Grading and Attendance Policies
Academic Integrity Policy
Blackboard Messages and Course Messages
Course Modules in Course Documents
Readings, Slide Decks, and Notes
A well-managed project communicates the following items to its stakeholders:
- Objective statements of what the project is intended to accomplish (project goals), shared with the project sponsors, participants and beneficiaries (stakeholders)
- Clear definitions of the roles and responsibilities of the sponsors and participants
- A well-defined task list with resource assignments, precedence relationships and planned schedule of events on a timeline for completion
- Effective systems and processes for monitoring and regularly communicating progress against objectives throughout the duration of the project
- Mechanisms for taking corrective action as needed to meet project goals within resource and time constraints
- A clearly defined end-point
- Post-completion evaluation based on predefined criteria to guide future planning
A well-run course is a well-executed project. Consider using the instructional tools listed below to apply these principles when teaching your course:
|Applied Project Principle||Consider Using Instructional Tools|
|Project Objectives||Course Syllabus, Learning Objectives|
|Roles and Responsibilities of Participants||Course Syllabus|
|Task List||Communication and Navigation||Course Schedule, Faculty Information, Announcements, Blackboard Calendar, Course Modules in Course Documents|
|Content Presentation (supporting the objectives)||Readings, Slide Decks, Notes, Lectures, Screencasts, Podcasts, Lecture Capture|
|Learner Practice (how knowledge is constructed and assimilated)||Written Assignments, Discussion Forums, Journals, Blogs, Wikis, Papers, Class Participation, Think-Pair-Share, Class Presentations|
|Assessment (based on objectives)||Rubrics, Self-Peer Assessment, Plagiarism Detection, Inline Grading|
|Summary & Review||Journals, Wikis|
|Monitoring Progress against Objectives and Taking Corrective Action||Retention Center, Grade Center, Course Messages|
|Communicating Progress||Grade Center, Feedback, Rubrics, Formative Assessments|
|Clearly Defined Endpoint||Grades due in PeopleSoft|
|Post-Completion Evaluation||OMET Survey|
The article “If Your Syllabus Could Talk” (D’Antonio 2007) explains what a course syllabus communicates to students as a performance contract between course instructors and their students. According to D’Antonio, a syllabus should always include:
- The instructor’s name, contact information, and office hours
- The course name and number
- What students should expect to learn in the course – the overarching learning objectives
- A description of required texts and materials
- The schedule of readings, assignments and examinations
- How students performance will be evaluated – grading and attendance policies
- Other relevant policies, including disability resources, classroom behavior, academic integrity, and student recording of class lectures and activities
The syllabus can set the tone for how your students view your interest as an instructor. Keep in mind as you post your syllabus, you usually don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression with your students.
Good learning objectives describe measurable desired outcomes. The syllabus, preferably in Adobe Reader (.pdf) format, provides clear, overarching objectives for the course. Written, specific, measurable, and desired outcomes at the chapter/topic/unit/module level tell the students what their learning goals are throughout the course. Instructors are advised to group learning activities in content area folders within a learning management system (e.g., Blackboard) and to communicate outcomes at the chapter/topic/unit/module level.
Instructional materials, including readings, videos and assignments provided to students need to support learning objectives and not be a distraction. Assessments should measure student achievement against learning objectives, consistent with course activities and resources.
Clearly stated grading and attendance policies in a course syllabus explain
- How course grades are calculated
- How assignments are evaluated
- What the penalties are for missing due dates on assignments
- What make-up procedures are used, if any, for missed exams
- Expectations for attendance and class participation
Additionally, refer to departmental grading guidelines if they are applicable to your course.
Refer students to the University’s academic policy on disability resources and services appropriate to your campus. For Pitt’s Oakland campus, include the following statement in your syllabus:
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, (412) 648-7890, firstname.lastname@example.org, (412) 228-5347 (for P3 ASL users), as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.
Compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires accommodations for electronic resources provided to students with disabilities. These may be as simple as using built-in styles for document and paragraph headings, alternate text fields for images, and captions for video recordings. Section 508 compliance is not limited to web-based resources – it also applies to Word, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat documents. If you use Adobe Reader documents, please make sure that they are text searchable.
Please see CIDDE’s Accessibility Resources for Faculty page for helpful information on making your course accessible.
