This is the second in a series of blogs on assessment, which forms part of a larger series of blogs on the importance of starting strong in higher education and how academics can facilitate it. The previous blogs can be found here

Assessment in higher education is a complex affair. The autonomy given to students and the scale of the organisations that provide higher ed traditionally reduce assessment to its summative form. Much to the dismay of tutors, sometimes the autonomy, particularly in the online submissions of student work, maculates the spirit of the offering when academic integrity is compromised. But it is not just this that renders the practice of reverting to summative assessment as an impotent means of measuring student understanding: it is the loss of opportunity to check for misconceptions and gaps in knowledge along the learning journey that attenuate the potential of a higher education. Formative assessment is the antidote.


Assessing formatively in higher ed is not as easy as in other education sectors, but it can be done. If the regular method of asking lots of questions in a classroom or tutorial isn’t as practical in a large lecture theatre, the tutor needs to think innovatively and look for other ways to formatively assess. The answer is to triangulate the assessment process.

O’Donoghue and Punch define triangulation as a method of cross-checking data from multiple sources to search for regularities in the research data. As a tutor, the more information you garner about student progress and understanding the more you will be able to evaluate if the design of your learning sequence is as effective as you believe it to be, and thus be able to adjust and reteach certain topics if necessary, or provide specific support to fill learning gaps. This iterative approach will have an enormous impact on a student’s ability to succeed in your course, and ultimately, in a time of increasing accountability, support your own well-being in knowing you have used as much of the available evidence as possible to support your students.

Below I have detailed some options you can choose from to gain a triangulated perspective of progress. However, the list is certainly not exhaustive, and I welcome further ideas if you have some. Click on each option as it becomes available for ideas in how to formatively assess your students:

  1. Using the lecture
  2. Using the tutorial
  3. Using online quizzes
  4. Using mastery pathways
  5. Using online discussion boards
  6. Using groups
  7. Using participation
  8. Using analytics

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer. Follow me @edmerger

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