Simplify Your Grading with Blackboard

By Cynthia Rutz, Director of Faculty Development, CITAL


Are you using Blackboard Grade Center to its full capacity? If not, you may be missing out on ways to simplify your grading. In this article, some of your VU colleagues share their favorite features of Blackboard Grade Center .  Dan Maguire (ECE) talks about using rubrics to speed up exam grading.  Bharath Ganesh Babu (Geography) uses the “Test Options” feature to give students with accommodations extra time on quizzes and exams. Phrosini Samis-Smith (CONHP) finds it simpler to use a point system for her grading in Blackboard.  

Read on to learn more about how your colleagues use Blackboard for grading.


Dan Maguire, Electrical & Computer Engineering

What Dan likes best about using the Blackboard Grade Center is that it gives students feedback in real time. Students can reach out to him immediately when they think there is a mistake in grading.  Then Dan can either correct it or explain to the student why it is not a mistake.  That way, students don’t hand in five assignments all with the same kind of error. 

Dan uses weighted grading in Blackboard. This means that his assignments are weighted according to the percentages he sets for each category in the syllabus.  For example, a 100-point assignment will have a different weight depending on which category it is in. If it is a homework assignment it might be weighted less than if it is a programming project. 

Weighting grades also gives Dan flexibility. He can add, change or delete assignments as long as he tells Blackboard which category the assignment is in. Moreover, when you copy a course in Blackboard,  the weighted grading and each column/assignment in the Grade Center will copy as well.  Once it is copied, you can always make changes later either in weighting categories or by adding, subtracting, or editing assignments.

Dan also makes extensive use of rubrics in the Blackboard Grade Center.  First he scans in the solutions for an exam. Then he looks at actual student exam results to see the most common errors. This allows him to establish a rubric that subtracts a specific amount for each kind of error. For example he might subtract a single point if a student has the right number but gets a minus or plus sign wrong.  Having a rubric means that when he is looking at his 30th exam, he will still be using the same criteria to grade it as he did for the first one.  

It took a while for Dan to create his first rubric in Blackboard, but once he did he was shocked at how fast grading went.  As he grades, he can look at the student’s exam on one screen and be filling out the rubric on the other screen.  In the past, he was writing comments by hand on each exam. Now, instead of writing again and again “sign error” he can just click that on the rubric so they know what their specific error was.

With rubrics, he notes that fewer students question why they got the grade they did. One student even told Dan that his rubrics provide the most detailed online exam feedback that he has ever received. 

Dan is looking forward to some features of Blackboard Ultra (coming next summer). For example, right now, if he assigns 10 programming projects or 20 reading assignments, he has to add each one separately.  With Blackboard Ultra (coming to VU next year,) he will be able to make multiple assignments at once, just assigning to each one a different due date. 



Bharath Ganesh Babu, Geography

When Bharath first arrived on campus, most faculty were still using small green, spiral-bound books to record grades.  But Bharath has always graded in Blackboard and he posts all of his assignments and quizzes there.  However,  he constantly changes up his questions, so that cuts down on online cheating.  

Bharath uses weighted grades and provides running totals. He has opted to give only letter grades, not numbers.  Blackboard offers this option for every assignment and for the weighted total.

One caveat he has learned is that when a student fails to turn in an assignment,you must post a zero. Otherwise that assignment does not turn up in the running total and students might think they are doing better than they are.

He also finds that Blackboard Grade Center can sometimes be clunky.  For example, when you highlight a part of a student paper, a comment box pops up. However, if you leave the comment box before you save your remark, it disappears. 

Students may not realize how weighted grades work. On their own they sometimes try to calculate an average that does not agree with what is in the gradebook.  So Bharath proposes that we add an explanation of weighted grades as an option in Simple Syllabus.  

Two features he finds especially useful. One is setting up a quiz in Blackboard that is scheduled to open and close at a certain time. That way he does not need to waste class time giving a quiz.  The other Grade Center feature he likes is the ability to group students who need accommodations. After he creates a test, he uses the “add a User or Group” feature under  “Edit Test Options.” This allows him to give these students extra time for online quizzes or exams. This also means that these students can take the exam or quiz at a time and place of their choosing instead of needing to go to the AARC test center. 

There was a new wrinkle to Blackboard Grade Center that Bharath experienced this summer. Apparently his students could set up an alert so they knew immediately when a grade had been posted. So be ready for students to email you about grades right after you submit them. He thinks this is a good feature, because students are more apt to ask questions right when they get the grade. 



Phrosini Samis-Smith, CONHP

Phrosini also uses Blackboard for grading, but she finds it simpler to use a straight point system rather than weighted grades.  Each assignment or test is worth so many points. A column in the grade book gives students both a running total of their points and also shows their points as a percent of the total points possible.  That way her students always know how they are doing. 

Phrosini mentioned two caveats to keep in mind with Blackboard grading. First, if you include assignments that are coming later in the semester, then those points will count in the total at the top of the running total column.  Second, if you include any extra credit assignments, you must give the assignment a point value of “0.”  That way students who do not do the extra credit will not be docked for failing to get those points.

She also lists the possible points in her syllabus. For example she will list “in-class activities” as 40 points. Then, as she adds assignments to the grade book in Blackboard, she can decide how many points to make each in-class activity so long as the total is 40.

Another advantage of using Blackboard for grading is that the lockdown browser used by the CONHP, ExamSoft, populates directly into Blackboard.  Students can take an exam on their laptops and then ExamSoft immediately calculates their score and with the touch of a button exports it directly to the gradebook in Blackboard.

For Phrosini, Blackboard is where she stores everything for her classes including videos of lectures.  So it just makes sense to do her grading there as well.  She tells her students to consider Blackboard as the Holy Grail: all the answers are there.

The one part of grading where Phrosini goes old school is in turning the percentages in Blackboard into letter grades to submit to VU.  The CONHP has set policies around grading, including about rounding up.  So she would rather do the conversion from percentage/points to a letter grade herself. 


If you would like to learn more about grading in Blackboard, look out for workshops being offered by the Office of Instructional Technology, Design, & Assessment.  For immediate help, and to read useful articles about it in our Confluence Knowledge Base, you can submit a Help Desk Ticket here.