Engaging students in assessment with rubrics

Kellyann Geurts, Learning and Teaching Advisor to the School of Fashion and Textiles in the College of Design and Social Context here at RMIT University, gives some sound advice on assessment and the use of rubrics to engage students in assessment activities. 

Engaging students in assessment requires timely and meaningful feedback. I recently co-facilitated a rubric development workshop in the DSC College with Cate O’Dwyer from the RMIT Study and Learning Centre.  Meeting and discussing assessment rubrics with the program team provided a valuable opportunity for us to look at overall program assessment strategies, share discipline-specific language, and focus on course learning outcomes in a constructive way.

Three good reasons for creating an assessment rubric:

1. Save time in grading and writing feedback
2. Provide assessment clarity and consistency
3. Engage students in meaningful and timely feedback

Developing a rubric collaboratively can be a great way to engage both staff and students in the assessment process.  One teacher at the workshop shared her practice of involving students in the process of developing the rubric.  In a class activity students were invited to consider the learning outcomes in relation to the assessment and contribute to describing the levels of achievement of the assessment task. This allowed her as the teacher to check in with students on how well they understood the tasks, and together develop shared terminology for levels of achievement.

In a follow-up activity, the students were shown examples from past assessments and worked in groups to evaluate the examples using the rubric.  The activity provided a shared understanding of assessment expectations and a framework for describing high achievement.

In my experience, rubrics are only useful if they are meaningful for students.  Developing an assessment rubric is a time consuming task to do on your own.  There is a plethora of easy to access “how-to” references, examples and templates online and sorting through those to design a rubric tailored to your own task is daunting.  If the assessment performance descriptors are too general or too complex students may be overwhelmed and confused about what to aim for.  Below are some simple guidelines to simplifying the task.

Getting started with rubrics

The perspective of the student is key to developing a useful rubric. A previous post what does ‘good’ look like by Ruth Moeller responds to three key questions when grading students: What criteria are you using? What does ‘good’ look like? Can you explain what students have to produce? These points are especially important when it comes to framing the levels of achievement.

Steps to developing a rubric:

1. Identify course learning outcomes related to the assessment task
2. Align aspects of the assessment with the learning outcomes
3. Describe levels of performance for each assessment task
4. Discuss the rubric with students at the beginning of assessment
5. Test rubric and seek feedback from colleagues and students

Do you have a rubric in place for your final assessments this year?  One good tip for getting started is to start small by creating one rubric for one assignment in a semester.  Find or create a suitable rubric template and include a column for your learning outcomes, e.g.

rubric example

If you would like advice or feedback on using rubrics book a consultation with RMIT Study and Learning Centre, check the RMIT Learning Lab Resources for Staff or contact your School’s Learning and Teaching Advisor.

We know that there are some great ideas for rubrics already in use in the College. We are looking for examples to share across the College; if you have rubric ideas to share, please forward to kellyann.geurts@rmit.edu.au.

Further info and reading

RMIT Study & Learning Centre https://emedia.rmit.edu.au/learninglab/content/using-rubrics




Grainger, P & Weir, K (2015): An alternative grading tool for enhancing assessment practice and quality assurance in higher education, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2015.1022200

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2015.1022200

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