Would you like to save time grading, accurately assess student learning, provide timely feedback, track student progress, demonstrate teaching and learning excellence, foster communication, and much more? If you answered yes, then rubrics are for you! Let’s explore why the intentional use of rubrics can be a valuable tool for instructors and students.

Value for instructors

  • Time management: Have you ever found yourself drowning in a sea of student assignments that need to be graded ASAP (like last week)?  Grading with a rubric can quicken the process because each student is graded in the same way using the same criteria. Rubrics which are detailed, specific, organized and measurable clearly communicate expectations. As you become familiar with how students are commonly responding to an assessment, feedback can be easily personalized and readily deployed.
  • Timely and meaningful feedback: Research has shown that there are several factors that enhance student motivation. One factor is obtaining feedback that is shared often, detailed, timely, and useful. When students receive relevant, meaningful, and useful feedback quickly they have an opportunity to self-assess their progress, course correct (if necessary), and level up their performance.
  • Data! Data! Data! Not only can rubrics provide a panoramic view of student progress, but the tool can also help identify teaching and learning gaps. Instructors will be able to identify if students are improving, struggling, remaining consistent, or if they are missing the mark completely. The information gleaned from rubrics can be utilized to compare student performance within a course, between course sections, or even across time. As well as, the information can serve as feedback to the instructor regarding the effectiveness of the assessment.
  • Effectiveness: When a rubric is designed from the outset to measure the course learning outcomes the rubric can serve as a tool for effective, and accurate, assessment. Tip! Refrain from solely scoring gateway criteria (i.e. organization, mechanics, and grammar). Doing so is paramount because students will interpret meeting the criteria as a demonstration that they have met the learning outcomes even if they haven’t. If learning gaps are consistently identified consider evaluating the task and rubric to ensure instructions, expectations, and performance dimensions are clear and aligned.
  • Shareable: As academic programs begin to develop courses for various modalities (i.e. on campus, hybrid, online) consistently assessing student learning can be a challenge. The advantage of rubrics is they can be easily shared and applied between course sections and modalities. Doing so can be especially valuable when the same course is taught by multiple instructors and teaching assistants.
  • Fosters communication: Instructors can clearly articulate performance expectations and outcomes to key stakeholders such as teaching assistants, instructors, academic programs, and student service representatives (e.g. Ecampus Student Success Team, Writing Center). Rubrics provide additional context above and beyond what is outlined in the course syllabus. A rubric can communicate how students will be assessed, what students should attend to, and how institutional representatives can best help support students. Imagine a scenario where student contacts the Writing Center with the intent of reviewing a draft term paper, and the representative asks for the grading criteria or rubric. The grading criteria furnished by the instructor only outlines the requirements for word length, formatting, and citation conventions. None of the aforementioned criteria communicate the learning outcomes or make any reference to the quality of the work. In this example, the representative might find it challenging to effectively support the student without understanding the instructor’s implicit expectations.
  • Justification: Have you ever been tasked with justifying a contested grade? Rubrics can help you through the process! Rubrics which are detailed, specific, measurable, complete, and aligned can be used to explain why a grade was awarded. A rubric can quickly and accurately highlight where a student failed to meet specific performance dimensions and/ or the learning outcomes.
  • Evidence of teaching improvement: The values of continuous improvement, lifelong learning, and ongoing professional development are woven into the very fabric of academia. Curating effective assessment tools and methods can provide a means of demonstrating performance and providing evidence to support professional advancement.

Value for students

  • Equity: Using rubrics creates an opportunity for consistent and fair grading for all students. Each student is assessed on the same criteria and in the same way. If performance criteria are not clearly communicated from the outset then evaluations may be based on implicit expectations. Implicit expectations are not known or understood by students, and it can create an unfair assessment structure.
  • Clarity: Ambiguity is decreased by using student-centered language. Student composition is highly diverse, and many students speak different native languages. Therefore, students may have different interpretations as to what words mean (e.g. critical thinking). Using very clear and simplistic language can mitigate unintended barriers and decrease confusion.
  • Expectations: Students know exactly what they need to do to demonstrate learning, what instructors are looking for, how to meet the instructor’s expectations, and how to level up their performance. A challenge can be to ensure that all expectations (implicit and explicit) are clearly communicated to students. Tip! Consider explaining expectations in the description of the task as well.
  • Skill development: Rubrics can introduce new concepts/ terminology and help students develop authentic skills (e.g. critical thinking) which can be applied outside of their academic life.
  • Promotes metacognition and self-regulatory behavior: Guidance and feedback help students reflect on their thought processes, self-assess, and foster positive learning behaviors.

