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The First Week of the Semester

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Week One

Welcome to the first week of the semester. The students are back and the fun begins. It is said that the start of the semester is the busiest time of the year for online faculty, while the end of the semester is the busiest time for traditional classroom instructors.

By this time, you should have your classes moved over for the new semester and all the updating complete, but your duties have not ended. Week One activities are just beginning.

During the First Week of Class Online Instructors need too…

  • Provide online classes with a self-introduction discussion.
  • Introducing yourself to the class and ask students to post an introduction. It is a good way to break the ice and build a sense of community. This is also a great way for the instructor to get a feel for students, who they are and what experience they bring to the class.
  • Review the personal introductions that students post and respond to each, this shows students that a live person is present and teaching the class. It helps build community.
  • Check the class roster often, that first week is typically a drop/add period. You do not want to leave anyone behind nor allow students to continue when they are not enrolled. Some students may be unaware of their enrollment status in the class so send private emails if you see a potential problem.
  • Contact students who have not yet accessed the class. You can easily see who has, and has not, accessed your class in the Grade Center. If a student has not accessed the class, there may be a problem that needs your attention. You can use the send email tool to contact students outside of blackboard. Early intervention helps prevent larger problems down the road.
  • Have at least one graded activity for the students to complete. Since you cannot physically see students, attendance is harder to take. We do not use last login date as proof of attendance. Attendance is determined by last activity performed by students. (You may use the self-introduction discussion as the graded activity.)
  • Take attendance in all online classes and report those to the Registrar via the MyBridge account. The Registrar will note the absence and contact the students. Any student who has not attended class by the end of the fourth week of the class will be notified of their unsatisfactory progress and provided directions on how to withdraw from the class and/or institution. (For more information see Operating Policy D-OP-6-14)
  • First date for verification of attendance check is at end of the 1st week of a term. Any student that has not attended classes will have their record flagged with a grade of NGR (no grade reported).
  • Financial aid will not be paid until students can provide proof of attendance for all classes. Students reported as not attending must have all instructors sign a proof of attendance form indicating that the student has begun attendance.


In addition to the first week start up activities, you may want to check out the post Daily Activities at Daily Activities and Weekly Activities at Weekly Activities. These post will help get you on track to have a fantastic semester.



Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

August 22, 2016 at 9:00 am

Semester Start Up Checklist

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Welcome Back Faculty

Today I am interrupting the Grade Center Series to focus on the semester start up process.  The Grade Center Series will continue as soon as the semester gets under way.

For preparation of students return to campus, online faculty need to get their courses ready. If you have not already done so, content from the old semester needs to be copied to the current term shell and updated. Check out my handy “Startup Checklist” at Startup Checklist. This document contains all the instructions to copy content from semester to semester and the things you need to address in the new course like due dates and syllabus.

In addition, you will want to check out the “One Week before Class Starts” post located at One Week before Class Starts. This posting addresses a vital commutation you should have with your students prior to the the first day of class.

Welcome back faculty, I hope you have a great year!


Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

August 15, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Delete Grade Center Columns

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A question I am often asked is how to delete specific columns from the grade book. There are basically two things you need to keep in mind when trying to clean up the grade center and eliminate unwanted columns.

First, you cannot delete the default user columns and the external grade column. If you set a grade or calculated column as the external grade column, you must select another column as the external grade column before you can delete the first one.

To check to see if the column is an external grade, go to the full grade center, if there is a green checkmark to the left of the column header it means the column is an external grade column. You can also click the action link beside the column header and select Quick Column Information to see the column properties.

Quick Column Information

Quick Column Information

If the column is External, you must change it before you can delete the column. To change the column for External you just need to mark a new column External. Select a new column and click the action link beside the header column. Click Set as External Grade. The previous external column will no longer be external and can be deleted. The new column will be marked as external.

External Grade

External Grade

The second thing you need to know is the Grade book automatically creates columns in the Grade Center when you use some of the tools within blackboard. Some of the tools that automatically creates columns include:

  • Tests
  • Surveys
  • Self and Peer Assessments
  • Assignments
  • Discussions
  • Journal
  • Blog
  • Wiki

The only way to delete these auto-created grade columns from the grade center is to delete the gradable items or make that item not gradable. As you can see from the image below, the Word Discussion column is associated with the tool. When you select the action link and look at the menu, you can only hide the column. In the second image, Participation, there is a delete option. This means the column is not associated with a tool and can be deleted.

