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This past year, I have implemented a formative assessment for the kinds of problems I use as summative assessments in weekly homework assignments.  The first semester, I established the mechanism using Mount Mary's course management system, E-Learning.  This mechanism provided the homework problem (generally a complex word problem) to the students through the system and the students answered it online.  I would then provide formative feedback to improve their answers without grading them (I actually "graded" them, but for my own information). I would then reopen the assignment to allow them to revise their answers using the feedback.  The homework problems are the same style as exam questions, so the feedback was geared toward improving the students' general problem solving skills. That first semester was spent more on the technology aspects than devising the best way to provide feedback, but all the kinks got worked out by the end of the semester.

In Spring, I instituted a more formalized and consistent feedback mechanism, using a rubric provided that highlighted the required information needed to answer the question, the development of the answer using that information to construct a well-supported argument, and the cohesion and organization of ideas in the answer.  I also included more explicit instruction to deal with the common complaint of "I don't know where/how to start!".  I have found the students do improve througout the semester in their initial attempts (Figs 1,2), and these improvements do appear to transfer to exam situations (Fig 3), but not as well as I would like.


The data presented here are based on the Spring 2013 BIO 325 Microbiology class, as the fall semester had a great many confounds that made those data unusable.  The class size is 13 students, who have completed 12 homeowrk assignments and had three exams.

Figure 1 shows just the first round homework scores, which improve throughout the semester.

Figure 2 shows the first and second round homework scores, which converge at about an 80% score, which was fairly steady for the second round of answers.

Figure 3 shows exam scores on similar problems, with an improvement throughout the semester, but the scores remain lower, with the high at about 75%.


1. Archer AL, Hughes CA. Explicit instruction: effective and efficient teaching.  New York, NY: The Guilford Press; 2011.
2. DeHaan RL. Teaching creativity and inventive problem solving in science. CBE Life sciences Education.  2009; 8:172-181.
3. Brookhardt SM.  How to assess higher-order thinking skills in your classroom.  Alexandria VA:ASCD; 2010.

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