By Anosh Butt
Weurlander et al. (2012) discussed how assessments both summarise students’ achievements for an award and certification (summative assessment) and give feedback to the students to support learning (formative assessment). The authors highlighted that formative assessment is quite under-theorized as more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of various methods in which assessment practice enables student learning (Weurlander et al., 2012). Further exploration is needed as student experience of assessment practice impacts the relationship between assessment and learning (Samuelowicz and Bain, 2002).
The study presents the perspective that assessments need to facilitate learning and support for students who are developing their understanding of the subject matter and enhancing their intellectual abilities. Academicians and tutors should consider assessment as an integral part of teaching, learning and focus on student involvement and authentic, meaningful assessment, leading to developing various assessment forms (Falchikov, 2005).
Formative assessment aims to accommodate different aims and generate feedback on students’ performance to improve learning. Weurlander et al. (2012) aim to contribute to formative assessment by exploring students’ experiences of different types of formative assessment made during a course. The specific problems addressed in this study include (1) ways in which methods of formative assessments can act as tools for learning; and (2) how do students experience and perceive these two types of formative assessment (Weurlander et al., 2012).
To resolve these problems, Weurlander et al. (2012) classified two different types of formative assessment. The first formative assessment type was an individual written assessment with factual questions and the second formative assessment type was an oral assessment encouraging students to solve problems in groups. These formative assessment types were introduced to part of a nine-week lecture-based undergraduate course in pathology, which comprised teaching and learning activities such as autopsies, case seminars, and seminars during which students discussed microscopic images of tissue.
The first formative assessment consisted of about 20 questions which required short answers from a few words to a few sentences and mainly emphasized the recall of factual knowledge. A few examples of questions were: What are the causes of tissue damage due to an inflammatory response, and which factors influence the selection of the target organ during the spread of a tumour from its original site (metastasis)?
For the second formative assessment type, the students were given cards with different pieces of information regarding the cases, including written patient histories, laboratory tests, printed microscopic images, and surgical specimens. The two very different formative assessment types served as study objects and were chosen because of different foci. The first was dedicated to right/wrong answers, individual performance, and delayed feedback, and the other focussed on understanding/problem-solving, group performance, and immediate feedback (Weurlander et al., 2012).
The individual assessment largely reflected the view of assessment as knowledge control, and group assessment showed the concept of assessment as learning. In addition to the two formative assessments, there were two summative assessments at the end of the course – a group assessment where students solved problems and an individual written exam.
The study supported ideas related to formative assessment methods acting as tools for learning by affecting students’ motivation to study and by making them aware of their learning and contributing to the overall learning process. This research was a small-scale study focussing on students’ experiences of assessment rather than the outcome. Weurlander et al. (2012) believe that its findings suggest implications for assessment practice and course design. Students’ experience was impacted by the order in which they were exposed to the assessment methods and the educational environment which constituted the study's context.
The first formative assessment type (individual assessment method) would not be seen as such a successful tool for learning if it was presented later in the undergraduate course. Weurlander et al. (2012) affirm that this type of assessment method is regarded as an appropriate tool for learning by students in an educational environment with a strong emphasis on the development of understanding, problem-solving and self-regulated learning. Regarding the group assessment, it was discovered that due to its focus on application and problem-solving in groups, it could be utilised in a variety of educational settings.
In relation to the teaching perspective, the use of numerous complementary formative assessments throughout a course can enable students to study consistently. For some students, this could be an important tool for helping to cope with the workload of the course and their degree (Weurlander et al., 2012). In situations when students can manage each assessment task on its own the set of tasks as a whole, can be too daunting and demanding for them, and they may become selective in relation to the tasks that they focus on (Lindberg- Sand and Olsson 2008; Scheja 2002).
Lastly, the assessment task design relies on the teacher and students’ learning to improve if teachers consciously use a series of assessment tasks to facilitate learning in a variety of ways. Different assessment tasks have the potential to support student learning in different ways by combining them and by considering the educational and disciplinary context in the assessment task design across programmes for effective, efficient, and robust assessment practice.
) Weurlander, M., Söderberg, M., Scheja, M., Hult, H., & Wernerson, A. (2012). Exploring formative assessment as a tool for learning: students’ experiences of different methods of formative assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(6), 747-760.
 Lindberg-Sand, Å., and T. Olsson. 2008. Sustainable assessment?: Critical features of the assessment process in a modularised engineering programme. International Journal of Educational Research 47, no. 3: 165–74.