A student’s facial expressions say a lot about what he or she is thinking. Are they confused? Enthused? Bored? The lack of one-on-one interaction can be an obstacle when teaching an online course, explains Joanne Addison, associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. That’s why an easy-to-read, easy-to-find rubric is a must.
“One of the most challenging aspects of an online course is maintaining a vibrant discussion area for all students,” she says. Addison answers this challenge by fostering conversation about the goals defined in the rubric with her students throughout the course. “For me, the challenge is not only find ways to foster useful online discussions, but to do so in ways that are tied to program-based outcomes.”
Establishing expectations early on in the course is paramount when teaching online – and in the traditional classroom. That’s where rubrics come in. “When students take an online course for the first time, they have a lot to learn – the more direction you can give the student the better.”
Addison views rubrics as important educational technology and understands that the technology has the potential to both generate knowledge and aid in problem solving.
In that vein, the process of writing a rubric has to be thought out from the very beginning stages of course design, she says. “As with the use of any technology, rubrics can’t be seen as simply something you ‘add on’ in the final stages of the writing process,” she says. “Rather, the ways in which rubrics are used systematically to improve one’s writing must be integrated throughout the writing process.”
Whether for the traditional classroom or an online course, Addison, a literacy researcher and teacher of writing, approaches rubrics as an art. “Indeed, the best rubrics allow for systematic treatment of the art of writing in ways that lead writers – whether novice or expert – to an improved understanding of writing as well as an improved product.” Addison’s use of rubrics extends beyond the college classroom as she believes the use of rubrics helps writers understand the conventions of various genres in academic, workplace, and social settings. Her most recent research, a nationwide study and review of writing in high schools and colleges funded by a grant from NCTE/CCCC, addresses the issue of the extent to which engaging instruction and quality writing is marked by clear expectations as well as transfer and articulation across contexts—best practices that can be strongly fostered by the use of rubrics. See the videos online.