Case Study

Santa Ana College Takes Grading Online

A free product that helps make writing assignments less subjective and more understandable to students is saving Santa Ana College Professor John Howe huge amounts of time and helping him grade writing assignments much more consistently.

Howe teaches marketing, advertising, and business management courses at Santa Ana College, a community college outside Los Angeles. He said he uses a range of products from Reazon Systems Inc., including one called Rubric--online software that lets him create very specific performance-based objectives for each writing assignment he makes.

"What [Rubric] does for students is just marvelous," Howe said. "There's no more hidden agenda. When you make an assignment, they know exactly what I'm looking for when I grade."

Rubric works, Howe said, because most writing assignments tend to be highly subjective. Instructors may know exactly what they want, but communicating that to students can be challenging. And students often have detailed questions on how grading will be handled.

Rubric addresses those issues by having the instructor specify exactly what is required for each portion of a paper and how that part will be weighted as part of the assignment's overall grade. "You can break the entire assignment down into sections [that specify] what you're looking for in that section, and how you're going to grade it," How explained. "When you actually do grade it, ... [the students] can see exactly what you graded them on."

Grading writing assignments can be a time-consuming process. Rubric greatly speeds up the grading process, Howe said, which saves him "enormous" amounts of time and helps him turn papers around more quickly. Rubric makes grading easier because as he works his way through each paper, "I just click on the box under each one of these," Howe said, enter the number earned, "and it does all the math for me." That frees up time that allows him to focus more on how students are doing, Howe said. "I communicate so much better with the students now on how they're doing."

In addition, the program allows him to break down how the entire class has performed on a writing assignment, by section. He can then highlight areas that a majority of students performed poorly on, which tells him to spend additional lecture time on that topic.

The Rubric product has a healthy future, Howe said, as community colleges in California are beginning to be asked by the state legislature to measure student learning outcomes more specifically by curriculum--something public schools have been required to do for some time. A tool like Rubric helps instructors to set and then measure performance-based objectives because it evaluates student performance far more objectively than an instructor can do alone in grading a writing assignment. It also records performance information, and can be used repeatedly for the same course, thus collecting specific data over time on performance against set objectives.

"The beauty of the Rubric program is that is really does create performance-based objectives," Howe said, "because it lets you know exactly what you will be graded on."

The future of the Rubric program, Howe predicts, is for managers in the workplace who need to measure performance as objectively as possible.

The online product is free for those who register and agree to share their Rubrics with others, so Howe, who has his own website, isn't paying anything to use the product.

He's also benefiting from the Rubrics created by other instructors worldwide. Sharing Rubrics with other instructors is helpful, because the up-front work in creating them can be challenging, Howe admits. Although most instructors have a basic idea in mind of their expectations for a particular assignment, Rubric forces them to be more specific. "You have to sit down and think it through and write it down, and that's not easy to do," Howe said. Seeing what others have done in the same subject area makes it far easier. At the very least, sharing Rubrics can help instructors with the initial objectives for an assignment.

The publicly shared Rubrics are categorized by subject matter, such as chemistry or English. Howe said they offer "a great learning experience for all of us… You can go in there and see how other people are grading the assignments they're making, and what the criteria are."

For example, Howe's rubric on a management case project, which can be viewed here, specifies:
The student will develop a performance problem case that he or she is currently experiencing. Once the performance problem situation is properly defined, the student will then apply the subject matter learned in class to create a plan of action to deal with the performance problem. The case is based on 100 [percent] which will convert to 100 points.
The assignment then goes on to specify exactly what's required in each of seven sections, how each will be graded (from "not acceptable" through "poor," "fair," and "good") and how many points will be awarded per section.
 
"The students love it, because they know exactly what's expected of them," How said. "It's not a guessing game.... [They know that] this is what I'm going to hold your toes to the fire for."

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