Four Rubrics And When To Use Them

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Assessing students is hard! Rubrics can help with assessing students authentically, communicating instructor’s expectations to encourage student success and more. Join us for this hands-on workshop to learn about four types of rubrics, when to use each type, and most importantly, how to easily write them for the greatest impact.


April Millet (Learning Designer, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, PSU) She earned both her master’s degree in instructional systems and her bachelor of science in education from Penn State. As a member of the Dutton Institute staff, she works in close partnership with the college’s academic units to design, develop, and manage online courses and programs that use the latest research in education and technology to develop cutting-edge online educational resources that are unparalleled in their quality. April is most interested in ensuring that technology is integrated into courses in a sound pedagogical manner to ensure that students have the best possible learning experience.
Jane Sutterlin is currently a Learning Designer in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, John A. Dutton eEducation Institute at Penn State University. She joined Penn State in 2012 and collaborates with content specialty faculty in designing and maintaining online, face to face and blended courses. Before she came to Penn State she worked with High School teachers in the State College Area High School as an Instructional Technology Specialist. In collaboration with the teachers, she helped to incorporate technology in meaningful ways into the curriculum. Jane graduated with a Masters in Learning, Design, and Technology and a BS in Elementary Education from Penn State.
Megan Kohler is a Learning Designer with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State. She has presented at international conferences, such as Open Ed 2010 in Barcelona, Spain, the International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Online Learning Consortium in Orlando, Florida. Megan relies on her training and experience as a professional actor to create a fun and engaging experience within her presentations and design work. Among her professional accomplishments, she is recognized for her work as the lead instructional designer and project manager on Penn State’s highly-rated Epidemics MOOC. She conceptualized the MOOCs by Design Webinar series and served as the pedagogical lead for the Penn State Digital Badges Initiative. She continues to explore interesting opportunities focused on improving the online learning experience for higher education.

Extended Abstract

As educators, we are always looking for quality ways to provide feedback to students that will have a positive impact on student learning. Rubrics have been around since the 1970s, but became popular in the 1990s especially in K-12 schools. Rubrics are used for numerous purposes in higher education including helping students self-assess their own work, accommodating peer review of student work, and performing both formative and summative assessments for papers, projects, performances and other assignments in authentic ways. If you are just getting started with developing rubrics, you may have quite a few questions - How do you know which rubrics to use for which type of assignments? What information should be included in a rubric? Or how do you know if the rubrics you create are meaningful to your learners? To answer these questions and more, you’ll work through a series of challenges designed to help you move from novice towards expert in your understanding of rubrics and how to create them to match your instructional needs.

In most academic circles when rubrics are discussed, two types of rubrics emerge, Analytic and Holistic rubrics. While these two rubrics are the most common and widely used, they are not the only types of rubrics available. We have identified four distinctly different types of rubrics that can be used to assess any type of assignment in a large variety of subjects. One of the co-presenters of this workshop presented on the four types of rubrics last year at OLC Accelerate. The session was pretty popular for Friday morning. This three part workshop actually grew out of the many thought-provoking questions posed by folks from all over the country who participated in the discussion that day.

Part 1 of this workshop will focus on learning about the four types. We’ll begin by introducing each of the four types of rubrics, sharing examples and briefly discussing the pros and cons, potential use cases, and best practices for using each type including their basic anatomy as outlined in the research. In this part of the workshop, we will make sure that there is time for questions and to practice what you have learned in a fun group activity before moving onto the next section. 

Part 2 of this workshop will focus on two methods for selecting the right rubric for your purpose. First, we will share a decision tree that we have developed for selecting the best type of rubric for your purpose. You’ll have the opportunity to work collaboratively through the decision tree to understand when and how to utilize rubrics in a variety of scenarios. We encourage you to bring some example assignments to work with during the session. We will also have some examples if you forget or don’t have something ready to share. 

Then we will introduce you to a mnemonic device that we use to help develop strong rubrics. This easy to remember device will come in handy as you begin to develop rubrics of your own after the workshop has ended. We will give you time to ask questions and lots of practice using the device in this part of the workshop that will help you be SMART when developing rubrics of your own.

In Part 3 of the workshop, you will begin to write your own rubrics. So once you understand when and how to best use a specific rubric and understand how to utilize the mnemonic device to evaluate your rubric, we’ll engage in two activities to help you learn how to draft the scale and descriptive criteria for your rubric for the activity or assignment that you want to evaluate. We have developed a tool containing a series of rubric starters based on Bloom’s Taxonomy that we hope will make writing rubrics quicker and easier. This web-based tool will be available during and after the session to everyone who attends the workshop. After a brief overview of the tool and a demonstration, the presenters will circulate during this section to answer any questions while you are creating your rubric.

Level of Participation

Active participation in this session will be extensive throughout the three-hour session. Participants are encouraged to bring a laptop or tablet and come prepared to engage in discussions both asking and answering questions, sharing challenges you have with evaluating your students work, and working collaboratively with fellow participants to construct rubrics for your own assignments or shared examples. The more you participate, the more you will get out of the session.

Workshop Outcomes

After attending this workshop, participants will be able to name all four types of rubrics, recall some pros and cons and best practices for each type, select the best rubric for a given assignment, use the mnemonic device to evaluate a rubric, and be able to create a scale and write solid criteria for each type of rubric. Participants will be given access to our rubric presentation, our decision tree, the mnemonic device, and our rubric criteria starter tool to use during and after the session end.