3 Tools to Upgrade Your Assessments

For both students and teachers, the word “assessment” tends to bring all sorts of negative thoughts to mind. Upon hearing the word, we feel stress and anxiety — the opposite of what one hopes is experienced when we think about demonstrating what we have learned.

One day while listening to Steve Bambury, an educator and the founder of, speak about Assessment for Learning, I found myself changing my feelings about one-sided assessment.

The word “assess” comes from the Latin “assidere,” which means to sit beside. Literally, then, “to assess” means to “sit beside the learner.” Our current use of the word “assessment” at all levels of education is so far removed from its origins that we no longer enjoy the process. Rather, we focus on the product — the end grade. Students have learned over time to first ask, “How many points will this be worth?”

The Guppy Tank


Credit: WikiMedia

I noticed this when we first taught “Design Thinking in Healthcare” to students in their final semester of the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. As part of the design thinking structure of the course, we examined iteration, which lies at the heart of the process. To emphasize the concept that an idea requires failure and restructuring over and over again, we had the students present their health care project concepts in a forum that provided constructive feedback, which we called “Guppy Tank.”

The students were to present their prototype to a panel of faculty and community members considered experts in the fields of health care innovation and research. When the students were told about the presentation of their unfinished work to the panel, their anxiety levels immediately shot up — and so did their anger levels.

The “game of school” that they were so used to had changed. To many students, presentations are thought of as PowerPoints shared at the end of the process — not something shown as a means to get feedback in the middle of developing an idea.

After their presentations, they were asked to share advice for future students and were given the following prompt:“When thinking about the Guppy Tank experience, I used to think _________ but now I think __________.” Here is a telling response:

“When thinking about Guppy Tank, I used to think it was something that has been done in the past, and the process was streamlined. Now I think we were probably a “test group,” which took a lot of the pressure off. It seems like more of an experiment with a new feedback method than a high-pressure presentation (which is what we were used to doing). It’s a little unnatural feeling to have the “rules of class” tweaked to focus on working together, versus working on a grade. It’s a nice feeling.”

In fact, many students shared this sentiment. In this new “game of school,” side by side assessment and learning isn’t just about the teacher and the student learning together. It is about students learning side by side and community members learning side by side. In essence, it is about lifelong learning with those we interact with regularly.

Bringing Technology into the Classroom

We can no longer afford to allow our current “game of school” to continue. The game must change and so must our methods and rules. The way we bring mobile devices into the service of education will serve as a catalyst for this change. In the classroom, one of the most effective ways we can use mobile devices is in the assessment process — where we can learn side by side with our students.

There are already innovative tools available to help start changing the way you and your students learn together. For example:


Credit: Claire Norman, MSJ

This is by far one of the most powerful and comprehensive tools available. Nearpod is an interactive presentation platform that can run presentations both synchronously and asynchronously. Nearpod allows you to seamlessly integrate assessment questions while delivering direct instruction. You can pull slides from a PDF, Keynote, or PowerPoint and then add in your questions along the way. You can also add videos, allowing you to use Nearpod as an assessment tool when using the flipped classroom approach. In addition to the traditional multiple-choice, short answer, and true or false type questions, Nearpod also offers a “draw it” style question. “Draw it” questions allow a teacher to upload an image for students to annotate, or students can create an image and upload it themselves.

Teachers can view the results in real time. Once everyone has answered a question, the teacher can share the class average or highlight individual responses anonymously. Students can refer back to the question and view their response in relation to the correct response. Nearpod also generates a daily report to show who completed the assignment and how they performed. This data can help teachers inform their instruction when they meet face to face with students.

Check out this informative webinar to learn more about Nearpod.

Kahoot brings a twist to traditional assessment tools by integrating a gamification component and is a great way to begin a class or review before an upcoming exam. What makes Kahoot different from other assessment tools is that the answers are not displayed on the student’s device. Instead, the teacher projects the question, and each multiple-choice answer is assigned a color. The students only see the colors on their device and must select the correct choice, emulating a game over the traditional style of something stressful like a test. Kahoot measures both speed and accuracy, encouraging a fun and competitive round of assessment, but this option can also be turned off so the platform can be used in a more traditional sense.

With Kahoot, teachers do not always have to be the ones creating the questions. We know that creation is one of the higher levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and allowing students to create questions gives them the chance to discover where their strengths and weaknesses lie in reviewing the material.

The fast-paced nature of Kahoot encourages excitement, and you’ll most likely notice students moving closer and closer to the front of the room. This experience clearly and immediately alerts them to how well they know their material, once again allowing students to self-identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Formative is a relatively new tool for assessment, providing a unique experience: In addition to seeing responses to questions in real time, you can simultaneously give students feedback. Formative uses the traditional question types, but what makes it unique is the “transform” question type, allowing you to upload and change a document. You can activate the uploaded content by embedding hotspots that allow students to view extra content, such as a video related to the document, from which you can then add questions for students to answer. Formative also has a whiteboard feature that allows teachers to explain a concept to students before they answer the questions.

To learn more about using Formative, review the User Guide. For a discussion on using Formative for assessment, watch this webinar from EdTechTeacher.

Nearpod, Kahoot, and Formative each have their own strengths and weaknesses. There are also other similar platforms available. So tell us: What tools do you use to learn side by side with others? What do you like about them? Let us know on our Facebook page.