Lunch and Learn: Creating Rubrics and Calibrating Multiple Graders

Logo for Lunch and Learn program showing the words Lunch and Learn in orange with a fork above and a pen below the lettering. Faculty Conversations on Teaching at the bottom.On Friday, December 15, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the second Lunch and Learn—Faculty Conversations on Teaching—for the 2017-2018 academic year.  Laura Foster, Academic Advisor, Public Health Studies, and Reid Mumford, Instructional Resource Advisor, Physics & Astronomy, presented on Creating Rubrics and Calibrating Multiple Graders.

Laura Foster led by giving us a demonstration of her use of Blackboard for creating rubrics. She noted that she might be “preaching to the choir” but hoped that those present might take back these best practices to their colleagues. Noting that many faculty have negative opinions of Blackboard, she put in a plug for its organizational benefits and facilitation of communication with students.

Foster started using Blackboard tools for a Public Health Studies class where she was grading student reflections. The subject matter—public health studies in the media—was outside of her field of physical chemistry. Blackboard facilitates creating a rubric that students can see when doing an assignment and the instructor then uses to grade that work. She showed the rubric detail that students see in Blackboard, and how the rubric can be used in grading. [See the CER Tutorial on Blackboard Rubrics and Rubrics-Helpful Hints] The rubric gives the students direction and assures that the instructor (or other graders) will apply the same standards across all student work.

It empowers students when they know exactly what criteria will be used in evaluating their work and how many points will be assigned to each component. Foster has found that using rubrics is an effective way to communicate assignment requirements to students, and that it helps her to clarify for herself what at the most important points. She noted that a rubric is very useful when there are multiple graders, such as Teaching Assistants (TAs), as it helps to calibrate the grading.

In response to questions from the audience, Foster stated that rubrics can be developed to cover both qualitative and quantitative elements. Developing good rubrics is an iterative process; it took her some time to sharpen her skills. There is flexibility in differentiating points allotted, but the instructor must be thoughtful, plan for a desired outcome, and communicate clearly. The rubric tool can be used to grade PDF files as well as Word documents. Foster noted that it is important to take opportunities to teach students to learn to write, learn to use technology, learn to read instructions, and learn to look at feedback given on assignments. Being transparent and explaining why you are using a particular technology will go a long way.

Reid Mumford gave his presentation on how he calibrates multiple graders (see slides). Mumford oversees the General Physics lab courses. This is a two semester, required sequence, so not all students are excited to be there. The sequences are on Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism; both labs are taught every semester with multiple sections for each course. Approximately 600 to 700 students are taking these lab sequences each semester; students are divided into sections of about 24 students. The labs are open-ended and flexible, so students aren’t filling in blanks and checking boxes, which would be easier to grade. Lab sections are taught and graded by graduate student TAs, with about 30 TAs teaching each semester. Teaching and grading styles vary among these TAs as would be expected. Clearly, calibrating their grading is a challenge.

Grades are based on the best 9 of 10 lab activities, which consist of a pre-lab quiz and a lab note. All activities are graded using the same rubric. The grading scale used can be seen in the slides. One of the criteria for grading is “style,” which allows some flexibility and qualitative assessment. Students have access to the rubric, which is also shown in the slides.

About three years ago, Mumford adopted Turnitin (TII), the plagiarism detection tool, for Screen shot of Quick Mark grading tool.its efficient grading tools. It works well for his use because it is integrated with Blackboard. TII does its job in detecting cheating (and Mumford noted that lots of students are cheating), but it is the grading tools that are really important for the TAs. TAs are encouraged to be demanding in their grading and leave a lot of feedback, so grading takes them two to four hours each week. TII’s Feedback Studio (formerly known as GradeMark) allows TAs to accomplish their mission. [See CER tutorial on Feedback Studio and The Innovative Instructor post on GradeMark.] It was the QuickMark feature that sold Mumford on Feedback Studio and TII grading. Using the rubric for each activity, QuickMark can be pre-populated with commonly-used comments, which can then be dragged and dropped onto the student’s submitted work.

Graph showing General Physics Laboratory Section Grading Trends.These tools helped make the grading load more efficient, but calibrating the multiple graders was another challenge. Mumford found that the TAs need lots of feedback on their grading. Each week he downloads all the grades from Blackboard grade centers. He creates a plot that shows the average score for the weekly lab assignment. Outliers to the average scores are identified and these TAs are counseled so that their grading can be brought into line. Mumford also looks at section grading trends and can see which sections are being graded more leniently or harshly than average. He works with those TAs to standardize their grading.

In calculating final grades for the course, Mumford keeps three points in mind: final letter grades must be calculated, there should be no “easy” or “hard” sections of lab, and distribution should not vary (significantly) between sections. He makes use of per-section mapping and uses average and standard deviation to map results to a final letter grade model. Mumford noted that students are made aware, repeatedly, of the model being used. He is very transparent—everything is explained in the syllabus and reiterated weekly in lab sessions.

