Timesaving Tips Using the Blackboard Grade Center

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Beginning with Blackboard 8.0, the former Gradebook has been rebuilt and includes many new features for managing student grades and feedback. Here are a few timesaving tips for using the newest features in the Blackboard Grade Center.

  1. Hide unnecessary columns
    Blackboard by default adds several new columns to the the Grade Center, including: Username, Student ID, Last Access, and Availability. Hide the columns that you don’t want visible in default and custom views. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Hide Column.
  2. Organize columns
    New columns added to the Grade Center are by default added at the end of the Grade Center, with Total and Weighted Total columns near the beginning. Reorder columns to a logical order, such as sequential order by due date. Note – The order in which students see their individual assignment scores in My Grades is the order of the columns in the Full Grade Center View. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Organize Grade Center. Click and drag columns to reorder.
  3. Freeze columns (student names still visible when scrolling)
    Grade Center columns can be frozen in place so they do not move while scrolling through column data. Last Name and First Name columns are frozen by default. Freeze any additional columns that you desire to remain visible while scrolling. How to: Select Mange from the Action Bar, then click Organize Grade Center. Click and drag columns above the gray bar to freeze.
  4. Customize grading schema for automatically computing letter grades
    A grading schema can be configured to match the grading scale used to compute letter grades. Once customized, this grading schema can be applied to display a students individual assignment grade, running total, or even final grade as a letter. Apply your grading scaled for assigning letter grades to the grading schema. How to: Select Manage from th Action Bar, then click Grading Schemas. Click the Modify button for the existing Letter schema. Remove unneeded letter grade values, such as plus and minus grades, and adjust existing percentages of letter grades to match grading scale. Click the Submit button to save.
  5. Add custom categories and apply to grade columns
    Categories assigned to columns are included in students display to clearly identify the category that an assignment is applied to and can be used to easily sort columns in Smart Views. Add custom categories to match the types of assignments used to assess student learning. Then, when adding columns, assign a category to each column. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Categories. Click the Add Category button and enter a name and description if desired. Click the Submit button to save.
  6. Shorten column titles by adding Grade Center display name
    In addition to the descriptive column name assigned to grade, a shortened Grade Center display name not exceeding 15 characters can be added that will display as the column header in the Grade Center. How to: When adding a new column, enter the shortened column title in the Grade Center Display Name box.
  7. Enter grades directly into cells
    Enter grades directly through the Grade Center spreadsheet. How to: Add a grade column and then enter the grades for students directly into the column cells. Click in a cell to add a score, then press the Enter key to save and move to the next row.
  8. Add due dates to grade columns
    In addition to tracking when a column was added, add due dates to columns corresponding to assignments with due dates. This provides a visual reminder to students in My Grades of when a given assignment is due and can be used to dynamically assign columns to a grading period. How to: When adding a column, click the option for Due Date and then assign the date.
  9. Provide feedback on any student scores
    Comments can be added to any score. Add comments to student scores when desiring to provide individual feedback or clarification on a score. Comments are visible to students in My Grades. How to: Enter the score in a cell. Then, click the down arrows and click Add Comment. Enter comments in the Feedback to User box. Optional Grading Notes can also be added available only for instructors and teaching assistants..
  10. Display score and percent or letter grade for the same item
    Once entering a student score as, a secondary display can automatically be also displayed, also showing the percentage or letter grade equivalent of the score earned. Add a secondary display to any column where this additional grade view would be helpful. The secondary display is only available in the Grade Center and not My Grades. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Modify Column. Select the desired format of the additional grade display from the Secondary Display drop down menu.
  11. Exempt a grade for an individual student
    For a student who has a legitimate reason for missing an assignment, that score can now be exempted from the student’s cumulative grade. Notation that a score has been exempted is visible in the Grade Center and My Grades and can be reverted if needed. The original score assigned can also still be found. Exempt scores for students who aren’t required to makeup missing assignments. How to: Click the down arrows within a cell and then click Exempt Grade.
  12. Email students from the Grade Center
    The Email tool allows for sending emails to students or select students directly from the Grade Center. This feature is especially useful when desiring to email several students who have not turned in assignments. How to: Check the boxes next to the students you wish to email, then select the Email option from the Action Bar at the top.
  13. Create calculated columns
    In addition to adding standard grade columns, calculated columns can be added to provide additional statistical display information, including: Weighted Grade, Average, Total, and Minimum/Maximum values. How to: Select Add Calculated Column from the Action Bar at the top and then click the type of column you wish to add. Follow the prompts provided to configure the column and click the Submit button to save.
  14. Create customized “Smart Views”
    Smart Views provide the ability to categorize students into groups based on selected criteria. Once created and saved, these customized views of the Grade Center area available from the Current View drop-down menu within the Grade Center. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Smart Views. Click the Add Smart View button. Enter a name for the view and then select the type of view, criteria, and any desired filtering. Click the Submit button to save.
  15. View Grade Center statistics
    View statistical information related to columns and students, such as average, median, and standard deviation. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Column Statistics or click the down arrows by a student name and select User Statistics.
  16. View Grade Center history
    The Grade History feature provides a record of all changes which occur to grades within a course. Accidentally entering or changing the wrong student’s grade or inadvertently clearing a student’s grade can be identified and resulting grades reset. How to: Click the Grade History button in the Action Bar located near the top of the screen.
  17. Automatically drop the lowest grade
    An assortment of new grade computation features are available, including the capability to easily drop the lowest grade from scores within a given category. Columns containing scores must be assigned to the same category. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the Weighted Total column, then click Modify Column. Select the categories you wish to include in computing the weighted total grade and note the percentage weight for each category. Under Drop Grades for the category, enter 1 in the lowest grades box. Click the Submit button to save.
  18. Weight grades either proportionally or equally
    Grades can now be weighted either equally or proportionally. Weighting proportionally will accommodate instances where assignments within a given category have different point values. Click the down arrows next to the title of the Weighted Total column, then click Modify Column. Select the categories you wish to include in computing the weighted total grade and note the percentage weight for each category. Choose Proportionally for any categories in which the assignment values vary. Click the Submit button to save.
  19. Print/run reports
    Printable reports, like a progress report, are available. How to: Click Reports in the Action Bar and define the report data. Click the Preview button to preview the report or the Print button to print. Reports pring the data for one student per page. Reports can be customized in a variety of ways, include report header and footer information.

