Blackboard Grade Center Best Practices
The Grade Center in Blackboard is an online grading tool. Instructors can record grade data, track student work, create reports, and add private comments and feedback with students throughout the semester. The grade center is integrated with gradable items or assessments such as quizzes, assignment file uploads, discussion forums, blogs, journals, and wikis. Specialized calculations, such as weighting grades, are set up in a Weighted Total column. The gradebook can be downloaded to Excel, and uploaded back into the gradebook with grade changes.
When the grade center is not calculating grades correctly, we look for clues and a few examples are below:
Common reasons that lead to miscalculation of grades for students:
- For students who do not participate in any gradable assessment, be sure to manually add a zero (0) to their grade cell or they will not be penalized for missing any assignment, test, or any assessment with points. The double hyphen (–) in a student’s grade center means “null,” and the each student’s grade cell for each assignment needs a manually added score of zero for non-participation. Type 0 in the grade cell, then Enter. It will replace the double hyphen.
- Typo or error on gradebook column values (e.g., assignment is worth 100 points, but the instructor manually adds 10 to the grade cell).
- Incorrect use of categories within a weighted grade column.
- In a weighted grade column, the “calculate as running total” option should be left on (the default setting). “Calculate as running total” means the student will see her or his “grade so far.”
- Hidden columns (hidden from instructor, but not from student). Hidden columns are included in the running total (whether or not you use a weighted total). When instructors do a course copy from semester to semester, it is common for hidden columns to grow in quantity.
- Look for hidden columns, especially if you had hidden columns in a previous semester and did a course copy to the current semester.
- Previous wording in Blackboard’s Grade Center was “Hide Column,” which meant the column would be hidden from the instructor and not the student. The current terminology, when you look at the dropdown menu for each column is “Hide from Students On/Off” and “Hide from Instructor View.”
- Go to Manage > Column Organization, and if you see grayed out columns, they are hidden from you and possibly from students. You won’t know until you “Show Selected Column” and Submit. A column name with a circle and red line means it is hidden from students.
- If you do want to hide a column(s) from students, you can do that two ways: Click the dropdown menu for the column and choose “Hide from Student View.” Or, click the dropdown menu for the column, choose “Edit the Column Information,” and then choose “No” for “Show This Column to Students” at the bottom of the page.
Best Practices for the Grade Center
- Let the Grade Center Create the Columns. You do not have to create a column for assessments created in the content area, such as assignments, quizzes, discussion/journal/blog/wiki posts because once you add points to the gradable item, the column appears in the gradebook. There are exceptions, and a common reason for choosing Create Column in the gradebook is for a column such as “Participation,” “Attendance,” or “Extra Credit.”
- Consistent Column Names. Use column names that are consistent with the naming convention in the course site.
- Grade Center Columns should match exactly what the activity, assignment, or assessment is named in the content area.
- If you have a long assessment name, you can use the Grade Center “display name” to abbreviate the name for your use for easy recognition while grading.
- Do not change points for assignments/quizzes in the Content area after they have been created or deployed. In the case of an exam that has an answer choice that has been updated/corrected because of an error, Blackboard will ask you if you want to change the points for all students who have taken the exam (choose Yes).
- Column Organization. Organize columns in a logical order, such as sequential due date or category.
- By default, new columns are added to the far right of the Grade Center. To reorder, go Manage > Column Organization and slide the rows up or down by sliding the “handles” on the left side of assessment name. Submit.
- Column Organization is a great place to look at your gradebook from a “bird’s eye view.” You can check on points for each column, change categories, reorder columns, check for hidden columns, etc. To get there: Manage > Column Organization.
- Delete unused/unwanted columns. Delete any unused columns to prevent confusion for you and your students. If there is no delete option, and you do not plan to use that assessment for the current semester, you need to find the assessment in the content area and delete it from that location. Hint: If you do not know where to find a test located in a content area (common with a course copy when outdated tests are added from multiple course copies), look under the Control Panel > Course Tools > Tests, Surveys, Pools > look at the Deployed column.
- Weighted Total Column. Many instructors like to weight grades. Example: Assignments are worth 40%, Tests are worth 40%, Discussions are worth 20%, equaling 100%. It’s easy to set up a Weighted Total column ahead of time, using categories (you can create categories in addition to the default categories by going to Full Grade Center > Manage > Categories). Then, any new assessment you add is assigned a category – a default category unless you choose another. At that point, Blackboard’s Weighted Total column does the calculations whether you add 5 or 15 assessments throughout the semester. One reason we like the Weighted Total column is because you can assign grade weights by columns, category or both. Finally, “Calculate as running total” is the default setting and for the student, this means “This is my grade so far.” Ask for our PDF tutorial.
- Back up your grades. We recommend a gradebook backup to Excel on a semi-regular basis. From the Full Grade Center, choose Work Offline > Export (use the default settings) and your gradebook will be saved to an Excel file. You can also import your saved Excel file back into Blackboard if you’ve been working in Excel. Learn more about downloading and uploading your gradebook here.
- Extra Credit. If you are interested in adding an extra credit column to your gradebook, look at these instructions for a simple way to add an extra credit column (giving it 0 points possible).
- Progress Report. If you ever want a printable “report” for students, you can create one from the Full Grade Center > Report > Create a Report. Give the report a name (e.g., the date or the student’s name) and then you’ll be able to choose which student or all students, and which column or all columns. You can print or save the report (“Save As” from your browser). Here are further instructions for creating a progress report from the Full Grade Center.
Remember, you can grade student submissions right from the gradebook, if you created assessments from the content area and added points. Each student’s grade cell has a dropdown menu option where you will see View Grade Details, Exempt Grade, and View Attempt. View Grade Details is a fast place to clear an attempt, if you want the student to have another chance at a new attempt. View Attempt will get you to the student’s submission whether it is an assignment, a test attempt, a discussion post, etc. Exempt Grade – do not use unless you want the student totally exempted from an assessment, i.e., the student is not required to complete the assessment.
Grade Center Icons
- The exclamation point (!) icon in a student’s grade cell means the attempt needs your attention – either a grade or the student submitted an assessment late.
- The round clock icon in a student’s grade cell means there is an attempt in progress by the student.
- The double hyphen (–) means the student has not yet made an attempt. Be sure to manually add a zero (0) if the student misses the assessment – assuming you want the student’s grade to be zero for missing the assessment.
The Blackboard Team offers training sessions on the Grade Center. Please look in ECU’s Cornerstone calendar to sign up for a session.