Interactive Rubrics: A Blackboard Tool for Planning and Grading

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The first area where you can make a rubric in Blackboard, in the Control Panel.

This semester I’ve been experimenting with Blackboard’s interactive rubric tool. The interactive rubric tool enables faculty to build custom (and reusable) rubrics that can be associated with Blackboard assignments and discussion forums. I created a rubric for each of the seven assignments in my course, and opted to make the rubrics visible to students. (Instructors can keep grading rubrics hidden, if they wish.) Students seemed to appreciate having clear expectations for each assignment, and I appreciated having a rubric to easily click through during the grading process. The rubric tool is extremely customizable, so faculty can determine the criteria that work best in their assignments and disciplines.

Creating Rubrics

There are two areas for creating rubrics in Blackboard. First, you can find the rubric generator in the Control Panel, under Course Tools. This might be a good starting point if you intend to use a rubric multiple times in a course. For example, some will prefer to use a standard rubric for multiple graded journals, discussion posts, or written assignments. The Written Communication VALUE Rubric (see page 2) from the Association of American Colleges and Universities is an example of a rubric that might be used multiple times throughout a course. Once you create a rubric in your course, you can associate it with as many assignments as you like.

The second area for creating rubrics in Blackboard is within the assignment creation tool itself (located in the Content area under Assessment). In the course in which I was experimenting, I created an individualized rubric for each assignment as I was building the assignment. The option for adding an existing rubric, editing an existing rubric, or creating a new rubric appears in Step 3: Grading when you create an assignment.

rubrics in assignment

The second area where you can make a rubric, in Step 3 of building an assignment.

The rubric fields are completely customizable. You can determine the number of columns and rows, and can create your own criteria. You can display points or percentages, and can customize a text description for each area of the rubric, if you wish. You can also come back later to edit your rubric, which can be helpful if there is a change in the assignment.

An example rubric in Blackboard.

Here’s an example rubric in Blackboard.

Once you create or select your rubric, you can set your display preferences. You will decide if you’d like to use it for grading, and will determine whether or not students are able to see the rubric in the assignment area.

Planning With Rubrics

One strategy for course planning and design is to “begin with the end in mind”, also known as backwards design. Using the backwards design model, faculty determine what their students need to be able to know and do, and then design instruction around those learning goals (rather than taking a “covering the content” approach to course design). In my experiment with the interactive rubric tool this semester, I found that the process of creating a rubric for each assignment helped me to focus more on the knowing and doing (more than I probably would have otherwise).

Some assignment rubrics were more challenging to create than others. For one assignment (a website creation assignment), I elicited student input for generating the rubric criteria. I wanted students to first be able to assess their skill sets, and then to generate the assignment criteria that they considered the most valuable. To accomplish this, I put students in groups of four and had them discuss what aspects of a website would be most beneficial to the target audience. Each group offered a rubric suggestion. After class, I posted each groups’ rubric, and using the Qualtrics polling feature seen here (Qualtrics Poll), had students vote on the rubrics. In the next class session, one rubric emerged victorious (with nearly half of the vote). Some students admitted that they did not vote for their own rubric, and all agreed that they were comfortable with the winning rubric. I then used the interactive rubric tool to generate the rubric for the website assignment, based on the student submissions and ballots.

Rubrics can potentially help some faculty design assessments that are aligned to learning goals. With a little creativity, rubrics may also be used for providing clear directions and for encouraging student self-assessment. For more on rubrics in higher education (including examples), check out this page from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Grading With Rubrics

While I do believe that rubrics can assist faculty in good course and assessment design, if I’m being honest, what I liked most about this semester’s experiment was the ease with which I could use the rubrics to grade student submissions. For the first time, I didn’t even have to download student submissions, or upload any feedback. Rather, I used the inline grading feature to flip through each student submission (confusingly called “Attempts” in Blackboard). Within each student submission (or attempt), you can directly access and click through the associated rubric. There is also a space for providing text feedback for each student assignment. Once the rubric and optional text feedback are submitted by the instructor, the score appears in the associated grade center item, and the screen flips to the next student submission (attempt).

Using interactive rubrics and the inline grading tool created an efficiency in grading workflow that I had not previously been able to achieve in Blackboard.  (I used to use the insert comments feature in Word to generate feedback, and then copy and paste my rubrics onto individual student assignments).  And, keeping everything tied to an assignment area meant that I had no assignment submissions come to me via email.

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To Rubric or Not To Rubric

Admittedly, there is some debate over the value of rubrics (check out The Trouble With Rubrics by Alfie Kahn). Some argue that rubrics are reductionist  and that it is not possible to quantify complex student products and experiences. However, pedagogical preferences are value-laden, and opinions on the utility of rubrics are as varied as the values which undergird them, (from “Rubrics are a vehicle for standardizing the masses” to “Rubrics can promote equity in grading”). Rather than falling into an either/or fallacy, I’ll safely offer that rubrics may be more useful on some assignments than others, may be more applicable in some content areas than others, and may be more appealing to some teaching perspectives than others.

For me, using the interactive rubric tool helped me to clarify expectations in the course, think a bit more carefully about course design, and created a welcomed workflow during grading. That said, setting up each assignment and associated rubric ahead of time was more time consuming than I expected. (Not because the technology failed, but because I had to spend much more time considering what it was I was trying to assess, and why). So, if you intend to try it out, you may want to plan for some additional course design time at the beginning of the semester.

About April Lawrence

April Lawrence is the Academic Technologist for the School of Education. A high school English teacher for ten years, April also worked in online course design and development before joining the AIS staff. April is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership at William & Mary. Her research interests include exploring the intersections of culture, technology integration, and learning.