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Grading Rubrics and Online Assignments

Previous posts on this blog have addressed the use of rubrics, or scoring tools, for evaluating quality of an online program. The use of rubrics as a way to assess the quality of student work in these programs is also growing, especially as courses become more standardized and focused on learning objectives. Park University states that "rubrics provide an objective and consistent way to assess subjective tasks, indicate what is expected, and highlight how performance will be evaluated." 

Online courses are often designed to support student achievement of a specific set of learning outcomes or objectives. These objectives are used to develop grading criteria, often in rubric format, that allow instructors to evaluate student learning. With rubrics, each student's assignment submission is measured against an established set of criteria. Rubrics may already be in place in your online course and available for students to view as they work to complete their assignments.

As you explore grading rubrics you will find two basic formats, Holistic and Analytic. Craig Mertler from Bowling Green State University published these definitions and examples in his article, Designing Scoring Rubrics for Your Classroom.

  • Holistic: Requires the teacher to score the overall process or product as a whole, without judging the component parts separately.
  • Analytic: Requires the teacher to score separate, individual parts of the product or performance first, then sum the individual scores to obtain a total score.

Rubric Resources

Creating grading rubrics can be a complex task, but there are a number of resources available to assist you with the process. Existing rubrics for a wide range of assignments, including those involving social media, can be used as-is or modified to meet the context and needs of your course. There are also customizable templates available and tools that assist you in creating a rubric from scratch. Take a look at a few examples I've collected here and consider how you might use these, or adapt them for use, in your courses.

iRubric includes a library of over 155,000 rubrics, is available as an online resource, and is free for individual instructors and students. The system provides a host of products and services, but the rubric building page and searchable public gallery features may be the most helpful places to begin. Here are a few basic grading rubrics provided by the site: Presentation, Online Discussion and Writing Assignment.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa's Assessment Office provides rubric guidance online. The Rubric Bank includes openly available templates, in downloadable formats, for a range of assignment types, including group participation, ethical reasoning, and information literacy.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout's School of Education has also posted a series of rubric examples and templates on their Rubrics for Assessment page. This resource includes a range of assignments and different education levels. It even offers a rubric for the use of Twitter in instructional assignments. You may also be interested in reviewing examples for wikis, ePortfolios, video projects, and lab projects on this site.

Individual educators, such as SUNY-Albany's Alexandra Pickett, are sharing their rubrics as well. Take a look at this Reflections Blog Post Grading Rubric available for assessing online journaling activities. 

RubiStar is a rubric creation tool that is referenced by many other rubric sites and university rubric pages. You can choose a basic template based on type of assignment (i.e. oral project, multimedia, reading, math) and modify it to meet the needs of the learning objectives in your course.

Benefits and Challenges

While rubrics have been lauded for providing an easy-to-use and objective format, there are also challenges to be met. Rubrics allow for the provision of specific feedback to students, more than just a total point value or letter grade. They include a detailed report of how points were assigned by the instructor and are often also set up with room for the instructor to add comments and suggestions for improvement.

For assignments where students are required to assess their own work or complete peer reviews of their classmates' work, rubrics provide valuable support. This format lends itself to the explanation of the assessment process and can guide students on what specifically they should be evaluating in these kinds of assignments.

When provided in advance of assignment submission, a grading rubric can largely inform students about what is expected of them. The result can be viewed as both a pro and con for the use of rubrics. While clear assignment expectations and instructions are important, the rubric format can limit student work and encourage working toward a grade instead of exploring the potential for learning through the process of completing an assignment. There are arguments that rubrics limit students in terms of creativity and critical thinking. 

Rubrics have also been criticized for limiting valuable subjective evaluation from an instructor. Qualified instructors with content expertise have something to offer in the way of subjective review that can be left behind when standardized rubrics are required. According to Mertler, "one potentially frustrating aspect of scoring student work with rubrics is the issue of somehow converting them to 'grades'." The quantification of all aspects of student effort can be difficult and inappropriate for use across all types of learning tasks. 

Further Considerations

While the assessment of student learning is critical, creating the perfect assessment is an elusive goal. There are many steps to first determining the best assessment for a learning objective and then creating the evaluation guidelines. Poorly written assignments and grading rubrics can still be vague and left to interpretation, even when presented in their traditional scale/grid format.

Gettysburg University's Rubrics 101 includes the following tips: 

  • When creating or using grading rubrics, it is important to first determine the specific criteria that will be evaluated (based on learning objectives).
  • Clearly define the standards by which student achievement of the learning objectives will be measured. What, for example, will be defined as Low, Medium, and High achievement?
  • Evaluating the rubric itself is also important. How well does the instrument measure what you want it to measure and how consistent are the measurements across multiple instructors?

Keep the context of learning in mind when selecting an assessment method and when creating grading rubrics. There are multiple types, formats and examples to consider. Think about the level of education (e.g. K-12, undergraduate, graduate) as well.

If you need to create a grading rubric, consult with others in your program or department, and with assessment and faculty development professionals at your institution, for further guidelines and assistance. Consider sharing your rubrics with others by adding them to one of the rubric database sites or via your own publication.