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Blurring the boundaries between teaching, learning and assessment in a social constructivist framework: The use of rubrics as an educative tool

Susan Krieg, Sue Sharp and Alistair Campbell
School of Education
Edith Cowan University

The current context for teaching and learning in Australian undergraduate university courses often involves working with large classes and many sessional tutors. A commitment to educative assessment, when working within this context, creates the need to examine the processes more closely, if assessment is to be authentic, valid and reliable. Assessment issues such as marking loads, providing quality feedback in a reasonable turn around time, moderation and quality control across the large, diverse group of students is more difficult than that experienced in smaller classes with few tutorsThis paper describes how an IT researcher working alongside a teaching team developed technology to support our work, addressing some of the assessment issues we encountered. The subsequent design, development and implementation of assessment processes, including rubrics, modelled constructivist learning, and in the process facilitated collaborative, practical and educative outcomes for students, tutors and unit coordinator.


Teacher education in a university setting, offers unique opportunities and challenges to model teaching, learning and assessment processes congruent with beliefs about teaching and learning in particular 'how knowledge is constructed'. If a social constructivist position is espoused, what does this mean for the planning, teaching, learning and assessment process. Social constructivism is about making connections between what each learner knows, believes and aspires to and the ideas, frameworks and claims of scholars whose work is available to us. (Clark, 1998) How can assessment support this process? This paper explores how the design, development and implementation of an assessment processes, models constructivist learning within a course unit, in a new teacher education program. In the processes of joint construction of assessment indicators, peer assessment, teaching team moderation and discussion, collaborative, practical and educative outcomes have been facilitated.

The context

The program

The Edith Cowan University Joondalup Kindergarten through Primary course prepares teachers to educate children across the kindergarten, pre-primary, early and primary years of education. The course intent and design relies heavily on collaborative processes and structures within the university and the partnership with the West Coast Education District, intended to facilitate relationships and a sense of learning community. Collaborative planning, professional development and reflection between the team of academic staff involved in the program, staff (tutors) from our partnership schools and our students, are an essential aspect of the program. Collaboration on the design and implementation of an assessment processes to facilitate teaching and learning in one of the courses first year units, highlights these collaborative processes and is the focus of this paper.

The unit

The unit 'Learning and Development' (EDL 11201), a first year unit in the Bachelor of Education degree, is delivered through a mix of lectures, tutorial workshops, and the use of interactive communication technologies (ICT). The nature of this unit is characterised by the manner of delivery, actively modelling the following Kindergarten Through Primary course principles:

Assessment in the wider context

Graduates in Western Australia will be working in an outcomes based teaching environment. In this teaching context the Western Australian Curriculum Framework informs planning and assessment. The course models and reflects the aims of the Western Australian Curriculum Framework in its intent to improve the learning outcomes of all students through programs which meet the needs of students and respond to changes in society. According to the (Curriculum Council, 1998), the primary purpose of assessment is to enhance learning. This will occur when the criteria are valid and explicit and when assessment activities are themselves educative. To satisfy these requirements it is important that assessment is an integral part of the learning process, providing useful feedback to assist students in future learning, encouraging in depth and long term learning and fostering self-directed learning by enabling students to assume responsibility for their own assessment. (Curriculum Council,1998). The EDL unit aims to use assessment processes that model the type of assessment the Graduates will be using as teachers working within an outcomes framework. The assessment processes are therefore assisting the development of student's professional knowledge of assessment in a school context. Designing and developing a rubric meets many of the desired criteria for quality assessment.

The teaching team: Issues for assessment

The teaching team includes 5 tutors from very different teaching backgrounds, and with varying experience in university teaching. The 9 tutorial groups each have an enrolment of approximately 30 students. The unit coordinator is responsible for the mass lectures and 2 workshops. The remaining 7 tutorials are managed by sessional tutors. Their responsibilities include facilitating the 2 hour workshops, and marking the assessments for each workshop group. Maintaining a commitment to educative assessment, when working within this context, demands that extensive collaborative work is undertaken, if assessment is to be authentic, valid and reliable. If we believe our students construct knowledge and understanding for themselves, through interaction and negotiation with the world and others such as staff, other students, researchers and scholars, similarly we as a staff must model and engage in constructing and adapting new, shared, contextually relevant understandings.

