A Review of the Blackboard Online Grading Tool

Regardless of the specific tool used, online grading offers a green solution that is more easily archived for students’ use. In addition to eliminating problems of not-so-legible handwriting, students and teachers benefit when a student can read over a professor’s comments prior to coming to class, and only ask questions after having time to contemplate the feedback. Microsoft Word offers this capability and two previous posts on this blog have covered shortcuts available with this option. However, Blackboard now provides an online grading tool distinctly different from Word.

Comment and Score

The grade and feedback section in the Blackboard Grading Tool.

The most significant advantage of the new tool is a simplified workflow. With Microsoft Word, one must download the papers after they are submitted through the Assignment feature. Each paper is graded and either uploaded back into Word or e-mailed to the student. With the new integrated Blackboard tool, students more reliably receive and keep the graded paper. Additionally, since all grading is completed in Blackboard and a final comment and score can be included to the right of the paper, the grading process is faster. (See the screenshot to the right.)

After submitting a student’s score, Blackboard automatically switches to the next paper. Each comment is saved as it is made, and the dilemma of where to put the final summary feedback in Word is eliminated. (I always used to debate between including this final comment on the paper itself or placing it within the feedback section in Blackboard.)

Notably, the options available for grading are quite different from Microsoft Word. While Blackboard does not include the ability to create keyboard shortcuts, other convenient tools missing in Word are available. A cross-out tool allows an instructor to place a line through unnecessary text and make a quick comment above (or fill in a more appropriate word choice.)  Three separate tools allow one to comment on highlighted text, a user-defined rectangle, or a specific point placed anywhere in the document. Microsoft Word requires that each comment be placed with highlighted text, but highlighting an entire paragraph can be messy and confusing.

The Blackboard grading tool also offers the ability to ‘draw’ on the student’s paper, which can come in handy if one wants to suggest moving a given paragraph to another location in the paper. A text tool allows the instructor to write anywhere on the document. This technique more closely simulates grading with pen or pencil on hard copy than any of the Microsoft Word options.

The instructor can use highlighting, comments, flexible placement of text, and strikeouts when grading.

The instructor can use highlighting, comments, flexible placement of text, and strikeouts when grading.

While the screen size appears to be an issue as it can be hard to see the paper and the comments at the same time, Blackboard fortunately offers a full screen mode accessible by clicking on the four arrow icon in the upper right. (See the first screenshot above.) In this mode, the screen is more open and ample area exists in which to grade.

One small problem that I’ve noticed (at least on the Mac): when resizing the screen using Command-Shift-‘+’ or Command-Shift-‘-‘, the comments can get shifted from their original placement.  Returning to the original magnification fixes the problem.  An easy solution would be to set your magnification before starting to grade a given paper and don’t change it during the process.

I’ve tried to work with the Blackboard Grading Tool on the iPad. A single option allows the user to click anywhere on the document and type a comment; the full screen mode creates a reasonable workspace. However, the onscreen keyboard makes the workflow cumbersome; those using an external keyboard will likely find this process more efficient. Improvements are coming, including the ability to write comments right on the iPad screen with a finger—although that recreates the problem of potentially bad handwriting. A quick Google search suggests that alternative grading options for the iPad exist, so this topic could be another post for Geeking Out at Fisher. (Anyone want to be a guest blogger?)

Despite some limitations, and the fact that the ability to add keyboard shortcuts should be part of Blackboard’s next upgrade, the convenience of grading and commenting in one place, along with the combination of drawing tools and text fields, make the Blackboard Grading Tool worthy of consideration both for those already using another online grading tool and for those interested in trying online grading but concerned with the logistics of using Microsoft Word.

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4 responses to “A Review of the Blackboard Online Grading Tool

  1. This looks useful. Possibly closer to my style than other ideas I’ve heard. I’ll try it out at the next opportunity! Question: How does this possible screen size/comment placement issue play out on the students’ end? Would they have to be viewing the document at the same zoom % to see the comments properly aligned?

  2. Yes, I’ve seen the problem occur once with a student. (At least one who took the time to tell me.) If he or she resizes, it could also offset the comments. Worth mentioning to a class.

  3. Jeremy,
    I am more comfortable printing a student assignment and writing my comments directly on the paper. Yet, I realize this method is not always ideal for the student or great for our environment and have started using Microsoft Word. Your post provides a nice example for how to use the grading tool in Blackboard and prevent all the downloading required by Word. Makes me consider whether or not I should give Blackboard Online Grading a try in upcoming courses. Thanks for sharing. -Shannon

  4. This tool also allows you to include rubrics for grading, which can somewhat replace the need for shortcuts (common problems can be described in the rubric rather than individually on papers where these issues arise). If you grade with a rubric, you can also generate reports that assess how the class as a whole did on issues/skills you are tracking.

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