Technology-based formative assessment in the classroom can take many forms. One that is common in college, as I have noticed, is “clickers,” or more formally known as Classroom Response Systems (CRS). In assessing for myself whether these devices, as the article questions, are “tools or toys,” I came to the conclusion that they serve more as a helpful way to indicate to both the professor AND student where the student is in his or her level of understanding of the topic at hand. I don’t see them as a distraction, but rather a more interesting way to indicate student understanding than a half sheet of paper mini-quiz, or something similar that can be used as a method of formative assessment. Used either anonymously or with names assigned to answers, clickers allow students to actively reveal to the teacher their knowledge on the question in the form of a quick snapshot. It is more quantitative than qualitative, as students are limited to sneering in the form of multiple choice questions, but it can show the teacher at that moment in time how many of the students know the answer to the question, as well as how many don’t.
Vanderbilt University has published information on using a CRS in the classroom, showing the ways in which it can be used. Most helpful in their list of uses, I think, is the “confidence level questions,” which follow up a content question with a question that asks students to rate, on a scale of high, medium, or low, how confident in their answer of the first question they are. This gives professors more of a qualitative understanding of student knowledge, and can help indicate where they need to spend more time reinforcing concepts. The website additionally explains that CRS can be directly used for formative assessments in the following ways: “Some instructors assign participation grades to these kinds of formative assessments to encourage students to participate. Other instructors assign points for correct answers to encourage students to take these questions more seriously. Other instructors do a mix of both, assigning partial credit for wrong answers.”