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Formative versus Summative Evaluation

Thomas J. Tobin and his colleagues provide this excellent distinction between formative and summative evaluation in chapter 4 of their book, Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices. 

Formative Evaluations

Formative evaluations are designed to provide information to help instructors improve their instruction. Formative evaluations may be conducted at any time throughout the instructional process to monitor the value and impact of instructional practices or to provide feedback on teaching strengths and challenges. ... This feedback enables instructors to modify instructional activities midstream in light of their effectiveness, impact, and value. Because formative evaluations are designed to guide the teaching process – and are not used as outcome indicators – they are generally individualized evaluations that are under the control of the instructor and target specific instructional issues or concerns. Unlike the more general summative evaluations, formative evaluations may include any targeted attempt to gain feedback for the purposes of enhancing instruction during the teaching and learning process.

Formative evaluations provide the following:

  • Insight on pedagogical strengths and challenges in relation to specific course concepts
  • Guidance to improve teaching strategies
  • A means of monitoring progress or growth in teaching effectiveness
  • Diagnostic information concerning the impact of instructional practices
  • A nonthreatening environment to identify and correct challenges in instruction (Chatterji, 2003)

For formative evaluation to be effective, it must be goal-directed with a clear purpose, provide feedback that enables actionable revisions, and be implemented in a timely manner to enable revisions within the active teaching-learning cycle. Formative evaluations are most effective when they are focused on a specific instructional strategy or concern. Focused formative evaluations produce more specific, targeted feedback that is amenable to actionable change.

Summative Evaluations

Summative evaluations are designed to measure instructor performance following a sustained period of teaching with the focus on identifying the effectiveness of instruction. Summative evaluations provide a means of accountability in gauging the extent to which an instructor meets the institution’s expectations for online teaching. Because summative evaluations are a central component of gauging instructional effectiveness at most institutions, the high-stakes nature mandates that these evaluations are valid and reliable.

Summative evaluations provide the following:

  • Information concerning instructor adherence to teaching expectations
  • A basis for comparing instructor performance to reference groups and external performance criteria
  • A means of determining the effectiveness of instructional activities
  • Objective information for determining course assignments
  • Comparative data to determine employment decisions (continuation, tenure, promotion, etc.)
  • Diagnostic information about strengths and weaknesses in instructor performance
  • Data to determine achievement of departmental or curriculum performance expectations

From Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices is available from Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Copyright © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company.