This is part 2 in a 3-part series on assessment in project-based learning at the post-secondary level. Part 1, Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom, introduces why we need to assess PBL in an authentic way, and why assessments need to be modified for a college population. 

Formative Assessments allow teachers and students to see how they are progressing through the project and the content. There are no grades attached to these assessments. They can be used to show students what they understand and what they still need to work on, and they can also be useful for teachers to know what they might need to spend more time on in class. There are many different types of formative assessments that can be used; we will examine a few of the ones I’ve used in PBL.

Self-assessments. Self-assessments are useful for students to develop meta-cognition, and to observe, track, and reflect upon their own progress and learning. While they can play a role in summative evaluation, they are best used as formative assessments since it is difficult for one to be objective about one’s own performance. As well, since one person’s standards will differ from another’s, the grades are incomparable from one student to the next (a student might give herself a 17/20 for what she considers to be outstanding work, while another might award herself a 20) (Van den Berg, Mortelmans, & Spooren, 2006). Self-assessments can be done using rubrics, or can be incorporated into journals, team meetings, and one-on-one meetings with the teacher. Students should justify their evaluations using examples from their work.

Peer assessments. Since much of PBL relies on teamwork and collaboration, it’s important to get an idea of what a person’s teammates think of her contribution. Peer assessment “increases student responsibility and involvement as it requires them to be fair and accurate in their judgments. Moreover, students gain an insight in the criteria determining the quality of their own work” (Van den Berg, Mortelmans, & Spooren, 2006). When used summatively, however, peer assessments can lead students to “boost each other” by giving each other higher grades than they deserve. Students can also unfairly award low grades to peers. While peer assessment grades often mirror teacher assessments for the same work, students may feel uncomfortable with a peer having a say in their grade. For these reasons, peer evaluations are best kept formative. Team feedback circles, progress updates, timeline check-ins, and team-teacher meetings are good places to insert peer assessments. Feedback can be related to the rubrics that will be used for grading, and students can indicate self-assessments and peer-assessments on the same sheet (using different colours to represent different people’s evaluation)

Driving Question check-ins. As a teacher, you will be guiding students through their process but you will also be teaching some content. When content is taught to the class, check in with students to see how well they’re able to connect the content of the lesson to the driving question for their project and to the competency elements and learning objectives for the course. Simple ways to do this are with quick check-ins such as fist-to-five, or exit quizzes. Edutopia has a vast bank of quick formative assessments for many subjects.

Team meetings. Team meetings, with or without the teacher, are opportunities for groups to check in with each other on their progress. I like to have an outline for team meetings (see Tools, below) that guides the groups through a process. The outline might ask them to discuss their collaboration, work ethic, progress and timeline. They could also check in on their project criteria and desired learning outcomes, and see if they are on track. To ensure they tie their project in with the course competency, give them a list of competency elements and performance criteria and ask them to evaluate their progress.

There are many other ways to track progress and ensure students are on track throughout the project. The important thing is that you don’t arrive at the end of the project having to grade a product without knowing how students got there! Some of the tools below can help organize and monitor ongoing formative assessment.

In the next post, we’ll look at summative assessments.

Holly McIntyre teaches Adventure Tourism at the CEGEP de la Gaspésie et des Îles in Gaspé, Québec. She can be found on Twitter @HollyMcBaz.


These are tools I’ve developed or adapted for use in a college-level project course. Feel free to use them, modify them, or just be inspired! When you click on a tool, it will end up in your downloads folder. It’s yours!

Group Meeting Guide : an outline to guide teams through a group check-in. Can be modified depending on how far the students have progressed or what difficulties they might be encountering.

WeeklyLearningLog.Group : A weekly progress log that can be filled out by teams or individuals and added to their project portfolio. Looking back at these, teachers can get an idea of hard-to-evaluate elements such as perseverance, goal-setting, initiative and collaboration.

Weekly Learning Log.Individual: an example of a weekly learning log that can be used by individual students to reflect on their contribution, their learning, and their goals.


Van den Berg, V., Mortelmans, D., & Spooren, P. (2006). New Assessment Modes Within Project-Based Education: The Stakeholders. Studies in Educational Evaluation , 32 (4), 345-368.


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