In tertiary education, ongoing and meaningful assessment feedback is needed in addition to high-stakes summative assessment activities such as final examinations (Boud, 2000). In order to help students develop the necessary metacognitive skills and strategies to take responsibility for their own learning, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on formative assessment feedback. The challenge for busy teachers, especially in courses with large student enrolments, is how to provide this type of feedback in an effective but efficient manner.

formative assessment

Ongoing assessment intended to be used as feedback to improve learning and teaching processes.

In the following activity, three teachers provide examples of how digital technologies can be used to provide student assessment in an online course. Click on each teacher to learn more about their assessment approach.

Consider the following examples from three teachers of how digital technologies can be used to provide student assessment in an online course.

Key terms

Diagnostic: Assessment which evaluates a learner's existing knowledge and...

Useful links

LiveText (commercial e-portfolio tool): www.
livetext.com. Google...

Useful advice

For further examples of how digital technologies can be used to provide student...

Example 1: Formative approach

"I ask my online students to use a collaborative writing tool such as a wiki in the course LMS/VLE or Google Docs for their coursework. Student revisions can be recorded and tracked. I then provide them with formative assessment feedback at check-points or milestones for individual or group projects. This allows students to receive teacher feedback throughout the process of constructing the project rather than just focusing on summative assessment feedback for the final product."


Example 2: E-portfolio approach

"I strongly encourage other online teachers to take an e-portfolio approach to assessment. This involves students receiving a second chance or opportunity for summative assessment on their course assignments. For example, students initially submit and receive teacher assessment for each of the required course assignments. Throughout the online course, students then have the opportunity to revise these assignments, based on the initial teacher feedback, and post them to their course or programme portfolios for final summative assessment by the teacher. There are a range of e-portfolio tools that can support this process ranging from the LiveText commercial application to the free Google Sites tool."


Example 3: Expert approach

"I like how digital technologies can be used to support external expert assessment opportunities. For example, students can publically share critiques of academic articles by using blogging tools such as WordPress and Blogger. The authors of these articles can then be invited to post comments about these critiques to the students' blogs.

External experts can also provide assessment feedback on individual or group presentations through the use of web-based video technologies. These types of presentations can be video recorded and either streamed live (e.g. via Livestream) or posted to a video sharing site such as YouTube. The external experts can then provide assessment feedback in either synchronous (e.g. real-time audio) or asynchronous formats (e.g. online discussion forums) to the students."

Useful links

Niagara County Community College, 'Providing audio feedback: Three easy...

Online students in a recent study also suggested a desire for teachers to try to provide audio and video feedback in addition to their written assessment feedback (Vaughan, 2012). For example, teachers can use digital technologies such as Audacity to record and send audio feedback (or simply record messages using a mobile phone recording facility!), or they can use web-conferencing tools such as Skype to orally debrief about assignments.

As a great example, in the video below, Dr. Daniel Quigley, Professor of English at New York Institute of Technology, explains how he uses technology to give feedback to his students. Quigley uses audio-visual software in order to solve the problem of alienating students by using overly formal language in his written feedback.

As a great example, in the next interview Dr. Daniel Quigley, Professor of English at New York Institute of Technology, explains how he uses technology to give feedback to his students. Quigley uses audio-visual software in order to solve the problem of alienating students by using overly formal language in his written feedback.

Click 'Play' to watch the video.
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The need for teacher-student dialogue

Teacher assessment and feedback will only be effective if students engage with, and act upon, the teacher's comments to develop their learning and improve their work. How can online teachers ensure that students have opportunities to reflect and act upon feedback received?

In the following activity, consider the question and make a note of your thoughts, then click the 'View feedback' button to see our suggestions.
Consider the following question and make a note of your thoughts, then continue on to reflect on our suggestions.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Being a successful online teacher
UNIT | 5 : Using assessment in online teaching
PAGE TITLE | Teacher assessment

How can online teachers ensure that students have opportunities to reflect on and apply formative feedback?


Our thoughts:

Online students must be given opportunities to apply feedback they receive for assignments and assessments. Strategies to ensure this could include:

  1. Giving feedback on a first draft of an assignment which students are then required to use to improve their final submission
  2. Giving feedback on the first stage of a project assignment which students are then required to apply to the subsequent phases of the project
  3. Giving feedback on a student's initial contribution to a group project which they are then required to share and discuss with their team members.

Key terms

Diagnostic: Assessment which evaluates a learner's existing knowledge and helps to identify potential difficulties a learner might have with their new learning.

Formative: Ongoing assessment that provides feedback to learners (and teachers). Formative assessment is provided as assistance and support for ongoing growth and is meant to keep the learner engaged.

Summative: Assessment which comes at the conclusion of learning, and is designed to evaluate what the learner has learned and 'grade' their work.

Useful links

Useful advice

For further examples of how digital technologies can be used to provide student assessment in an online course, you may wish to consult the course on 'Using technology tools for teaching online', available in this Teaching Online programme.

Useful links