Blackboard's grade center is very advanced, and release 9.1 introduces colour coding and a number of other features, making tracking grades that much easier!
- view and manage grades by item and student
- create grade center columns and configure options
- set up an "early warning system" to identify students at risk [video]
- upload/download spreadsheet data to Excel or Open Office
- offer feedback and maintaining grading notes
- share student files for evaluation
- import external evaluation data
Selecting the 'Control Panel', and then 'Evaluation - Grade Center' gives you the initial view of the Grade Center, with individual evaluation items as columns, and individual students as rows. Clicking any individual cell allows you to edit the information for a given item and student, just like a desktop spreadsheet program such as Excel or Open Office.
A number of icons are used to indicate the status of evaluation items, students or individual student-items. Click 'Icon Legend' on the right of the screen to show each symbol and the definition. Note that the Icon 'External Grade' in the University of Toronto context means nothing, ordinarily this is used to flag a final grade for exporting into a Registrarial system.
Use the toolbar, also known as the 'Action Bar' to organize and manage the grade center. Click a downward arrow to expand each selection into a context menu dropdown with additional options.
Some of the terminology might be a bit unfamiliar, here are some definitions:
A calculated column is an evaluation item derived from other mark columns or gradebook items. This is good for making intermediate calculations, or summarizing a series of grades, such as 'Total Quiz Mark'. There are a few 'gotchas' to look out for in relation to a calculated column:
- - "include in grade calculations" must be selected on all the mark columns which are intended to be assessed in the calculation
- - uploading and downloading values can only alter real columns; uploaded grades will not import into a calculated column
- - "0" must be entered for a student-item or the weighting is not applied to that student-item
- - student-items identified as 'grade exempted' = will cause the Grade Center to distribute the weight of the item evenly among the remaining items: you cannot assign the weight of one item, like a mid term, to count towards another item, like the final exam, using weighting
A grading period is used to designate a block of time in a course by which student work might be usefully grouped, such 'Week1', 'Week2', etc. This can be good for courses where there are a large number of assignments or evaluation columns - you can assign the items to specific week periods. Or perhaps the first three weeks of a course represent a unit about 'Lab Safety': defining a grading period for 'Lab Safety' makes it easy to group the student assessments which are related.
A grading schema is used to convert scores to another descriptor. Schemas are commonly used to map scores to letter grades, but a schema might also be created to convert scores to 'pass'/'fail'.
A smart view is used to filter the grade center view by some frequently used criterion. Most often it is used to differentiate students that are part of some grouping in the course, e.g. 'Tutorial 3 students', or 'Shakespeare Group 1 students', but there are other useful views that might be defined: in this example, a smart view is used to identify students who are performing poorly in the course, so as to recommend student academic support services such as facilitated study groups, library research skills, writing centre, or math and statistics help.
Select 'Create Column' if you are going to track marks and give feedback (not collect assignments electronically). From this screen there are three selections: 1: 'Column Information', 2: 'Dates', and 3: 'Options'.
1: From 'Column Information', usually 'score' is the easiest to manage initially. So if the column represents an assignment with a mark out of 50, the score is 50. The category of each column needs to be set if you are planning to apply the Blackboard weighting system to specific categories of assignments, e.g. the 7 quizzes represent 30% of a total grade.
2: 'Dates' is used simply to specify a due date.
3: In 'Options' consider initially changing the default setting for 'Include this Column in Grade Center Calculations' to 'No', and 'Show this column to Students' to 'No' before clicking 'Submit'.
This way you will have a chance to experiment with the column settings and double-check the grades before releasing them to the students. This is particularly important if more than one person is involved in assigning grades.
In Blackboard 9, the Upload/Download option has moved to the far right of the screen under a drop down entitled 'work offline'. This is useful for instructors who prefer to download the work of the marking staff, do all their mark calculating within the familiar desktop environment of Microsoft Excel or Open Office, then upload the results to share with students.
If you have a large class, consider doing your weighting and calculation this way, or make sure to set up 'Smart Views' so you are not dealing with the entire class in the Grade Center spreadsheet at once: the web page can take a lot of time to load during peak periods!
Note that you should also routinely download the Grade Center to a spreadsheet on your Desktop or Laptop at the end of the term, to ensure you have a record of what occurred in your course.
120 days after the end of the course, you will lose access to this information when the students are deregistered. Downloading the grades regularly is also a useful precaution if you have a lot of TA's or graders who are inexperienced with Blackboard.
You can also offer feedback to the student and maintain grading notes in the Grade Center columns by clicking the double downward pointing arrow within a cell, just the right of the entry. When the column's grades are released to the class, the feedback is visible to the student; the notes are not. The Grade Center also supports electronic file sharing: students can upload digital files and you can use, for example, Microsoft Word's editing and markup toolset to provide comments and make detailed feedback available. See 'Developing Online Assignments' for more on this topic.
Getting Started with the Grade Center, 4 page .pdf (Blackboard Corporate) step by step directions for the most common operations; definition of key Blackboard terms