This reflective work requires effective communication in order to develop and sustain collaborative, professional relationships. Time needs to be set aside not only for planning and jointly constructing understandings of what we want the students to learn, but also time for reflection both individually and as a group. In addition to developing common understanding about teaching and learning processes, through collaborative planning, we have experienced even more difficulties in developing agreement on evaluation processes. Agreement on assessment is important, "an educators' approach to evaluation is a window into his or her entire educational philosophy." (Cruz & Zaragoza, 1998) Underlying the assessment process is the basic constructivist principle of "what kind of knowledge counts?" or "what do we want the students to learn?" It is therefore critical that in any collaborative effort, agreement on the forms of assessment and the evaluation processes is paramount.

Reaching agreement and common understandings regarding assessment, surfaces many complex issues. In part they relate to the diversity of backgrounds, knowledge and understanding within the teaching team. Within a social constructivist framework, it is recognised that this diversity is valuable and adds to the richness of the construction of knowledge within the unit. However, the need to develop common understandings regarding the assessment tasks alongside fair and reasonable standards of professional judgements of student mastery of the task is daunting in the busy world of teaching and learning in the university setting. One of the strategies that assisted the team in developing these common understandings has been the process of designing and using rubrics for each assessment task.

Biggs, (1999) asserts that teaching in a constructivist framework requires an alignment of teaching methods, assessment and classroom climate to support students acquiring the skills and understandings necessary for effective teaching and learning. The assessment tasks within the unit use multi- modal processes for students to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. The choice of assessment tasks rest on the assumption that 'students do the learning.' The EDL unit assessments included oral presentations, graphic organisers and written papers. While the teaching team recognises the value of students developing skills and understandings using these multi-modal processes, measuring and making judgements about the degree to which the tasks were achieved creates dilemmas. These multi-modal tasks are hard to measure.

Developing new knowledge about measuring things that are hard to measure

Upbin, (1999) stated "the whole point of quality management is not flinching from measuring what's hard to measure and (schools) have historically been in the business of measuring what's easier to measure and not measuring what's most valuable to us". Issues of subjectivity, particularly in the assessment of behaviours or performances which include attitudes, cooperative learning, problem solving etc continue to challenge teachers. Rubrics can provide a framework or checklist for self, peer and teacher-feedback and assessment, describing clearly the criteria for outcomes (Wenzlaff, Fager, & Coleman, 1999). The rubric is an authentic assessment tool increasingly used in assessing complex and subjective criteria.

Why the rubric?


Rubrics are defined in many ways but are commonly referred to as a guide or set of criteria used to evaluate performances on assessment as well as guide students in preparation for assessment. The criteria usually provide descriptions of each level of student performance ascribing values to these levels. The literature on rubrics and authentic assessment commonly agree that involving students in the creation of the rubric results in many positive outcomes for students. They develop better understandings of the task, selectively attend to what is important, take more responsibility for their own learning, are empowered by being involved in the teaching /learning process, have a clearer idea of what is expected in terms of specific outcomes and can set goals for completing tasks. (Bednarski, 2003; Jensen, 1995; McCollister, 2002; Stoll, 2003; Upbin, 1999)


Some of the assessment issues identified in the AUTC (Australian Universities Teaching Committee, 2001) project report on 'Teaching Large Classes' were very relevant for our teaching team of 5 tutors, working with an enrolment of 250 students. Firstly, the marking load can be very daunting for both the unit coordinator and tutors the sheer volume of marking can be an endurance issue. Secondly, if the assessment process is to be educative, supplying quality feedback is very difficult with large numbers. How to do this within a reasonable turn around time became a major issue for the team. And lastly moderation and quality control across the large, diverse group of students is more difficult than that experienced in smaller classes with fewer tutors.

Finding the necessary time to discuss, debate and reach common understanding is the first challenge. Ongoing, regular team meetings are essential. The first challenge relates to managing and working within the different conditions between University staff, paid by annual salary working alongside sessional staff. The collaborative work described in this paper, was in part, facilitated by a successful application for a Teaching and Learning Grant. This grant supported the team meetings and enabled the work to be streamlined by an IT researcher working alongside the teaching team.

