Sharing Assignment Rubrics with Your Students

We’ve written about rubrics before, but it is certainly a topic that bears additional clip art image of an Instructor grading using a rubriccoverage. In its broadest meaning, a rubric is a guide for evaluation. More specifically, rubrics establish the criteria, qualitative markers, and associated scores for assessment of student work. Recently I have been talking and thinking about rubrics in a number of contexts – in consultations with faculty, as a workshop facilitator, and in planning for a hands-on exercise for an instruction module.

In consultation with faculty on assessing assignments I sometimes hear, “I’ve been teaching this course for years. It’s a small seminar so I assign a term paper. I don’t need a rubric because I know what qualifies as an “A” paper.” What that means is that the person has a rubric of sorts in his or her head. The problem is that the students aren’t mind readers. As useful as rubrics are for an instructor to insure that grading is consistent across the class, they are equally useful when shared with students, who then can understand the criteria, qualitative markers, and associated scores for the assignment.

As a workshop facilitator I recently saw the advantage for students in having a rubric to guide them in preparing a final project. Beyond the instructions for the assignment, they could see clearly the points on which their work would be evaluated and what would constitute excellent, good, and unacceptable work. Unsure about how to create rubrics to share with your students? There are some great resources to help you develop rubrics for your classes.

The University of California at Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning webpage on rubrics offers general information on using rubrics and on how to create a rubric. The CTL notes that “[r]ubrics help students focus their efforts on completing assignments in line with clearly set expectations.” There are also examples rubrics for downloading and bibliography for further reading.

The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University has a section on rubrics as part of their resources on designing and teaching a course (also worth a look).  Their advice on sharing rubrics with students: “A rubric can help instructors communicate to students the specific requirements and acceptable performance standards of an assignment. When rubrics are given to students with the assignment description, they can help students monitor and assess their progress as they work toward clearly indicated goals. When assignments are scored and returned with the rubric, students can more easily recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their work and direct their efforts accordingly.” There are also examples of rubrics for paper assignments (Philosophy, Psychology, Anthropology, History); projects (including an Engineering Design project); oral presentations (including group presentations); and for assessing student in-class participation.

The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence section on rubrics states that “[r]ubrics are a powerful tool for supporting learning by guiding learners activities and increasing their understanding of their own learning process.” They provide a template for creating a rubric – a rubric for rubrics, so to speak. There are a number of sample rubrics and scoring feedback sheets, sources for sample rubrics, and links to presentations on using rubrics.

All three of these sites gave me useful examples and resources for developing a rubric to use in the instructional module I’ll teach in August.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art, edited by Macie Hall

Creative Student Assignments: Fast-Paced In-Class Presentations

Students given presentation to a class.

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In our teaching and learning center we talk to a lot of faculty who are seeking to give students assignments that provide authentic learning experiences as well as offer variety over the course of the semester. Instructors like the idea of having students do projects and present the results during class, but often find that the end results are uninspired PowerPoint presentations full of text-heavy slides. One solution is to have student give presentations using one of the popular fast-paced styles such as Pecha Kucha 20×20, Lightning Talks, Ignite Events, or 24×7.

Pecha Kucha is a Japanese word meaning chit chat (listen to various pronunciations by native Japanese speakers).  PechaKucha 20×20 is a presentation format developed by Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in 2003. The concept is to show 20 images, each for 20 seconds, thereby delivering a talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The images advance automatically as the presenter talks along to the images. Klein and Dytham sponsored PechaKucha Nights, informal gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, work, and thoughts in the PechaKucha 20×20 format. These events are now held world-wide.

Lightning Talks use a similar format, and evolved in the tech world at Python and Perl conference in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The format varies but typically is limited to 5 minutes, and slides may or may not advance automatically. Barrie Byron, a self-described communications professional and experienced presenter, offers a description of lightning talks and some tips for execution on her blog. She describes a format where slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. Byron notes that the format tests resilience and oratory skills. “A good lightning talk is insightful, inspiring, thought-provoking, useful, humorous, controversial, or enlightening. Lightning talks are almost always fun, for both the speaker and the audience.”

According to Wikipedia, Ignite Events are typically organized by volunteers and have been held around the world. Participants speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions according to a specific format. The event has the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” The presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject – awareness, thought, and action are generated on the subjects presented. At an Ignite event each speakers gets 5 minutes, and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds, forcing speakers to get to the point, fast.

24×7 presentations, another variation on the theme, allows 24 slides in 7 minutes. Variations allow for slides to advance automatically or manually.

The advantage that these short, structured formats offer is that they help students focus on their key points and important content. Their presentation style matters. The fact that the slides are only visible for a short period of time means that any text used must be short and to the point. Organizing an end of the semester presentation event using one of these methods will challenge your students to get to the point, practice their delivery style, and provide an informative and entertaining performance for you and your class.

Here are a few resources on presentations to help you and your students:

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Photo by Creative Services:

Post-Semester Reflection

Woman in business suit with fountain pen looking thoughtful.

Now that your last class has been taught, exams given and grades turned in, it’s time to kick back and enjoy some rest and relaxation, right? Not to say that you haven’t earned it, but first it might be a good idea to add a third “R” to the mix. That would be reflection.

While the first thing the word reflection might bring to mind is the scientific definition, the Oxford Online Dictionary gives the second meaning as “Serious thought or consideration.”

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington (Seattle) lists among its resources a section on Self Reflection on Teaching.

“It is key to engage systematic reflection on your own teaching. Some easy yet consistent strategies for keeping track of your teaching are to annotate assignments, tests and class plans on an ongoing basis. This will help you keep track of things to keep and/or eliminate when you teach the class again. End-of-term summaries also help you reflect on your teaching and provide excellent fodder for the development of new classes and or improved versions of the same class.”

In Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers the author notes, “One key to improvement is reflection – thinking about what you want to accomplish, and what you and the students  need to achieve these goals.” [p. 6-7 in 11th edition, Houghton-Mifflin, 2002]

While the semester is still fresh in your memory, ask yourself some questions. What was successful? What wasn’t? Were your goals and objectives for student learning met? Do your assessments accurately capture student learning? What do you want to do differently the next time you teach this course?

If your classes went smoothly and students seemed engaged, there may be few changes to implement with the next iteration.  If you are feeling that the entire course was a disaster, Using Failure to Reflect on our Teaching, a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog written by Janine Utell, Associate Professor of English at Widener University in Pennsylvania, will help you to take something positive from the situation.

Utell offers strategies for assessing specific failings and finding remedies –looking at past successes can help you to solve current problems.  She writes: “If I can pinpoint a specific strategy that failed, I stop thinking of myself as a failure and can find something concrete to fix. I can use past problem-solving to remind myself of my strengths: I’ve fixed that before, I can fix it again. I can see, too, if perhaps a class going badly came from something that was out of my control. Every class has a life of its own. That means every class that fails, fails in a particular way. It also means that every class that succeeds does so at least in part because of a particular and providential confluence of our strengths and those of the students.”

Taking time for reflection now will prove beneficial at the end of the summer when the next semester starts.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art