If there’s one thing faculty and students have in common, it’s a desire for better grades. Linda Suskie, author of Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, explains practical ways rubrics can improve your grading practices.
The liberal arts college where I teach recently underwent review for accreditation. Like many other colleges and universities, we were criticized for our lack of assessment. Faculty resistance, it seems, may be the biggest barrier to implementing institutional assessment measures (Katz, 2010; Weimer, 2013). Both Weimer and Katz accredited faculty resistance to fears that assessment data could be used for “comparison shopping” and “educational consumerism.” While these fears are justified, at my college another fear prevails; the fear that assessment will lead to hand-holding strategies that will discourage independent thought in our students and result in failure to adequately prepare them for professional life.
The problem is my age. It relentlessly advances while the faces staring back at me in the classroom remain the same, fixed between late adolescence and early adulthood. In short, I grow old while my students do not. And the increasing gap between our ages causes me some concern, pedagogically speaking.
Use of rubrics in higher education is comparatively recent. These grading aids that communicate “expectations for an assignment by listing the criteria or what counts, and describing levels of quality from excellent to poor” (p. 435) are being used to assess a variety of assignments such as literature reviews, reflective writings, bibliographies, oral presentations, critical thinking, portfolios, and projects. They are also being used across a range of disciplines, but so far the number of faculty using them remains small.
There is little argument that reflective writing is a good way to foster critical thinking, encourage self expression, and give students a sense of ownership of their work (Chretien et al. 2012, Kennison and Misselwitz, 2002). This generation of college students has been doing reflective writing since elementary school so they are familiar with the process, even if not all enjoy it. Almost every academic discipline includes content on which learner reflection is appropriate; so the problem, typically, is not in creating the assignment but rather in assessing the work. How do we place a fair and equitable grade on an assignment that has so many variables? What are we looking for in our students’ work that we can reward and encourage with a good grade?
A colleague raised a very interesting point in response to the February 17 post on evidence-based teaching. That entry explored some of the reasons instructional practice is not better informed by research findings.
International student and online course enrollments had noted increases for 2010 at U.S. tertiary institutions (Institute of International Education, 2010 & Sloan-C, 2010). These enrollment data remind us that U.S. campuses are continually becoming more culturally and internationally diverse in their student populations. However, this diversity may not always be apparent in the increasing numbers of students taking online courses as the instructor-student interaction is not face-to-face as in seated classes. The latter interaction allows for more awareness of students’ cultural differences and any immediate adjustment in verbal and non-verbal communication as the need arises.
“Teaching with Rubrics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” What a great title and the article is equally as good. For a quick review, rubrics, as this author points out, are most simply lists of criteria and levels of quality. (p. 27) What makes them good, bad, and ugly? Here’s a list condensed from
Most faculty judiciously avoid having students self-assess because it seems hopelessly naïve to imagine them being able to look at anything beyond the desired grade. Even so, the ability to self-assess skills and completed work is important. Moreover, it is an ability acquired with practice and developed with feedback. It seems like the kind of skill that should be addressed in college. And perhaps there is a way.
I had dinner with a group of faculty recently during which we had a prolonged and intense discussion of rubrics—I know, only college teachers could become impassioned about a topic like this. The debate centered on whether rubrics could capture all the aspects of an assignments or whether they constrained both instructors and students.