Formative Assessments in Canvas

November 7, 2022

 Learn why formative assessments should be included in online teaching and how to use them to improve your course. 

Assessments are your primary means of gathering information about your learners’ progression as they master the knowledge and skills you aim to teach. While there is a range of types of assessments, we are going to focus on the difference between two common types: formative and summative.

Formative vs. Summative Assessments

Formative assessments provide you with information about the learning process itself. These are the kinds of assessments you use to understand whether an activity or a material is helping learners master a discrete topic in the course. These are “just in time” as they tend to be applied in scenarios where learners present or demonstrate their learning before a major summative assessment. Alternatively, summative assessments tend to be implemented after the learning process, and evaluate whether learners successfully achieved the course learning objectives.

Examples of formative and summative assessments
Formative Assessments Summative Assessments
Presentation or demonstration

Check-in quizzes

Observation of in-class activities

Feedback from students

Reflection assignments


Final exam

Term papers

Term projects


Benefits of Formative Assessments

Juli Charkes, writing for Faculty Focus, identifies the following general benefits of using formative assessments in your course.¹

Emphasize Inclusion

How students approach the content and how you approach it will differ due to the amount of exposure and unique backgrounds you both have. Becoming aware of those differences requires designing opportunities for those differences.

Enhances Metacognition

By capturing the learner’s perspective, you are inviting them to take an active role in guiding how the learning process should go. Prompting them to reflect on their journey of making sense of the new information related to prior knowledge has numerous benefits for mastering the content.

Formative Assessments in Canvas

In an online setting, providing opportunities for formative assessment requires intentional design. As you noticed, some formative assessment only happens in the classroom. However, by deploying Canvas-integrated teaching technology and creating online-focused formative activities, you can still benefit learners and yourself.

  1. Setting aside pages in your modules that learners can edit by selecting “Teachers and students” in the drop-down menu at the bottom of the page editing window. Use this option in conjunction with a resource-collecting activity so learners can bring what they know to the course.
  2. Create peer-reviewed assignments and enable the “Requires peer review” option in the assignment editing window. Be sure to create a rubric for your learners to use!
  3. Embed a Google Form to collect survey responses about how the course is going or what could be changed after the first couple of weeks and again before after mid-semester.
  4. Make use of reflection assignments. For learners very new to content, have them reflect and connect the content to their lives. For more advanced learners, have them reflect and connect the content to what they have learned in other courses in the same discipline.
  5. Consider requiring learners to include a question or a comment about the content in their discussion posts.


¹ Charkes, Juli S. “Harnessing the Student Voice: Why Student-centered Teaching and Learning Starts with Formative Assessment.” Last modified July 13, 2022. Faculty Focus Website


Online Instructor Development Training

Workshop Wednesday: Cognitive Load

Last week, we covered what cognitive load is and how applying some principles to your course can make learning easier. In this recording, you will learn what principles to apply to your learning activities, the presentation of learning materials, and how you can make your teaching more effective.

This 30-minute video has chapters in Kaltura, so feel free to navigate through the video based on the topics you see.

Kaltura recording of the Cognitive Load workshop.

Originally recorded on November 2nd, 2022.

Upcoming Events

Thursday, November 10th – Quick Hits: Kaltura Expanded

Did you know that you can use Kaltura outside of Canvas? In this session, learn about Kaltura Mediaspace and how it can facilitate collaboration and organization of your media. Facilitated by Gray Jackson, Learning Technology Specialist. A Zoom link will be emailed to registered participants 24-48 hours before the day of the event.

Wednesday, November 16th – Workshop Wednesday: Take Your For-credit to a Non-credit

This workshop will provide an overview of creating a non-credit course by modifying your pre-existing for-credit content. We will discuss the course development process and fee structure, as well as our available support services, such as instructional design, graphic design, and video creation. This workshop is open to all instructors, whether you have taught online before or not. Facilitated by Lori Kinley, Ph.D., Associate Director of Clemson Online. A Zoom link will be emailed to registered participants 24-48 hours before the day of the event.

Review Clemson Online’s Calendar of Events page to look at the rest of the development events we are offering in Fall 2022.

Contact James Butler with any questions about this session.

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