Understanding student perceptions and engagement for formative assessment: A study of interactive online quizzes

Nylk, Jonathan and Diament, Andy (2023). Understanding student perceptions and engagement for formative assessment: A study of interactive online quizzes. In: Variety in Chemistry Education / Physics Higher Education Conference 2023 (ViCEPHEC23), 24-25 Aug 2023, Durham, UK.


Formative activities are integral for student learning and students that engage with these are more likely to achieve success in summative assessments (Rust, O’Donovan and Price, 2005; Jordan, 2011). However, formative activities are often seen as optional and uptake by a cohort can be low. Typically, some module credit is given as an incentive to engage with these activities, but care must be taken in implementing this or the focus can shift from learning to counting marks (Jordan and Butcher, 2010). How should such activities be incentivised?

To investigate this, we sought to determine student engagement habits and perceptions of the online quizzes on a 60 credit Level 2 core module of a distance learning undergraduate physics degree course. This module features online quizzes as a key formative activity for providing instantaneous feedback. However, the online quizzes do not contribute directly to the module assessment strategy. Instead, engagement with the online quizzes is encouraged indirectly by an item in formative tutor marked assignments in which students are asked to reflect on their performance in the quizzes.

This is a mixed methods study, making use of learning analytics data and a student survey. Learning analytics is used for quantitative analysis of quiz use behaviours over 4 academic years (from 2018/19 – 2022/23). A survey of the 2022/23 student cohort is used for qualitative analysis of students’ perceptions of the online quizzes and their motivations to engage with these activities.

We will present the findings of our study, showing how and why student’s make use of formative online quizzes when indirectly incentivised by a reflective item in another assessment. These will be comapred and contrasted with other incentivisation strategies (as reported in, e.g. (Gikandi, Morrow and Davis, 2011; Agnew, Kerr and Watt, 2021)).

Agnew, S., Kerr, J. and Watt, R. (2021) ‘The effect on student behaviour and achievement of removing incentives to complete online formative assessments’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 37(4), pp. 173–185.

Gikandi, J.W., Morrow, D. and Davis, N.E. (2011) ‘Online formative assessment in higher education: A review of the literature’, Computers & Education, 57(4), pp. 2333–2351.

Jordan, S. (2011) ‘Using interactive computer‐based assessment to support beginning distance learners of science’, Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 26(2), pp. 147–164.

Jordan, S. and Butcher, P.G. (2010) ‘Using e-assessment to support distance learners of science’, in The GIREP-EPEC & PHEC 2009 International Conference, 17-21 Aug 2009, Leicester, UK.

Rust, C., O’Donovan, B. and Price, M. (2005) ‘A social constructivist assessment process model: how the research literature shows us this could be best practice’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3), pp. 231–240.

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