I ric, you ric, we all ric for… rubric?

In teaching, we use rubrics to let students know what our expectations of quality are. I can set an assignment, list my expectations in order to achieve a certain grade and, better still, I can then mark against the same statements. Clear, fair, transparent. Here’s an example for, say, an essay on developments in distributed systems in the early 21st Century. I don’t have access to some of my previous rubrics at the moment so this is a little ‘off the top of my head’. Please focus on the intent (conveying a specific requirement to the student) rather than and/or arrangement of clauses.


  • An unsatisfactory grade will be awarded for references if you have fewer than 5 relevant references or the references are not primary sources or high quality peer-reviewed publications. You should not include unreviewed work, Wikipedia entries (unless to illustrate a specific technical point that deals with Wikipedia or Wikipedia policy) or Personal Communications (unless you clear these with me first). To determine the ‘ranking’ or ‘quality’ of a publication, you may use Impact Factors or CORE/ERA rankings. If in doubt as to the nature of the publications or the quality of your references, check your references with me by posting to the main forum’s Student Questions section.
  • To achieve a satisfactory mark, you must provide clear and accurate citations, at least 5 as described above, for all external material included in your work (see (web page reference) for University citation standards and avoiding accidental plagiarism).
  • To achieve a mark in the range of credit or distinction, your clear and accurate citations should include at least 10 relevant references from A or A* journals and conferences.
  • To achieve the best mark, your references should also reflect a thorough reading of the area, with at least 20 relevant references,  10 derived from A* journals and the remainder A/A* publications.

It’s fairly easy for a student to work out what they need to do in order to pass, do better and excel. It’s also fairly easy for me to mark because I know where the core reference should be coming from and, if one appears out of left field, then the worst case situation is that I learn about a new venue.

I would usually arrange this in tabular fashion so that all of the requirements for the essay were arranged along the left column and, as you moved across the row, you could look up to column top and see Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory and look in the intersection of row and column to find out what you have to achieve in aspect X to achieve outcome Y. There is still a great deal of room for movement in marking this but, as a framework, I find it useful.

Let me compare this with something I received once for an assignment.

References: Your references should be good, with enough to support your argument. Remember to cite correctly. We take plagiarism very seriously.

I leave it to the reader to decide which of these tell them what they have to do in a more useful way, and which they think would probably be easier to mark in a fair and consistent manner.

One Comment on “I ric, you ric, we all ric for… rubric?”

  1. Alex H says:

    Let me play devil’s advocate here. The first rubric encourages students to suspend their personal judgement regarding the quality of a source, and refers to an external standard that’s potentially both unreliable and too restrictive. (In mathematics, there are some high quality journals that didn’t get an A ranking because of the biases of the ranking panel, and also some high quality individual papers published in obscure journals reflecting the authors’ idiosyncracies. Maybe things are better in CS, but I’m sure the situation isn’t perfect.)

    The second rubric suggests that “good enough” is a social construct, subject to personal judgement, and that students need to be proactive in learning the norms of the subject area and developing their own judgement.

    Yes, the second version is open to abuse by markers who are lazy or worse. And the first version is certainly clear, fair and consistent. But that’s not necessarily the same as specifying the skills that you want the students to develop. And you’ve only addressed referencing so far. Once you start nailing things down this precisely, there’s potentially no end to it. What does the rubric for the content and style of the essay look like? Is it shorter than the essays that you expect the students to hand up? And does it prepare them well for future situations where requirements and social norms won’t be so clearly articulated?


    OK, I understand what you’re trying to achieve here, and I accept that some “old-school” teachers go way too far in the opposite direction. But I still don’t think that the issue is completely clear-cut. (And I’ve been spending too much time reading http://whatif.xkcd.com/ — no half measures there…)


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