

While these techniques aren’t new, educators need to find different ways to use them in order to engage online learners and find out how they’re progressing. To keep your students engaged, you should provide a universal response opportunity, inviting all students to respond, at least every 10 minutes during simultaneous instruction. These universal techniques can also improve your classroom dynamics.

The Importance of Wait Time

The average teacher waits less than one second between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. (Gambrell, 1984) But students need time to listen to the question, process what they’ve heard, perhaps translate to another language, build up courage to answer, and raise their hand to share. For online learning, wait times are even longer due to audio delays, unmuting microphones, or typing. While waiting in front of a computer screen may be uncomfortable, giving students a chance to process information can help propel their learning forward.

Not only is there a wait between the time you ask the question and the time the student answers, but waiting for some time after the student answers makes room for extended response. In our research, we saw significant violations of wait time in online instruction during the pandemic and had to remind teachers that when simultaneous learning is occurring, with some students “Zoom-ing” and some kids in the room, we have to give the online learners more wait time. When we violate wait time, we privilege students who already know the information, speak the language of instruction, or who think quickly.

Universal Response Techniques

  1. Waterfall Chats

Early in the pandemic, we observed a lot of “Follow the Leader” behavior during instruction using chat. One, two, or three students — usually with some sort of privilege as mentioned above — would answer, and then everyone else would copy the same answer. When this happens, educators have no idea what the majority of the class thinks.

Using the waterfall technique, students are asked to type their answer in the chat without hitting the respond button. No one can see the answers until the teacher says “waterfall” or some other trigger word. At that point, all students submit their answers at the same time, and all answers are displayed simultaneously. Students can then go back, review the chat, and discuss.

Students like a waterfall because they say it’s much safer and gives them more confidence in responding. No one is looking at only their answer in the chat. Waterfall also cuts down on students copying each other’s answers and gives teachers a better idea of what all students think and understand.

Click here to Dr. Doug's complete guide to creating authentic assessments online.