Assessment rubrics: Artefacts that speak in tongues?

  • Zack Simpson
  • Tracey Morton McKay


Research conducted by the authors involving Writing Centre consultants and first-year science students at their university revealed that assessment rubrics may not serve as effective assessment mediation tools. This prompted a reflection on the use of rubrics at their university. To this end, a research project was developed, the aim of which was to investigate the usefulness of assessment rubrics with regard to making assessment expectations available to students in a capacitating manner. Data were collected by various means: students were asked to assess particular essays using the existing assessment rubrics; class discussion about the rubric was recorded; and student questionnaires were completed concerning the use of assessment rubrics. The findings demonstrated that rubrics are socio-cultural artefacts that require mediation before joint ownership can be assumed. Without such mediation, rubrics may fail to embody transparent and accountable assessment, instead becoming merely an empty symbol thereof. Academics should create opportunities for students to engage with rubrics as mediated artefacts, with the assessment criteria that are contained within them unpacked and contextualised. Otherwise, students may effectively be graded using a system that they have little understanding of, thereby defeating the very purpose of the rubric.   


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Author Biographies

Zack Simpson
Zach Simpson conducts engineering education research at the University of Johannesburg.  He is completing a PhD in Education at the University of Cape Town. E-mail address:
Tracey Morton McKay
Tracey McKay is a lecturer and Deputy HoD at the University of Johannesburg.  She is completing a PhD in Adventure Tourism.E-mail address: