Digital Pedagogy Toolbox: Promoting Equity and Inclusivity Through Digital Formative Assessment

Post by Hanh Pham, PhD., Learning Strategist, Center for Accessible Learning, University of Victoria

The pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusivity has been a moral imperative and a fundamental prerequisite for a just society (Ajjawi et al., 2023). These terms become more critical notions within assessment design in higher education (Tai et al., 2023), since they have played a vital role in ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to succeed in an academic environment. In this quest, the application of effective technologies and digital formative assessment emerge as promising instruments for enhancing learning engagement and personalized learning, ensuring an inclusive education (Escudeiro et al., 2023; Nieminen et al., 2023).

In this post, I will show how digital formative assessment can make a substantial impact on promoting equity and inclusivity in higher education. These powerful tools offer a personalized, dynamic, and inclusive approach to evaluating student progress and supporting diverse learning needs and backgrounds. Before diving into the specifics of digital formative assessment, let’s first explore the critical role formative assessments play in shaping this inclusive landscape.

The Role of Formative Assessment

Black and Wiliam (2009) located formative assessment within broader teaching pedagogy theories. They emphasized that formative assessment is integrated into teaching and that the boundary between teaching methodology and assessment is blurry. They noted that assessment should be a cycle of three stages: establishing where students are now in their learning, where they aim to go, and what teachers do to help them get there. Unlike summative assessment, which focuses on the student’s achievements by the end of a module, unit, or course, formative assessment is an ongoing process that helps both instructors and students track their progress and adjust their instruction and learning. Formative assessment helps instructors identify students struggling with the course materials or facing challenges in their learning process. Once struggling students are identified through the formative assessment process, instructors can provide targeted support, such as making a referral, providing additional resources, providing one-on-one assistance, or using alternative teaching approaches. This support ensures that all students have the opportunity to excel. But where do digital technologies truly shine in tailoring this assessment to cater to diverse learning styles?

Understanding Diverse Learning Styles

Student learning preferences are different and varied, and each learning style profoundly impacts students’ comprehension and engagement in the academic environment. Some students thrive in visual learning contexts, but others excel in auditory settings, and others prefer kinesthetic learning, such as hands-on and interactive experiences. Technology-enhanced formative assessments are versatile in this regard. They provide various assessment formats, such as visual, auditory, and interactive options, which empower students to select the mode of assessment that aligns with their strengths and expectations. For example, a student with excellent oral communication skills but struggling with expressing their ideas in writing can submit a video response instead of a written essay, allowing them to showcase their understanding effectively. This adaptability ensures that every student, regardless of their preferred learning style, can engage with materials and assessment methods in the way that suits them best.

Personalization Feedback and Differentiation

According to Black and Wiliam (2009), feedback is the central feature of formative assessment and the heart of effective teaching and learning. However, not all feedback is valuable and practical in relation to students’ learning. They emphasize that only feedback that moves students forward will enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Wiliam (2011) emphasized in his work that feedback should be meaningful and constructive and is embedded with learning objectives, guiding students’ future work, providing metacognitive skills to help students track their progress, and encouraging students to improve their learning.

This aligns with one of the cornerstones of equitable education: ensuring that each student receives personalized support tailored to their unique learning needs. In this respect, digital formative assessments come into play and enable instructors to provide timely and personalized feedback, guiding each student’s progress effectively. Let’s consider the power of immediate feedback provided through digital tools, such as online text, audio, or video feedback. With a variety of functions in learning management systems, these modes of communication would help students not only receive and offer feedback to their peers but also develop their self-directed skills while attending a discussion forum, writing a blog, or designing a website for themselves using the online academic community. Students receive constructive comments, allowing them to self-assess, reset their goals, and make improvements for their future work. This process not only boosts motivation but also enhances metacognition skills—the ability to think about the thinking process. It makes students become independent learners and thoughtful evaluators of their learning processes, helping them take ownership of their academic journey. Simultaneously, instructors can identify areas where students are struggling and adjust their teaching approaches to address specific learning needs. As a result, students receive the support they require at the right time, preventing them from falling behind.

Accessibility and Universal Design

Creating inclusive and accessible assessments is a fundamental aspect of promoting equity in higher education. Therefore, a prioritized task in post-secondary institutions should be incorporating features that accommodate a diverse range of needs to ensure that assessments cater to diverse learning styles and that every student, including those with disabilities, has equal access to education (Escudeiro et al., 2023, Nieminen, 2022). And technology plays a pivotal role in contributing to enhancing accessibility, inclusion, and equity in this regard.

To make this happen, digital formative assessment should be designed with accessibility in mind. Features like closed captions for videos, screen readers for text-based content, and adjustable font sizes and colours should be incorporated into the curriculum and course design. This makes learning materials and assessments accessible to students with visual, hearing, and other impairments. For example, in the case of students who face challenges in hearing and prefer visual learning, the use of captioned video assessments not only assists hearing-impaired students but also helps visual-oriented students engage in the provided assessments. This demonstrates the commitment to inclusivity and equity, ensuring that every student can access the material effectively.

Moreover, using technology for flexible delivery and submission of assessments helps accommodate students who may have unique accessibility requirements. It ensures that every student can participate fully in their learning process. For instance, assessing student progress via digital portfolios along with other types of assessment, such as discussion prompts or blog writing, can accommodate different ways of processing information, personalize student learning, and encourage their metacognitive skills.

In conclusion, digital formative assessments and the pursuit of equity and inclusivity in higher education are closely linked. Digital formative assessment tools are about not just measuring student progress but fostering a more equitable and inclusive educational environment. By acknowledging diverse learning preferences, providing personalized feedback, embracing accessibility, and ensuring inclusive assessment design, these tools empower educators to create a learning space where every learner can succeed academically.

In this pursuit, we are on the path to transforming higher education into a realm where every student has a fair opportunity to excel. Equity and inclusivity are not just ideals; they are principles that guide us toward a more just, diverse, and vibrant educational landscape (Ajjawi et al., 2023; Escudeiro et al., 2023). By embracing digital formative assessment tools, we take a significant step toward this vision, ensuring that every student can shine and thrive in the world of higher education.


Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Boud, D., & Jorre de St Jorre, T. (Eds.). (2023). Assessment for inclusion in higher education: Promoting equity and social justice in assessment. Routledge.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability21, 5–31.

Escudeiro, P., Escudeiro, N., & Bernardes, O. (Eds.). (2023). Handbook of research on advancing equity and inclusion through educational technology. IGI Global.

Nieminen, J. H. (2022). Assessment for Inclusion: Rethinking inclusive assessment in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 1–19.

Nieminen, J. H., Bearman, M., & Ajjawi, R. (2023). Designing the digital in authentic assessment: Is it fit for purpose? Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 48(4), 529–543.

Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., Bearman, M., Boud, D., Dawson, P., & Jorre de St Jorre, T. (2023). Assessment for inclusion: Rethinking contemporary strategies in assessment design. Higher Education Research and Development, 42(2), 483–497.

Wiliam, D. (2011). What is assessment for learning? Studies in Educational Evaluation37(1), 3–14.

About the Author

Hanh Pham is an educator and researcher in the field of education. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a specialization in Language and Literacy from the University of Victoria. Her research interests span various areas, including Second Language Learning, Formative Assessment, Blended Learning, and Open Education. Currently, she serves as a learning strategist at the Center for Accessible Learning, University of Victoria.