Maintaining and displaying marks in Blackboard
Blackboard has a "Grade Centre" that you can use to store and calculate your marks, and display them to students.
Here, we're talking about using the Grade Centre just to display marks, assuming that you are storing and calculating your marks with the DCS grading programs. We outline how to get your marks from your grades files to Blackboard.
The situation is similar to what is described in "Working with Excel", because Blackboard does keep grades in a spreadsheet, but Blackboard also has some details requiring special attention.
- Blackboard spreadsheets use a two-byte character encoding. Saving in "Comma Separated Values" (CSV) format evades this issue. However, when you are done you need to upload a file in Blackboard's format to keep it happy.
- Blackboard uses a student's UTORid as key, calling it "Username". It does also provide the student number ("Student ID"), but you must include the Username in files you upload.
- When you upload a grade to Blackboard, it is assigned a modified name that includes a number intended for some kind of internal identification. In one actual example, a mark uploaded as "Lab2" became "Lab2|823209". You have to preserve these modified names, or confusion will result, possibly involving duplicate columns of what is in reality the same mark.
- Blackboard updates your class list on its own, obtaining the data from the official enrolment records. This is helpful, because it means you can easily find out for yourself how many students you have and whether a particular student is enrolled in your course. However, it is also awkward, because it means your grades files are very likely to have a different list of students from Blackboard's.
Those aspects of Blackboard lie behind some of the procedures outlined below. We explain how to get your marks onto Blackboard, and also present a Python program to do some of the work for you. Feel free to modify the program to suit your needs, and to tell everyone about your improvements.
TELL YOUR TAs!
TAs like to help students. Students like to ask their TAs to "fix my marks". The permissions you give your TAs so that they can do useful work on your Blackboard site almost certainly also allow them to change student marks in Blackboard's Grade Centre. The marks will look "fixed" until the next time you post marks, when the fixes will vanish, because you are only using Blackboard to display your marks, not to store them.
Everyone will then act surprised and unhappy. All you can do about this is to tell your TAs, firmly and often, not to change marks displayed on Blackboard but to report the changes to you — or, of course, to the TA who is looking after marks for you.
Posting your marks on Blackboard, step by step
The goal is to download a Blackboard Grade Centre file, convert it to a grades file, add your marks to it, and upload the revised file.
Caution: Blackboard changes from time to time, and this description may become inaccurate in some details. You may need to think your way through those inaccuracies; if that is a noticeable problem, your telling us would be welcome.
The Grade Centre offers you the chance to "Work Offline".
Choose "Download" from the menu that appears when you
choose that option.
Then choose to download "Full Grade Centre", "Delimiter Type"
(probably "Include Hidden Information", though if you're
using Blackboard only for posting grades, you probably don't
hide information often),
and "Download Location" "My Computer".
The significant choices that aren't obvious are: tab-delimited (because you're going to switch to CSV in the next step) and My Computer (because the alternative is "downloading" to your Content Collection on Blackboard itself).
Once the enrolment in your class is fairly stable, you may be able to omit the downloading step, which can be tedious; instead, you could use a file downloaded previously. However, you are eventually going to copy columns of marks back into a copy of this file, so you can't change the students listed in any spreadsheet, either by adding or removing students or by re-ordering them. If you're in any doubt about your student list, re-download.
The previous step gave you a spreadsheet —
.xlsfile. Open it with Excel and "save as" a CSV file.
Next, make a grades file out of the CSV file.
You need to reformat each
line to suit the grades-file format for student
Only the first four columns of the Blackboard spreadsheet
need to be preserved:
Last Name, First Name, Username, and Student ID.
You can do this with a text editor, but it is easier to
use the program
which also helpfully removes the first line of the CSV file. Call it like this:
bb2grade.py bbdownload.csv > bbgradesfile
To finish producing your grades file, edit it to add the header, which must include this line to define the Blackboard Username as a "mark":
utor " ! , 9
If you're using the 1998 grades programs, you can't specify a printing width, so that line would say instead:
(It's not strictly essential to preserve the Username in your grades file, but it is Blackboard's student identifier, so keeping it might possibly be useful sometimes.)
Add the marks you want to post to the grades file from
your master grades file:
gcopy -m ... bbgradesfile mastergradesfile
If gcopy tells you there is "no destination record" in bbgradesfile for some records in mastergradesfile, you can just tell gcopy to ignore those marks. Those students aren't in the Blackboard class list, so you don't need to post their marks.
It's a nuisance telling gcopy over and over to ignore students who are missing on Blackboard; a better solution is to mark them as "dropped" in mastergradesfile. They have in fact dropped your course, after all.
Make an Excel file out of bbgradesfile.
You can easily do this by hand:
- Make a copy of the file under a name ending in xls, for example "bbnewgrades.xls".
- Open the file with Excel.
- Delete the grade-file header.
- Delete any empty columns.
- Fix the title row to suit Blackboard's requirements, by copying the title row from the Grade Centre file that you originally downloaded. Delete titles for marks you're not uploading (including administrative columns such as "Last Access"), and add new titles for marks that weren't there before. Be sure to preserve the mysterious codes in the titles for marks that already existed.
Now you have a spreadsheet, bbnewgrades.xls, containing
the marks you want to upload. However, it is not in
Blackboard's required Grade Centre format.
Here are the steps to make a file you can upload:
- Make a copy of the file you originally downloaded from Blackboard. Let's call this copy bbupload.xls.
- Delete the existing mark columns from bbupload.xls.
- Copy the mark columns, including their titles, from bbnewgrades.xls to bbupload.xls.
Notice that we have avoided breaking up the name and student number information in bbnewgrades.xls, which is only a temporary vehicle for arranging data.
- Upload the revised Grade Centre file, bbupload.xls, to Blackboard. Like downloading, this can be tedious for large classes.