Grading in the New Learning Management System

With the transition from CTools to Canvas winding down this semester, the university can focus on exploring the best ways to use this powerful new tool. For example, many instructors are using the Gradebook and Speedgrader tools within the system in the typical graded submission or graded quizzes format. For some classes, this regimented, points based system works. However, there is a variety of other ways to use those tools to create learning opportunities that not all instructors are aware of.

1 - Letter based or complete/incomplete based grading

Not every class fits in well with a numerical, points based grading system. While some subjects lend themselves to precise, black and white answers, others require more of a focus on creativity, subtlety, and process. Grades, in those cases, are often more of a general indicator of progress than a precise tallying of right and wrong. On the surface, it seems as if instructors are stuck using an exact, point based system that misses the subtleties that only a longer comment or annotated response can convey. This is where using the Show Grade as: Letter Grade option comes in handy when creating an assignment. Combined with the commenting and annotation abilities of Speedgrader, this provides a more robust and flexible alternative to a strict rubric. Note: An instructor can still use a rubric in this case—if they don’t have a strict point system in the rubric, it can be changed so that it allows the instructor to write a free form evaluation for each category by checking the “I’ll write free form comments when assessing students” box while editing the rubric.

2 - Graded discussions in Speedgrader

If you are trying to have students discuss subjects and build on the ideas they are learning, there are a lot of options. The Discussion tool in Canvas is very robust, and includes the ability not only for threaded conversations with embedded media and attachments, but also the ability for instructors to use Speedgrader to quickly and easily see how each student is participating. As students discuss their ideas, this creates a great opportunity for formative assessment because instructors can determine what ideas may need to be discussed in more depth during the lecture period. Canvas Discussions also provide students the opportunity to be creative, ask meaningful questions, and get credit for their ideas.

3 - Mastery/outcomes based grading

Many skills that need to be learned to be productive in an area cannot be mastered within any given assignment. These skills are developed over time and often over the course of several assignments or even several semesters. Competency or mastery based learning grading options are available within Canvas through the Outcomes tool. Done well, this method of grading can allow students to learn at their own pace and recognize that mistakes do not necessarily have to mean failure. This can also allow for students with different strengths to choose different paths to learn—it can allow them to pick from a variety of assignments to show their competency and it reflects a more natural approach to the learning process.

Figure 1. Options for peer review in Canvas

4 - Peer based grading

Learning by evaluation (one of Bloom’s higher order thinking skills) can be very powerful. Instructors can encourage this kind of growth by having students provide evaluations of one another’s writing, projects, or presentations. This is done through the peer evaluation option when setting up an assignment. In order to make this effective, the instructor will need to help guide students through making evaluations that provide meaningful feedback—the evaluation should help students who both give and receive the feedback. Canvas has built in options that require students to use a rubric, and it is also recommended that students receive guidance about how to develop comments that are actually helpful to their peers. The key with this kind of learning is making students’ thinking, and the growth and change in their thinking, visible.

5 - Revision based grading

Hand in hand with peer based grading, revisions based grading can also be implemented. Reflecting upon work and revising it is a way to help students develop a deeper and more connected understanding of principles and major ideas within and between content areas. Whether the revisions are based on a basic refinement process, or aim to capitalize on new concepts to develop and demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding throughout the course, a revision process can create rich opportunities. When student thinking is made visible, students gain awareness of their own growth and instructors can more accurately assess student learning. One option in Canvas is to select multiple submissions. Multiple submissions allow the same assignment to be submitted at different points of development, increasing the requirements at each step. Instructors can see the time, date, and grade of each submission and annotate them with Speedgrader.

Help with designing your course in Canvas

These are just a few of the more common grading options that can be used within Canvas. Try combining any of the options described above; the array of possible implementations will push the limits of imagination for the course! LSA instructors interested in learning more about the Canvas grading options, whether just for basic options in assignments and Speedgrader, or more advanced alternatives, should contact LSA-ISS at or 734-615-0099 to set up an appointment with a consultant.