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Using rubrics in online assessment: Shane Cronin

Using rubrics improve the efficiency and quality of online assessment

Name: Shane Cronin

Occupation: Learning Technologist

Areas of interest: Learning analytics, game-based learning, interactive video

HE university/institute: Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland


At a time where online learning is at an all time high, educators are striving to implement successful strategies to assess learners authentically and reliably. Higher order thinking, procedural knowledge and enduring understanding all require complex and authentic types of assessment. Assessment rubrics though used in education for many years, are relatively under utilised in an online context.

Here Shane Cronin talks about how Assessment Rubrics could be used to improve the whole assessment process and suggests some tools that can help educators create and share Rubrics.

How did you get interested in rubrics?

Well, I’ve always used rubrics for my assessments in some shape or another. I began to get interested in their application in an online context when examining how they could be used in our institute’s VLE (Blackboard). I found them to be slightly limiting in this context and started to do my own research with regards their further use and flexibility for module assessment.

Can you explain how you would typically write rubric?

Sure. In the main, I typically author a rubric before the beginning of a module that I am lecturing on. I would start by looking at the module criteria and number of assessments. They’re a pretty good place to start as you can generally identify your criteria that related directly to learning outcomes. Depending on the assessment type (formative/summative, practical/written) I would then list the criteria that I think are most important in the student’s work. It then takes me quite a while to write descriptors for each criterion. I will often find myself writing a rubric for days or even weeks before I am happy with the content. The language used in rubrics is considered to be one of the most challenging aspects of its design. I find rubrics though particularly useful for formative assessment – where I need to get feedback to the student in a timely fashion.

What tools do you typically use to author and use rubrics?

Believe it or not, my most valuable tool in the creation of rubrics is simply a spreadsheet. I used to use Excel, however, over the past few years, I graduated to Google Drive, where I can store all of my information online and re-use or adapt where appropriate. I would usually set out the rubric as I mentioned earlier, then create a unique table for each student that I am assessing. Each student is a worksheet and I share formulae across those worksheets so I have an idea of how the class are doing and whether or not I need to tweak the descriptors I am using on a global basis. I also use our VLE to share the rubrics early on in the process. The VLE also acts as the platform for grade entry and I usually have a feedback field in each worksheet (back in the spreadsheet) that I copy and paste into the VLE gradebook so that the student has some initial feedback to work from.

What would you like to see in the HE technology landscape with regards online rubrics?

There are some obvious initial needs out there in terms of sharing and collaboration, authoring, analytics and accessibility. I think that by far, the most important thing I would like to see is an online resource where academics share their own rubrics with colleagues and allow them to be tweaked or applied to other assessments. There are so many good resources out there but in my opinion, not many that deal with third level.

October 13, 2015

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Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This project is funded by the National Forum (


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