In conclusion, Mumford offered these take-aways:

  • Calibrating Multiple Graders is not easy
  • Tools are needed to handle multiple sections efficiently
  • Rubrics help but do not solve the calibration problem
  • Regular feedback to graders is essential
  • Limit of the system: student standing is ambiguous

In the future Mumford plans to give students a better understanding of course standing, to calculate a per-section curve each week, and to overcome some technical issues and the greater time investment that will be required with weekly calibrating and rescaling.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Sources: Lunch and Learn Logo, slides from Mumford presentation

Quick Tips: Paperless Grading

Just in time for the end of semester assignment and exam grading marathon, The Innovative Instructor has some tips for making these tasks a bit less stressful.

Male instructor 's head between two stacks of papers.Last year we wrote about the GradeMark paperless grading system, a tool offered within Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software product used at JHU. The application is fully integrated with Blackboard, our learning management system. For assignments and assessments where you don’t wish to use Turnitin, Blackboard offers another grading option for online submissions. Recent updates to Blackboard’s include new features built into the assignment tool that allow instructors to easily make inline comments, highlight or strikeout text, and use drawing tools for freeform edits. All this without having to handle a single piece of paper.

If you don’t use Blackboard, don’t despair. The Innovative Instructor has solutions for you, too.  A recent post in one of our favorite blogs, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Professor Hacker, titled Using iAnnotate as a Grading Tool, offers another resource. According to its creators, the iAnnotate app “turns your tablet into a world-class productivity tool for reading, marking up, and sharing PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint files, and images.” This means that if you students submit documents in any of these formats (Professor Hacker suggests using DropBox, Sky Drive, Google Drive, or other cloud storage services for submission and return of assignments), you can grade them on your iPad using iAnnotate.

Erin E. Templeton, Anne Morrison Chapman Distinguished Professor of International Study and an associate professor of English at Converse College and author of the post, has this to say about how she uses iAnnotate’s features.

With iAnnotate, you can underline or highlight parts of the paper. I will often highlight typos, sentences that are unclear, or phrases that I find especially interesting. I can add comments to the highlight to explain why I’ve highlighted that particular word or phrase. You can also add comment boxes to make more general observations or ask questions, or if you would prefer, you can type directly on the document and adjust the font, size, and color to fit the available space.

I frequently use the stamp feature, which offers letters and numbers (I use these to indicate scores or letter grades), check marks, question marks, stars of various colors, smiley faces–even a skull and crossbones…. And if you’d rather, you can transform a word or phrase that you find yourself repeatedly tying onto the document into a stamp–I have added things like “yes and?” and “example?” to my collection. Finally, there is a pencil tool for those who want to write with either a stylus or a finger on the document.

Not an iDevice user? iAnnotate is available for Androids too, although it is limited at the time of this posting to reading and annotating PDF files.

The Professor Hacker post offers additional links and resources for paperless grading and more generally for those looking to move to a paperless course environment.  Be sure to read the comments for additional solutions.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

GradeMark Paperless Grading

GradeMark is a paperless grading system that gives instructors the ability to add comments and corrections to assignments submitted electronically. It is a tool offered within Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software product used at JHU. With its drag and drop functionality, among other features, GradeMark has the potential to save instructors a great deal of time when grading online assignments.  It is also easily integrated with Blackboard.

(Note: In order to use GradeMark, online assignments must be created using Turnitin. If using Turnitin within Blackboard, accounts are automatically created for instructors and students through the Blackboard system. If using Turnitin outside of Blackboard, the instructor is responsible for creating separate accounts for each student. Please click here for more information on Turnitin’s integration with Blackboard.)

Screen shot showing example of using GradeMark

GradeMark contains several different grading features:

  • Dragging and Dropping Quickmarks – Quickmarks are frequently used comments that are readily available to drag and drop into a student’s assignment. While viewing an assignment, the instructor can select from a panel of standard Quickmarks that come with GradeMark, or from a custom set that s/he has created.  For example, the abbreviation ‘Awk.’ is a Quickmark indicating an awkward phrase. The ability to drag and drop Quickmarks to an assignment, instead of typing them over and over again, can save instructors a lot of time.
  • General Comments – Each assignment has a generous space where general comments can be added.  General comments can be used to further clarify any Quickmarks that were added as well as discuss the assignment as a whole.
  • Voice Comments – A recent addition to GradeMark is the ability to add voice comments. A voice comment can be added to the assignment lasting up to three minutes in length.  An instructor can use the built-in microphone in his/her computer to easily record the message.
  • Rubrics – Rubrics created within GradeMark can help streamline the grading process by using a ‘scorecard’ approach. Specific criteria and scores are defined in a rubric that is then associated with an assignment. Instructors grade the assignment by filling in the scores based on the evaluative criteria in the rubric. There is also the option of associating Quickmarks with rubrics when they are added to the assignment.

Students are able to view their graded assignments when the ‘post date’ is reached. The post date is set by the instructor when setting up the assignment. Students have the option to print or save a copy of the graded assignment and can view only their own submissions.

GradeMark Logo showing grade book and apple


  • Flexibility in marking up assignments – Quickmarks, rubrics, text, voice comments all available.
  • Time saved dragging and dropping reusable comments.
  • Increased consistency in grading.
  • Clear feedback to students, instead of ‘scribbled margins.’
  • Opportunity to provide more detailed feedback to students including links and resources.
  • No need to download assignments – everything is web-based, stored online.
  • If the instructor is using Blackboard, when the assignment is graded the grade is automatically transferred and recorded into the Blackboard Grade Center.

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Image sources: Amy Brusini screen shot of GradeMark example; GradeMark logo