Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 14 October 2008   Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ISSN 1748-3603

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Scoping a vision for formative e-assessment
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Scoping a vision for formative e-assessment
A JISC-supported project
by Norbert Pachler

The Centre for Excellence in Work-based Learning for Education Professionals (WLE Centre) ( at the Institute of Education, London has received £40k of JISC funding to carry out a project running from June 2008 to January 2009 entitled ‘Scoping a vision for formative e-assessment’. The project team brings together staff from the Institute’s WLE Centre and the London Knowledge Lab and comprises: Norbert Pachler (Principal Investigator), Caroline Daly, Yishay Mor, Harvey Mellar and Dylan Wiliam. The project steering group is chaired by Diana Laurillard. The project wiki is available at
Assessment for Learning (AfL) involves assessment practices and techniques which actively move the learner on to make progress and improve his or her understanding of how and why they are learning in the way that they are. AfL is a type of formative assessment (assessment for learning) and is contrasted with summative assessment (assessment of learning). There is increasing recognition that formative assessment and assessment for learning should find more widespread inclusion in post-16 pedagogy where summative approaches to assessment are still commonplace. Research suggests that learners improve most if they understand the aims and processes of their learning. That is, if they possess reflexivity at a metalevel, know where they are positioned in relation to the intended learning outcomes and know how they can achieve them or close the gap in their knowledge, skills and/or understanding. AfL centres on activities by teachers and/or learners that provide information that yields feedback suitable to make necessary modifications to teaching and learning activities, that is, those that lead to learners having a better understanding of what they are trying to learn, what is expected of them and how to make improvements. AfL can be seen to be premised on high quality interactions, including questioning, listening, responding and reflecting, between teacher and learners, learners and learners as well as learners with themselves.
The increasing importance of technology in teaching and learning poses the challenge of integrating these human-centric processes into emerging e-assessment systems. Formative e-assessment, for the purposes of this study, is understood to be the use of technology to support the iterative process of gathering and analysing information about student learning by teachers as well as learners and of evaluating it in relation to prior achievement and attainment of intended, as well as unintended learning outcomes. Through its work on the literature review the project team is refining this working definition.

The project aims to develop a domain map for formative e-assessment based on a review of relevant literature in the field of formative assessment and e-assessment, as well as an analysis of aspects of prevailing assessment practice in technology-enhanced post-16 contexts nationally. Project outcomes will include a set of recommendations, a brief literature review and a set of case studies of existing practice in formative e-assessment. On the basis of the case studies the project will delineate a set of key processes involved in effective formative e-assessment practice as well as a small number of technical requirements for formative assessment systems, components and processes. Through the project deliverables, we hope to be able to make recommendations for practice and policy making in the field of formative e-assessment. A vision for the future of formative e-assessment is expected to emerge from the project.
The project adopts a mixed approach in which conceptual and theoretical frameworks from the literature are brought into a fruitful relationship with patterns emerging from practice. In addition to a brief overview of the most pertinent literature in the field, the project seeks to identify examples of interesting formative e-assessment practice from across higher and further education, as well as work-based learning and school-based contexts, and, using a design patterns methodology (for details, see the project wiki), analyses and distills them into case studies. The work on the cases takes place face-to-face during so-called Practical Enquiry Days (PEDs), funded by the WLE Centre and supported by the project wiki. Two PEDs have already taken place (July and October) and two more are in preparation (November and December).
Presentations made on the PEDs, such as a talk by Dylan Wiliam on some of the theoretical underpinnings, as well as the emerging literature database and review can be accessed via the project wiki. The project has adopted opportunity sampling and the project team is very grateful to those colleagues in the field who have kindly agreed to share their experience and develop case studies iteratively with us. The main emphasis is on the case studies illustrating pertinent features rather than providing a representative sample or exemplifying particular theoretical perspectives. Concurrent to the analysis and distilling of practice into cases is the identification of process models on which future software and tool design could be based.

At the behest of the funders, e-portfolios are ‘outside the scope of this project'. The limited range of the project sadly also does not allow us to offer a landscape study of relevant literature and/or practice.
Through the project wiki we are starting to build up a collection of relevant bibliographic references in the field of (formative) e-assessment, to which interested parties can add. We hope you will take a look at our work so far. There will be a dissemination event at the WLE Centre in February 2009. For details, see the project wiki or Centre website.

Norbert Pachler
WLE Centre for Excellence
Institute of Education, London

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