Developing Guidelines for Evaluating Work for Online Courses: A Primer

Due to the recent COVID-19 scare, many faculty have been quickly migrating in-person and hybrid courses to entirely online versions. I’m an ardent proponent for the use of rubrics, written guides for assessing student work, and in this blog post, I will provide some practical advice for individual faculty on how to incorporate grading rubrics into online courses.

Well-designed rubrics provide many benefits: they can help clarify performance expectations, encourage better student performance, provide students with better feedback on their work, and make grading more accurate, consistent, and efficient.

There are numerous types and categories of rubrics, but for our purposes here, we’ll discuss how to create an analytic rubric to grade students’ work. Analytic rubrics document standards of student performance as a grid: the top row of the grid defines the performance levels, the left side of the grid vertically displays attributes of student work, and the boxes in between define student performance at each level. These boxes can be embedded in online courses and associated with specific assignments.

Linda Sukie identifies the following six steps to develop a rubric in her book, “Handbook on Measurement, Assessment, and Evaluation in Higher Education”

Step 1: Identify the rubric’s purposes.

Rubrics are useful for assessing student performance on all different types of assignments or projects. However, if your assignment is focused on assessing students on their ability to recall information, a different type of assessment, such as a multiple-choice test, might be better.

 If you’re just now moving your course to an online version then it’s likely you will be seeking to utilize rubrics for evaluating student learning, an evaluation which will result in a grade. If so, ask yourself:

How much of a student’s grade will this assignment represent?

Step 2: Articulate clear learning outcomes for the assignment and explicate them into traits.

If you have already created an assignment, then what are the outcomes that you seek to assess with the rubric? What are attributes of these outcomes? For instance, if your outcome is to assess student writing, then you might identify a few key attributes of effective student writing on this assignment.  

 List each attribute as a noun or noun phrase. Omit any attribute which is not essential to the assignment. List these attributes vertically along the left side of your grid.

Step 3: Identify and label performance levels.

The grid headings will list performance levels. I suggest utilizing between 3-5 levels for each attribute. For instance, if you have three levels then you might title them: below expectations, meets expectations, and above expectations.

You might associate points for each level. If so, then consider how you distribute these points. You might allocate more points to different attributes which are more essential to the goals of the assignment.

Step 4: Create descriptions of each trait, at each performance level.

During this step, faculty fill in each box in the grid for each attribute and performance level. Descriptions, ideally, provide students with specific information about how to improve weaknesses in their performance. These should be crafted according to your professional judgement. An easy place to start on this step is to articulate a description for minimally adequate performance on an attribute. Next, fill in the other performance levels.

Step 5: Develop or review the assignment.

Now that you’ve drafted your rubric, look at the assignment prompt for students. Does it require students to perform work that is not identified in the rubric? If so, then it might be best to revisit the rubric to better articulate expectations.

Step 6: Test and revise the rubric.

Well-developed rubrics are typically developed iteratively over time. Before embedding a rubric in an online course, you might first test the rubric out on past student work. Once you have tested the rubric, consider how it might be improved; could the performance descriptions be clearer? Are the points allocated according to the most important attributes for the assignment? Finally, revise the rubric to make it more useful to provide students with a grade and feedback on their performance.

See the sample analytic rubric below worth 35 points on an assignment. It was created using the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Oral Communications VALUE Rubric.

  

Table 1: Analytic Rubric Example

Oral Communication Value Rubric
AttributesAbove ExpectationsMeets ExpectationsBelow ExpectationsPoints
Organization Organizational pattern (specific

introduction and conclusion, sequenced

material within the body, and transitions)

is clearly and consistently observable

within the presentation.

Organizational pattern (specific

introduction and conclusion, sequenced

material within the body, and transitions)

is intermittently observable within the

presentation.

Organizational pattern (specific

introduction and conclusion, sequenced

material within the body, and transitions)

is not observable within the presentation.

10
LanguageLanguage choices are thoughtful and

generally support the effectiveness of the

presentation. Language in presentation is

appropriate to audience.

Language choices are mundane and

commonplace and partially support the

effectiveness of the presentation.

Language in presentation is appropriate to

audience.

Language choices are unclear and

minimally support the effectiveness of the

presentation. Language in presentation is

not appropriate to audience.

15
DeliveryDelivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye

contact, and vocal expressiveness) make

the presentation interesting, and speaker

appears comfortable.

Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye

contact, and vocal expressiveness) make

the presentation understandable, and

speaker appears tentative.

Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye

contact, and vocal expressiveness) detract

from the understandability of the

presentation, and speaker appears

uncomfortable.

10
Total   35

 

 Applying Your Rubric

Once these steps are complete, you are ready to use your rubric in a course. Learning Management System Communities are wonderful resources to provide information on how to embed rubrics into courses and assignments. For example, you might do a web search for “Canvas Community Rubrics,” or “Blackboard Community Rubrics.” These communities are a rich resource of information on many facets of the online teaching community. I have found community members to be extremely helpful with questions that arise about specific systems. For other inspiration, I suggest you also search for free rubric building tools online.