Using technology to support our work was an essential aspect of addressing some of the issues we encountered. The tool moved the marking/recording sheet off the desk and onto the computer screen. The technology supported us to reduce unproductive work of adding up, calculating marks, manual recording of comments and marks and the keeping of manual class records and increased the time for feedback, reflection and moderation. The following table outlines the stages in the development and use of the rubric, outlining the ways it facilitated teaching and learning for students and the teaching team.

The process

EDL1201 Semester 2, 2003 - Assessment 1 - Tutorial Paper - Rubric Development Stages

StagesCoordinatorUnit team
(Coordinator and tutors)
Students (216)
Stage 1
Development of criteria
Printed out assignment requirements for team meeting. The criteria were developed during the regular weekly team meetings, based on the unit handbook's assignment requirements and last year's marking key.
Stage 2
Development of indicators

In groups of 5, students developed indicators for the criteria, based on the university Grade Descriptors of Pass (50-60%), Credit (60-70%), Distinction (70-80%) and Higher Distinction (80-100%). These were recorded via the web
Stage 3
Refinement of indicators
The indicators that were developed by the student groups, in the tutorials were collated and reworded by the coordinator. During the regular team meeting the collated indicators were further refined and a final version decided upon and published for the students to use in completing the assignment.

Criteria marks and grade marks were decided upon via team consensus.

Only total and grades were shown on assignment rubric marking key - the e-marking tool allowed marks to be allocated to grades and then totalled.

The students were provided access to the rubric, via Blackboard, prior to completing their assignment.
Stage 4
Peer assessment

The team collaborated on how to best manage the peer assessment process (eg removing cover sheet, coding papers) 15 minutes at the beginning of the 2-hour tutorial was set-aside for students to read as many assignments as possible.

They then formed groups of 3 and marked 3 assigned papers individually. Then as a group, they moderated each essay onto a master rubric. These moderated grades and comments were recorded on the web.

Stage 5
A sample range of papers was copied for moderation and given to tutors for marking before the meeting. The team marked the sample papers individually prior to the team meeting. They then moderated the papers, through discussion, during the meeting.
Stage 6
Marking / feedback / resubmission

Tutors moderated the students' peer assessment rubrics, using their computers (e-marking).Students with a fail mark (<50%) were given the opportunity to use their feedback to resubmit their papers, within 2 weeks, to increase their mark to a maximum of 50%.


Student input into the development of the rubric was a deliberate attempt by the unit team to scaffold their learning and understanding of the assignment. They were involved in several processes throughout the development and use of the rubric. Tutorial time was devoted to students working in groups to discuss and develop indicators of the assignment criteria. The oral presentation and written paper tasks, involved peer assessment. Students worked in small groups, using the rubrics, to assess and moderate their colleagues' work, enabling students to read/ view their peers' work, an opportunity not often available.

Assessment processes ensured that the tutors' professional judgements were made explicit to the student. At the end of the development phase, involving student/staff input, the rubric was published on the unit Blackboard site. This gave students explicit guidance regarding the expectations for the assessment. Following the marking process, the rubric provided feedback that supported student's understanding of why grades were given and provided constructive information about what was needed for a higher grade.

The 'busy' work (such as recording the marks for each criteria, calculating a total mark and recording class marks lists) for staff was reduced. This was made possible through an electronic database and facilitated the often, tedious final collation of marks. Staff time was therefore spent on reflection, discussion, moderation and consideration of the student work, using professional judgement to allocate proportionate marks to each aspect of the task.

Staff indicated that the process has supported them to make more valid and reliable professional judgements of student work. A Blackboard survey provided the opportunity for students to reflect and comment on the assessment processes. Blackboard enabled us to collate and record student comments in a manageable way. Student comments below reflect the value of the work the team has done in relation to authentic assessment.

Gives a good insight into what is required as well as a feeling of involvement in the decision making process.

Useful information for the assignment. Thought provoking. Good guidelines to use. Could use for self-assessment.

Helped to know what was specifically required of us because we had input into it.

Helped us to understand what we were looking for in each assignment. Good practice for when we become teachers.


The project described in this paper has developed a set of models, processes and resources to support effective assessment and moderation processes in two first year undergraduate units, each with enrolments of 240 students. Both units each had a teaching staff of 5 tutors. The project has incorporated the development of systems to ensure that all aspects of the assessment process (eg, match between unit outcomes, tasks, and marking criteria; consistency of marking and feedback) are quality assured. The project has explored and expanded existing moderation processes to include a range of assessment tasks and formats including Online technologies have been incorporated to support the moderation and assessment processes.

