Message from the Canvas Grading Initiative Faculty Working Group:

Dear Colleagues,

We hope your semester has been going well! As members of the Canvas Grading Faculty Working Group, we wanted to take a moment to share the resources that resulted from our work last semester (fall 2023) to promote student-centered grading practices in Canvas. Our working group was part of the Canvas Grading Initiative, a collaboration between the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) and Office of Information Technology (OIT) and endorsed by the BUS (Buff Undergraduate Success) Initiative

Throughout fall 2023, our working group met regularly to discuss faculty and student perspectives on the Canvas gradebook—and to identify solutions for addressing common pain points. These discussions were informed by our own experiences teaching critical, high-enrollment courses for first- and second-year students in a wide variety of disciplines, as well as by extensive input from faculty interviews and student usability testing sessions.

We are now excited to share two new resources: New Guidelines for Promising Practices in Student-centered Grading in Canvas (below) and a set of faculty- and student-facing Canvas video tutorials to support the implementation of these guidelines (linked under the corresponding guidelines below). We hope these new resources will be helpful for your teaching (e.g., by making grading in Canvas more customizable and efficient), while supporting the success of all of our students (e.g., by ensuring their grades in Canvas are accurate, up to date, and easy to find). 

We encourage you to share these resources with your colleagues and discuss them within your department or unit.

If you have any questions or feedback to share, please contact the, whose team is continuing to work on the Canvas Grading Initiative and related initiatives to support CU faculty and students.  

Members of the faculty working group included:

Bobby Benim, Assistant Teaching Professor, Applied Mathematics
Daniel Bolton, Associate Teaching Professor, Physics
Al Bronstein, Teaching Assistant Professor, Mathematics
Ryan Curtis, Teaching Associate Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience
Jessica Gorski, Associate Faculty Director Health Professions RAP, Associate Teaching Professor EBIO and MCDB
Susan Hendrickson, Teaching Professor, Chemistry
Shaw Ketels, Lecturer, Psychology & Neuroscience
Sreesha Nath, Assistant Teaching Professor, Computer Science
Mark Valkovci, Teaching Assistant Professor, Economics, Student Academic Success Center

Guidelines for Promising Practices in Student-Centered Grading in Canvas

The guidelines below are meant to support instructors in implementing student-centered grading practices in their Canvas courses. Please note that some of the guidelines are more relevant to traditional than alternative grading approaches (as noted below). 

When developing your syllabus:

1. Include a complete schedule of assignments: In your syllabus, include a complete list of all assignments for the entire semester. Furthermore, for each assignment, include the due date. Also, unless you are using an alternative approach to grading that does not utilize points or percentages, you should also include the points or percentage of the final grade each assignment is worth and percentage of the final grade each group of assignments is worth if you weight assignment groups. Students are better able to plan ahead, set priorities, and manage their time when all of their responsibilities are clearly laid out. Canvas provides a centralized location for students to find this information for all of their courses. Please note that your syllabus should be shared with students no later than the first day of classes. 

2. Include grading policies: In your syllabus, include a clear explanation of all grading policies. For example, this may include drop policies, late or partial credit policies, or attendance or participation policies, as well as the circumstances under which these policies apply. 

3. Provide multiple significant grades before the drop deadline: Design your course(s) to include multiple significant graded, for-credit assignments, or substantive feedback (if you are using an alternative approach to grading) before the final drop deadline.* Providing early and frequent opportunities for assessment ensures students receive feedback on their learning and progress, including feedback on how to improve. It also empowers students to make informed decisions regarding whether to stay enrolled in or drop a course. 

  • *For the fall and spring semesters, there are two drop deadlines: 
    • The last day for students to drop a course without penalty is Wednesday of the second week of classes. We recognize that this may be too early in the semester for students to have received multiple significant grades.
    • The final drop deadline–that is, the last day for students to drop a course with penalty (i.e. they are required to pay 100% of tuition and fees, and a “W” grade is posted to their transcript)–is Friday of the 10th week of classes. By this date, students should have received multiple significant grades.
  • Information about dropping classes for students 
  • Academic calendars 

When developing your Canvas course:

4. Your syllabus and Canvas should be in alignment: Both your syllabus and Canvas should include the same list of assignments, due dates, points or percentage value of each assignment (if applicable), assignment group weightings (if applicable), etc. There should not be any inconsistencies between the syllabus and Canvas. If the course schedule changes as a result of a snow day or other unexpected event, please update your syllabus and Canvas accordingly, and notify the students of whatever changes have been made. 

5. Build all assignment due dates into Canvas by first day of classes: Whenever possible, add all assignments with due dates and correct point values and assignment group weightings (if applicable) to your Canvas course by the first day of classes. If not all assignments have been developed (e.g., for instructors teaching a course for the first time) or certain types of assignments accumulate throughout the semester (e.g., clickers), add placeholders with due dates. However, set the “available from” date for each placeholder to a date in the future so that the students cannot access it until it has been replaced by the real assignment.  