Delete Column

Delete Column

In order to delete the Word Discussion, you must first disassociate it from the tool. Unfortunately clicking on the Edit Column Information in the grade center will not permit you to disassociate the column. The Edit Column Information link in the grade center is a scaled down version of the discussion edit function. You must go and edit the discussion from the discussion tool.

Click on Course Tools> Discussion Board> and find the correct forum. From the action link beside the forum name click Edit. In the Forum Settings section, select No Grading in Forum.

Forum Settings

Forum Settings

When you select submit, to save the changes, you will receive a warning message letting you know the grades will be deleted.

warning message

warning message

When you return to the Full Grade Center the Column will be gone.

Not all tools will allow you to disassociate a column; things like Assignments and Test are set automatically with grades. With these tools, you must either delete the assignment or make it unavailable. If you make the assignment or quiz unavailable to the students, it will not show in the student grade book, but it will show on the grade center page.

To make it disappear from your view, from the full grade center click the action link beside the column header and select Hide from Instructor View.

Hide from Instructor View

Hide from Instructor View

The column will still exist but you cannot see it. To access it in the future from the full grade center click Manage> Column Organization.



You will see the column is marked Hidden. You will just need to select the column and click Show/Hide to bring the column back to your view.

If you know you will never use the assignment or test again you can delete it, but keep in mind once it is deleted it is gone forever.

Always use caution when deleting gradable content in your course; you must carefully consider what the ramifications may be. Student work, such as test and assignment submissions, is deleted along with the deletion of the content item in your course. The action is final.


Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

August 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Letter Grades using Grading Schemas

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To assign letter grades to column in the grade book you can use Grading Schemas. A grading schema takes the actual points scored and compares it to the total points possible for a percentage. Once defined the percentage will show up as a letter grade. For example A = 90-100%, B= 80-90%, C= 70-80% and so on.

This is a two-step process, first you must create the Grading Schema, and then you must apply it to a column.

Creating a Grading Schema

From the any grade center view click Manage> Grading Schemas.

Grading Schemas

From the Grading Schemas Page you can copy an existing schema by clicking on the action link beside the Schema Title and selecting Copy from the pop up menu.


The new schema will appear with a number following. Click the action link beside the new schema and click Edit. On the Schema page, edit the Name and Schema Mapping.


  1. You must provide a name for the copied schema.
  2. Modify the percentages.
  3. You can delete rows clicking on the Delete Row Button
  4. You can insert rows by clicking the insert button. Click Submit when finished.

Creating a New Schema

You can create a new schema by clicking the Create Grading Schema Button on the Grading Schemas Page. By default, the new schema will be similar to the copied schema in the name and description aspects, but the Schema Mapping will only contain two rows.


Rows can be inserted and deleted the same way you do in the copied schema. The will Calculate as column is for grades entered manually. If an instructor types in the letter A for a student’s grade, the student would receive a 95% (or whatever you determine) for their grade. In the example below, I have created a grading schema for a standard 10% scale.


Once your schema is complete, you will need to add it to individual columns in the grade center. Go to the full grade center, click the action link beside the column title, and select Edit Column Information.


On the Edit Column Information page scroll down to the Secondary Display Option and choose the name of the schema, in this case it is Letter Grade for Final.


Once you have selected the secondary display option click, submit. The points will appear with the letter grade as a secondary display.


If you had chosen the letter grade as the primary display the column in the grade book would appear with just the letter grade.



Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

August 1, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Color-Coding

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Adding color rules to the Grade Center provides visual indicators to help interpret information quickly. The Instructor can assign colors to work that is in progress, needs grading, or exempt as well as within preferred grade range criteria.

Color-coding is not enabled by default and must be enabled by the Instructor. Color-coding can be enabled in any Grade Center view. Once applied the color coding rules applies to all views. This setting will persist for Course Copy and Restore.

Adding Color Coding to the Grade Center Display

To access Color Coding from any view in the Grade Center click Manage> Grading Color Codes.

Color Code

On the Grading Color Codes Page you must first enable Grading color Codes.


  1. On the Grading Color Codes page, select the check box for Enable Grading Color Codes.
  2. In the Color Coding Options section click the Action Link for the Background Color for each Grading Status.
  3. In the Grade Ranges area, click Add Criteria to add a color rule.
  4. In the Criteria drop-down, select Between, More Than, or Less Than. Type the percentage in the text box or boxes. Click the Action Link for the Background Color and Text Color, select a color, and click Apply to save it.
  5. Click Submit.

The Grade Center page appears and you will see the color coding appear.


Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

July 25, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Smart Views

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A smart view is a focused look at the Grade Center. It shows only the columns that match a set of criteria, and the view is saved for continued use. Several smart views are available by default, but you can create your own. With smart views, you can view the progress of the following items:

  • Student performance for a particular item
  • Individual students
  • Category and status of items
  • Custom combination of attributes

Creating Smart Views

To create a Smart View go to Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center> Manage> Smart Views.

Create Smart Views

Create Smart Views

Smart Views

Smart Views

  1. Shows the title of the Smart Views you have by default. As you see the one view shows all the assignments available, another all the Blogs, and another forSmart Views

    Discussion Boards.

  2. The Green Stars represent your favorite views. When you first go to the Grade Center, you will see a list of Smart Views. These Smart Views are appear because they are added as favorites on the Smart View Page. You can simply click the Star to add or remove from the Smart View Favorite List.
  3. Finally, you have the button to create a new Smart View. Once you click the button you will go to the Create Smart View Page where you can create the view.

Create a Smart View to Tracking Low Scores

You create a smart view to track students with low scores to quickly see which students need help.


  1. Fill in the name of the view.
  2. Fill out a description of the view (Optional)
  3. If you click, add as Favorite the view will be a quick link in the Control Panel Grade Center.
  4. You have for options for the Criteria
    1. Performance will show user based on the column criteria you use.
    2. User allows you to select certain individuals only. (This would be great for classes being taught with co-teachers.)
    3. Category and Status views items by Users (Certain users or all) and by Category such as Needs Grading or Not Attempt.
    4. Custom allows you to build a custom Criteria list. In the above example, we are building a smart view based on students’ scores in two separate columns.
  5. The purpose of my Smart View is to identify students who have failed to complete the SOOL course. My custom build looks at the Final Exam Score and the Test Out Score to see if less than 40 points were scored. If so, the students will be identified in this View.
  6. Clicking the Add User Criteria button allows me to add multiple criteria for the view.
  7. The Formula Editor box shows your formula. In the above example will only be displayed if both conditions are met, which means the student must score less than 40 on both the Final and Test Out. We need to change the formula from 1 AND 2 (representing both sets of criteria) to 1 OR 2.
  8. To change the formula click the Manually Edit button and click inside the Formula Editor box and change the AND to OR. You may need to play around with the formula to get it right.
  9. Click the Submit button.

View Smart Views in the Control Panel

In the Grade Center section of the Control Panel, favorite smart views appear in alphabetical order as an indented list in the Full Grade Center section. In a new course, the Assignments and Tests smart views appear in the list by default.

When you click the Assignments link, the Grade Center page opens and only assignment columns appear in the grid. When you click the Full Grade Center link, all the columns appear in the grid.

If you have marked a Smart View as a favorite it will appear in the Control Panel with the other Smart Views.

How to Access the Smart Views List

Each smart view allows you to access a set of columns in the Grade Center grid. For example, when you access the Tests smart view, only test columns appear in the grid. There are 3 ways to access the smart views.

  1. In the Full Grade Center, point to Manage on the action bar and click Smart Views. On the Smart Views page, the list of smart views appears. Click a smart view title to open the Grade Center with the appropriate columns in the grid.
  2. Smart Views can be accessed through the quick link in the Control Panel Grade Center, if the Smart View has been marked as a Favorite.
  3. Smart Views can be accessed from the full grade center by clicking Filter> Current View> Select the desired Smart View. (Clicking the Save button to the right of the Current View will make whichever view you are on the default view)



Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

July 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Categories

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We have been working with the grade center; so far, we have worked with existing Categories. By default, the following categories are in the Grade Center:

  • Assignment
  • Blog
  • Discussion
  • Journal
  • Self and Peer
  • Survey
  • Test

When you create a gradable item from any tool in blackboard, a grade column is created for the item. The column is automatically associated to the appropriate category.

You can create as many categories as needed to organize your Grade Center data. The Categories page in the Grade Center displays the default categories and any you create. Each category’s row displays an optional description and the grade columns associated with that particular category.

With categories, you can perform the following tasks:

  • Filter your view of the Grade Center
  • Calculate grades
  • Create a smart view
  • Create a report

How to Create Categories

Go into the course> Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center> Manage> Categories


  1. On the Categories page, click Create Category on the action bar.
  2. In this example you can see the Test category and all the columns associated with it.


Once you click the Create Category button you will be taken to a Create Category page

  1. Name the Category, in this example I called it Homework
  2. Fill in the description
  3. Click Submit


The new category “Homework” will appear on the Categories page.



Assign a Category to a Column

To assign an existing column to the category, go to the full grade center and identify the column that you wish to change. Click the Action Button to the right of the column header and select Edit Column Information.


