Here is the dilemma: our younger students really insist on rubrics. But, as instructors, we worry that a rubric could stifle creativity and lead the mind from “doing your best job” to “satisfying what the prof wants.”
With this in mind, we have developed a set of criteria that a good rubric should fulfil:
- Provides sufficient clarity to satisfy student desire for guidance and transparency.
- Does not constrain the freedom to be bold and original.
- Communicates clearly that we mark from the bottom up (starting with 0%) and not by deductions (starting at 100%).
- Is applicable to blogs, essays and presentations (it saves time and increases confidence if a single marking scheme can be used again and again by students, teaching assistants and professors).
- Related: covers all key components of good scholarly efforts.
- Further related: easy to grasp and remember.
- Ideally, ordered from the aspirational to the mundane.
- Fun is better than dull!
We were not able to find a simple and appealing rubric with such features and ended up creating and testing our own. The resulting OSCAR scheme, below, fulfills the eight criteria. And we have found over the years that it is much liked by students and TAs alike:
(O)riginality: Is the text (or project) original, discerning, interesting? Strive for creativity, novelty, critical thinking and interest to reader (20%).
(S)tyle: Is the text proofread and ready-to-go (is the presentation or project polished)? Strive for good grammar and format (paragraphs and pagination) and careful visual presentation (20%).
(C)larity: Can I remember the main points after putting down the page (or after the presentation or pitch)? Strive for clear sentences, clear structure and good flow (20%).
(A)rgument: Am I convinced? Are the story and argument sound? Strive to be convincing and provide depth by showing your background work (20%).
(R)elevance: Does the text fit the assignment and follow guidelines? Strive to be on topic and respect all guidelines, including length (20%).
An aside, since we are working at a bilingual university, it’s very helpful that the acronym still works in French (if one is generous with “relevance,” given its Old French and Latin origins):
(O)riginalité : Le texte (ou le projet) est-il original, judicieux et intéressant? Recherchez la créativité, la nouveauté, l’esprit critique et l’intérêt du lecteur (20%).
(S)tyle : Le texte a été révisé et peut être soumis (la présentation ou le projet sont-ils soignés)? Surveillez la grammaire et le format (paragraphes et pagination) et veillez à une présentation visuelle soignée (20%).
(C)larté : Puis-je me souvenir des idées principales après avoir déposé le texte (ou après la présentation)? Formuler vos idées avec des phrases et une structure claires, en suivant une séquence limpide (20%).
(A)rgument : Suis-je moi-même convaincu? Le récit et l’argumentation sont-ils solides? Efforcez-vous d’être convaincant et d’étoffer vos affirmations en explicitant les démarches de votre travail de recherche (20%).
(R)elevance-pertinence : Le texte remplit-il la mission demandée et suit-il les directives? Efforcez-vous de pas dévier du sujet et de respecter toutes les consignes, y compris la longueur (20%).
The scheme provides sufficient guidance without dumbing down the work. It starts with originality, which is aspirational (and perhaps increasingly valuable, now that knowledge systems become capable of replacing experts). It ends with relevance, which provides some comfort since that requirement is easily satisfied by the student.
In the above, we indicate an equal weight of 20% for each of the five components. It would be easy to emphasize, say, the importance of argument by designating 30%, perhaps at the cost of reducing style to 10%. We tried that and fell back to the simple equal weight approach. Simplicity is often a virtue.
The pictures of “Oscar the Glamorous” on top and “Oscar the Grouch” at the bottom are memorable and motivating. Do you want to be a star (the top picture shows the Oscar trophy of the film industry’s Academy Awards) or an extra (the bottom picture shows the Oscar character who resides in a trash can in the children’s TV show Sesame Street)?
We believe the scheme is highly universal and can be used in many contexts. Give it a try on this very text – it will work!
We used our OSCAR scheme (in the English version only) over four years for different purposes, with different teaching assistants and different students. As they say in the film industry, we are giving it “two thumbs up!” Perhaps it could be useful to you?
Marc Saner is a professor and chair of the department of geography, environment and geomatics at the University of Ottawa. Ally Gray is an evaluation officer at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Stephanie Woodworth is a third-year PhD student and teaching assistant at U of Ottawa.