Evaluation rubric for Instagram posts (in scicomm and/or science classes!)

Social media is a great tool in science communication, so learning how to use it well is helpful not only for people who self-identify as science communicators, but also for scientists and scientists-to-be.

Teaching social media science communication skills

I’ve explained why I think that that is generally a good idea in our recent virtual poster, but here is an even more recent example of how well it can work: In early April, Prof. Tessa M Hill encouraged her class at UC Davis to do kitchen oceanography experiments and post pictures or videos on the internet. Her student Robert Dellinger posted a video of an overturning circulation on Twitter that got me super excited (and he kindly agreed to write this guest post on it) and as of now, April 16th, it has 70 retweets and 309 likes. That’s  an incredible reach! And if you think it’s just a lucky strike, another student from that class, Linnea Byrd, posted pictures on Instagram which got 276 likes. This might be to a beautiful cover pic and an account with a high following in the first place, but that’s still a lot of people exposed to kitchen oceanography. Both are definitely examples of very successful scicomm!

Talking with Prof. Kerstin Kremer in preparation for a recent science communication course I taught at her university, I decided that I wanted to set up an “evaluation rubric” that can be used for two purposes: As tool in teaching; and to evaluate social media posts.

Making expectations transparent to students

When teaching about the use of social media in science communication, there is a fine balance between, on the one side, a lot of information on what works and what doesn’t (aka “the rules”), and on the other hand the fact that the things that work best are when those exact rules are purpusefully and skillfully broken. But in order to do that, I believe that one needs to first know “the rules”, and the rubric below gives a structured overview that can be used as guidlines when creating an Instagram post.

Grading the students’ Instagram posts

For some classes, Instagram posts are created as artefacts that contribute to the course grade. In those cases, it is very important to be very clear about what the learning outcomes are and how they will be evaluated; especially if the posts are evaluated by someone who did not teach the class themselves. For this, the rubric below might be helpful.

Evaluation rubric for the scicomm aspect of Instagram posts

Please note:

  • This rubric is an example only and needs to be adapted and/or expanded to match your classes learning outcomes. Here, the focus is exclusively on the use of Instagram as a communication tool. For examples of how to expand this rubric for use in different contexts, see below
  • If points are awarded for each category listed below, they should obviously not be weighted equally when calculating a grade, but priorized according to the class’s learning outcomes
  • I’ve only formulated the end points; obviously this could be expanded to explicitly name intermediate qualitiy levels if that makes grading easier for you; I just wanted to put up a general framework.

The basic rubric is structured into four categories: The captions/comments of a post, the use of hashtags and tags, and the use of images.

Caption / Comments Not good………………….. …………………very good
Purpose Post does not fit in the usual context of the account and its target group; no context is given for why it is posted on that account It becomes clear why the post is published on a given account for its target group, either because it fits right in, or because contextual information is given
Background The post cannot be understood without pre-existing background knowledge All relevant background information is supplied
Structure No structure obvious The text is structured according to an obvious structure (hero’s journey, chronological, pro/con, facts/discussion, …)
Comments Caption breaks off in the middle of the sentence and continues in a comment without any explanation linking the two If the text is too long for the main caption, there is a comment at the end of the main caption pointing out that the text continues in a comment below
Jargon A lot of jargon in a text for kids, or too imprecise language for highly specialized/educated readers Choice of terminology appropriate for target group
Sentence length Only 3-word sentences or one sentence for the whole paragraph Good readability because of appropriate sentence length
Spelling and grammar Seems like post has not been proofread Correct spelling and grammar
Outlook Post “just ends” The reader is given a “next step”: Link to further reading, key word to google, invitation to follow, call to action, …
Emojis Way too many or unrelated to the topic Appropriately used for the target audience and topic


Tags of other accounts Not good………………….. …………………very good
Fit Way too many, and for no apparent reason Relevant accounts are tagged (e.g. photographer of picture, institution that did the research, people that were involved in the project, people shown in the picture, …)


Hashtags Not good………………….. …………………very good
Number None, or way too many 3-11
Fit No relation of hashtags to content of post, or bad fit Hashtags describe the content of the post well and enable potentially interested audiences to find it
Language Hashtag in random languages Language matches the language of the post or complements it in a useful way (e.g. English post with English hashtags additionally uses German technical terms as hashtags to point to scicomm at a German institution)


Picture Not good………………….. …………………very good
Best practice Picture does not follow best practice recommendations Picture follows best practice recommendations, e.g. no polar bears to raise awareness for climate change, careful with protest imagery, causes showed at scale, … (For climate communication practices, see climatevisuals.org)
Fit Picture unrelated to content of post The picture contributes information to the post
Reference Picture is not referred to in post Each picture is referenced in the text and has a clear purpose to the narrative
Quality Picture clearly not tailored for Instagram and no explanation for why it was used anyway The focus is on the relevant aspect or it is explained why the focus is elsewhere
Rights Picture not credited to rights holder The author holds the rights and/or gives appropriate credit

Evaluation rubric for other aspects of Instagram posts

Of course, you might also want students to break some of “the rules” I gave above if your focus is on other aspects. For example, of you are very interested in how well students are working with literature, even though that is not something that is traditionally done well on Instagram, it is a very valid learning outcome that you might not want to give up, even if it breaks the traditional Instagram style. Then you could include criteria like these ones:

To practice citations Not good………………….. …………………very good
Citation number No citations Appropriate number of citations
Citation quality Cited literature not relevant for the topic discussed in the post, or list very incomplete All relevant literature to the topic is cited
Citation correctnes Incorrect use of citation style or inappropriate citation style Appropriate citation style, correctly used

Or if you are using Instagram posts in place of more traditional lab reports, of course additional learning outcomes are to be evaluated. Categories might then include, for example, the ones below. But use any criteria that you would use to evaluate a lab report!

As a lab report Not good………………….. …………………very good
Question It doesn’t become clear why experiments were done It is clearly stated what research question is being investigated
Context It doesn’t become clear if anyone else has ever done work related to the experiment presented here The experiment is placed in the context of existing research and theories
Hypothesis No hypothesis is stated A hypothesis is clearly stated and it is also justified on what basis it was formulated
Plan It is not clear which steps are being done, in which order, and why A clear plan of steps is presented together with a rationale for the steps and their order
Method It is not clear what methods are being used, and why It is clearly stated which methods are being used and for what reason they were chosen
Observations There are none Observations are clearly described
Interpretation It is not clear how conclusions are formed from the observations, or there are no conclusions There is a clear separation between observations and the conclusions that are being drawn on the basis of those observations

Now let me know what you think. Was this blogpost useful for you? What other aspect of using social media in science teaching would you be interested in?

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  1. Pingback: "Excursion week" in Oceanography 101 while physically distancing - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

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