Kate Daniels

Rubrics? Really?

Yes, really.

Use rubrics, and use them often.

Even you, Mr. Chips.

Whether you teach creative writing online, environmental science in a hybrid setting, or computer programming face-to-face, use rubrics.


For the students’ sake.

Everyone will tell you that grading will be easier and faster with a rubric. I don’t care about that, though it may be true.

Don’t get hung up on the rubric design (grid or checklist?) or the style (analytic or holistic?) or the point system (how many points does one deduct for misspelling Glasnost?) In fact, forget the point tally, even. Scrap all of that for now.

Students, especially online students, want more feedback. And you’re probably not giving them enough.

One of the highlights of DOTS is when a group of students joins us for Q&A with the faculty. Professors have the opportunity to ask real live students what it’s like, what it’s really like, to take college courses online. And they get (mostly) straight answers. This week, I listened to one student lament that none of her recent online instructors gave her feedback until the very end of term. None?


Moral of the story: use rubrics in your online courses. Start now. Believe it or not, “A” students want to know what they can do to improve. “D” students want to know what they are doing well (did I get nothing right?). If you aren’t doing a good job at telling them what’s working and what’s not, let your rubric do the talking.

That said, rubrics aren’t meant to replace written and/or verbal feedback. On the contrary, if you are one of the instructors who already provides ample, personalized feedback to students, please use a rubric in addition to your written and verbal feedback. That will not only keep your “human element” intact but also fill in any gaps that the rubric might not address.

I’ve heard a few groans when talking about this stuff. One professor, who shall remain nameless, responded to my prompt about rubrics with “Yeah, I use a rubric alright. It looks like this: [expletive] or not [expletive].” Funny, yes, but exactly my point!

Among other things, rubrics help instructors get clear on:

  1. the learning objectives for each assignment;
  2. how to classify above average, average, and below average work;
  3. what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are;
  4. what an entire class’s strengths and weaknesses are; and
  5. whether an assignment’s given instructions are clear or not.

What professor, in what field, should not be concerned with all of the above?

Perhaps you can come up with a wily response to that question—some kind of probe into what learning environments could, should, and/or shouldn’t be. But you, the instructor, can be as creative as you want to be when constructing a rubric. Go completely off the grid if you so desire. Include your students in the creation of the rubric! (Talk about a great way to encourage them to take ownership of their learning goals.) But no matter the approach you choose, prepare to spend some time designing and writing a rubric. Count on at least a few drafts and test drives. Use your learning objectives as your guide. Run your rubric by your instructional technology liaison. Check it against the “Rubric for Rubrics.” Eventually you will have a solid vehicle for feedback, and you’ll be able to drive that baby into the virtual sunset. With Mr. Chips.

Helpful resources:

7 thoughts on “Rubrics? Really?

  1. I completely agree. I regularly hear from my students about the benefits of seeing the rubric and understanding exactly why they did what they did. Great post!

  2. As you mention before in this post, rubrics are very important for our online students. And besides helping them to understand their achievements or their niches of opportunities rubrics help online tutors to have good track with all of our students. Imagine having an online class with forty members. Besides reading and giving feedback to their assignments, a rubric can help us to denote an specific achievement and furthermore if the student needs more clarification on their grades, we can easily provide a feedback with an existing rubric.
    For some teachers, making a rubric can be a little stressing and a waste of time. But for an online tutor, a rubric can simplify their lives and putting more effort into more personalizes description if the student needs it.
    I liked your post, sometimes we forget it, and online education takes more of our time rather than face-to-face education.

    Greetings from Mexico
    Ailin Ruiz Sánchez

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with you that rubrics provide valuable guidelines and feedback for the students. I would also like to add that rubrics are helpful in eliminating unintended cultural challenges that sometimes creep in during traditional face to face lectures. The rubrics enable both the instructor and the student to have clear picture of what precisely is required for the assignment.

    During my undergraduate years in a traditional brick and mortar setting I had a choice of two professors when registering for courses from my major. One was from North America and one was from Asia. I am from the Caribbean. Both were wonderful but they had completely different styles. I must confess that I and some other Caribbean nationals would always try to register for the section taught by one of them and avoid the other although we liked both. Anecdotal evidence suggested that their grading styles were completely different and personal experience suggested the same outcome. I wonder what would have happened if there were a rubric for the course assignments? I think the grading would have been more consistent across the sections of the same course.

    Incidentally, I had to look up Mr Chips.

  4. Thanks for your comments, all!
    Ailin, it’s true, Online teaching usually requires more prep than F2F classes, at least in the first run of a course. Rubrics help to save time both in the grading process and after the grades are distributed. The “Why did I get a B?” emails start to disappear, and they are sometimes replaced by “How can I improve this aspect of my craft?”
    S.D., your comment about the cross-cultural differences in assessment is close to home. I am working with professors who are collaborating with faculty overseas, and getting aligned about assessment is one of the biggest obstacles we face. But in the context you’re describing, a rubric used across different sections of the same course probably would have come in handy, whether there was a cultural bias at hand or not. And…Mr. Chips is one of those references I couldn’t resist. One of my grad school professors used to say “Teaching isn’t Mr. Chips and sipping sherry at 5 o’clock, ya know.”

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. I am a high school forensics teacher and I try to use rubrics often. The students have learned to expect them. I wanted to add that i provide my students with their own rubric and I have them evaluate and critique there own work first. I also give the students that standard (objectives) and then they use that to help guide their project. I think that this contributes to accountability.

  6. Thank you, Sonya! It’s excellent to hear that your students have learned to expect rubrics. Here’s hoping they rub off on their future instructors, as well. I’m a big fan of explicitly stating objectives, too. In an ideal world, all assignment rubrics align with the overall course objectives. Sounds as if you are already there. :)

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