6. Use Canvas, not an external program, to calculate total grades: The recommendation offered here will depend on your approach to grading:

  • If you are using a traditional points- or percentage-based approach to grading, do not hide the total (numeric) or letter grades. Whenever possible, Canvas should be set up to automatically create total and letter grades, rather than instructors calculating students’ grades in Excel or another external program. 
    • If grades must be calculated in an external program, the instructor should add an extra “assignment” to Canvas to create a new column in the gradebook where they can enter students’ current total grades. Total grades should be updated regularly (e.g., every week).
  • If you are using an alternative approach to grading (e.g., ungrading, specifications grading, contract grading), hide the total (numeric) grade that otherwise appears as a default in Canvas. Likewise, make sure you have not enabled a grading scheme in Canvas that will display inaccurate letter grades.
  • Canvas tutorial on how to hide total grades 

When setting up assignments in Canvas:

7. Use specific, meaningful, and consistent assignment names: Use specific, meaningful, and consistent names to name assignments in Canvas. Assignment names should be specific enough to indicate what the assignment is (e.g., “Homework 1,” not “Due 8/28/23”), clearly communicate to students the nature of the assignment (e.g., is it a homework, quiz, or exam?), and adhere to consistent naming conventions within your course (e.g., “Homework 1” and “Homework 2,” not “Homework 1” and “Smartwork 2”). 

8. Clearly communicate in the assignment description the mode of submission: For each assignment, select the appropriate submission type from the dropdown menu (no submission, online, on paper, external tool, etc.). If the assignment is a paper submission, also include a detailed description of how and where students should submit their assignment. For example, this may include providing the location and person to whom students need to submit their assignment.

9. Clearly communicate in the assignment description where to find feedback: Include a note in the assignment description explaining to students where they can find feedback on their work, given that feedback could be in multiple places in Canvas or in external tools. This is especially important when external tools such as Gradescope contain the feedback.

When communicating with students about grades:

10. Make your grading system explicit and transparent: In the first week of class, set aside time for an in-class discussion of your grading system, or administer a syllabus quiz, share a brief video, or share some other student-facing resource that makes the grading system used in your course explicit and transparent. Also, explain to students why you use a particular grading system–ideally, in terms of how this will support their learning. If you plan to curve grades, explain how you curve grades to your students. In addition, show students where they can find a list of all assignments that will count toward their final grade, the number of points or % each assignment is worth (if applicable), grading policies (e.g., drop policies), cutoffs for different letter grades, etc. This transparency allows students to understand what is expected of them, plan ahead, set priorities, and manage their time. 

11. Explain weighted grade calculations (if applicable): If you attach weights to assignment groups (e.g., a group of 5 quizzes is weighted to be worth 10% of the final grade), share an example with your students demonstrating how to calculate the contribution of an individual assignment to their final grade. For the example above, you could explain to your students that 10% divided by 5 quizzes means that each individual quiz is worth 2% of their final grade. 

12. Tell students they can trust the Canvas gradebook: Some CU students report that they hear in 3 out of 4 of their courses that their total grade in Canvas is not accurate. We encourage you to actively communicate to students throughout the semester that they can trust that the total grade displayed in Canvas is an accurate representation of where their grade is right now, given the assignments submitted and graded so far. However, you may note that the grade displayed right now is not necessarily a good prediction of their final grade, which could change as more work is submitted and graded, as extra credit is added, or as drop (or other) policies are applied. 

13. Remind students of the drop deadline: Remind students of the drop deadline, and when you do this, note that if students are unsure what factors to consider when deciding whether to drop your course, they should consult with their academic advisor. 

  • For the fall and spring semesters, the final drop deadline–the last day for students to drop a course with penalty (i.e. they are required to pay 100% of tuition and fees, and a “W” grade is posted to their transcript)–is Friday of the 10th week of classes.  
  • Information about dropping classes for students 
  • Academic calendars 

When maintaining your Canvas course(s) throughout the semester:

14. Keep gradebooks up to date: Commit to ensuring that the grades in your Canvas gradebook(s) are as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Throughout the semester, enter all grades within one week of the deadline whenever possible to ensure students are receiving timely feedback that they can use to improve. If that is not possible, explicitly communicate to students when they will receive their grades. Relatedly, make sure students receive feedback before any subsequent assignments are due that build on that assignment (which could potentially be earlier than one week). Note: The CTL, OIT, and other campus units are actively working to develop new resources to support instructors in the implementation of the promising practices presented here. 

15. Sync grades from external tools regularly: Throughout the semester, if you are using any external tools or programs (e.g., Smartwork, Inquizitive, iClickers), be sure to sync your grades with the Canvas Gradebook regularly (e.g., every week). Furthermore, explicitly communicate with your students about how often you will sync those grades.

16. Replace blanks in the Canvas Gradebook with 0s in a timely manner: When setting up your Gradebook, either set it to automatically change grades for missing assignments from blanks to 0s once the deadline has passed, or commit to being consistent throughout the semester about manually changing blanks to 0s in a timely manner. Note: This may involve sharing these expectations with your TA(s) and/or Grader(s). In short, do not leave grades for missed assignments blank unless you really do want those assignments to not count toward that student’s grade. If you really do want an assignment to not count toward a particular student’s grade, we recommend using the “Excused” feature so that it is clear the assignment has been intentionally excused–not left blank by accident.  

How helpful did you find these guidelines? Click here to share your feedback!

Other Grading-related Canvas Video Tutorials and Resources

Tutorials for your students:

Tutorials for instructors: