Formative assessment in Resolving Civil Disputes using Smart Sparrow

Screenshot of a question in the Resolving Civil Dispute Module



Dr James Metzger has been convening Resolving Civil Disputes (RCD) in the Law Faculty since 2018 and was involved with the design of the digital materials for the course over the last 2 years. The materials in RCD aren't for summative assessment; they are more self-checking or formative modules so that students can get a sense of their understanding of some of the principles, including the terms of the law, in the course. Students get CP marks for completing the activities but aren’t marked based on their performance in the activity. Many of the modules used are in the form of quizzes, so they could be adapted for use as summative assessment.

Most of the modules are built in Smart Sparrow, so students will receive different feedback depending on whether they have chosen a correct or incorrect response. Correct responses will give additional information and reminders about some principles associated with that issue. Incorrect responses will prompt students to find the right answer, with guidance where to look. Some modules will not let students advance to the next question until they have gotten the correct answer (in which case they will see multiple sets of feedback) and some of them prompt the students to think about the answer and to ask questions in class if they still don’t understand some issue. Students can usually see a score based on how many questions they have answered correctly on the first try, but this score is just for their reference and does not result in a mark for that activity, as they are assessed on completion only.

Dr James Metzger has received positive feedback from students. RCD scored the highest course evaluation in T1 2019. Students indicated that online modules were useful and practical.



Deployment steps for Smart Sparrow modules in RCD:

  1. First, the content of the assessments must be designed and in line with the intended learning outcomes.
  2. Dr James Metzger built the Smart Sparrow modules with collaboration from the Faculty’s Learning and Teaching team.
  3. Links to the Smart Sparrow modules were put up in Moodle
  4. A reading guide, which indicate exercises in Smart Sparrow, was also provided by Dr James Metzger in the RCD course page.

Pros and Cons


  • Branching is flexible in Smart Sparrow
  • Immediate feedback
  • Preparation for in class discussion


  • The analytic is basic. The captured result from reflection/short essays is not great. You can’t drill down.
  • The User Interface for module design is not intuitive.


Getting started

  • UNSW has a site license for using Smart Sparrow – if you require an account, see this page.
  • Visit Smart Sparrow’s knowledge base to learn the basics of building an adaptive module.
  • Alternatively, you may contact Dr James Metzger.


Best practice tips

  • Make sure there is a guided feedback for correct and incorrect answer. “Incorrect answer” is not helpful to students.
  • Tailor feedback content depending on the question.
  • Use small chunks of videos, 3-5 mins.
  • Online content should be in-line with in-class content.
  • Putting large amounts of content exclusively online is not preferable