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Formative Assessment Techniques Online – Determining Prior Knowledge

There are a number of techniques that you can use to determine the prior knowledge that your students bring to your course.

  • Background Knowledge Probe
    can use in the first week of class, or before introducing a new topic. Use the Blackboard Test Manager to prepare 2/3 open-ended, 5/6 short answer, or 10/20 multiple-choice questions that probe the students' existing knowledge. Once all students have completed the online no-credit quiz, let the students know the results and how this will affect them as learners.  A screencast is a great way of providing class-wide feedback.
  • Knowledge Survey
    Similar to a Background Knowledge Probe, but the "correct answers" are replaced.  In a knowledge survey, the students do not actually try to answer any of the questions provided. Instead, they rate (on a three point scale ) their confidence to answer the questions with their present knowledge.  Students are directed to:
    • Mark an "A" as response if you feel confident that you can now answer the question sufficiently for graded test purposes.
    • Mark a "B" response to the question if you can now answer at least 50% of it or if you know precisely where you could quickly get the information needed and could return here in 20 minutes or less to provide a complete answer for graded test purposes.
    • Mark a "C" as response to the question if you are not confident that you could adequately answer the question for graded test purposes at this time.
    Learn more about Knowledge Surveys at Nuhfer, Edward and Delores Kipp (2003), "The Knowledge Survey: A Tool for All Reason."
  • Focused Listing
    use as a brainstorming technique to generate definitions/ descriptions of topics. Ask students in a wiki or discussion board forum to list words or phrases that describe a concept.   This can be used to generate class discussion or it could lead to students forming groups to compare lists and form the best overall description of topic.
  • Misconception/Preconception Check
    particularly useful in classes with controversial/sensitive issues. Select a handful of troublesome beliefs that are common and most likely to interfere with students' learning, and create a simple questionnaire. Explain to your students the purpose and when they should expect to receive feedback.
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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