When the edit column page appears:

  1. Scroll down to Category
  2. Click the down arrow to the right of the category. This example shows No Category because a category had not been assigned when the column was created, but your category may be already assigned if you used a tool to create the column. You can change a category once a tool has assigned the category. For instance changing a “Test” category to “Homework” would only change the category in which the column resides, not the tool.
  3. Select the appropriate category


Once complete click Submit.

Veiw a list of all Categories and Associated Columns

From the full grade center click Manage> Column Organization. You will see a list of all the columns and information about each column, such as Name, Grading Period, Category, Due Date, Date Created, and Points Possible.


Filter by Categories

  1. From the Full Grade Center, click the Filter Button


  2. Change the Category Column to the desired Category. Only the User information columns and the appropriate category columns will appear in the grade center.

Sort Columns by Category

  1. In the full grade center, click the down arrow beside the Layout Position


  2. Select the Categories position. All the columns will now be arranged by category.

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

June 20, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Drop Lowest Score

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To drop the lowest score for each test, you will need to set up a calculated column. The column will drop the lowest score and provide a final Test score for the Test category. This is a two-part process; first, you will need to setup a calculated column to drop the lowest Test score and then remove all Test scores from the existing Totals column.

Create Calculated Column to Drop Lowest Test Score

Go into the course> Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center> Create Calculated Column> Total Column.


In the Create Total Column screen, enter a name such as “Drop Lowest Test Score.”

For Description (optional), enter “Drop lowest test score.”


Select Score for Primary Display.

In the Select Columns, section select “Selected Columns and Categories.” This will make all the columns in the grade book visible.

Under Categories to Select click Test and then the arrow button to move the category into the Selected Columns box.


The category Test will appear on the right side of the screen with options. For Drop Grades, enter the number of scores you want to drop. In the example below, the instructor will drop 1 low test score.


For Calculate as Running Total, select No.

For Include this Column in Grade Center Calculations, select Yes.

For Show this Column to Students you may select either Yes or No.

For Show Statistics (average and median) for this column to Students in My Grades, select No.


Click Submit.

The Total Test Scores column now shows the total of the entire Test, and the Lowest Test Dropped shows the total with the lowest score dropped.


Notice how the Total Test column grade is not the same as the Lowest Test Dropped column.

Modify Original Totals Column

The final step is to modify the Total column for all columns to remove the original test scores. If this step were skipped, the test scores would be calculated multiple times in the totals column

Go into the course> Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center> Find the Total column and click the column action menu> Select Edit Column Information.


Scroll down to Selected Columns and you will see All Grade Columns are included in the totals.


Click on Selected Columns and Categories. Select the columns you want to include in the calculation. Make sure to leave out the test scores and the Total Test Scores or these columns will be calculated multiple times.

Click the Arrow to move the columns into the Selected Columns box.


Make sure to include the Lowest Test Dropped in the Selected Columns box.


Once you hit submit the Total column will be updated to calculate only the columns you included in the selected columns box. You will notice a difference between the old Total Score and the new.




Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Adding/Editing Grades in the Full Grade Center

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One of the most important functions of the grade center is to record assessment scores. There are several ways to record those scores.



To grade/edit a grade for several student

Click the Action Link to the right of the column header.

In the Contextual Menu, select Grade Attempts

You will be taken into the assessment. You will see one student’s assessment at a time, but you can easily navigate between the various students by clicking the arrows to the right and left of the students’ name.




  1. The Access Log button shows the times and date the student accessed the test. It shows the time spent on each question.
  2. This area show the number of attempt the student used, if multiple attempts were available.
  3. Scrolling down the page the instructor can see each question, the answer given by the student, and the correct answer.
  4. Instructor can see the point values earned by the student per question. The instructor can override the points by typing in the new value.
  5. After the corrections are made, click Save and Next to go to the next student. Save and Exit will save your work and take you back to the full grade center.

If from the full grade center you click on the Action Link beside a students attempt, you can have direct access to the one student.




To grade/edit a single student’s assessment, click the action link to the right of the student grade or icon.

In the Contextual Menu, select Grade Attempts



You will be taken to the students assessment and can grade it much like you grade the entire class. In this image student attempted the assessment but did not actually submit the work. The stats says the assessment is In Progress. The Attempt must be submitted before it can be graded.


Finally, you may have an assignment or participation grade you want to manually enter. Simply click on the dash lines in the column you want to grade. You can now manually type in the score. Hit Enter to go to the next student.



