In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionised formative assessment practices in the education sector, reducing teacher workload and enhancing learner outcomes. The innovative FirstPass platform, developed in collaboration with NCFE and Bolton College, utilises natural language processing and real-time feedback to support students and teachers.
Empowering learners with real-time feedback
The FirstPass platform, driven by AI technology, is making waves in formative assessment. It provides students with immediate, real-time feedback as they craft responses to open-ended questions. The concept is simple yet powerful: real-time feedback empowers learners to develop strong meta-cognition skills. It enables them to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to their work before submitting it for teacher evaluation.
The initiative received a significant boost through the Assessment Innovation Fund, a £1 million initiative launched by NCFE. The fund allowed Bolton College to pilot FirstPass across six further education (FE) colleges in England and Wales, spanning various vocational subjects. The results of the pilot have been nothing short of encouraging, demonstrating the positive impact of real-time feedback on students as they tackle open-ended questions.
Key findings from the pilot
The pilot project’s outcomes shed light on AI’s transformative potential in formative assessment. Learners reported feeling more engaged and motivated thanks to the immediate feedback provided by FirstPass. It allowed them to assess their initial drafts, make necessary changes, and improve their responses to open-ended questions. Impressively, 92.3% of learners acknowledged that the feedback from FirstPass significantly contributed to the quality of their answers.
Teachers also benefitted from the FirstPass platform, as it improved learners’ submissions. Consequently, they spent less time providing remedial feedback. 82% of educators affirmed that FirstPass could effectively support their formative assessment practices.
A distinguishing feature of FirstPass is its use of crowdsourcing to train subject topic classifiers that drive the delivery and assessment of open-ended questions on the platform. This participatory model aligns well with the education sector, where collaborative efforts are essential to achieving shared goals.
Implications for formative assessment
The success of the FirstPass pilot and the rapid advances in AI over the past year underscore the potential of AI in revolutionising formative assessment in the education sector. AI can deliver immediate, real-time feedback, alleviating teacher workload related to remedial feedback and ultimately improving learning outcomes.
The journey from the analogue teaching machines of the 1920s to the cutting-edge AI-driven FirstPass platform in 2023 showcases the transformative role that AI can play in enhancing formative assessment practices in further education. It marks a paradigm shift, with AI technology poised to reshape established practices and open new avenues for formative assessment.
As AI continues to evolve, platforms like FirstPass promise to transform the landscape of formative assessment. Supported by NCFE and the Assessment Innovation Fund, ongoing research will expand to a second phase, focusing on formative assessment in specific courses like the Level 2 Diploma in Early Year Practitioner and the Technical Award in Child Development and Care at Levels 1 and 2.
Furthermore, FirstPass is receiving funding from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to conduct a small-scale pilot with 8 to 12 further education colleges. This pilot will assess how FirstPass can support formative assessment practices for learners in GCSE English Language resits. If successful, the EEF plans to increase its funding for a larger-scale project in 2024-25.
Artificial intelligence has emerged as a game-changer in formative assessment within the education sector. The FirstPass platform, backed by NCFE and Bolton College, has demonstrated the potential of AI to provide real-time feedback, reduce teacher workload, and improve student outcomes. As AI technology advances, it is poised to reshape the landscape of formative assessment, offering exciting possibilities for educators and learners alike.