These two terms seem to be easily conflated. It’s really simple. Formative evaluation is what you do while you’re building the thing — evaluating it as it’s being formed. Summative is what you do after it’s built and you’ve used it — a summary of how well it worked. The two concepts apply to more than just education. A web designer, for example, might do some user testing for the interface and have some people look over the color schemes while she’s developing a new space. That’s formative. It could be quite a formal evaluation process with a variety of variables under consideration, a lot of data that’s collected, and a whole computer full of statistics that mash up the whole mess. Later, after the space has been implemented and designed, a round of evaluation to determine how well the space achieves its goals.
The key elements here are not how formal or informal the evaluation is. The determinant is when does the evaluation happen.
In our class, you are probably not seeing a lot of the formative stuff. In part, that’s because this course (in various incarnations) is a pretty well-known commodity to me. I’m doing constant formative evaluation by looking at the content and frequency of your posts. I don’t need to ask you how it’s going because i can see it in your weekly work. The process results in things like this post about the differences between formative and summative. My own process of evaluation involves looking at each week as it finishes, and then the cumulative effect over the course. My take in it is that we’re getting tired. It’s been a long slog and we have about a month left. The early days went very well, as you all rose to the challenges I laid out for you. You were able to tie the theoretical stuff back to the early design so you were doing a lot of good, deep processing of the content. You’ve been online — most of you — almost every night I see some of you and it’s often a different crew each evening. The posts have ranged from a tad shallow to absolutely profound. That’s very good. Most discussion board postings don’t get out of the “it had a good beat, I could dance to it” category so we’ve really proven the worth of the technology.
When the class is all over, I’ll be sitting down and looking at the course as a whole. Your blogs, your chats, and your final projects will give me a lot of data about how well the course worked and where it needs work.