What Assessment Looks Like in a Blended Learning Environment
The way we learn has changed drastically due to the world’s current climate. We have gone from virtual to hybrid to a myriad of face-to-face models to mirror the traditional K-12 classroom. This has not only changed what schools look like, but how teaching and learning are imagined during this pandemic. That said, one model that can potentially be adapted to fit our current needs is the blended learning model. According to Horn and Stalker (2014), instruction in a blended learning environment can take place via online learning and in a supervised environment away from home. Dr. Catlin Tucker (2018) adds that blended learning combines active learning in both online and offline environments to give students control over the process and progress of his/her learning. While there are different models found within the blended learning model, in this article we will focus on what assessment looks like and how the best practices of blended learning can work for our current classrooms.
Summative Vs. Formative Assessments
Before we dive into the best practices of blended learning, it’s important to understand the difference between two of the main types of assessment: summative and formative. While the end goal for assessment is to track student progress and mastery levels and use this information to inform instruction, each type of assessment plays a unique role in the learning process. Summative assessments are usually formal methods that measure student achievement and specific learning outcomes at the end of a semester, term, or unit of study (Promethean, 2017). Summative assessments take place in controlled environments where students must demonstrate what they have learned or show mastery of specific benchmarks or standards. Some examples of summative assessments include benchmark or unit tests, a culminating project or portfolio at the end of a unit, or a standardized test such as the ACT (Promethean, 2017).
On the other hand, formative assessments are more diagnostic and differ in that they provide the instructor with ongoing feedback that can help adjust instruction when and where needed. Formative assessments aim to provide insight into what students have learned, have difficulty with, and may need more help with. Some examples of formative assessment include but are not limited to classroom polls, exit tickets, visual representations to show what students have learned, and impromptu quizzes (Promethean, 2017). After reviewing both types of assessments, now we’ll look at how each one plays out in a blended learning environment.
Making Assessment Work in a Blended Learning Environment
Planning out your assessments and leveraging technology tools for assessment are critical steps for setting up effective practices for the blended learning classroom. Matt Miller (2015) argues that one of the key components to success in the blended learning classroom is the assessment piece. He specifically mentions formative assessment and how instructors should utilize the platforms or tools that are already in place to effectively monitor student progress (Miller, 2015). By using the right assessment tools, instructors can consistently track student proficiency of specific standards and or learning targets.
Andrew Miller (2020) similarly argues that instructors should leverage technology tools for summative assessment in online learning environments. He argues that many technology tools already offer built-in features like quizzes and tests that allow for seamless integration of summative assessments. While he explores distance learning practices, these can be applied to the online portion of the blended learning model. Finally, Miller (2015) argues that there must be intention and purpose for the technology assessment tools used. He mainly stresses that instructors should take full advantage of online assessment tools by tracking usage as well as analyzing data collected within those tools. This will assist in tracking students’ progress and assist teachers in adapting instruction if necessary (Miller, 2015).
Formative Assessment Practices for the Blended Classroom
Now we will explore several assessment tools that you can incorporate into a blended learning environment. A combination of both formative and summative assessments will be offered in hopes that you can implement them within your blended classroom. As with any strategy, tool, or platform, it is best to evaluate what each has to offer and how each can measure your students’ progress and performance. As you explore these tools it is also wise to select a few tools to avoid overwhelming them. This is especially important if teachers are introducing new virtual assessment tools (Fleming, 2020).
One of the most versatile formative assessment strategies for the blended learning classroom is the check-in. Check-ins are informal questions that the teacher can pose either at the beginning, middle, or end of the lesson to gauge student understanding of the topic or concept being covered. With both in-person or virtual instruction, students can simply answer the question being posed with a thumbs up, thumbs down.
Other methods to prompt student responses in a virtual setting can be to utilize features like emojis to respond. Nora Fleming (2020) mentions dipsticks as a form of check-in since they are quick and can check for both learning and emotional well-being. With dipsticks, the teacher poses a question to check for understanding and students have the option of responding orally, with a physical motion like a thumbs up or thumbs down, or through written response with a sticky note (Fleming, 2020). Other modifications for responses include having students show numbers 1-5 to show understanding through rating with their fingers or using the stoplight approach, where students show the color green to show they are good to go, yellow, to show they still have questions, or red, to show that they don’t understand and need more time or help (Fleming, 2020). The best part about check-ins is that they can be inserted into any part of the lesson and require little to no planning or extra preparation, but also give you immediate feedback from your students.
