The Value of Formative Assessment

November 23, 2021Adam Franklin

The 1st of a dedicated blog series on the Research Behind Nearpod. 

Your thorough answer to the question, “What learning sciences research-informed Nearpod’s design decisions?”

Formative Assessment- What it is and why it matters. 

When teachers ask students to regularly demonstrate their understanding during a lesson students become active in the learning experience and are able to cement or apply their knowledge. This is so important because it allows the teacher to tailor their instruction on the spot to immediately meet the needs of their students based on these insights. (Black & William, 1998). 

The role of smart devices in formative assessment. 

We know the instructional value of consistent formative assessment, but it has become a demanding practice to implement regularly for teachers with competing priorities. That is… until smart devices came into the picture. In fact, Ian Beatty at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was one of the first to illustrate how personal smart devices in the hands of teachers and students could dramatically transform the ability to deliver and analyze the results of formative assessment (2004).

How the value of formative assessment shaped Nearpod.

 In 2012, three friends Guido Kovalskys, Emiliano Abramzon, and Felipe Sommer partnered to create a tool (drum roll please) that would help teachers manage the increasingly available smart devices in their schools for the power of formative assessment and student engagement. What eventually became Nearpod was originally a slides and formative assessment-based teaching platform that required a local (aka “near”) server (aka “pod”) rolled into a classroom to connect a classroom set of iPod touches to a teacher device. Even in the limiting environment of the initial prototype, teachers expressed such high enthusiasm and demand that the founders knew they had created a potential game-changer for educators.

The original platform design was inspired by a growing body of research around the positive impacts of consistent formative assessment and best practices for implementing them (Engle & Conant, 2002). In the beginning, teachers could facilitate Nearpod lessons from their devices that synchronized informational slides and a few options for formative assessments (open-ended questions, multiple choice quizzes, or polls) on student devices. Nearpod allowed teachers to share assessment data and individual responses to the rest of the class, making students more eager to demonstrate their understanding. Teachers could also access formative assessment data after any session (by class or specific student) in reports provided by Nearpod. In the first two years, Nearpod registered hundreds of teachers who generated thousands of student responses. And yet, the growing team still felt they had a long way to go in terms of diversifying options for assessment, to ensure all students are being invited into the learning experience in order to maximize classroom engagement.

Nearpod Open Ended Question

Why providing diverse options to assess students’ understanding matters.

No matter how beneficial a formative assessment may be, doing the same thing over and over can get repetitive and have a negative impact on classroom engagement. Truly effective formative assessments should deploy a variety of tasks to measure student understanding (Ames, 1992). Diverse delivery of assessment is associated with strong cognitive and emotional gains in students (McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). This research inspired the Nearpod team to build out a more comprehensive suite of interactive assessments that could be added to a Nearpod lesson. Nearpod added Fill-in-the-blanks and Matching Pairs to better scaffold student responses for identify, define-level assessments. 

Nearpod Matching Pairs

The introduction of the Collaborate Board allowed students to see and interact with peer-written responses, recreating the concept of an instructional “parking lot” digitally and updating responses in real-time. One study from 2010 showed that opportunities to “doodle” during a learning experience increased the likelihood of information retention (Andrade, 2010). The draw-it feature was created as a way to empower students who prefer expressing their understanding creatively. Students can submit drawings on a blank canvas or a background image uploaded by the teacher. The feature quickly became a teacher and student favorite.

Nearpod Draw It Activity

How reference media can support and scaffold student learning.

For each interactive assessment, we try our best to remove any potential impediments from answering a question. One study found greater access to requisite background knowledge enhances online assessment outcomes (Fuchs et al., 2000). Accordingly, Nearpod developed the ability for teachers to add reference media, such as an image, a video, a website, or even an audio-recording of a teacher’s voice as an attachment to interactive assessments to give more background information.

Promoting inclusivity and reducing biases during instruction.

Not every student is willing to raise their hand publicly, and this popular method of questioning means many are left behind during formative assessments. Student-response systems increase participation and draw out reluctant participants. (Graham et al., 2007) Nearpod developed the feature to make student responses anonymous in order to promote increased participation and reduce feelings of vulnerability (Caldwell, 2007). In Nearpod lessons, the barriers to entry for participating are reduced compared to raising your hand in class.  One study found that teachers can maximize learning outcomes and promote inclusivity by allowing students to submit audio recordings in lieu of written responses (Dalton, Herbert, & Daysher, 2003). Nearpod is currently developing a feature whereby students can submit audio responses to an open-ended question. Cheryl Staats argues that every educator enters the classroom with some degree of implicit bias, manifesting itself in who gets called on, who is believed in, and general classroom attitudes (2016). It can be a hard thing to spot in oneself let alone curb entirely, but technology can play a pivotal role in democratizing classroom participation.

Teachers have attested to the fact that more students participate, and participate consistently, in Nearpod lessons compared to traditional lessons. In the 2019 school year Nearpod registered 310,856,643 assessment insights from  381,884 classrooms across the world, each instance efficiently allowing a teacher more transparency into a wider range of students in their classroom than they might normally have.

Works Cited in Research Base

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

Engle, R. A., & Conant, F. R. (2002). Guiding principles for fostering productive disciplinary engagement: Explaining an emergent argument in a community of learners classroom. Cognition and instruction, 20(4), 399-483.

Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of educational psychology, 84(3), 261.

McLaughlin, T., & Yan, Z. (2017). Diverse delivery methods and strong psychological benefits: A review of online formative assessment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33(6), 562-574.

Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do?. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 24(1), 100-106.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Karns, K., Hamlett, C. L., Dutka, S., & Katzaroff, M. (2000). The importance of providing background information on the structure and scoring of performance assessments. Applied Measurement in Education, 13(1), 1-34.

Graham, C. R., Tripp, T. R., Seawright, L., & Joeckel, G. (2007). Empowering or compelling reluctant participators using audience response systems. Active Learning in Higher Education, 8(3), 233-258.

Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the large classroom: Current research and best-practice tips. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(1), 9-20.

Dalton, B. D., Herbert, M., & Deysher, S. (2003, December). Scaffolding students’ response to digital literature with embedded strategy supports: The role of audio-recording vs. writing student response options. Paper presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, Scottsdale, AZ.

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