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Recently in my work with clients, I have been observing the paradoxical challenge that expertise sometimes poses for course creators.

So today, I’m going to show you how I helped one of my clients overcome his expertise problem with an easy to design learning assessment tool called a rubric.

By the end of this post, you will be able to define and describe the term rubric, list the three types of rubrics, and recognize circumstances in your own teaching or training context in which a rubric could come to your rescue.

To begin, I want you to imagine that you are helping a child memorize their times tables. Let’s say you wrote the following three equations on a sheet of paper and asked the child to choose the best solution for the equation 6 x 5 from the following options.

a) 6 x 5 = 32

b) 6 x 5 =30

c) 6 x 5 = 35

d) 6 x 5 = 37

In this case there is a ‘best’ answer because a math equation has only one correct solution. However, this is not the case with all subject matter, particularly artistic subject matter.

So let’s look at another scenario.

Now image that you are being asked to evaluate the following three photos in order to select the photo that best depicts the theme of ‘joy’. Which photo would you choose? How would you know that you had made the best judgment? Is your choice likely to be universally accepted?

Photo 1:

Photo 2:

Photo 3:

In an instance like this, you need a scoring rubric to come help objectify the evaluation. My client Neko’s story will help illustrate how rubrics can resolve these tricky assessment situations.

Neko the Master Photographer And His Photo Evaluation Saga

Scene 1: Introducing Our Protagonist

Neko is an award winning photographer with a background in commercial and advertising photography. He has a MFA in photography, and he’s been a professional photographer for about 15 years.

Last year, Neko created his first info product – an online photography course for beginning photographers. Neko designed and developed the course all on his own. He designed the course as an 8-week, project-based course. The goal being for students to design a portfolio with at least five exemplary photos to showcase their mastery of what Neko teaches them in his course.

Neko’s course is not a mega course. He plans to only run the course twice a year, and he limits the enrollment to 20 students per launch. He keeps enrollment low, so that he can evaluate and give students feedback on their work throughout the course. In January of 2018 Neko launched the course to a group of ten students.

Scene 2: Evaluating Student Work – A Problem Arises

Things were humming along in the course until Neko’s students started turning in their work for feedback. When Neko was confronted with having to evaluate and provide students’ feedback on their photos, he ran into a trouble.

You see, Neko knows how to judge the quality of a photograph. He can do this almost intuitively, and that’s the problem. He knows photography so well, that he doesn’t know how to articulate or objectify the qualities and features of a great photo for SOMEONE WHO IS NEW TO PHOTOGRAPHY.

Neko needed to quickly resolve his dilemma because the students in his first launch were getting confused and annoyed. They couldn’t see what Neko saw missing in their work, and Neko couldn’t explain or justify his ‘findings’ in a consistent and comprehensible way to his students.

And that’s where I come into the story.

Scene 3: Evaluating Student Work – The Rubric Solution

Now, Neko is a good guy, and he wants his students to have an awesome experience in his course. Neko realized that he needed a duplicable, reliable process for providing feedback on students’ work in his course. Luckily a friend referred Neko to me, and after hearing his story, I came up with a simple solution for Neko.

The solution = A Rubric!

A rubric is a tool that course creators, teachers, or trainers can use to help them

  • communicate expectations

  • provide focused feedback

  • evaluate student work or products

A descriptive assessment tool like a rubric is essential when judging the quality and degree of accuracy of a product or when the correct answer is not as simple as choice a, b, c or d on a multiple choice test.

So Neko and I went to work to create a rubric for his Level 1 Photography Course.

First, we needed to determine the goal of the photography rubric. We started by reviewing Neko’s course goals and then determining which of these goals related specifically to the course’s photo projects.

Then, we chose the type of rubric that would best serve Nick and his students. We had three choices: 1) Holistic Rubric, 2) Analytic Rubric, or 3) Single Point Rubrics

A holistic rubric is a generalized scoring guide. This type of rubric lists three to five levels of performance with general descriptions of the criteria or characteristics that define each level. Each level is labeled with numbers, letters, or words as in the example below.

An analytic rubric is a very specific and compartmentalized scoring guide. This type of rubric specifies the characteristics of all the various parts, features or characteristics for an assignment. This specificity allows the scorer using the rubric to document and identify exactly what aspects of an assignment (or product) are exceptional, and which ones need improvement. See the example below.

A single-point rubric shares some similarities with an analytic rubric. It also breaks down the components of an assignment into specific criteria. However, unlike the other two types of rubrics, it only describes the criteria for proficiency or mastery. See the example below.

Ultimately, Neko and I decided to use all three types of rubrics in his course. Here’s what we came up with:

  • A Single Point Rubric for photo assignments in his course that focus on a single aspect of photography – e.g. lighting, contrast, image quality, theme, originality, creativity, etc.

  • A holistic rubric for photo assignments that combined certain elements/aspects of photography.

  • An Analytic Rubric for the “Best Portfolio Pic” assignment (the final assignment of his course)

So what about you? Are you currently using rubrics in your courses? Do you need a rubric to come to your rescue?

Please share your insights, comments or questions below.

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