Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education, Mallinson Institute

First Advisor

Dr. David Schuster

Second Advisor

Dr. Katharine Cummings

Third Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic


Of many instructional strategies used to improve teaching and learning in science, formative assessment is potentially one of the most effective. A central feature is timely feedback during learning, giving students the opportunity to benefit and improve while also enabling teachers to adjust instruction to learner needs. By contrast, conventional assessment tends to be mostly summative, assigning point scores, grading and ranking students, and providing extrinsic motivation. For maximum effectiveness in enhancing learning, formative assessment should be designed into instruction from the start rather than being an add-on. This project comprised development, teaching, and research aspects. Two physics topic modules, dynamics and kinematics, were structured into sets of learning units subdivided into concept aspects. Assessments were embedded appropriately in these. Each topic module was taught in two modes; in one version, formative assessment and feedback strategies were integrated into instruction, while the other version used conventional summative assessment with graded quizzes and homework. A controlled study was conducted to compare the effects of the two systems on student performance and attitude. The topic modules were implemented in two class sections of an introductory physics course, in formative and summative assessment modes. A crossover research design involved two classes, two topics, and two modes, so that all students in the two classes experienced each mode for one or the other topic, with the same instructor. Student learning was measured using pre- and posttests and calculating normalized gains. For dynamics, a conceptual unit, learning gains were substantially higher for the formative than the summative system, while for kinematics, a more formula-based unit, the difference was less marked. Student attitudes toward various aspects of two systems, and the reasons for their preferences, were ascertained using written surveys. Students much preferred the formative system, giving reasons such as feedback, chance to improve and less pressure, but they also felt the need for summative final grades. An unexpected additional result was that students who experienced the formative or summative modes last in the course gave very different formal evaluations of course and instructor. Overall, students performed significantly better in the formative system, and most students preferred a combination of formative assessment during learning and summative at the end.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access