Supporting Digital Formative Assessment (DFA) in schools: the Assess@Learning policy experimentation

Research indicates that digital formative assessment (DFA) has great potential to support more powerful student learning, because it can provide for more opportunities for self-directed learning, interaction with peers, and for students to engage with complex problems in authentic learning environments.

Both researchers and educational professionals are increasingly interested in how digital technologies can enhance the ways teachers provide feedback to their students. The Assess@Learning Literature Review highlights different ways in which digital tools can enhance formative assessment practices.

Digital tools allow for teachers to collect rapid (real-time) feedback and to scaffold the next steps of their students' learning at an appropriate level of difficulty. Collecting such rapid feedback, for example via classroom polling, can help teachers organise class discussions that respond to students' understanding.

Want to know more? The European Schoolnet perspective paper (2019) provides a summary of existing evidence of the benefits of DFA, insights into how teachers can effectively implement DFA in the classroom and ideas for policy actions.

What is DFA (digital formative assessment)?

DFA encompasses a broad range of practices, including personalised learning platforms, e-portfolios/digital diaries, social media (wikis, blogs), digital storytelling, e-textbooks, mobile learning, classroom polling, dashboards and monitoring tools and digital games.

What all these practices have in common is that they support the assessment of student progress and provide information to be used as feedback in order to modify the teaching and learning activities in which students are engaged.

How can teachers effectively implement DFA in the classroom?

The effectiveness of DFA practices depends on how teachers effectively use them and how they articulate them with their teaching and learning aims. This includes how teachers design lessons to support learning aims, collect evidence of student understanding and respond to identified learning needs.

In this process of collecting evidence about learning, both teacher and student roles need to change. Teachers need to foster their students' agency, described as the ability of students to take more control over their learning. To achieve this goal, teachers can, for example, encourage students to create an e-portfolio. E-portfolios are a collection of course-related media (e.g. videos, images, essays) that also includes student's reflections and comments on these media and their own learning. Students can thus gradually become more autonomous in their learning.

Finally, teachers also need to know what technology best supports their pedagogical goals. Teachers might need to invest some time in learning how to apply new technologies in their classroom context. Initially, teachers can start by using digital tools to reinforce their traditional practices and gradually adapt their teaching. There is evidence that as teachers embed new technologies in their pedagogy and gain confidence, their goals for teaching and assessment begin to shift (for example, through handheld device use).

How can schools support their teachers in implementing DFA effectively?

School heads are responsible to provide the best conditions for students to reach the educational standards. For teachers to effectively use DFA in their classroom, school heads need first of all to provide guidance and support to teachers in their learning to develop cultures of quality assessments, which includes formative assessment. Moreover, a certain school infrastructure is necessary. For many DFA practices, it is ideal to have one device per student (for use at school and home).

Furthermore, schools must provide safe online environments with a stable internet connection that protects students from any possible harm that could come from security threats, outdated devices, or a lack of agreement within the school on how to ensure students' data privacy.

Finally, school heads and teachers should also bring parents on board. They need to explain parents the benefits of DFA for their child, how parents can support their child in becoming a more autonomous learner, and how the school ensures that their child is kept safe online.

How can policy makers support their schools to implement DFA effectively?

Policy makers need to provide answers to new challenges related to using digital tools in assessment, such as how to ensure a secure, and valid use of student data.

This entails trust and safety issues, the interpretation and usability of data, exchange of data about learning, as well as ownership of data and ethical issues. Policy makers need to provide effective guidance and training opportunities on such questions both to school heads and teachers.

How does the Assess@Learning policy experimentation support the uptake of DFA practices across schools in Europe?

In summary, for DFA practices to unfold their potentially powerful impact on student learning, capacity building is required for teachers, students, parents, school heads and policy makers.

The Assess@Learning policy experimentation will provide new robust evidence from the field trials on the benefits of DFA provides for student learning and the conditions for a wider uptake of DFA practices in schools. This evidence will serve as guidance to policy makers on how to foster a meaningful use of DFA in their schools.

Check out the Assess@Learning brochure (Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese versions available) to find out more about the Assess@Learning policy experimentation.