Assessing by design: Unpacking the role of formative assessment in student learning
Our research seeks to transform undergraduate science learning by empirically validating the relationship between formative assessment, instructor-generated feedback, and student learning. While it is ﾓurban legendﾔ that formative assessment is perhaps the single most effective instructional intervention to impact student learning, there is a lack of empirical evidence substantiating claims of increased student learning.
Our goal is to generate a robust stream of empirical data from across disciplines that allow us to:
1. Characterize formative assessment prompts collected from traditional and online learning environments,
2. Describe the nature of instructor-generated feedback to students,
3. Describe how students use instructor-generated feedback, and
4. Describe the relationship between formative assessment and student learning.
Empirically measuring the relationship between formative assessment and student learning necessitates learning environments that are diverse and rich in formative assessments; however, such environments remain rare. In response, we are implementing a faculty learning community (FLC) focused on the design, implementation, and analysis of formative assessment and feedback.
Our research approach is guided by a model of self-regulated learning, which focuses extensively on processes internal to the student ﾖ e.g., setting goals, drawing on domain knowledge, self assessing. We build from this model to investigate how instruction can support the development of self-regulated learning. Specifically, our model investigates interactions between the instructor and student, as mediated by formative assessment prompts, instructor-generated feedback, and instructional activities. According to our model, when considering the impact of formative assessment on student learning it is important to examine (a) the nature of the prompt used to elicit student understanding, (b) the nature of the instructor-generated feedback provided to the student, and (c) the resulting behavior of the student (e.g., review material, self-assess knowledge) as it relates to learning.
To test this model, we are currently:
(1) Implementing a FLC that supports faculty in biology and psychology in the development, implementation, and analysis of formative assessment.
(2) Capturing evidence of formative assessment through classroom observations and faculty interviews.
(3) Developing open-ended classroom surveys to describe how undergraduates perceive and use the feedback that emerges from formative assessments.
(4) Developing a focus group protocol to expand our understanding of how undergraduates use feedback to regulate their learning.
We are just beginning our research on formative assessment. However, results from our work will provide empirical evidence to substantiate the ﾓurban legendﾔ surrounding formative assessment and will (1) reveal patterns in formative assessment and how students use and interact with instructor-generated feedback, (2) link student behavior to learning outcomes, and (3) inform professional development for faculty wishing to create assessment-rich learning environments.
The potential of formative assessment and instructor-generated feedback to transform undergraduate science learning and instruction is profound. Explicating the relationship between formative assessment, feedback, and learning within the frame of an FLC transforms undergraduate STEM education by providing (a) evidence to support the creation of assessment-rich science classrooms and (b) mentored professional development of STEM faculty. A major component of our research involves evaluating student learning in relation to demographic variables, which will allow us to identify how students who are academically at risk or under-represented might benefit from assessment-rich learning environments.
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