Digital Tools for Formative Assessment

by Jessica Porter, Office of Educational Technology (eTech)

I recently asked my students to participate in a short writing workshop. They were preparing to write argumentative research papers, and I wanted them to focus on their thesis statements and really refine their arguments. In the past, I would have had everyone share their thesis with a neighbor or upload it to Blackboard for a grade, but I decided to try a new method.

At the beginning of class, I emailed everyone a link to a Google doc and asked them to paste their thesis statements in the document. Then, working in small groups, I asked them to read their classmates’ statements and offer some constructive feedback — all in the same document, at the same time. I participated too, jumping in to guide and affirm their comments and to show them how to strengthen their arguments.

This process was messier than a traditional pen-and-paper review, but my goals were clear: I wanted to see and respond to students’ work in real time; to help them diagnose and fix problems while they were developing their ideas; and to assess their understanding of both the workshop process and argumentative thesis statements.

In other words, I wanted to incorporate formative assessment early in the writing process, and using one giant Google Doc allowed me to see and guide their work as it unfolded instead of at the end of the essay or at some crisis point mid-draft.

The method was largely a success, and it left me wondering about other tools I could use for modeling and real-time assessment. Last month, I attended a session at the Teaching Professor Technology Conference on precisely this topic, and of the many options our speakers mentioned, four of them seemed particularly useful.

Multiple choice polls can be displayed in bar graphs. Image via

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere allows you to poll students and collect responses in real time, either online or within your presentation slides. You simply ask a question using the Poll Everywhere app (available on iOS), and students answer via SMS text or a web browser. The results then appear in the style of your choice — graph, word cloud, text wall, etc.

In addition to foreign language and LaTex support, Poll Everywhere offers a variety of question formats, including multiple choice, true or false, free answer, and clickable images, and it’s free for a limited number of responses.

Possible uses: replacement for clickers, backchannel to lecture

Google Forms

Google Forms is a free, versatile platform available to anyone with a Google account. Our speakers used Google Forms to create exit tickets, which assessed students’ understanding of the day’s lecture material.

Possible uses: pre-assessment, midterm evaluations, exit tickets


Admittedly, I find Kahoot a little silly, but your students might enjoy a bit of “gamified” learning, especially with a particularly dense or dull topic. Screen names are an option here, so results can be anonymous or associated with a particular student.

Possible uses: replacement for clickers, quizzes, test review


Wordle is a simple yet sophisticated tool for creating word clouds from text or a URL. Word clouds have many potential applications, but my favorite suggestion was using them to assess students’ base knowledge of an assigned reading. Instead of quizzing them on basic facts, characters, or plotlines from a reading, place an important passage in a word cloud and ask them to identify the source.

Possible uses: quizzes