There is a wide consensus among educators that rubrics can be very useful tools. For instructors, rubrics often enable rapid student assessment and standards-based grading as well as reinforcing learning objectives and helping to standardize a course curriculum. For students, rubrics can be a useful tool for providing formative guidelines for assignments while—ideally—spurring reflection and self-assessment.
Rubrics can do wonderful things for students, but only if students actually look at the rubric, understand it, and use it. Many instructors have had the experience of passing out a rubric only to see students quietly file it away never to be seen or thought of again, or even worse, have seen their students throw away the rubrics en masse as they leave the classroom. Clearly, this is an ineffective use of a rubric. So how can instructors ensure that students both know about the rubric and that they will be more likely to use it when drafting an assignment?
One way to promote rubrics is to have students collaboratively build the rubric themselves.
People (yes, undergraduates are people too!) often do not value that which has been freely given; however, people tend to highly value what they have worked for. In my experience as an undergraduate-level technical writing instructor, students who were empowered to create an assignment rubric typically become much more interested in that document as a useful and advantageous tool.
Of course, as an instructor, you have to carefully guide this process in order to end up with a usable rubric that accurately reflects the effort and complexity surrounding the subject material. Having students develop their own assignment rubric is not often a day one activity; the first step is imparting a working body of knowledge. You will be asking students to descriptively evaluate what makes a “good” or “bad” assignment submission, and students must collectively possess the domain knowledge required to make these judgments. However, as students get to the point where they have a working knowledge of a subject and realize that they are able to determine their own assignment scores based on previously-agreed upon metrics, a rubric becomes a powerful tool for students to use when completing an assignment.
One particularly powerful tool for facilitating collaborative rubric-building is Google Docs. Google Docs is a multi-author online collaborative document space. In this environment, up to 50 people can simultaneously edit a document. As you might imagine, a live document with 25 editors can quickly become very chaotic. But, if this chaos is constructively controlled, the end result can be quite amazing; students typically draft along parallel lines of thought, build upon each other’s work, make corrections, and ultimately select the “best” version of work, all in real-time. The end result is often a very high-bandwidth human discussion about the classroom subject material wherein metrics for success and failure are critically engaged by students; you’ll also end up with a student-created rubric that (very likely!) closely parallels your own original rubric. The most key difference is that now students are full stakeholders in the rubric. They’ll know exactly what a rubric is, what it’s good for, and how to use it. After all, they created it.
In the next blog post I’ll discuss how to set up a Google Doc, as well as relate some classroom best practices for this type of collaborative online exercise including how to get students started, how to constructively guide the editing session, and how to ready the finished rubric for use.