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Leveraging Digital Tools for Formative Assessment

Dr. Trish Harvey

Assistant Professor, School of Education - Hamline University Dr. Vivian Johnson

Associate Dean/Professor, School of Education - Hamline University

“The research reported here shows conclusively that formative assessment does improve student learning.  The gains in achievement appear to be quite considerable … among the largest ever reported for educational interventions.” (Black & Wiliam, 1998, p. 61)

In our experience, faculty want their classrooms to be engaged learning environments where their students are active, enthusiastic learners who not only meet but exceed learning objectives. However, consistently creating this environment is not easy and so many of us look to the research literature for teaching strategies that hold the most promise. In our review of the research literature, formative assessment – those informal, quick checks on student learning progress – has consistently risen to the top as one strategy that needs a prominent role our classrooms, having a significant role in increasing learning in the classroom (Hattie, 2011; Stiggins & DuFour, 2009). (See, Every Teacher’s Guide to Assessment.) As Marzano (2007) notes formative assessment “might be one of the most powerful weapons in a teacher’s arsenal” (p. 13) as well-constructed formative assessments informs instruction, improves achievement and allows for metacognition. While both of us have made extensive use of formative assessment we continue to re-think new ways of implementing it in a digital world.

Before the influx of digital tools, we collected formative assessment data in many ways: paper/pencil homework and quizzes, four corners, exit tickets, student journals, think-pair-shares, etc. (See, 22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning.) With digital tools, our “arsenal” (or toolbox) has expanded to include a number of engaging and helpful alternatives to traditional techniques.

A primary advantage of digital formative assessment tools is the ability to provide instantaneous data on learning to both the teacher and the learner. Digital tools can increase teacher efficiency in data collection – creating a permanent record of the data that can be easily aggregated and disaggregated, and allowing just-in-time adjustments to teaching and learning. They also provide the learner with immediate feedback regarding their learning progress.

As the number of digital tools available changes so rapidly, it is advantageous for us to think of formative assessment tools categorically. Instead of focusing on the tools, think about the kind of data you are interested in collecting and how it aligns to our learning objectives. Below are the three categories we created for digital tools and formative assessments with examples.


What they are: Real-time secondary online conversations taking place alongside the primary instructor-led activity that can provide another dimension to learning.

How they provide formative assessment: Students pose questions/comments to reveal their interpretation of the content/learning activity.

Examples of digital tools:

  • Today’s meet: Easy-to-use platform for hosting classroom discussions.

  • Padlet: Online bulletin board where students can post responses to questions.

  • Twitter: Social networking tool that can facilitate a classroom discussion using a hashtag (#) specific to the class or the class discussion.

  • Your institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) may provide a backchannel option as well.

Student Response Tools

What they are: Tools to create interactivity in a learning situation by collecting real-time polling/survey data and student feedback regarding the concepts/ideas required to reach learning objectives.

How they provide formative assessment: Provide student feedback to the instructor to adjust teaching; provide immediate feedback to students on content.

Examples of digital tools:

  • Google Forms: Collect poll, survey, and quiz-like responses. (Add-on options like Flubaroo and Autocrat for student feedback.)

  • Socrative: Collect poll, survey and quiz-like responses.

  • Kahoot: Gamified student response system.

  • Infuse Learning: Collect poll, survey, drawing, and quiz-like responses.

  • Plickers: Classroom polling system when devices are not available.

  • Padlet: Online bulletin board to collect student responses to questions.

  • Your institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) may provide a student response option as well.

Infographics and Concept Maps

What they are: Visual representation/graphic tools that support organizing and representing knowledge and relationships about a subject/concept.

How they provide formative assessment: Visual connection of vocabulary, concepts, relationships, etc.

Examples of digital tools:

  • Google Draw: Create, share, edit and collaborate on web drawings.

  • Lucid Chart: Create flowcharts and mindmaps easily (also a Google add-on).

  • Popplet (iOS only): Mind-mapping tool.

  • Glogster: Interactive poster site.

  • Padlet: Online bulletin board for students to create a visual representation of the content.

  • Your institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) may provide a student response option as well.

By adding these tools to our teaching toolkit, we have made formative assessment data easier to collect in our courses. And we have found that these tools are fun and engaging to use in the classroom. One of our priorities has been to find tools that are free and device agnostic (they work on all types of devices). Even though the tools continue to develop and change – these three categories help align the tool to the learning objective.

References and Resources

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Dyer, K. (2013, July 12). 22 Easy formative assessment techniques for measuring student learning [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Hattie, J. (2011). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Ronan, A. (2015, April 29). Every teacher’s guide to assessment [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Stiggins, R. & DuFour, R. (May, 2009). Maximizing the power of formative assessments. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(9), 640-644.

This blog is based in part on a presentation made at the 2015 Lilly Conference – Austin.

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