Achievement of expected outcomes

The project has achieved:

Intended outcomesAchievements
  • Designed, developed and trialed QA processes for a range of assessment modes

  • Identify and map rubrics for different assessment types

  • Develop improved marking criteria for each assessment

  • Develop technology based management tools to enhance interactivity of resources, and processes

  • Involve students in all stages of the assessment process
  • Audited existing assessment in relation to the course principles, Graduate Attributes and Unit Outcomes, as part of the Unit Review.
  • Redesigned assessments according to audit results
  • For each assessment( oral presentations, posters, peer assessed written tasks), the first stage of the development of the rubric was to post the marking criteria on the web.
  • Tutors contributed refinements and suggestions on the web-based marking criteria, this enabled more efficient use of face to face discussion time which was used to finalise changes to the criteria.
  • Using BlackBoard technology, staff and students contributed indicators of the criteria, these indicators formed the basis of the marking rubric in each assessment.
  • Staff have commented that they want this process to be repeated for each assessment.
  • Students commented that this process was most supportive and educative.
  • Improved comparability of marks between tutors

  • Improved the efficiency of the process

  • Develop technology based management tools to enhance interactivity of resources, and processes
  • ICT educator supported students to video each other's oral presentations
  • ICT educator transferred video footage to CD: this provided a record of performance to support moderation and decisions re: appeals, challenges to grades
  • Using the recorded presentation the group of teaching staff watched the same presentations. Each tutor then made an individual assessment. These assessments were then discussed and moderated with the team
  • Marking rubrics were collaboratively developed and electronic versions of these were used by staff and students to record assessment results
  • The electronic record of the rubrics, assessments and marks enabled efficient storage and easy retrieval of the assessment data for the units. Tutors have commented that the electronic recording, storage of marks has reduced unnecessary duplication and time consuming collation.


Australian Universities Teaching Committee (2001). Large Class Teaching and Learning. Paper presented at the National Workshop, Newcastle.

Bednarski, M. (2003). Assessing performance tasks. The Science Teacher, 70(Apr), 34.

Biggs, J. (1999). The Reflective Institution: Assuring and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. [verified 13 Jun 2004] http://www.ltsn.ac.uk/embedded_object.asp?id=17321&prompt=yes&filename=QUA011

Clark, C. M. (1998). Hello learners: Living social constructivism. Teaching Education, 10(1), 89-110.

Cruz, B. & Zaragoza, N. (1998). Team teaching in teacher education: Intra-college partnerships. Teacher Education Quarterly, 25(2), 53-62.

Curriculum Council, WA (1998). Curriculum Framework for Kindergarten to Year 12 Education in Western Australia. Perth: Curriculum Council.

Jensen, K. (1995). Effective rubric design. The Science Teacher, 62(May), 34.

McCollister, S. (2002). Developing criteria rubrics in the art classroom. Art Education, 55(Jul), 46.

Stoll, S. A. (2003). Assessing elementary students. Strategies, 16(Jan/Feb), 33.

Upbin, B. (1999). Instant feedback in the classroom. Forbes Magazine, March 22.

Wenzlaff, T. L., Fager, J. J., & Coleman, M. J. (1999). What is a rubric? Do practitioners and the literature agree? Contemporary Education, 70(Summer), 41.

Authors: Susan Krieg, Tel: (08) 6304 5008 Fax: (08) 6304 5850 Email: s.krieg@ecu.edu.au
Sue Sharp, Tel: (08) 6304 5484 Fax: (08) 6304 5850 Email: s.sharp@ecu.edu.au
Alistair Campbell, Tel: (08) 6304 5488 Fax: (08) 6304 5850 Email: a.campbell@ecu.edu.au
School of Education, Joondalup Campus, Edith Cowan University

Please cite as: Krieg, S., Sharp, S. and Campbell, A. (2004). Blurring the boundaries between teaching, learning and assessment in a social constructivist framework: The use of rubrics as an educative tool. In Seeking Educational Excellence. Proceedings of the 13th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 9-10 February 2004. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/krieg.html

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Created 13 June 2004. Last revision: 13 June 2004.