A printable version of these tips is available at http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/gradecenter/tips.shtml

New Master Course Tool in Blackboard

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NIU faculty you can now use the Blackboard Faculty Tools (BFT) to combine one or more course sections into a master course in Blackboard. By combining enrollments of related or cross-listed courses, you will save time by managing only one course in Blackboard.

The new master course functionality, which had been previously available only by request, will allow you to:

  • Combine enrollments of sections for which you’re the official instructor of record into a single “master” course in Blackboard.
  • Manage the master course by adding or removing sections before the semester starts.

The tool can be accessed by logging in to Blackboard and following the ‘Blackboard Faculty Tools’ link under the Services tab.

To learn more about the new tool and/or to watch a 2 minute tutorial, please visit http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/gettingstarted/bft.shtml#mastercourse.

If you have any questions please contact the ITS Helpdesk at 815-753-8100 or helpdesk@niu.edu.

Blackboard Early Warning System

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Early Warning System Rules

The Early Warning System is a Blackboard tool that can be used to monitor student progress in a course and alert faculty to possible performance problems among students. The tool can also be used to communicate those warnings to students themselves to let them know how their performance is being measured. Notification warnings can be generated based on a set of rules that take into account graded performance, late or missing course work, or attendance within the Blackboard course. For example, as shown on the picture below, a rule can be set up to generate a warning if there are any students in the course who scored below a certain percentage on a quiz or if some students have not logged in to the course for several days, or if students’ assignments are past due.

Early Warning Figure 01

The Early Warning System can monitor student activity according to three types of rules that faculty can set up for their course:

  • Grade Rule – This rule is based on the students’ grade for a particular assessment. It can be an automated Blackboard assessment such as a test, a survey, or a safe assignment, or a manually added assessment. Blackboard generates the warning notification based on the score entered into the Gradebook, whether the score is calculated automatically or entered manually.
  • Due Date Rule – This rule generates warning notifications based on specified due dates for assessments that are created and graded through Blackboard. It cannot be applied to manually graded assessments.
  • Last Access Rule – The last access rule generates a warning notification based on when students last accessed the Blackboard course.

Reviewing Alerts and Notifying Users

Once the Early Warning System rules have been created, faculty must check the Early Warning System periodically and click the Refresh button to discover incidents of student performance that trigger warning notifications. The Early Warning System does not continuously monitor the course; it must be done by the faculty.

The Early Warning System consolidates warning notifications based on the rules and allows faculty to easily address problems to students. Faculty can specify which notification warnings they want to communicate to students and they have control over the message each time a warning is sent. Faculty can use the default message generated by Blackboard or they can modify the message to more accurately communicate the seriousness of the situation.

Early Warning Figure 02

As shown in the picture above, Blackboard maintains a Notification Log of all the Early Warning System messages that have been sent to students in the course. The Notification Log, which lists statistics by individual student, is searchable and can be used to verify that a student was alerted to a problem.

The Early Warning System is a helpful feature in Blackboard that allows faculty to monitor student performance proactively based on attendance, student assessment, and assessment due dates. The Early Warning System is an extension of the Blackboard Performance Dashboard and is closely integrated with it. The link to the Early Warning System page can be found in the course Control Panel under Assessment; it also appears as a column in the Performance Dashboard.

For more information on how to create and apply Early Warning System rules in a Blackboard course please refer to the documentation page found at: http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/assessments/earlywarning.shtml

New Features in Blackboard 7.3

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Blackboard is the course management system used campus-wide at NIU that allows faculty to post materials, deliver tests and surveys, hold online discussion and perform many other course-related functions. In December 2008 Blackboard was upgraded from version 7.1 to 7.3. This upgrade includes some subtle new user features and system capabilities that previously have not existed.

The new features in Blackboard 7.3 primarily can be found in three main toolsets: Discussion Board, Assessment and Gradebook, and the Visual Text Box Editor. In addition, the new Early Warning System tool in Blackboard can be used to monitor student progress and alert faculty to possible performance problems.

For more details regarding the new features and tools in Blackboard 7.3, visit http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/resources/version73.shtml

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers a wide array of programs each month regarding the principles and practices of teaching with Blackboard. The current Blackboard program schedule and online registration information is always available at http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/workshops

New Blackboard Suggestion Box

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Recommending an enhancement or improvement to a Blackboard product or service has just become easier. One now only needs to drop a simple entry virtually into the Blackboard Suggestion Box, which was highlighted in an article in the December issue of the Blackboard K-12 Bulletin:

“The Suggestion Box is a single place for all client product suggestions, whether the idea originated as an individual client request, as a part of a users group discussion, during a meeting with your client manager or through any other channel. Upon receipt, a Blackboard product manager will review your suggestion to better understand the challenges you or your organization are facing and you’ll be notified via e-mail that your suggestion has been received.”

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