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.