“Students are presumed to accept the concept of academic integrity and to seek to live by it but they may need continuing clarification of the concept and guidance in its observance. Particularly, students need the assurance that those who work honestly will not suffer thereby in comparisons with the dishonest. Those who cannot or will not adopt the concept and practices of academic honesty do not belong within the University.” As a general practice, instructors are urged to reference this policy within their course syllabi to ensure that their students are explicitly aware of the policy and how it may be applied if the policy is violated.
Let your students know explicitly
- That you expect them to show up for class and return after breaks on time
- What you expect them to do with electronic devices (cell phones, pagers, laptops, tablets, etc.) during lectures, class discussions and exams
- That you expect them to pay attention and not disturb others with side conversations during your class except when they are instructed to do so as part of a learning activity
A course schedule provides your students with a roadmap they can use to plan their preparation for classroom activities on a class-by-class or week-by-week basis. Ideally, it includes:
- The subject or topics for each class period
- Required preparation, including readings, videos, homework and assessments done outside of scheduled class periods
- Due dates for exams, scheduled quizzes, homework assignments and group projects
The Faculty Information link in your course menu is useful for providing information to your students about yourself, staff members, other instructors, teaching assistants and other resources. This can include office hours and locations and other administrative information. See Contacts for more detail on how to use this feature.
The first thing a visitor to your course sees when they enter your course is the Announcements page. Push critical or time sensitive messages out to all of your students using Announcements. Announcements may be made permanent or timed to appear and disappear on particular dates, and they may contain links to course and external content.
E-mail messages to students may be trapped in spam or junk mail filters, or simply fail to pass to a full mailbox. E-mail messages are not retained in Blackboard.
Blackboard announcements are always displayed to all students. If you have a message that has to go out to all of your students without delay, use an Announcement. Let them know that this will be how you will let them know of “last minute” changes to the course.
The Blackboard Messages and Course Messages tools can be used to send messages without relying on external e-mail systems for delivery. Messages can be accessed through My Blackboard while Course Messages are accessed through links that you provide in your course content.
The Blackboard Calendar is a great tool for managing online assignments and tests. It is easily accessible to you and your students using the My Blackboard link, and shows the due dates for all online assignments and tests for all courses using this tool.
As an instructor, you may open and edit assignments from the calendar, and click and drag due dates to change them. You can even assign “To-do” items by assigning your students tasks that are not directly attached to grade items.
A sample course module is included in each course shell, in the Course Documents content area:
Using this sample course module as a template for chapters/topics/units/modules in your course is an instructionally sound practice recommended by CIDDE’s Instructional Design team.
After you have made sure that your readings, slide decks and notes are accessible, use the Content Area Item (under Build Content) to provide these items to your students:
One of the more effective ways to demonstrate how to do something is through a video recording. With the right tools, the student can pause the recording, take notes, rewind and fast-forward to review as many times as is required to learn the materials. The student learns at their natural learning pace and does not progress to the next topic until they have mastered the current one. Tools like Camtasia (from TechSmith) make it relatively easy to record, edit and annotate screen recordings (also known as screencasts) that you can include in your course using Panopto, a lecture capture and video streaming software service that is integrated with CourseWeb at Pitt. Panopto video integration tools in Blackboard are found under the Tools link in any content area:
Keep instructional video recordings short (less than 10-20 minutes) and follow them with brief formative assessments (worksheets or quizzes) to boost the assimilation and retention of key concepts.
Podcasts are audio or video recordings that students may subscribe to via RSS feed and download to a mobile device for later playback. Panopto video recordings are available for downloading as podcasts by default. Instructors have the option of turning this feature off on a folder-by-folder basis.
Written assignments give students the opportunity to research, synthesize and restate what they have learned. These assignments can be given separately for each student or as group activities. Written assignments that students submit online using the Blackboard Assignment tool (located under Assessments) can be assessed online using built-in or custom grading rubrics and an inline-grading feature. Assignments submitted online using the Safe Assign tool in Blackboard or using Turnitin are automatically checked for plagiarism.
Online discussions allow students to take time to ponder before posting ideas, so you may see more thoughtful conversations play out. You can observe students demonstrate their grasp of the material and you can correct misconceptions. You can extend your office hours by reaching students more often so learning is more continuous. Discussions can serve a range of purposes, such as:
- A place where students pose questions about homework assignments, readings, and course content.
- A place for collaboration and idea exchange on course-related topics.
- A way for students to demonstrate their understanding or application of course concepts.
- A record of discussion that you and your students can review.
A journal is a tool for self-reflection. By default, student journals are only visible to individual students and their instructors, however, journals can be made public by instructors so that all enrolled users can read all posted journal entries. Group journal entries can also be created and can be read by all group members and the Instructor. Journal entries are commonly entered and viewed chronologically, and may have content that needs to remain confidential between the student and the instructor.
