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KCeL Best Practices

Best Practices Using Blackboard Assessment Tools


Discussion Board Forums
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Giving assessments through Blackboard can be time-saving for both students and faculty. Below are some best practices for using three of Blackboard’s most commonly used assessment features: Assignments, Discussions, and Tests.


Blackboard’s Assignments feature offers a secure way to create, submit, and grade online course work. Students can type short answers or essay responses directly into a text box in Blackboard or they can upload a file that instructors can view and grade. The instructor sets up this option when creating the assignment.

Best Practices With Assignments

  • Add assignment links to unit folders with related content. This makes it easier for students to access instructions, templates, and any related resources that might help them complete the assignment.
  • Provide meaningful feedback. Instructor feedback is one of the most important aspects of an online course. Share how and when you plan to give feedback with your students (for ex., I will be providing feedback on your assignment in the grade center comments box 5 days after submission).
  • Consider what feedback format is most efficient and helpful (Via the comments box; by using Blackboard’s Annotation; or by downloading, and then uploading a revised version). Instructors and students both have the ability to add comments and feedback. Submissions can be downloaded one at a time or in a batch. Visit this Blackboard tutorial to find out how.
  • Assign points to automatically generate an item in the Grade Center. One of the advantages to using the Assignments feature is that it makes grading more efficient. To view and grade an assignment, navigate to the Grade Center and then to the Needs Grading link.

Discussion Board

Blackboard’s Discussion Board tool can help students build a community of learners, demonstrate knowledge of key concepts, develop critical thinking skills, allow for in-depth reflection, and offer students, particularly more reticent students, an opportunity to  participate more fully in a class discussion than they might in person.

Best Practices With Discussions

  • Provide clear expectations. Establish a set of guidelines for online behavior in the forum or share a netiquette guide. You can also ask the students themselves to help create a set of norms for behavior in the forum. Be very specific about how you will grade forum postings. Divide grading criteria into discrete units to make your expectations clear and then share this with students. Examples might include: length of postings; level of formality; works cited; and quality and length of replies to other students. Visit this link for an example of grading criteria broken into units.
  • Provide a model posting, when possible. Consider asking students who have submitted an exemplary posting if you can share the posting as a model for other students in a subsequent semester.
  • Include an ice breaker forum and a Q/A forum. Use an ice breaker forum to help with personal introductions within the first week of class or just prior to the semester. This can help convey a sense of care and build community, which will help make future interactions in the course richer. A general Q and A forum can be used to provide answers to general questions about the course rather than students emailing you directly, unless the question is of a more personal nature.
  • Make it count toward for a grade. If points are not assigned, students typically do not engage in a forum. Decide on whether to make the forum a high or low-stakes assignment.
  • Create a consistent posting routine. A consistent routine will help your students keep track of due dates. One example of a routine is to ask students to submit an initial posting on a Monday, reply to two other students on Wednesday, and respond to replies by Friday. Find the routine that works for you and your students.
  • Write effective discussion prompts. When writing your prompts, ask yourself what you want students to be able to do and what kinds of thinking you hope to elicit (e.g., analysis, synthesis, application). Align your forum activity to the learning objectives for the unit. Use this as your guide in crafting questions. Avoid prompts that elicit a yes or no response by using open-ended questions targeted to higher-order thinking skills.
  • Define roles. Decide on what your role will be and how often you will be engaging in the discussion. Find a balance so that you ensure there is enough ‘instructor presence’ in the forum, but don’t reply so often that you inadvertently inhibit students’ voices in the discussion.

    Assigning various kinds of roles to students can make for an engaging and successful forum. Some examples include - a facilitator to help keep the group on topic; a technical support to help when fellow students have questions about the tool; a summarizer who can help compile the most salient points shared in the forum.
  • Provide feedback in the grade center. Enter grades for the forum and enter private comments for individual students within the Grade Center. Let students know when you will be providing feedback ahead of time and give yourself enough turnaround time so that you aren’t overwhelmed.


Blackboard’s Test tool is a time-saving feature that scores quiz questions automatically. Instructors can use it to provide students with instant feedback on their results. Other features include the ability to:  randomize the answer order; create random blocks of questions using a question pool; and the option to reuse questions from previous tests or courses.

Best Practices With Tests

  • Give explicit instructions. Let students know how many and what kinds of questions there will be, how long they have to complete the test, and what to do if something goes wrong.
  • Ensure the test is available. Under Test Options, Test Availability, make sure you have selected “Make available to students.”
  • Plan for problems. Problems can arise for students when they are not using a supported browser, haven’t disabled pop-up blockers, haven’t cleared the cache on their computer, or are using an unstable wireless connection. Be sure to let your students know they can contact the Student Help Desk for support.
  • Understand Option Settings (random answer order; display questions one at a time; force test completion). Creating tests entails three main steps: create the test, deploy the test, set the test options. Decide if you want the test to be date and time restricted, how many attempts you want to give students, and if you want to provide customized feedback. You can opt to have students complete the test in one session, but keep in mind that if something goes wrong with the test in that case, the instructor will have to reset the test for the student.
  • Use the “exceptions” setting for students who need accommodations. Tests can be tailored to individual students’ needs when necessary. Look within the options settings to make exceptions for individuals or groups of students.
  • Use test question pools. Visit this Blackboard tutorial to learn more about creating and using question pools in Blackboard. You can also create these offline first in Excel, if you wish. Here is an Excel tutorial on how to do this and upload them to Blackboard. Or, check with your textbook publisher to see if they offer question pools along with your textbook. 


  • Blackboard Tutorials
    • Creating Assignments (video)
    • Creating Discussions (video)
    • Creating Tests (video)
  • Blackboard Annotate Tutorials
    • Blackboard Annotate Overview (video)
    • Blackboard Annotate Quick Start Guide (Word doc)
  • Creating question pools offline using Excel and uploading to Blackboard (video)