Friday, March 05, 2010

"Rubric's" Cube?

Somewhere along the way the word “rubric” failed to stick in my brain. The closest thing I have in my dwindling vocabulary inventory is “Rubik.”

That would be Erno Rubik, the Hungarian architect who invented that colorful cube puzzle that became a craze in 1980s. Boomers twisted and turned the cube’s moving segments for hours trying to align its six colors. The Holy Grail was one color to a side.

Today, of course, Boomers’ children and grandchildren play video games. The cubes routinely show up in garage sales next to Hula Hoops, pink telephones and electric typewriters.

I mention this — in case you were wondering — because yesterday a colleague at the community college sent the following cheery but perplexing memo to me and several others on our faculty.

Hello! Would you please review the possible rubrics we could use to evaluate our students' work in regard to Critical Thinking as a college core outcome: Critical Thinking: Identify and investigate problems, evaluate information and its sources, and use appropriate methods of reasoning to develop creative and practical solutions to personal, professional and community issues. We need to agree on one rubric and evaluate the student papers from J 201, Mass Media and Society, for level of Critical Thinking. Send info on which one(s) you prefer. Thank you!

Maybe if she had avoided the term “rubric,” I'd have understood. The word stopped me cold. I bounded to the dictionary.

Webster’s tells me that a “rubric,” at its most basic, is a title or section heading. Because it is often written in red, it’s called a rubric, which shares the same etymology as “ruby.”

In the context of the memo, the most appropriate definition seemed to be an “explanatory comment.”

It suggests something nearly as concise as the two-syllable word itself.

But how could the complex task of evaluating student work as it relates to critical thinking be reduced to a rubric, a mere comment? Somehow “Identify and investigate problems,” “evaluate information and its sources” etc. fell short.

Should you dare to click the link my colleague provided, you will discover that others in academe agree with me. But their “rubrics” aren’t pithy rubrics at all. Some teeter on being billowing dissertations. One or two may have been leather bound and earned their authors full tenure.

These “rubrics” go on and on and on, lists sub-sections within ranks of sections — as if the writers were trying to solve an academic Rubik’s Cube. (Perhaps they mixed up “rubric” with “Rubik” too. Not likely. Professors are certifiably smart.)

I wrote back that I was utterly confused by this request for a rubric.

I can only hope my response prompts critical thinking. A rubric is optional.

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Blogger Doris Werkman said...

My young son once solved the cube and I was so impressed that I told all my family and friends. I even stopped strangers to tell them. He finally begged me to stop. Turns out that he removed the colored squares and placed them to be correct.

I love the pomposity of academicese. The use of the term "rubric" is so academic...but alas. It is what they want; therefore, it is what you get. Sort of like "outcomes" vs "goals." :)

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

the two upper layers and two lower layers are fixed together if moved horizontally.

2:08 PM  

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