Grading Rubric for Studio Art Visual Thesis

In the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art, Fine Arts majors are required to spend their entire senior year working on their thesis projects. These projects consist of two parts: the written thesis and the visual thesis. )For information on the rubric for the written thesis, click this link.)

The Senior Thesis Seminar course is set up to provide guidance and support for the seniors as they actualize their projects. This course has three learning outcomes, one of which is directly related to the visual work they are doing:

“Students will demonstrate substantial professional accomplishment in a coherent body of artwork through exhibition in DAAPWorks.” (Ed. The title of the senior end-of-year show.)

Here is the rubric that is used by faculty to grade the visual thesis projects. There are six major categories that faculty want to evaluate, and this rubric makes clear that they are not all weighted equally. The standards of excellence for each category are well-defined, although it should be noted that tweaking is done to the wording every year, depending on who is teaching the course.


Grading Rubric for Studio Art Written Thesis

Many studio art programs require not only a visual thesis of artwork, but also a written thesis that accompanies the visual work. Given that the students are writing about their creative process and research methodologies, this kind of written document can be challenging to grade for professors.

Here is a rubric that is used by faculty in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati to grade the written thesis papers of their studio art seniors. Please note that they chose to focus the grading process on three main areas: Content, Sources and Mechanics. These items cover everything that faculty want to see in the document, and enabled them to keep the rubric relatively simple.

This rubric also ties in directly to one of the three learning outcomes for the course, specifically:

“Students will demonstrate their ability to research and articulate their visual thesis project and its connections to art history, to contemporary art, and the cultural milieu through verbal and written critical discourse.”

This rubric enables faculty to see very clearly which students are achieving that  outcome and which aren’t.

For information about the rubric for the visual part of the thesis, click on this link.

Things to Consider When Planning an Assignment

Is the assignment /project consistent with the learning outcomes for the class? Have you adequately communicated to the students how it fits into the large context of the class?

What skills must be demonstrated in the completion of the assignment?  How much (if at all) does it engage student creativity?

How realistic is the level of stringency of the assignment?  Are the students equipped with the expertise to handle it? (Don’t give freshmen a senior level project and expect success.)

How clear have you made your expectations/criteria for grading? Do you have a specific ‘vision’ for how the project should turn out?  Have you communicated this to your students?

How realistic is the time-demand of the assignment? Remember that they are taking other classes, too!

Syllabus for Teaching TAs How to Teach (Quarter version)

Any Fine Arts or Art History graduate student who wants to teach a class in the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art must successfully complete the “Graduate Teaching Workshop” course before receiving any teaching assignment. (This is true for TAs who assist a professor in the classroom, as well as for TAs who are assigned full responsibility for the teaching of a course.) This is the syllabus for that course.

Because UC is currently on the quarter system, this syllabus reflects a 10-week experience. When UC moves to semesters in the Fall of 2012, the syllabus will be revised to reflect a 14-week experience. In semesters, more time will be spent on pedagogical theory, guiding and evaluating group work, and how to effectively critique art work. I will post that updated syllabus in the Fall of 2012.

Elements of a Syllabus

Most universities and colleges have requirements of some kind for what should be in a syllabus. Some even require faculty to use a certain format. Before writing yours, inquire as to the requirements of your institution. Generally, the following elements are contained in most syllabi. Keep in mind that the syllabus is a contract between you and your students.

Top of First Page:

• Instructor name and contact information

• Course Title, number and section

• Time of course (days, quarter), room location

• Prerequisites of the course, if any

Course Learning Outcomes

• Give a clear and brief description of the overall educational outcomes of the course.

• Describe in general terms what the students will be able to do as a result of

having taken the course. Use action verbs for this. (e.g. by learning certain

skills, making presentations, etc.). In other words, by doing certain things,

they will learn to do something that will allow them to achieve the goals of

the course.

Course Description

• Can include general thoughts about the character or “philosophy” of the course. 

• Includes content of the course and a general description of activities/projects.


Course Projects & Activities

•  Major projects/assignments/activities are listed and described, including their purpose and due dates. (If you hand out separate instruction sheets for an assignment, project, or activity, then this section needn’t be too detailed. If not, then include those details here.)

• Briefly describe homework exercises, and activities such as field trips, presentations, working in groups, etc. as appropriate to the course.

Materials and Supplies List

• Include all materials needed for the course (textbooks, art supplies).

• Include costs of materials, if possible. List any supplies provided by you that are paid for from their materials fee. Recommend sources and list prices for these materials, if you wish.

Course Schedule

• Create a schedule of topics/activities for each class session. Include project names and their due dates, homework, critiques, demos, lecture, etc. Note that it is subject to change.


• Clearly describe how the final grade will be determined.

• Clearly describe any policies that might be important to you when  evaluating student performance. These might include how or if students can earn extra credit, any “do-over” policies for exams or assignments, etc.

• Often contains clearly described general grading criteria. This means that you describe what an “A” means, “B”, “C”, etc.

Class Policies (Attendance and Class Participation)

• Describe your attendance policy. When is someone “late” to class? Will there be consequences for coming to class late or leaving class early? Is someone who sleeps during class going to be counted as present?

• Describe classroom rules–what types of things do you allow or not allow in the classroom? Are iPods/cell phones/computers allowed? What will you do if someone is disruptive or sleeping during class? How do you feel about talking during class?

• If you are giving them a class participation grade, explain what will count towards that grade. (Talking in class? Doing homework? Going on field trips? Volunteering? Etc.)

Other Miscellaneous Items:

• A reading list

• A description of technology to be used in the course and why

• Additional expectations or activities not already addressed

• Inspirational jokes, quotes, poems, images, etc.

• Safety information

• Contact info for help with learning disabilities

• Policy on academic honesty

Creating a Syllabus: Steps #6 & 7- Create Assignments & Other Learning Activities

Step #6- Now it’s time to finally create the assignments and projects for the class that will give the students the skills that will make them competent, and thus enable them to achieve the learning outcomes.

As you devise your projects, keep in mind how much time students will realistically need to complete them. Allow for some “give time”. Inevitably, things either take more or less time to cover than expected, plus, you may miss a day due to illness or bad winter weather. Give yourself the freedom to make changes as the course progresses.

Step #7- Next, create in-class and homework activities and exercises to support the projects. Again, be realistic of how much work you can give students before overloading them.

Any activities should be in support of the project at hand. Journal or blogging activities can be used to deepen a competency, and can also be a place for brainstorming or gathering research materials for the project.

NOTE: New teachers tend to cram far too many projects and activities into their syllabi than experienced teachers do. Less can be more!