What is the project about?

The project aims at developing a pedagogical model for implementing formative assessment in higher education by using the digital application OneNote for Classroom. Research shows that formative assessment can have a powerful effect on student learning (Hattie 2012). However, the results of the 2015 national student survey in Norway (Studiebarometer) reveal that students are generally dissatisfied with assessment practices and the quality/amount of feedback. An increased focus on formative assessment has therefore the potential of improving both student achievement and the overall course satisfaction. The current project  implements formative assessment by making use of learning portfolios as a pedagogical tool and explores the affordances provided by OneNote for Classroom as a digital tool. The aim is to design a flexible pedagogical model that other institutions and study programs can draw on and adapt to their needs and to share the experiences gained while implementing these innovations.

A practical guide to digital formative assessment

Our two-year project is drawing to a close, but we have gathered our experiences and recommendations in a practical guide to digital formative assessment with OneNote in higher education. If you want to find out more about what we did to enhance formative assessment practices in our courses, and how we used OneNote to support those practices, then do check out our Guide. The guide is very practical in nature and full of tips that we have gathered on the bases of our experiences. You can access the guide here:

A Practical Guide to formative assessment with OneNote in higher education

How did the students perceive formative feedback?

We analyzed 128 reflection notes that the students of English wrote in connection with their portfolios to see how they perceive formative feedback. The figure below shows the portfolio process that the students were involved in. They were given three assignments which they received feedback on (teacher, peer and mixed feedback) before revising and submitting. 



Students were also given the opportunity to discuss the feedback they received in class and ask for clarification. They wrote reflection notes during the semester, as well as when submitting their final portfolios. They were asked to reflect on how satisfied they were with their assignments, what the feedback told them to revise, what they learned from the feedback, what revisions they made, and what helped them successfully complete their assignments.

Summing up the students’ experiences with formative feedback as part of portfolio assessment, they:

  •  were generally positive towards portfolio assessment and appreciated having the possibility to work on the assignments throughout the course. The multiple drafting was much appreciated

  • were given the possibility to “recover” from their initial – and sometimes premature – reactions toward the feedback provided, and thus re-evaluate their work in a more objective way

  • were satisfied  with their final assignments

  • reflected on the transversal skills and knowledge gained by working on assignments throughout the course of a semester, e.g. “I feel I have learnt a whole lot of new information which will be useful later. Both in studies, and when the studies are finished”

  •  appreciated teacher feedback, even when it was perceived as critical

  •  found feedback that was specific and offered guidance on how to improve particularly useful

  • sometimes  questioned the ability of their peers to provide adequate feedback. The main concern was the lack of constructive criticism, which leaves the students without guidance on what needs to be improved and how.

  •  make sense of the feedback and take action to improve their work, e.g. using verbs such as “improve” and “revise” to report how they acted upon the formative feedback they received.

One interesting finding was that oral peer discussion sessions were generally highly valued by the students.  None of the students in our study used the term feedback to refer to this kind of informal peer review, even though the main function of peer discussions was to provide feedback on each other’s work. We think oral peer discussion groups is a more effective and useful way of conducting peer assessment – instead of formalized written commentary. In the discussions, students not only help each other, but make sense of the teacher feedback and select the right revision strategies.

If you would like to read more about our analyses of the student reflection notes, visit the article’s home page here. Your institution needs to subscribe to the journal in order for you to download the full article.

How we work differently now

In what ways do we work differently now, when it comes to differentiation, organization and carrying out learning and assessment activities?

Through working with the project, we have been involving students in discussing and defining assessment criteria more systematically than before. For example, one example of an assessment criteria was given to the students by the teacher (“use the APA citation and referencing style”), and they were to discuss and suggest other relevant assessment criteria for the specific assignment given. The discussions and suggestions of assessment criteria were based on the task given and the relevant competence aims in the course plan (“emneplan”).

The project led to students systematically providing and working with feedback by ensuring that we set aside time for planning. We had to be more aware than before when it comes to how the feedback is provided, how it is going to be worked on, how the assessment criteria are developed etc. We spent more time on peer assessment, where students provided feedback to peers on written texts in class. This was done as part of the assignment requirements. Furthermore, compared to before, we had to make sure that we talked about the writing process with the students. They had lectures on formative assessment and formative feedback, and they were made more aware of what it means to write through drafting, editing and revising.

