D2L - Rubric Orientation (UW-Madison)


UW-Madison is adopting Canvas as the single, centrally supported learning management system, and discontinuing support for Desire2Learn (D2L) and Moodle. Access to D2L and Moodle will permanently end June 1, 2018. For information about retaining materials from D2L or Moodle, please refer to this document.

Rubrics offer a means of assessing students using a grid of distinct grading criteria.

Why use a rubric?

Rubrics are an effective way to create transparency in the grading process. By explicitly defining the grading criteria and the common aspects present at different levels of achievement, students can work towards a product that the instructor expects. Rubrics can also make grading slightly easier on instructors by making the process less subjective and by offering repeatable feedback that is meaningful to students. By clicking the cells in a rubric students can see exactly where they fall short.

Additionally, rubrics are a form of "direct assessment." Unlike grades, rubrics can empirically demonstrate how students are meeting specific objectives of a course or program.

Analytic / holistic rubrics

Desire2Learn (D2L) offers two types of rubrics.

  • Analytic: The most common type of rubric analytic, which features a grid of "criteria" (columns) and "levels" of achievement (rows). Separating the total score into separate criteria (e.g.: argument, evidence, mechanics) provides detailed feedback to students on the strengths and weaknesses of their work. Additionally, it is possible to weigh criteria deemed more important higher than criteria that are not as important to the demonstration of student learning. (Screenshot)
  • Holistic: While less common, holistic rubrics are a way to quickly give feedback by providing a score based on levels for one criteria. Bean suggests that, in addition to speedy grading, holistic rubrics are appealing to instructors who are uncomfortable separating the evaluation of student work into discrete criteria. (Screenshot)

Planning a rubric

Creating an effective rubric requires an investment of time for planning and maintenance (when used over multiple semesters). The best place to start is on paper, as it is easy to enter the data into D2L once the rubric is defined. Arter suggests to begin by selecting an assignment that is particularly complex or that has been historically difficult for students.

When creating a rubric, spend the majority of your time defining meaningful definitions of achievement for each levels. While existing rubrics can provide a helpful starting point (search the Internet for examples), a customized rubric is best developed through the following steps (Arter):

  1. brainstorm the features of performance at various levels of proficiency,
  2. organize these features into a useful structure,
  3. verifying this structure by looking at previous student work, and
  4. build in lots of descriptive detail to guide students' work

Desire2Learn Terminology

  • Criteria: In an analytic rubric, criteria are rows. Criteria are the things that will be graded (e.g.: argument, evidence, mechanics). Holistic rubrics have only one criteria.
  • Levels: Levels are the different plateaus of achievement that students can get on a criteria (e.g.: Exemplary, Meets expectations, Needs improvement).
  • Range: A range is the percentage span that is possible in a holistic rubric.
  • Analytic: Analytic rubrics form a grid to assess students on multiple criteria (or things that will be graded).
  • Holistic: Holistic rubrics assess students on a single criteria. They work much like a letter grade, but offer additional feedback for each level.


Technical assistance for creating and implementing rubrics is available, and the Writing Center is also available to assist with the creation of rubrics for writing.


UW Writing Center. Writing Across the Curriculum Sourcebook and website.

John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Judith A. Arter, Creating & Recognizing Quality Rubrics (Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service, 2006).


Holistic Rubric

holistic rubric screenshot

Analytic Rubric

analytic rubric screenshot

See Also:

Keywords:learn@uw learnuw d2l desire2learn rubric analytic holistic draft published example direct assessment rubrics   Doc ID:27857
Owner:Learn@UW Madison .Group:Learn@UW Madison
Created:2012-12-27 12:47 CDTUpdated:2017-12-01 12:21 CDT
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