As an educator and a professional writer, one of my hobby horses is writing competencies. I wrote about this in a previous blog and asked whose responsibility it is. Over a year later, in online forums and collegial discussions, the debate continues. Is the real issue that "our students can't write" or that "we shouldn't have to be English teachers?" It doesn't matter either way. Our accrediting organizations and our discipline demand effective communication skills, including writing.
We rejoice as our enrollments rise in health care management programs and complain as our workloads grow. Even if you are committed to coaching students to better writing, the sheer volume of papers can drown you, so much so that you might feel like this. With fifty students in a class and no teaching assistant, how is one professor to provide feedback and grade writing assignments that assess higher order thinking skills? I have one word for you, and it's not plastics.
Stop, do not run away from computer screaming! If you are still using paper and pencil to grade papers, there are rubrics. If you are using an online learning platform, there are rubrics. Here are my top five reasons for using rubrics for all assignments and for including them in the syllabus.
Establishment of expectations. You like to know how you'll be evaluated annually. Students want the same. They want to know the ground rules. Having a well-written, explicit rubric establishes expectations for the students—and for you.
Equity in the classroom. When I was in graduate school, it was not uncommon for entire classes to get papers back with only a grade, no mark-ups. As we stood there in a huddle outside the classroom, one question floated in the air: Why? Why did Janie get an "A" and Joe a "B"? By having a rubric that explains each grade level or points assigned, the reasons are clear.
Defendable documentation. In the event of a grade appeal, or worse, a lawsuit, documentation of all the above is critical. Grumble all you want about "entitled," "consumerism," whatever adjectives you choose, students have the right to due process. Transparency in grading makes your life easier, not harder, when it comes to grade appeals.
Timesaver. You no longer have to waffle between "Is that a B or a C paper?" Your rubric, whichever one you choose, will help you speed up the painful process of assigning a score.
Mentoring/Coaching Tool. With the smaller details out of the way, you can focus on the student's strengths and weaknesses. You have more time to write things like, "Tom, I really liked your insights on this difficult HR situation. It sounds like you've had experience with this. I look forward to reading more of your work." Or, "Tom, I think you have a lot of good insights, however your grammar interferes with your clarity of communication. Please take advantage of the university writing lab to enable you to achieve the writing competencies needed for healthcare management."
There are many rubrics available on the Internet from reliable sources, including such centers for excellence in teaching as the Carnegie Melon Eberly Center. Your colleagues may have rubrics they have used effectively and are willing to share. My former colleague, Sharon Glennen allowed us to modify her detailed writing rubric for use with case studies in our Introduction to Health Care Management text, which I share with you here at the end of this post. This rubric is flexible enough to be modified and applied to a wide variety of writing assignments, from research papers to blogs.
My question to you now is why wouldn't you want to use a rubric?
Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones and Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks), Career Opportunities in Health Care Management (with Jon Thompson) and Cases in Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks and Dale Buchbinder.)
Here are some additional resources if you are interested in this topic.
Bouldin, A. S., Holmes, E. R., & Fortenberry, M. L. (2006). "Blogging" about course concepts: Using technology for reflective journaling in a communications class. American Journal Of Pharmaceutical Education, 70(4), 1-8.
Brunk-Chavez, B., & Arrigucci, A. (2012). An emerging model for student feedback: Electronic distributed evaluation. Composition Studies, 40(1), 60-77.
Carnegie Melon Eberly Center http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/howto/assesslearning/rubrics.html
Carnegie Melon Eberly Center http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/examples/courselevel-bycollege/cfa/course_rubricwriting-ArtSociety.html
Cone, P., & Van Dover, L. (2012). Shaping how graduate nursing students write. Nursing Education Perspectives, 33(4), 272-274.
Grise-Owens, E., & Crum, K. (2012). Teaching writing as a professional practice skill: A curricular case example. Journal Of Social Work Education, 48(3), 517-536.
Sadler, D. (2010). Beyond feedback: developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 35(5), 535-550.