Skip to main content

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are ongoing throughout a course and can be incremental or sequential, building upon one another. Providing formative assessments will help you gauge how your students are progressing, how students perform at specific milestones, and how students are engaging with the instructional material. Formative assessments also provide students with the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice, self-assess, ask clarifying questions, and reflect on their own learning. These types of formative assessments can often drive instructor-learner contact, require active feedback, and trigger engagement throughout the remote course.


Check for Understanding Using Quizzes

Create regular quizzes or problem sets each week that build upon one another in order to help students prepare for the larger exam during midterms or finals. Creating smaller weekly or bi-weekly exams or quizzes allow students to check their knowledge and reach incremental learning goals. 

Quizzes in Canvas are exams that can be used to check student understanding and assess comprehension of course material. The quiz tool is used to create and administer online quizzes and surveys. Quizzes can also be used to conduct and moderate exams and assessments, both graded and ungraded.

Canvas has four different types of quizzes:

  • A graded quiz is the most common quiz and rewards students points based on their quiz responses.
  • A practice quiz is a learning tool to see how well users understand course material without providing a grade.
  • A graded survey rewards students with points for completing a survey but grading is not based on right or wrong answers.
  • An ungraded survey obtains opinions or other information without providing a grade.


See What Are Quizzes?


Educational Technology Services: Getting Started with Canvas Quizzes 

How to create a quiz with individual questions

How to create a numerical answer quiz question

How to create a simple formula quiz question

Quiz settings to maximize security

Facilitate Peer Discussion

The Canvas Discussion tool is an open message board in which students write or upload a response and expect to see other students' responses. 

Oftentimes peer-to-peer discussions can generate and foster learning in a way that transcends the formal instruction. Guided discussions can direct students to think critically, challenge their ability to analyze a topic of discussion, formulate their thoughts into a cohesive and constructive conversation,, and encourage them to be creative and reflective in the representation of their acquired knowledge.

Discussions also give instructors insight into how students are engaging with the instructional material, applying their learning in peer conversations, and transferring new knowledge.

See Strategies for facilitating Threaded Discussion Forums .


1. Prompt

Prepare instructions or a writing prompt

Determine key dates: 

  • Due Date
  • Submission Window

2. Add to Canvas

Create a Canvas Discussion

Enter the discussion prompt using the Rich Text Editor

Configure the options

  • Allow threaded replies: let students respond to the posts of other students
  • Graded: Click to configure the points and assignment details

3. Collect Responses

Publish the discussion , configure score release , then let students know they can participate in the conversation online. 

Tip: You can use the “ View as a student ” from the Canvas homepage to access a preview of the discussion. To make sure the discussion is presented at the top of the discussion page, consider “pinning” the discussion .

Be sure to be present in the discussion by reading student responses, and replying as appropriate. 

4. Review & Score

When you are ready to score the submissions, open SpeedGrader to review materials, provide feedback, and enter a score .

 Accessibility reminders:

Create accessible discussion instructions, to ensure all students can understand the information:

  • Images: Provide alternate text for images or scanned graphs
  • Captions: Ensure all videos have captions
  • Colors: Do not use color alone to convey meaning, and select colors with high contrast ratios

Schedule Smaller Incremental Assignments

You can create incremental goals by breaking up your larger assignments into smaller phased assignments that will allow your students to build on their work as they go through the course. This may be in the form of drafts or as pieces leading to a larger piece of work.

  • Week Four: Proposal 5%
  • Week Five: Outline and Resources 5%
  • Week Seven: Draft / Prototype 10%
  • Week Ten: Final 15%

Scheduling smaller assignments, practice items, and scaffolding progression of work along with consistent due dates (e.g., assignments are always due Saturday by 11:59pm) will keep your students engaged in developing their learning as well as help them manage their time and pace throughout the course. These assignments will also allow students opportunity to gain feedback from you and gauge where they need to improve in order to reach the larger goal.

See How Do I Create Assignment?


Course Map Guide: Assessments