Highlighting Formative Assessments In the Virtual Learning Environment

Updated: Jul 13

By Dr. Marquita Hockaday


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, several K-12 school districts found themselves forced to shift instructional practices from face-to-face to online or virtual practices. This abrupt switch was something many school districts were not prepared for and thus, students and parents were all ill-equipped to accommodate the move to virtual learning. When it became clear that the pandemic was not slowing down and schools and universities would continue to operate in the virtual space during the 2020-2021 school year, school boards, leaders, and other administrators began to consider accommodations, professional development, and various strategies that would combat the issues that arose during the end of the 2019-2020 school year.


Some of the accommodations included the issuance of laptops or tablets to all students to ensure they had the equipment needed for online learning. Further, some school districts even took it a step further by providing Wi-Fi hotspots in various neighborhoods. As well as physical arrangements, school professionals had to consider strategies that they could integrate into curriculum, instruction, and assessment to navigate this new virtual frontier. Many of the educators tried to duplicate practices that they would use in the face-to-face classroom in the virtual environment, such as sitting in a Zoom room for a long stretch of time without integrating appropriate online engagement; however, it wasn’t long before it became apparent that online learning and instructional practices professional development would be necessary.


While curriculum and instruction are extremely important, assessing student learning in the online environment is key because this is how educators determine what is working and what strategies must be shifted. So, how can online learning be assessed? For this blog, let’s focus on formative assessments.


Interactive Formative Assessments


There are several ways to use your virtual classroom and engage in formative assessments. Have students use tools like emojis, or thumbs up/thumbs down to demonstrate understanding. They can use the virtual or an actual whiteboard to show answers and share responses. Students can also record videos, take photographs, or make drawings and share them with the whole class or a small group.


Online Journals


Many learning management systems have a journal built in for students to compile their thoughts. This can be shared with the instructor or it can be a private place for students to reflect and keep their questions and thoughts during the course.


Offline Activities - Choice Boards


As mentioned above, some educators have the misconception that online learning means sitting in front of the computer all day. However, the virtual class can consist of mini-lectures (5-10 minutes or 10-15 minutes, depending on the age group), and then students can be given time to engage in offline assessments. Assignments, such as choice boards give students options for learning that do not always involve screen time or sitting in front of the computer for the duration of the school day. This will instead provide offline activities that reiterate objectives they learned during the mini-lecture. For instance, say you are teaching a lesson on the Civil War, you can offer a choice board with activities that allow students to write a poem about the war, create a video about key battles, investigate causes of the war and create a poster denoting those causes. The options are endless and should include different mediums and outlets for demonstrating understanding.


Summative assessments are definitely just as important, considering these types of assessments give us an idea of what students have gained throughout the course or a particular unit. With that being said, perhaps SEG will provide some insight on how online learning can be assessed through summative evaluations in a later post. Stay tuned! In the meantime, see how SEG has been involved with assessment, including this project with Tufts University.