Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

An Investigation into E-Tool Use for Formative Assignment Assessment-Status and Recommendations

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

An Investigation into E-Tool Use for Formative Assignment Assessment-Status and Recommendations

Article excerpt


Formative assessment provided in assignments is of highest value in student learning. Assignments require students to construct and formulate their own thoughts and, depending on discipline, present these thoughts in the form of essays, models, calculations, or reports. Educational theories around the importance of assignments and best practice are well established. The questions that led to the research project reported here were how e-tools can help lecturers use good practice in formative assessment with assignments, to which degree the use of such tools is currently happening, and how further uptake can be encouraged.

To answer these questions, a comprehensive literature review and interviews with 90 lecturers at five New Zealand tertiary institutions were undertaken. General and specialised e-learning tools suitable for supporting aspects around assignment processes were investigated. This article summarises important aspects of the literature review and the interviews. It focuses on recommendations directed towards individual lecturers who are striving for gains in efficiency and quality by suggesting ways of integrating e-tools into their assignment practice. The full findings and details are available at the project website,

Summary of the literature review

The literature review for the project had two main aims. The first was to establish the characteristics and importance of formative assessment with assignments. The second aim was to identify electronic techniques, tools, and approaches for this type of assessment, to discuss what was known about their effectiveness, and to uncover factors influencing uptake.

For the first aim, key articles and books that have shaped current theory on formative assessment of student work have been identified and analysed. For the second aim, a comprehensive search of e-learning literature from 2001 to 2006 was conducted. A list of about 100 journals and conferences relevant to assessment and e-learning were identified. From these a subset of close to 40 sources was selected, based on journal impact factor, reputation, and relevance to the study. Within these sources over 580 journal editions and conference proceedings were searched.

Assessment with essay-type assignments

Formative assessment with assignments is part of coursework. Coursework implies both a formative component, feedback to facilitate learning, and a summative component, the marks the students receive for their efforts. The importance of this type of assessment lies in the challenges it poses to students to formulate their own thoughts and construct their own answers, linking to higher-level learning outcomes. The authors of educational literature typically use the term "essays" to refer to such coursework. While many disciplines do not use the term "essay," the challenges and benefits noted apply to a wider body of student work. For example, in business studies one might talk about a report; in the sciences students might describe the planning and analysis of laboratory work; in a software development context students might be required to elicit requirements and formulate models. All this type of work poses the challenges of formulating own thoughts and constructing answers. The next two paragraphs, reporting directly from the literature, use the term "essays." The later sections of this article refer to "essay-type" assessment to alert to the wider context.

Essay assignment questions provide students with freedom of response and require students to apply their knowledge and skills in organizing, integrating, and evaluating information (Linn & Miller, 2005; Nitko, 2004). Essays target knowledge, understanding, and proficiency in reasoning (Stiggins, 2005). Essays aim at the highest level of learning outcomes by emphasising the integration and application of ideas (Gronlund, 2006). In contrast to multiple-choice examinations, the answering of essay questions prompts students to adopt deep learning approaches (Struyven, Dochy, & Janssens, 2005). …

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