5 Best Practices for More Effective Online Grading

Best Practices Blackboard

Because the Grade Center comes equipped with several tools for tracking performance, providing feedback, and communicating with students, it is an ideal tool for streamlining the assessment and online grading process. A well organized and implemented Grade Center can be a powerful tool for supporting student success in the course. To boost the effectiveness of your online grading, we recommend following these 5 best practice tips for using the Grade Center in your courses.

Tip #1: Provide comprehensive instructions.

Whenever you create an assessment that it submitted online, such as a Blackboard assignment, test, or discussion board, a column is automatically added to your course’s Grade Center and the student’s My Grades area. When the student completes the assessment, the Grade Center receives this information, which you can then grade.

We recommend that students review the Student Support website before the start of the course.

However, online assessments can oftentimes be confusing to students. If confusion is left unaddressed, it can negatively impact the assessment, leading to poor grades and poor data for faculty. To help students be successful in using online assessment tools, be sure to explain to students how to use the technology and satisfy the assessment’s requirements well in advance of the assessment period. If your students are unfamiliar with using Blackboard’s online assessment tools, provide them with training resources, such as the tutorials and videos from our Student Support Website and a low-stakes practice assessment they can use to develop some experience.

If the assessment requires the student to perform specific tasks or meet certain criteria in the work they are to produce, provide descriptions, step-by-step instructions, or examples the student can use to model his or her performance after. Improve the quality of your instructions by having a peer review them for clarity. Consider including imagery to provide additional directional cues for the online learner.

This information can be communicated to students in the assessment’s instructions, pre-assessment materials, or course syllabus.

Tip #2: Review and Organize.

Review your Grade Center's organization and basic settings through the Manage button menu.

Be sure to review your Grade Center for clarity, accuracy, and consistency. Strive to maintain a Grade Center where columns unmistakably identify the assessment they are associated with and are organized into a logical progression. If you use short column names, you may want to add a description of the assessment to the column by editing the column’s information settings.

Strive for Consistency and Accuracy

Once you decide on a grade format (i.e. entering grades as points earned or percentages), be sure to apply it consistently to every grade column that you create. Knowing the grade format and range of values that a Grade Center column is expecting will help you avoid common problems with data entry mismatches and miscalculation.

Simplify  by Showing and Hiding Columns

My Grades with Comments
Students can review their grades and any comments you have provided through the My Grades tool.

If you have a rather large Grade Center, familiarize yourself with the tools for showing, hiding, and re-arranging the order of columns. Instructors may hide columns from their view of the Grade Center to help the Grade Center load quicker. They may also choose to temporarily hide columns they are not currently using. This may increase the grading efficiency in the Grade Center and provide more room to work.  Instructors may also choose to temporarily hide columns from their students. This is often done to simplify the student’s view of the Grade Center and reveal more grade information as the course progresses. An instructor may also choose to temporarily hide certain columns as a part of his or her preparation of midterm or final grades, making the column visible once it is certain that the grades are accurate and complete.

Tip #3: Share the Grades with Your Students.

If you are using the Grade Center to accept online work, tabulate student grades, and track performance, be sure to give your students access to their grade data by enabling the My Grades tool in your course. When a student uses the My Grades tool, he or she only sees his or her own grade information. This provides students with quick feedback to check their progress in the course.  In addition, students can view their grades within the Blackboard module in the MATC 2 Go app (downloaded to their smartphone or tablet).

Tip #4: Provide Feedback.

Clearly explaining to students your process for determining grades before an assessment takes place and giving them feedback afterwards helps students understand the grading process and the rationale behind the grades they receive. Communicating this information clearly and consistently is very important, especially in online courses where communications are primarily text-based. Instructors can use the Grade Center and My Grades tool to provide students with constructive feedback paired with their numerical grades in several ways: adding comments, attaching documents, or using a Blackboard rubric as a part of the grading process.

Students can view any feedback you have attached to a grade when viewing the grade’s details in the My Grades area of your course.

Reiterating your grading rationale and providing constructive, personalized feedback can oftentimes motivate students to moderate and improve their performance in online courses. It sends a clear message to the student that their work matters, that they are not anonymous in the course.  The instructor is taking time to review their work and offer guidance.

Tip #5: Monitor Performance.

Blackboard contains several tools that you can use to evaluate student performance and help you detect incidences where students may need assistance or remediation.

Color Coded Grade Center
Grade Center Color Coding can help you get assessment information at-a-glance.

Use the Grading Color Codes feature of the Grade Center to evaluate and highlight student grades or grade-status indicators that match specific criteria for at-a-glance analysis. Options include customizable color codes for highlighting incidences of work that needs grading, work that is in progress, exempted grades, and work that falls within a specific grade range (i.e. More Than, Less Than, and Between). This can be a very useful tool for identifying students who are struggling with a particular assessment or identifying broader patterns. The sooner you become aware of student performance patterns, the sooner you can intervene.

Early Warning System
Early Warning System rules can be a great pro-active tool for detecting and contacting students who may need guidance.

Another way to proactively identify student performance levels is using Blackboard’s Early Warning System. The Early Warning System is a rule-driven communication tool that you can use to monitor student grades, missed due dates, and attendance (i.e. date since last access of the course). The Early Warning System keeps track of incidents where rule criteria are met and allows you to send at-risk students e-mail notifications to follow up. Please note that the Early Warning System does not automatically send notifications to students; this step must always be initiated by the instructor. However, the Early Warning System will display a record of when a notification e-mail is sent to a student.

Lastly, Blackboard’s Performance Dashboard connects to the Early Warning System and Grade Center to provide you with an overall review of your student’s activity in the class. You can access your course’s Performance Dashboard through the course Control Panel’s Evaluation menu. The Performance Dashboard will display the date a student last accessed the course, a summary of how many Early Warning System rules have been triggered by the student, how often the student participates in the discussion board, and more.

When these tools are used together, the instructor can easily gain a more complete representation of how students are performing in the course and identify trouble areas. Using Blackboard’s communication tools, such as the Early Warning System’s notifications or an e-mail, the instructor can initiate conversations to address concerns and deliver individualized feedback to bring about improvement.

By following these 5 best practice tips and making use of the great Grade Center tools that you already have access to in your Blackboard courses, you can improve the quality of your online assessments and your student’s satisfaction with the learning process.

2 thoughts on “5 Best Practices for More Effective Online Grading

  1. Megan, thanks for offering these organizing principles. Based on our conversation last year, I am still wondering if there is an upgrade or plug-in that would allow viewing ALL of the comments made to EACH student viewable ON ONE PAGE.

    This META data overview would help us evaluate EACH student’s performance with deeper insight about the ALL of the student’s contributions, especially in separate discussion board forums.
    Darele Bisquerra

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