Exit tickets are another effective formative assessment strategy to try in the blended learning classroom. Exit tickets are usually quick written responses that students submit at the end of class to show their understanding of the lesson that was presented (Tran, 2019). Much like check-ins, exit tickets require a student response to gauge their understanding and also to assist the teacher in adjusting instruction if needed. Rose Tran (2019) also presents the traffic light strategy to sort out exit tickets into similar needs, questions, or responses. The three piles then will reflect the traffic light: green, for those responses that are good to go, yellow, for those responses that show the student needs more clarification or a check-in, and red, for those responses that need extra support to review or reteach the concept. By sorting the responses with this method, teachers can make modifications for their learners after each lesson.
Several web-based assessment tools can be used in the blended classroom. According to Shelly Sanchez (2015), some popular tools for formative assessment include Socrative, Kahoot, and Nearpod. These are ideal for use in a whole-class setting or virtually. Also, important to note is that some tools like Nearpod offer embedded assessments that can be done independently at the learner’s pace. Lastly, while some of these tools offer a free version, check if your school district has a license to access more features.
Summative Assessment Practices for the Blended Classroom
When considering summative assessment in the blended classroom, it is worth noting performance or project-based approaches. Performance-based strategies like portfolios, projects, or podcasting are a great method to measure several learning standards and objectives at once and also provide the learner the opportunity to apply and showcase what was learned. Performance-based summative assessments, like portfolios, also challenge the learner to put together artifacts to demonstrate concepts, which is a higher order thinking skill. A few technology tools and apps that can be ideal for a blended environment include Screencastify, Adobe Spark, Google Sites, and WordPress. With these tools, learners have flexibility in how they want to organize and present their information, which in turn shows their ability to apply knowledge and information learned.
Oral presentations also remain a reliable and flexible form of summative assessment for the blended learning classroom. Oral defense and presentations allow the learner to explain their thinking and understanding of topics or concepts (Miller, 2020). These opportunities in which students orally explain or defend their learning are crucial for the learning process and can be seamlessly integrated into the blended classroom.
Perhaps the most underrated type of assessment is student-created products. When we talk about summative assessment formats, they are often teacher-created or driven and offer little to no wiggle room for expression or creativity. However, if we are to promote higher levels of thinking, we must offer opportunities for our learners to show us what they know and what better way than having them manipulate the content. Matt Miller (2015) presents several tools that allow learners to demonstrate learning in different ways. First, he introduces Canva, which is an online tool for creating graphics. He recommends teachers take advantage of the infographic section, which allows learners to create their own infographic on a subject. Furthermore, infographics could potentially be a suitable replacement for the typical five-paragraph essay. Other tools worth noting are YouTube’s Studio, where students can upload and edit images, videos, and recordings to create a new video, and AudioBoom, where students can record and edit a podcast to share with an authentic audience. All of these tools offer an open-ended and flexible approach for students to manipulate different types of media to showcase their understanding (Miller, 2015).
In conclusion, tried and true strategies like check-ins, exit tickets, and multiple-choice tests can be enhanced with a multitude of technologies. While formative and summative assessments can both measure student learning and progress, it is important to take advantage of strategies that allow for greater choice and student ownership. Further, this is a time for educators to step outside of the conventional ways of assessing student learning by implementing performance-based projects, oral presentations, and student-created products that offer a wider range of opportunities for students to provide evidence of their understanding. Finally, teachers can leverage the power of the internet and mobile applications and adapt traditional forms of assessment to take advantage of what a blended learning setting offers both students and teachers.
Horn, M.B. and Staker, H. (2014). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fleming, N. (2020, October 1). 7 ways to do formative assessment in your virtual classroom. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/7-ways-do-formative-assessments-your-virtual-classroom
Miller, A. (2020, April 7). How to do formative assessment in distance learning. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/formative-assessment-distance-learning
Miller, M. (2015, December 28). 10 keys to success in blended learning. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ditchthattextbook.com/10-keys-to-success-in-blended-learning/
Miller, M. (2015, May 21). 10 useful tools for assessment with tech. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ditchthattextbook.com/10-innovative-ways-to-assess-with-tech/
Promethean (2017). Types of summative assessment and formative assessment. ResourcED. Retrieved from https://resourced.prometheanworld.com/types-of-summative-formative-assessment/
Sanchez, S. (2015, October). 20 tools, apps, & Tips for engaging assessment. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://teacherrebootcamp.com/2015/10/formativeassessment/
Tran, R. (2019, August 13). Exit tickets as formative assessment in a blended learning classroom. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.edtechupdate.com/assessment/blended-learning/?open-article-id=11129666&article-title=exit-tickets-as-formative-assessment-in-a-blended-learning-classroom&blog-domain=wherelearningclicks.com&blog-title=where-learning-clicks