Marjan Smeulders about peerfeedback with Rubrics

Portretfoto van Marjan Smeulders
Rubrics clarify students’ expectations and allow for interim feedback
Marjan Smeulders
Current role
Lecturer Microbiology and Microbial Metabolism

Developing a professional attitude is important for all students, but how do you assess this attitude in a systematic manner? Marjan Smeulders, lecturer at the courses Microbiology and Microbial Metabolism within the Biology programme, uses peer feedback with rubrics for this. Through rubrics, students provide each other with feedback during her intensive practicum classes.

Working together is necessary during a practicum, and one of the final qualifications for the courses. However, it was unclear to students what exactly was expected from them, as well as what they would be appraised on. ‘The rubrics clarify the expectations we have for students and allow for interim feedback’, Marjan explains.The clear rubric criteria gives students a tool for working together and improving their Professional Learning Attitude.

During a lecturer conference, Marjan came in contact with Titia Meijer, who had already developed a rubric to assess cooperation. With the assistance of Edusupport, Marjan adjusted this existing rubric. They now use rubrics for cooperation during practicum classes and during the writing of the report. The experiments in these classes require planning and collaboration from students. ‘The practicums in microbiology courses are quite tough. Because students can only do them if they work well together, this course is suitable for peer feedback.’

Limited criteria

Students are given clear and concrete criteria to assess each other on. However, they are also given the liberty to substantiate this through a brief argumentation per component or general 'compliments' and 'suggestions'.

Pairs of students provide each other with feedback after the second and after the last practicum class. In the meantime they can use the feedback to improve their way of working. After one year of using the rubric, it proved to be too restrictive: ‘Students indicated that they had not filled in certain things because the rubric description did not suit the student. Because of this we decided to only describe level 1 and 5, with a bar for the intermediate levels.’ Students are expected to score level 4 or 5 at the end of the second-year course. Lydia Ketelaars (Edusupport Biosciences) is currently working on an appraisal form based on the rubric. This way students can receive an end appraisal when the course is finished. 

Marjan now uses Google Forms to let students fill out the rubrics. These are then exported to Excel. Another way of collecting the rubrics, like through an app, would be much more efficient, but is not (yet) available. ‘I have to split the Excel sheet per supervisor, so that students can view their own feedback. However, Excel does give the lecturers a good overview, which is important with a large group.’ 

Problem identification

For lecturers, the rubrics mainly have the function of signaling problems; in the overview of the completed rubrics you can immediately see which pairs of students are having problems. The supervisor then talks to these students. Those conversations are almost always positive. 'For example, if students have received feedback that they have contributed too little, they often recognize this in the conversation. For example they say 'that's right, I've done less, so it's fair if I get a lower grade'.

Most students also take the rubrics very serious:: 'They provide a lot of positive feedback in the open questions. The students easily adapt to this working method.' Because the expectations are clear, the rubric is a good discussion guide.

Tip from Marjan

'Take an existing rubric and adapt it to the situation. Do this in collaboration with other lecturers and training coordinators; it is quite a lot of work to do, but there are often people who have the time for it. This way a rubric can also be used for more than just one course.'

Lydia Ketelaars adds: 'This rubric works well in pairs, but we have also created a second Professional Learning Attitude rubric available that can be applied in group work.'

Getting started 

To view the rubrics in the online course guide.

Want to know more and/or need help with rubrics? Contact the Teaching Information Point of your faculty. For more information about the PLA rubric, please contact smeulders [at] (smeulders[at]science[dot]ru[dot]nl) or edusupport.biosciences [at] (edusupport[dot]biosciences[at]ru[dot]nl).