As an Ecampus course developer, you have a wide array of support services and experts available to you. Are you interested in learning more about rubric design, development, and implementation? Contact your Instructional Designer today to begin exploring best-fit options for your course. Stay tuned for Rubrics: Markers of Quality (Part 2) –Tips & Best Practices.


  • Brookhart, S. M. (2013). How to create and use rubrics for formative assessment and grading. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.
  • Richter, D., & Ehlers, Ulf-Daniel. (2013). Open Learning Cultures: A Guide to Quality, Evaluation, and Assessment for Future Learning. (1st ed.). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Stevens, D. D., & Levi, Antonia. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: an assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (2nd ed.). Sterling, Va.: Stylus.
  • Walvoord, B. E. F., & Anderson, Virginia Johnson. (2010). Effective grading: a tool for learning and assessment in college (Second edition.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.




We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. - Bill Gates
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

In online education courses, providing effective feedback is essential. It’s can be easy to provide students with a number or letter grade on their assignments, but it is the additional feedback where the opportunity for student growth occurs. While there are many forms of effective feedback, there are 5 elements that can help you provide more meaningful and effective feedback regardless of the method of delivery.

  1. Give Timely Feedback
    • Timely feedback to students sends the message that you are engaged in the course and the student’s work. Having just finished an assignment, the student is also going to be more open to the feedback you provide because their work is still fresh in their mind. They have the opportunity to immediately incorporate your feedback into the next assignment, improving their overall performance going forward. Students in a master’s degree program were more likely to ignore feedback comments on their written work that were not provided promptly. (Draft & Lengel, 1986) Including a statement in the syllabus about your expected time of feedback on assignments, and sticking to it, helps students understand your timeline and will reduce questions to you later on.
  2. Start with a positive message
    • Creating a feedback sandwich (compliment, suggestions for correction, compliment) for your student pairs together both specific positive feedback and any elements the students should work on. The positive feedback encourages the student and prepares them with a positive outlook when hearing about areas that need improvement. Finishing again with positive feedback such as “I look forward to seeing your next assignment” tells the student that even though they have corrections to make, their work is still valued and that they can improve on future assignments.
  3. Use Rubrics
    • One of the best tools that can be used are rubrics. A detailed rubric sets clear expectations of the student for that particular assignment. While completing their assignment they can constantly check their work against what you expect to see in their finished work. Another benefit to creating the rubric is that you can use it to analyze their papers with that same criteria. Some instructors have found that by using a rubric, it helps to be more consistent and fair with grading. No matter if it is the first paper, the last paper, or if you might be having a good or bad day, the rubric helps.
  4. Give personal feedback and help the students make the connection between the content and their lives
    • Connection is key. Providing personal feedback to your students while helping them see the connection between the content and their lives will show that you have taken time to personally respond to them instead of using “canned responses.” Students who don’t feel as if the content in the class will ever relate to their lives now, or in their careers later on, will often lose interest in  assignments in general as well as feedback because they don’t see the connection. Getting to know your students at the beginning of the term assists in giving good personal feedback while helping them see the connection between the content and their life.
  5. Consider using alternative formats of feedback
    • Students are used to getting feedback in written form and while that format can be very effective, using an alternative way to provide feedback can be equally or more effective. They enjoy the personal connections that can be created through audio and/or video feedback. Students appreciate receiving specific feedback relating to the grade, rubric, and overall assessment. In fact, some students say that: “..video encouraged more supportive and conversational communication.” (Borup, West, Thomas, 2015) Give it a try!

By employing these strategies, your students will be appreciative of the feedback you provide and you might just get some fantastic feedback yourself. In one case, an instructor shared a great comment from one of their students comparing past courses to the instructor’s:

…I never received personal feedback [in some other courses]. Your course however has been wonderful. Thank you for putting so much time into each of your comments on my writing. I can tell you really made personal feedback a priority. You don’t know how nice it was to really know that my professor is reading my work.” The student goes further to say; “Thank you for taking your teaching seriously and caring about your students. It shows.

Getting personal and effective feedback like this should inspire you to begin or continue that great feedback!



Borup, J., West, R.E., Thomas, R. (2015) The impact of text versus video communication on instructor feedback in blended courses Education Tech Research Dev 63:161-184 doi: 10.1004/s11426-015-9367-8

Draft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. (1986. Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science, 32(5), 554-571