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Stripgenerator comic strip. Go to the bottom of the page for a text translation.

Why Would We Need Rubrics?

Contrary to what the instructor in the comic strip panel above argues, rubrics facilitate student success. Rubrics let students know what they need to accomplish for a given assignment, and what grade they can expect to receive for the level of work they turn in. In online courses especially, rubrics help students understand what they need to do to succeed in the course.


In short, you are communicating your expectations to your students and how they can achieve them. As a bonus, rubrics can also make the job of grading easier by outlining specific factors for assessment.


As with most other elements within an online course, instructors hold differing opinions on the numbers and purposes of their rubrics. Some instructors create a separate rubric for every single exercise, while others use one rubric to apply to several similar assignments (like discussion forum participation, for example). The general principle should remain consistent, however: for each possible grade (A-F, 5-1, etc.), give a description of the sort of work that would receive that specific grade.


Example Rubric - Discussion Participation

Let's say you want your students to participate in weekly discussions. How do you assess this participation for a student's final grade? Do you rely on an ephemeral impression of your student's customary behavior in the discussion board, formulating your decision at the end of the semester based on what you remember of the past 16 weeks?


In my own experience, I have found it much easier to keep a weekly tally of this participation by using a system of points for grading assignments. In the end you'll have to find a method that works best for you, but this is what I have found helpful, both for keeping track of grades and for communicating my expectations to students in a rubric.


For a 16-week semester, I give a possible total of 5 points per week for 80 possible points of their final grade. I then give students a discussion rubric that tells them how many points they can expect to receive for the level of participation they bring to each weekly discussion. The following rubric assumes that each discussion will have one deadline for students to post their first message, and a second deadline later in the week for replying to other students' messages:


5 points -- Student posts an initial message that thoughtfully addresses the topic in 1-2 screens by the first deadline, and responds to at least two other messages by the second deadline with comments that engage in meaningful discussion about the topic.

4 points -- Student posts an initial message that thoughtfully addresses in 1-2 screens one of the topic choices, and responds to two other messages by the second deadline with comments that engage in discussion about the topic.

3 points -- Student posts an initial message that thoughtfully addresses in 1-2 screens one of the topic choices, and responds to another message with comments that engage in discussion, albeit shortly after the suggested deadlines.

2 points -- Student posts an initial message and responds to another message with comments, but the posts are far enough past the deadline that the people responded to do not notice the messages, defeating the purpose of the exercise.

1 point -- Student posts an initial message, possibly very late or without much to say (this includes "me too", "ditto", or similar responses.


0 points -- Student fails to post any messages for this forum.


If this rubric seems nit-picky about deadlines, it's for a good reason. After all, the function of a discussion is to create a volley of messages between multiple individuals. If many students miss the first deadline, how can the others have time to read their messages and make their own replies by the second deadline? And, of course, having a second/final deadline for the exercise helps to keep a pace for weekly discussion, so students can have a goal for finishing the assignment and move on to the next.


It's not foolproof -- depending on group dynamics within a given class, it's not unlikely to have one or two students who miss several discussions or simply "flake out" on responses. But at least with a rubric they can't argue that they "didn't know this was for a grade", or try plead ignorance about your grading policies. With any luck these instances will be few and far between, however. On the bright side, it's not uncommon to have several fully engaged students who maintain a very interesting discussion well beyond the requirements of grades or deadlines.




Exercising Your Knowledge

Given the example for a discussion rubric, how would you design a rubric for another type of assignment -- like a research paper or group project, perhaps? Create a rubric that you can use for a course assignment. This can build upon an assignment you have already designed through this workshop, or another type of course assignment. Post a draft of your rubric and share feedback in our Rubrics Forum for credit toward the Certificate of Completion.


Some helpful resources for creating rubrics:


Rubistar. (2008). Retrieved from 4Teachers: http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php


Rubrics for Assessment. (2008, October 25). Retrieved from Stout University of Wisconsin: http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/rubrics.shtml


Text only translation of the comic strip on this page

Rubrics & the Secret to Grading

(Professor speaks through 3 panels)

Rubrics?! I never give my students rubrics! That's equivalent to cheating! I might as well write their essays for them!

College students should understand that they're expected to perform certain undisclosed outcomes. The point of learning is to keep them guessing about the criteria, so they'll work harder in their desperation not to fail. Stress facilitates success.

Besides, if I gave them a rubric, I'd have to admit that I decide their grades with a dart board.





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