Evaluation Rubrics a Valuable Tool for Assessing eLearning – by Jean Marrapodi

Unless you have attended a college course or have a child in elementary school, you may not be familiar with evaluation rubrics. Basically, a rubric is a grid that defines expectations and provides an objective scoring system. Susan Brookhart defines a rubric as “a coherent set of criteria for students’ work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria.”

Most rubrics rate work from poor to excellent, specifying an amount of points and a description for each level.
Figure 1
: A rubric defines criteria for evaluation

Rubrics identify the criteria used for rating and have a value scale that defines each of the criteria, similar to a Likert scale, going from best to worse.

Using rubrics

Figure 2 shows a rubric that I used to grade a final project in an online undergraduate course that I authored and taught. This particular rubric is embedded in Canvas, the LMS the college uses. For scoring, the professor clicks on the appropriate boxes when grading the work, making things quite efficient.

For this project, students had the option of creating their assignments in a variety of formats, so I needed to create an equitable system that would be able to evaluate PowerPoint presentations, web pages, videos, and papers. I wanted to grade not only their use of the selected tool, but also that their information was accurate, that they were careful to proofread for correct grammar and spelling, and that they included documented research to support their claims. Basically, I broke the criteria down into the message, medium, mechanics, research, and citation accuracy. I distributed the points so that message, which was the most important factor, had the most weight.

The point distribution for in this rubric shows that a coherent message is essential, at 50 percent of the grade.
Figure 2: Sample rubric for evaluating final projects

Make expectations clear in student learning

When a rubric is used for grading, each criterion is reviewed independently. Students are given the rubric with the assignment, so they understand how their work will be evaluated and they can self-assess prior to submission. When well-written, rubrics make expectations clear, creating an objective standard so anyone reviewing an assignment should arrive at the same score. (In theory, anyway. Inter-rater reliability can be tricky.) When an assignment is returned, the rubric helps the student see what areas need improvement.

Rubrics require higher-order thinking on the part of the learner since they involve evaluation. This helps deepen the learning and increases transfer to other settings.

Using rubrics in corporate training

In corporate training, rubrics can be used in project-based learning to review what has been created and demonstrate the skill being taught. Rubrics are useful for peer review, as well, for evaluation by a trainer or manager reviewing the work product.

When rubrics are used in peer review, most people find that they learn as much reviewing their colleagues’ work as they do in creating their own submissions. Rubrics can be used for evaluating customer service calls or role plays, and even for defining career development for individual development on a team. (Download Marrapodi’s rubric for IDs here.)

Rubrics also have their place in eLearning. Coursera, one of the largest providers of MOOCs, uses rubrics for peer grading of assignments. Each assignment is reviewed and commented on by three-to-four students to ensure a fair evaluation. In online higher education, rubrics are routinely used to score students’ work.

In corporate eLearning, a rubric can be used in several ways, such as:

  • A pretest that allows learners to self-assess their skills and develop goals for the course.
  • A coaching and skill-building tool when included with a project for the employee to complete. The learner’s supervisor can then review the finished product against the rubric.
  • A way to rate the performance of an actor in a scenario in a skill-based training. This can help learners think through what went well, what went poorly, and why.

Building a rubric

Rubrics have three key components.

  1. Criteria define the elements being reviewed. It answers what is being reviewed. Criteria must be appropriate, definable, observable, distinct, and able to support descriptions along a continuum.
  2. Descriptions describe the levels of performance on a scale, which is usually high to low. The description tells what work at each level (excellent, very good, good, fair, poor) looks like. If the rubric is used for scoring, this section includes point values. They center the target performance (acceptable, mastery, passing) at the appropriate level.
  3. The rating scale is the terminology used to describe the levels of performance. They always go from high to low and might use ranges like excellent to poor, or expert to novice. The key is that they have equal increments and are presented in descending order. Most rubrics use four-to-five columns, but there is no hard-and-fast rule.
    It’s best not to use yes/no in a rubric, but in some instances, a yes/no or met/failed criterion might be appropriate. If the entire rubric consists of yes/no questions, it is better to just use a checklist.

Most rubrics can be built in a simple table, but the ed tech people have some tools that you can use, such as Rubric Maker and Quick Rubric.

When building rubrics, remember:

  • Criteria assess only one item per row.
  • Descriptions must include gradations of the same thing. Think grayscale.

Writing a rubric

The first step in creating a rubric is to determine the categories to evaluate. In my first example, I used the message, medium, and mechanics. If we were baking blueberry muffins, the rating categories might be texture, flavor, and appearance. When determining components for your criteria, use brief statements, phrases, or keywords. Each rubric line should focus on a different skill and must evaluate only one measurable criterion. Be careful that they don’t overlap.

After you determine components, you need to write the descriptions for each of your criteria. Ask yourself how proficient the learner should be at the task. Keep Gloria Gery’s proficiency scale (Figure 3) in mind. If the learner is a beginner at something, don’t expect mastery of the skill. Rate things accordingly.

People’s proficiency progresses from familiarization to unconscious competence in six levels.
Figure 3: Gloria Gery’s Proficiency Scale

I find it easiest to think about what is acceptable, then go up and down from there, determining what above the target would look like, and what below the target would look like. Another way to think of it is to use acceptable or satisfactory as the YES!, and what is below as “yes, but …” and “NO.” For what is above target, think “Yes, and …”, and superior as “Yes, and more!”

Figure 4 shows the beginning of a rubric for evaluating a workshop presenter. Do you see how things move up and down from the midpoint of Satisfactory?

Missing materials show poor preparation; exceptional material ready well ahead of time shows excellent preparation.Figure 4: Partial rubric for evaluating a workshop presenter

The biggest mistake people make in building a rubric is mixing up what goes in the descriptions by adding variants. If you are rating grammar, don’t focus on spelling and capitalization for Good, sentence structure for Excellent, and punctuation for Poor. You are rating the same thing in each box, just at different levels. Excellent would be no grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation errors, or typos. Very Good might be one or two errors; Good three-to-five, and so on. Each level is measuring the same thing.

Ideally, the entire rubric should fit on one sheet of paper, and it should always be presented with the assignment.

Roll out the rubric

Obviously, you want to have your SME review your rubric as part of your development process, but no matter how well you design it, it is likely you will have missed something. Plan to pilot your rubric before finalizing it. As you evaluate assignments with it, you will find things that you didn’t think of or identify areas that were problematic for the students that you may not have anticipated. Ask yourself if it worked and was sufficiently detailed, and adjust things before releasing it for your learning program.

The first time you launch something with a rubric, plan on explaining it to your learners. If it was new to you, it will be new to them. Encourage them to use it to plan their work, then as a review tool prior to submission. Don’t assume they will know to do that.

Conclusion

In conclusion, rubrics definitely have their place in the eLearning world. They provide a good way for learners to show what they know; they also help learners see that they know what they think they know, which is yet another way to strengthen and build their learning.

To further explore eLearning evaluation and assessment, download The eLearning Guild’s research report, Evaluating Learning: Insights from Learning Professionals.

References

Brookhart S. (2013). How to create and use rubrics for formative assessment and grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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