Last semester, I spent a few weeks creating an analytic grading rubric using Tinderbox. I don’t generally use rubrics, but they are very popular with some of my colleagues, and I thought I’d see if I could come up with one that could actually work for me and my students.
The rubrics I’d tried in the past were completely non-starters. For me, evaluation should involve plainly written comments about what works, what doesn’t and why. I also want to suggest how things could be improved. Paper rubrics are invariably too constrained and inflexible to support this kind of feedback.
Software tools seem as if they should provide the consistency of a rubric and the flexibility of individual comments. Yet, the systems I’ve tried—and I’ve tried both ad hoc and commercial options—have all been as unwieldy as the worst of the paper rubrics. Getting my comments out of the systems so I can hand them back to students is also too often a chore.
Whether I’ve come up with something better using Tinderbox is an open question, but I do have a working rubric and have learned a lot putting it together. So I’ve decided to explain how it works.
An Overview of the Rubric
To get started I think it would be useful to show the rubric in use, and so I’ve put together a demonstration file that is a stripped down version of my course planning project. It contains the rubric, a student note (my name, fake ID number) and nothing else. In the video below, I use this demonstration file to walk through the process of creating an evaluation sheet for the student’s essay, selecting the appropriate descriptions of their work for the various criteria and then reviewing the comment sheet that results.
I’m fairly certain that all of this will look fairly boring. This is a good thing in practice—a rubric that is fireworks will be a distraction and a lot of the utility of what I’ve made comes from its flexibility which I don’t really show—but alas, demure adaptability makes for bad video. The excitement will come (maybe?) in subsequent posts when I explain how I use rules, agents, and export templates to make everything work. For now though, you’ll just see the following:
- A note is created and then automatically converted to a rubric container and renamed.
- The rubric container is expanded to reveal the evaluation criteria containers. For each criteria, one child is selected as a comment by ticking it’s checkbox. In one case, the criteria grade is revised manually and the criteria titles are updated as a result.
- The main rubric’s key attributes now show the final grade for the assignment. The hover expression will also show the final grade.
- A general comment is added for inclusion on the comment sheet.
- The preview pane shows the comment sheet that will be exported. Both the general and criteria-based comments are organized using additional, organizational text. Everything has been properly formatted.
- The selection for the first criteria is changed and revised. The changes are reflected immediately in the comment sheet.
(There is no sound with the video. The silence feels weird and peaceful I think.)
What I Wanted
My rubric isn’t fancy, but it uses techniques that are basic enough for me to understand and are exposed enough for me to adapt on the fly. I’m sure there are more elegant ways to do some of what I’ve done. That said, what I built does what I hoped it would in the four areas that mattered the most to me.
First, I wanted to select comments not number grades. I did, however, want the rubric to translate my selections into numerical point values. I also wanted it to compile these values into a grade breakdown and to use them to calculate the overall grade for the assignment. I wanted both of these things to happen automatically based only upon the text I selected.
Second, I intended the comments I selected while grading to be given back to students as part of their feedback, and so, I wanted my rubric to be flexible enough to allow me to revise or add to the prepared text in order to respond specifically to individual students’ work. I also wanted to be able to deviate from the basic grade breakdowns when necessary.
Third, once the grading was done, I wanted my rubric to export document files containing comment sheets that I could return to students either electronically or in hard copy. I wanted these files 1) to compile the comments I’d selected and written and 2) to organize and format them in a useful way. I also wanted the resulting files to be named so as to allow bulk upload to my college’s course management system.
Finally, I wanted the rubric to be able to travel from semester to semester. In other words, I needed to be able to revise the criteria, descriptors and grade calculation quickly and easily in order to adapt the rubric to new assignments and new classes. If I had to dive under-the-hood regularly, I wouldn’t do it and the whole project would be a waste. I know myself.
The Plan for Posts
Over the next week or so, I’m going to post a short series that explains how my rubric works. I think I can do everything in four posts, so my planned progression is:
- A General Introduction (this post)
- Using prototypes for the basic set-up
- Calculating and Displaying grades
- Exporting a comment sheet
If I need to break one of these posts apart to have more room, I’ll update this list to account for the change. That way it can serve as a table of contents.
Finally, before moving on, I want to acknowledge that Mark Anderson’s TbRef and his responses to questions on the Tinderbox user forum made the difference between success and failure. Mark Bernstein’s “Actions and Dashboards,” which can be found in the Tinderbox Help menu, was my go-to resource for generating ideas and solving problems. I also relied heavily on other people’s questions and posts at the Tinderbox user forums and the backstage group. So thanks to all.
Next post: setting up the prototypes.