A Rubric for Grading Case Study PBL Problems


Because students who enroll in CHEM-643 Intermediary Metabolism are graduate students, continuing education students with bachelors degrees, or senior undergraduates who often aspire to go to graduate school, I assume that all are serious about learning and capable of doing well. I also assume that because the course is not specifically required, all students are enrolled by choice and have some interest in the subject matter. My expectation is that all students can earn an "A" on the case study assignment and in the course and it is my role to enable students to achieve beyond their expectations. I welcome consultation on the case study assignment at any stage of its development. This is major assignment for which feedback is more important before, rather than after, the assignment is complete. Please refer to the evaluation check list for the criteria I use in grading case studies.

An "A" Case Study Problem

Content: An "A" case study is an original synthesis of information that thoughtfully presents the major concepts and issues in pedagogically reasonable way. Clear evidence of a knowledge of the secondary and especially the primary literature must be evident. The first stage should have a "hook" that provides interest and will connect and build on experiences and information students should have already. Subsequent stages (3 or 4) should build logically and show a breadth appropriate for the topic. For example, different stages might deal with classic experiments, current controversy, genetic regulation, regulation of key enzymes in the pathway, applications to drug therapy, or metabolic diseases associated with the pathway. At least two stages should include actual data from the primary literature whose analysis will lead students to significant conclusions. The problem and each stage should have an appropriate title and include figures and tables as needed. The "voice" of the writer must be evident. An actual or reasonable story line is expected. Stories based on real events are preferred.

Organization: There should be 4 or 5 stages and a set of referenced "teaching notes." Each stage should be brief (rarely more than a page) and have one or two open-ended questions that will provoke discussion and lead to important learning learning issues students will pursue. The "teaching notes" narrative should include the learning objectives for each stage and explain how and why the case was developed in a particular way. The teaching notes need to display command of the subject and provide citations to the important references on the topic. It often is appropriate to provide detailed answers for each stage and a separate introductory or summary overview of the topic.

Presentation: The paper should display the care of the writer by being well written and laid out neatly with the organization evident. Pages should be numbered. Typographical errors, misspellings, and grammatical errors should be avoided. Figures, preferably original work, should be neatly done and appropriately placed in the text. All references need to be listed in a standard style of a biochemical journal such as Biochemistry or The Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper must be turned in on time. "A" work displays the author's expertise at the graduate level. The ultimate criterion for an excellent case study is whether it could be used in place of existing case study problems in the course.

Distinguishing Features of a "B" Project.

Well written case study problems may fail to get an "A" because they lack a coherant structure or depend too much on secondary sources, e.g. review articles, books, and the Internet. It is the lack of depth of personal inquiry that frequently makes the difference between an "A" and a "B." Such case studies may display minor gaps in  understanding. A "B" case study problem may focus too closely on details and fail to tie these into larger conceptual issues. The substance of the case study must driven primarily by the concepts of intermediary metabolism that relate to the topic and not overpowered by a creative story. The story is important to provide context for the content.

How to get a "C."

In graduate work, a "C" represents unsatisfactory work. Papers that expose significant gaps in understanding, communicate poorly, show a lack of effort in researching and presenting the topic, or simply paraphrase the work of others cannot receive a grade higher than a "C." Good or excellent papers inexcusably handed in a week or more late may also get a "C." Because the written case study, its presentation to the class, and its defense in an interview with the instructor constitutes 50% of the grade in the course, an effort commensurate with that importance is expected. This is not an assignment that can be done well in a week. It takes planning and a sustained effort. Case studies that receive a "C" grade often display a lack of attention for detail that comes with haste.

"D's" and "F's"

Any "B" assignment that is inexcusably more than a week late will receive a "D." Papers not turned in or those that are demonstrably plagiarized receive an "F." As defined by the University of Delaware's Policy on Academic Honesty and Dishonesty, "Plagiarism is the inclusion of someone else's words, ideas, or data as one's own work. When a student submits work for credit that includes the words, idea, or data of others, the source of that information must be acknowledged through complete, accurate, and specific references, and, if verbatim statements are included, through quotation marks as well. By placing his/her name on work submitted for credit, the student certifies the originality of all work not otherwise identified by appropriate acknowledgments." For further discussion and examples, see the original document.

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Last updated 7 December 2001 by Hal White
Copyright 2001, Harold B. White, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716