Towards a Theory of Formative Assessment in Online Higher Education

Towards a Theory of Formative Assessment in Online Higher Education

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8363-1.ch014
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The affordances of online learning have coincided with increasing demand for higher education across disciplines. The need to provide appropriate learning support while fostering self-regulation in online higher education calls for formative assessment to facilitate meaningful learning. This chapter attempts to conceptually generalize the findings of a recent collective case study and develop a relevant theoretical framework for online formative assessment. The theoretical framework is intended to inform successful implementation of formative assessment in online learning contexts. The collective case study purposefully conceptualized formative assessment from a holistic pedagogical approach. Investigating application of formative assessment in the recent study explored multifaceted elements including provision of a variety of embedded authentic assessment activities. The theoretical framework advanced through this chapter is therefore an attempt to coherently unify the diverse elements and techniques from the collective case study, and explicate how this creates an effective pedagogical design to promote meaningful learning.
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In an attempt to conceptually generalize the findings a recent collective case (broader) study (Gikandi, 2012), two congruent theories have been identified to provide basis to advance a relevant theoretical framework in the context of online higher education. The individual case studies have already been published in a series of journal papers (Gikandi, 2013; Gikandi & Mackey, 2013; Gikandi, & Morrow, in press). The theoretical framework developed and presented in this chapter therefore aims to uncover the broader and deeper conceptual meanings of the findings, and link the key outcomes of the recent study to the existing knowledge.

The chapter starts with a brief review of the identified theories. Secondly, review of the key findings of the recent study is presented. The discussion that follows seeks to elucidate a theoretical framework that can guide assessment of situated and authentic learning with a particular focus on online formative assessment. Lastly, conclusions are offered.

As identified in Gikandi, Morrow and Davis (2011), previous studies did not explicate all relevant aspects of formative assessment which amplifies the purpose of this chapter. The collective case study (Gikandi, 2012) conceptualized online formative assessment from a more holistic pedagogical strategy purposefully incorporating diverse elements. Investigating application of formative assessment in Gikandi (2012) focused on exploring multifaceted elements including provision of a variety of authentic assessment activities which were embedded within the learning processes to engage the students within the online discourse and real-life contexts.

Developing a theoretical framework through this chapter is an attempt to coherently unify the diverse elements and techniques evidenced in the recent collective case study from the perspective of authentic learning. More importantly, the recent findings by Gikandi (2012) reveal some relationships with the identified previous empirical studies in ways that indicate that the findings confirm previous research. Notably, these relationships also reinforce the theoretical framework presented in this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formative Assessment: Also known as ‘assessment for learning’. It’s a holistic iterative process of establishing what, how much and how well students are learning in relation to the learning goals and expected outcomes in order to inform tailored formative feedback and support further learning.

Self-Regulation: It refers to an active constructive process which stimulates the learners to assume primary responsibility for their learning by going beyond achievement of the expected learning outcomes to engage with tasks and processes that match their own learning goals, interests and contextual needs.

Formative Feedback: Is type of feedback that supports students to identify their strengths and weaknesses, revise their work, and continuously refine their understanding, which in turn supports them towards engaged and self-regulated learning

Online Learning: A form of distance education (or e-learning) primarily conducted through web-based ICT to support the teaching and learning process, and does not require the teacher and the learner to be available at the same time and place.

Meaningful Learning: Learning that is robust and transferable to real-life professional practices and contexts; in online learning contexts, it is manifested as active, collaborative and reflective discourse in ways that foster self-regulation.

Authentic Assessment Activities: Embedded assessment activities that have real-world relevance in ways that provide appropriate level of complexity within a supportive learning community (the individual student, teacher and peers).

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