Rubrics

Welcome to the first post on the Teaching Online at Continuing Studies blog site.  To find out more about the blog and about who exactly is posting here, click on the About link in the menu above.

So, I thought I would start this blog with a series of posts related to assessment.  And, the  first topic is one that has come up in many conversations with instructors, program coordinators, and my colleagues here at Distance Education Services:  rubrics.  What a first topic!  But using rubrics (as well as defining what they are) is definitely an important topic of discussion here at Continuing Studies.  Let’s start by answering a couple of common questions:  what is a rubric, and why use them?

So, what is a rubric?  Sometimes described as “scoring tools”, rubrics can indeed be used to grade students, by listing the criteria by which they are to be graded, and the number of “points” assigned to each criterion.  This is a rubric at its simplest.  However, rubrics are also measures of performance that can be used by students to self-assess their own progress, and help them become “more thoughtful judges” of their own work (http://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/thinking/docs/rubricar.htm).

And that last point also provides an answer to the question “why use rubrics?”  Another answer, from an instructor standpoint, is that rubrics help communicate expectations (meaning that it’s less likely students will go “off track” if they have a rubric/list of criteria guiding them along), help ensure consistency of grading (for example, if you are grading papers over a period of time, or if you have TAs assisting you), and save you time (since you will have your list of criteria ready and in front of you as you grade).

Now, some people prefer not calling rubrics “scoring guides”, but for the purposes of this post, I am not going to worry too much about the nitty-gritty distinctions.  For more information on the distinctions, however, you can go to:

As for when to use rubrics, and how to use them, well I would say that grading criteria should always be provided for any graded assessment.  How extensive the criteria is really depends on the assessment and on your teaching style.  Providing rubrics does, at least in my experience, reduce the confusion around and number of questions about assignment assessment from students, and can reduce the time you spend grading assignments.  So those may be reasons enough to spend some time creating them as you develop your course.  But don’t take my word for it!  Here are a couple of links to websites that also provide some insights into the why’s and how’s of rubrics:

As for what rubrics typically look like?  Here are a couple of links to websites that provide examples of rubrics for some typical assessments:

  • http://course1.winona.edu/shatfield/air/rubrics.htm – This website, from the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education, contains sample rubrics for a wide variety of subject areas and assessment types.  You can get a really good idea of the various formats that people use for rubrics, and you will also get a good sense of the different levels of detail for the grading and criteria.
  • http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/rubrics.html – This website, from the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon, also provides links to example rubrics for paper assignments, projects, oral presentations, and class participation.  These rubrics are all linked as WORD documents.

If you have examples of rubrics from your own courses that you would like to share, or questions about rubrics and how to use them, please add your comments below!

Next week I will be writing a post on giving feedback beyond the grade.  And this post will lead me into a series of posts on assessment – the how’s and why’s of assessing participation, discussions, groups work, etc.

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One Response to Rubrics

  1. Gina Bennett says:

    hi Emily, great post! I often see instructors who are looking for better ways to communicate expectations to their online students & this post — concise but thorough — gives an introduction to rubrics that is helpful without being overwhelming. I just thought I’d add that instructors using Moodle (version 2+) may find Moodle’s built-in rubrics & marking guides to be really useful. The rubric is more prescriptive than the marking guide but both are good tools to help students understand exactly what’s expected in assignment submissions.
    Thanks again!
    Gina Bennett
    College of the Rockies

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