To add a grade in a single cell click on the Dash line inside a column cell and enter the grade

Click Enter to record the score










Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

June 6, 2016 at 9:00 am

Blackboard 9 Grade Center Series: Creating Columns

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Creating Columns

When you create gradable items in your course, grade columns are created automatically in the Grade Center. For instance if you create an assignment using the Assignment Tool. To create a column in a tool, go

to a Content Area> Assessments (or Tools)> Assignment (or Test).




  1. Name and Color title will become the name of the column in the Grade Center.
  2. The label for the grade section of the assignment tool.
  3. When you fill in the Points Possible or add a gradable rubric, a column will be created the grade center.
  4. This section will determine how the score is displayed, if the score is to be included in the total calculations, if students can see it, and if you want students to see the column stats.

A new Grade Column can be added to the Grade Center in the full grade center by clicking Create Column. Creating a column in this fashion allows you to create columns for things like attendance, participation, and external assignments. To access the Full Grade Center go into your course and go to Control Panel> Grade Center> Full Grade Center> Create Column

The Create Grade Column form will appear. Under Column Information you will need to fill out the Column Name. If you would like a different name to appear in the grade center, fill out the Grade center name. This function is handy to use if you want short column headings in the grade center. Instead of using Module 1 Assignment 1, the title can be abbreviated to M1A1. This will save space and allow more columns to appear on page.


The next section will allow you to determine how you want the grades to appear, by Score, Letter, Text, Percentage, or Complete/Incomplete. The secondary Display will permit you to display two types of scores in one column such as Score/Percentage, it would be displays as follows: 10 (100%). Points Possible and Rubrics can also be added in this section.


The Category section allows you to identify the type of assessment. Below is listed the default categories, but new ones can be added. We will discuss categories later in the series. The important thing you need to know about categories right now is that when you use categories, life will be easier for you when you attempt to do weighted totals. For instance, you could create a Homework category and identify the column as homework. When you attempt to calculate final grades, your calculations might look like Homework 10%, Assignments 25%, Quizzes 25%, and Final 40%. Using a weighed column, you would simply put each category with the percentage in the calculation box, and blackboard would calculate the results for you.


Dates and Options

These section allow you to set due dates and options of how you want the columns to display. It is similar to the options used when creating a column from a tool.


Calculated Columns

The Blackboard Grade Center allows you to create columns that will display a total based on the numeric content of other columns. Calculated columns contains the following type of columns:

  • Average Columns
  • Minimum/Maximum Columns
  • Total Column
  • Weighted Column


The Average Column – The average column is a type of calculated column that displays the average for all or a selected number of columns.  The Create Average columns works the same as creating columns, you just need to fill out the form. You will see a new section called Select Columns. This section will allow you to choose the columns you want to include in the Average.


Using All Grade Columns will create a formula similar to the one below.

(Column 1%) + (Column 2%) + (Column 3%) + (Column 4%) = % earned divided by 4 columns = Average percentage score.

Selecting the Selected Columns and Categories will open additional options:


  1. Select the Categories you want included in the Average.
  2. Select the Arrow button to move the item into the Selected Column
  3. You can now drop the highest and/or lowest grade in that category, weigh equally or proportionally, or use only the highest or lowest to calculate the grade.

Using the Selected Columns and Categories option, you do not have to use the categories list. Instead you can manually select the columns you want to include in the calculation.

You also have the option to Calculate as a Running Total.


It is important to know Running totals exempt cells that do not contain data. If you are using this option you will need to make sure you put a 0 in all scores missed by the student, if you do not grades will appear artificially high for the column. This is because scores are based on only completed work not all the work that is due. On the other hand, answering No to running totals will make grades seem artificially low, because calculation are based on total points possible overall, not to date.

Minimum/Maximum Column – The minimum/maximum column is a type of calculated column that displays either the minimum or maximum grade for a selection of columns. It is similar to the Average in the setup, but you choose Minimum or Maximum. This calculation can be used to determine what content your students may be struggling with.

Total Column – The total column is a type of calculated column that generates a grade based on the cumulative points earned, related to the points allowed. You can select which columns and categories are included in a total column’s calculation.

Weighted Column – The weighted column is a type of calculated column that generates a grade based on the result of selected columns and categories, and their respective percentages. By default, a Weighted Column is in every course. You can select individual columns or Columns by Category. Following is a typical formula used when calculating based on category. The instructor will have control of the categories used and the percentage of each category.

(Tests = 40%) + (Assignments = 40%) + (Participation = 20%) = (Final Grade)

Written by Dr. Sherri E. Ritter

May 30, 2016 at 9:00 am

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