Using Active Engagement Assessments (AEA) for active learning

Patricia Perlman-Dee


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What is the idea?

Traditional assessment for learning, provides information about student achievement at a certain point in time, but often has little effect on learning. However, assessment as learning develops and supports students’ metacognitive skills, so thinking about thinking is crucial in helping students become lifelong learners (Dann, 2014). Therefore, creating assessments using ‘active engagement assessments’ (AEA) creates an active and engaged learning process that caters much more for diversity amongst different student’s learning styles. This could be put in contrast to arguments that in-class participation needs to be carefully considered for different learning styles (Crosthwaite et al., 2015).

By making ongoing smaller exercises, activities, projects and role-plays to be summative assessments instead of formative assessment, students’ level of engagement and learning process is much more active learning.

Why this idea?

In the teaching environment where words like ‘flipped classroom’, ‘hybrid teaching’ and ‘lifelong skills’ are constantly buzzing, many educators find themselves with common problems;

  • to get the students to engage with the set material, both pre-read and ongoing;
  • to get students to prepare for workshops and seminars; and
  • the cramming and panic studying before the final exam.

These are not new problems, but they certainly have become more noticeable and created a larger impact on student learning over time.

The usage of AEA as summative assessment will make the majority of students engage with the material and therefore undertake an active form of learning. Students do not hesitate to engage because by doing the set task, this will contribute to their final grade. There is a reward for engaging with the material and to complete the set exercises. We have found that the reward approach works a lot better than a ‘penalty’. Students do not seem to be too bothered about being ‘found out’ of not having done a set exercise as there is no immediate implication of this behaviour and at this stage – they still think they can ‘cram’ for the exam.

A number of surveys have been done by the author on students’ perception of their own learning, having completed AEA on specific courses. For example; A number of quizzes were compulsory on a specific course. Over 71% (20/28) of the students stated they would have been less likely to do the quiz if it didn’t impact their overall grade. What was even more telling was the fact that 95% of the students felt that making the quizzes part of their grade was useful for their overall learning, implying engagement fosters active learning.

How could others implement this idea?

The author has used many types of summative engagement exercises in her courses. The academic literature (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004) discusses 11 conditions under which assessments support learning, where two are particularly relevant; Condition 2: ‘These tasks are engaged with by students, orienting them to allocate appropriate amounts of time and effort to the most important aspects of the course’ (p. 14) as well as Condition 3: ‘Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind’ (p. 14).

Therefore, the initial starting point to implement summative AEA is to make sure part of the overall grade is allocated to the active engagement assessment exercises. You may need to go through internal and external approval for this so make sure you factor in this time. Also be prepared to answer very specific questions on why you think it is appropriate to allocate marks for AEA as some institutions do find that it’s a bit of a ‘free ride’ without actually having had any experience from the benefits this can generate.

Depending on how much flexibility (and time) you have as an educator, I would suggest allocating between 10-25% of the overall course grade to the engagement assessment.

The next step is to decide what type of AEA you think would be appropriate for your course or program. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the AEA: assessment as learning. A main tip is to try to make sure the AEA is manageable for the educator/lecturer to handle.

The step that often takes the longest is the ‘pre-set up’. This is where you think and act on your AEA; how you will structure them, how do you arrange for the marking, how do you set them up in the VLE to make sure they are counted towards the grade, how do you minimise the possibility for human error (ie for example transfer points, signatures etc.) when calculating the grades. You are likely to end up with quite a few ‘columns’ of grades, so it is important to get the set up right.

Looking at quizzes in particular, there are a few things to consider.

  • Will the actual score on the quiz matter? From surveys done by the author, she found that 100% of the students agreed to the statement: ‘because the actual score on the quiz was of less importance, they used the quizzes to learn and understand to some extent where they needed to study more’.
  • How many times will you allow the students to take the quizzes? Initially, the author had set up for students to take the quizzes only once before ‘submission date’. However, at every occasion that quizzes have been used as AEA, the educator/course leader has been asked if they could ‘re-open’ the quizzes for further practice. Statistics on course evaluations shows that more than 50% of the students had retaken the quizzes at least once, others twice
  • Will you require students to have completed certain reading/preparation before attempting the quizzes? This depends on how you would like to use the quizzes and what you have decided on the above. The author’s study shows that 10% of the students that attempted the quizzes had not looked before, 60% has looked over the material and 25% had studied extensively

In the below tables you will find two examples of types of AEA with different weightings allocated (25% and 15%) as a proportion of the overall course mark. The examples below have also suggested some possible AEA to include and their allocated mark.



Transferability to different contexts

AEAs could be used in any education setting and for any subject. Each subject will have certain AEAs that will be more appropriate. However, using quizzes as AEA is highly applicable in all settings and can very easily be adapted. Workshop or seminar attendance is also highly transferable for any course that has synchronous learning. Active engagement exercises are all about breaking tasks down into smaller chunks and building up the learning. This supports the author’s argument about engagement fosters active learning. This is good pedagogical practice and with using summative assessment, the engagement and learning is aligned with condition 3; from Gibbs and Simpson (2004): ‘Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind’ (p. 14).

Links to tools and resources

The below links gives examples and show where to find some useful resources to get started with AEA.


Crosthwaite, P. R., Bailey, D. R., & Meeker, A. (2015). Assessing in-class participation for EFL: Considerations of effectiveness and fairness for different learning styles. Language Testing in Asia, 5(1), 9.

Dann, R. (2014). Assessment as learning: Blurring the boundaries of assessment and learning for theory, policy and practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21(2), 149–166.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Does your assessment support your students’ learning. Journal of Teaching and learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-30.

Image Attribution

11963 coloured wooden blocks – this image by gratuit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

About the author

Patricia Perlman-Dee is Senior Lecturer in Finance, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

She has extensive experience working in large financial corporations: Citigroup, JPMorgan, Nomura and Barclays in Manchester, London and New York.

Patricia has created and teaches a range of courses across UG, PG, MBA and ExecEd.

In 2021, 2020 and 2019, Patricia was awarded the Faculty of Humanities AMBS Outstanding Teaching award.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Patricia Perlman-Dee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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