Student-written blog posts are reflective exercises that are shared with the class. With this activity, student work is on display for the entire class.
A wiki is a collection of one or more web pages that can be collectively edited by one or more people using a web browser. A common online workspace is used to author content, assemble research, link to external resources, contribute opinions, and present work. With wikis, students can work cooperatively to develop, write, and publish their solutions as websites. Instructors can view the individual contributions of each student and track the evolution of the problem solving and authoring process.
Think-Pair-Share is a learning strategy designed to encourage student classroom participation. Rather than using a basic recitation method in which a teacher poses a question and one student offers a response, Think-Pair-Share encourages a high degree of pupil response and can help keep students on task.
Grading rubrics can help students organize their efforts to meet the requirements of an assignment, and you can use them to consistently evaluate student work while providing specific and timely feedback. A rubric lists evaluation criteria for an assignment, and provides a way to convey to students your expectations for the quality of completed assignments. Rubrics can help ensure consistent and impartial grading.
Several popular rubrics are preloaded in each CourseWeb course for your use.
Reviewing the work of fellow students through criteria-based reference evaluation allows constructive feedback. The constructive feedback that students give to and receive from their peers can enhance their comprehension of the subject material and provide valuable insights into their own efforts.
Blackboard Learn includes a self-peer assessment tool that you can use for this purpose. If you are planning to use this tool, please keep in mind the following points:
- Peer assessment assignments are constructed automatically from your course roster. Do not create self-peer assessments until after the add/drop period ends for the term and you have updated your roster accordingly, or you may have assessors assigned who are not in your course.
- Peer assessment does not work well if the assessors don’t do the homework being assessed on time. You need to motivate the unmotivated for this to work for the motivated students.
- Setting up a self-peer assessment requires setting up a number of parameters that cannot be changed once it is assigned. Be very careful and deliberate when setting one up.
- You will get variability in peer assessments.
We have two tools for plagiarism detection in use at Pitt. SafeAssign is integrated with CourseWeb/Blackboard. This makes it easy to use. Turnitin is more robust, but is managed in Blackboard through a third-party integration rather than natively. Both products produce “originality reports” that identify “matched content” found online, in research journals, and previously submitted documents. To request a Turnitin account, click here.
Inline grading allows you to view, provide comments, and grade student-submitted assignments, blog posts, discussion board posts, journal posts and wikis all on a single web page. Of particular interest is the inline grading feature for assignments, where you can view, comment, and grade student-submitted assignment files without leaving the Grade Assignment page. Supported document types that can be converted are Word (DOC, DOCX), PowerPoint (PPT, PPTX), Excel (XLS, XLSX), and PDF (PDF).
The Retention Center provides an easy way for you to discover which students in your course are at risk. Based on preconfigured rules, and rules you create, students’ engagement and participation are visually displayed, quickly alerting you to potential risk. You can communicate with struggling students directly from the Retention Center and help them take action for improvement.
You can begin using the Retention Center immediately without any setup required.
The Grade Center is a great tool for creating a course environment where you can give students direct feedback on assignments and tests so they know where they stand and what they must accomplish for success. Grade columns are automatically added to the Grade Center for online assignments, tests, surveys, and where other online tools have grades associated with them. You can use the Grade Center to calculate course grades based on scores from individual grade items.
Grading feedback can be provided in a number of ways in Blackboard:
- In response to correct or incorrect answers to test questions
- Associated with a grade center column in Grade Details
- Provided in a grading rubric for specific criteria and overall
- As comments provided for wiki, blog, and journal postings
- As comments written in the margins as part of the inline grading process
- In documents marked up and attached to grade items in the Grade Center
Students access this feedback through the grades instructors post to the Grade Center.
The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:
- Help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
- Help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately
Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:
- Draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
- Submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
- Turn in a research proposal for early feedback
- Complete a brief quiz
At the end of each term, instructors post student grades in the PeopleSoft Grade Rosters for the courses they teach. The due date and time for this posting process is stated in the University Academic Calendar for each term, usually midnight on the Wednesday following the end of the final exam period.
Pitt’s Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching administers Student Opinion of Teaching Surveys upon request each term. The surveys, conducted online and at instructor request, are conducted online. If you use CourseWeb/Blackboard, and your students have an OMET survey to complete, they will receive a link to the survey instruments in a module on the MyCourseWeb navigation page.