Throughout the semester, the students wrote systematic reflection notes, where we gave them six questions regarding reflections on their writing, the feedback received, the follow-up of feedback and the use of OneNote to work with formative assessment. The reflection notes were written both in and out of class.

In general, the project has led to awareness raising about formative assessment, contributing to back-engineering the English courses. In addition to planning we usually do, like planning forward in time, we needed to take into consideration the whole process from the beginning of assessment work, assessment criteria, development work, reporting to NUV, research project, conferences, assignments, feedback, follow-up of feedback, reflection notes – until the product, being the student presentation portfolios.

How OneNote is used in this project

In which ways has OneNote supported our educational development work?

OneNote Class Notebook is a programme that lets teachers  create individual and shared work spaces for students.  A Class Notebook includes a Content Library where teachers can post materials such as handouts, videos and lecture slides, a Collaboration space for group work in and outside class, and individual Notebooks where each student can take notes, work on tasks, and submit homework and assignments.

Several of the students in our project reported that OneNote gave them the feeling that they were working on drafts, rather simply uploading finished assignments to a Learning Management System. This work-in-progress aspect lowered the threshold for producing content in and outside of class and lends itself more naturally to collaborative writing and to process portfolio work.

Furthermore, OneNote invites the creation of individual learning portfolios (Student Notebooks). This provides the course lecturers with insight into individual students’ work and progress. Students were made aware that these individual Notebooks were only visible to their teachers (not to their peers) and that their teachers would occasionally look at their homework to get an impression of their progression and perhaps leave some feedback. This also meant that we, as course lecturers could use this evidence of students’ progress to plan our own teaching, addressing any issues and misunderstandings that might have cropped up and that we might otherwise not have had insight into.

The Collaboration space, which can be edited by all students and teachers, invites collaboration in class and out of class. The Collaboration space was particularly useful for giving and receiving peer feedback. It was also used for note-taking during group discussions in class.

The Collaboration Area in OneNote Classroom

It should be noted that OneNote for Classroom is not a Learning Management System and was not intended to replace such platforms. Students in the project had to navigate two platforms at once, the LMS (It’s Learning or Canvas) and OneNote. The LMS was then used to send out messages to all of the students, whereas OneNote was used for drafting and notetaking, collaborative writing, and submission of assignments.

Finally, OneNote has been a useful tool for collaboration between project group members, as it has helped us systematize our own professional development work.


Institutional support is important

What institutional factors have been significant for project implementation?

Institutional support is a crucial factor for successful implementation of any educational innovation. The significant role that digitalization plays in the institution’s policy documents makes projects such as these valued and welcomed at the institutional level. What structures need to be in place to support the staff in implementing new digital practices?  IT support seems crucial, especially on matters that relate to local network and services.  Clearer routines, a good overview of the services offered, a help/troubleshooting center for implementation of digital tools in teaching and an arena for sharing the best-practice examples and tips are certainly assets to any institution that has digitalization as its aim.

When it comes to assessment practices, any implementation of innovation in requires support from the leadership and the administrative services. The current project is being conducted at the time when teacher education is undergoing significant changes, moving to a 5-year Master education. As a consequence of this reform, the institution has encouraged revision of the course plans and reassessment of examination practices which opens up for innovations of this kind. Still, many obstacles arise along the way. As this project focuses on formative assessment, we have had a considerable amount of freedom in implementing different ways of assessing student learning throughout the course.  However, the project has also heavily centered on obligatory assignments that the students must complete in the course of the term, which are in the end included in the final assessment portfolio. Obligatory coursework and the final examinations are subject to various regulations at the national and the institutional level. Navigating through relevant guidelines and policy documents can at times been challenging and the institutions might want to consider how these could be made more accessible to the teaching staff. It is also important to ensure that the guidelines are flexible enough and formulated in a way that opens up for different assessment practices and encourages the teaching staff to explore new ways of assessing student learning. Efforts to standardize assessment and evaluation practices across campuses and institutions, though potentially having many positive aspects, can at the same time be felt as obstacles to innovation. Based on our experiences so far, we cannot but conclude that determination, effort, and good-will  is needed from all the parties involved to successfully implement new assessment practices that relate to exams and/or obligatory coursework. At the same time, we have learned that there are many small changes that one can make in one’s own teaching to promote classroom assessment practices that will hopefully improve student learning.