Assessment for Learning: Creating Strong Feedback Cycles
You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you’re taking a course in the hope of learning something new and the only forms of assessment in that course are high stakes tests at the end of a unit – or, worse yet, one all or nothing cumulative final exam – then by the time you get the feedback you need to spot gaps in your understanding, it’s too late to fill in those gaps in a meaningful way.
The research backs up what we already know intuitively: this approach to assessment isn’t an effective way to arrive at the best possible outcomes for our students. When it comes to facilitating learning, the high stakes “set it and forget it” approach simply doesn’t work that well. As students move through the subject matter they need to master, they need consistent, actionable feedback – as well as opportunities to put that feedback into practice.
How can you go about creating strong feedback cycles in your courses? It might look something like this:
- Students take a short formative assessment designed to provide the learner with information that allows them to improve their learning and performance. Think of that as the start of the feedback cycle.
- Once the instructor knows each student’s strengths and opportunity areas, the instructor can then make sure those areas are promptly and clearly communicated to the student and provide each student with customized supports to work on the areas they need to improve.
- After the students utilize the supports and have a chance to practice their skills, the students then provide the instructor with another round of feedback perhaps by taking another formative assessment. This completes the prior feedback loop and begins a new one.
Not only do students now know what they didn’t know; they’ve had a chance to learn it and create a stronger knowledge base as a jumping-off point for the next segment of the course.
Your LMS can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating strong feedback cycles. Consider employing strategies such as:
- Peppering low and no stakes assessments throughout your course
- Creating strategically timed low stakes assessments that reinforce knowledge from earlier in the course just as learners might be starting to forget
- Utilizing a data reporting and analytics solution like IntelliBoard to keep track of course wide and learner specific feedback and trends so you can alert learners and adjust your pedagogy and content as needed. (Learn more about how to set up your LMS for success from Learning Analytics expert Paula de Waal.)
Research clearly shows that creating strong feedback cycles is key to effective learning. Frequent low-stakes assessments and continuous feedback loops give you and your students a chance to adjust to learner needs and target knowledge gaps in a meaningful way. You aren’t just delivering assessments of student learning; you’re delivering assessments for student learning too.