Staying in Touch with Your Students – Communicating Through the Gradebook

By John Hawes, Educational Developer and Jonathan Wade, Senior Educational Technologist

There are nearly countless ways to stay in touch with your students. Zoom, emails, text messages, announcements, digital syllabi, and dynamic course schedules make it possible for instructors to reach out to students with a few strokes of the keyboard or taps on the screen. An often overlooked means to communicate with students is the Canvas Gradebook. Student surveys have shown that students seek feedback through the grading mechanism of the LMS. Pushing information to students through email or announcements from you is a wonderful way to communicate with them but using the grading function of the LMS can allow you to connect with them at a moment when they are seeking to connect with you. Consider that grading need not always be a permanent summative judgment but can also be an opportunity to help the student understand how to better understand the material. Dr. John Orlando writing for Faculty Focus observed that giving students an opportunity to revise and resubmit their work helps with student motivation because “… students who know that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and fix their problems will not be demotivated by their failures.” Resubmitting their works allows students a chance to better demonstrate their mastery to obtain a better final grade.

SpeedGrader is the portal that gives you access to the communication functions in the Gradebook like rubrics, comments, and the document viewer.

Rubrics in Canvas serve two basic communication functions. First, rubrics let the students know what the criteria are that will be used to evaluate their submission. Second, rubrics provide a means for instructors to let students know why they received the score they did. There’s a lot to consider when creating a good rubric. When designing a rubric, instructors should keep in mind what the learning outcomes are for the assessment. If it is to demonstrate understanding of a topic, use Demonstrated Understanding as the criterion rather than page or word count. When creating the text for each rating level use language that clearly differentiates how a submission met or failed to meet a standard. Check out the link below for more information. And of course, rubrics also make it easier to grade many submissions while still providing feedback students can use to improve future work.

Assignment Comments 

No matter how well you’ve designed your rubric, you may want to add some specific comments for a student. In SpeedGrader the Assignment Comment text box gives you the option of adding additional comments in multiple ways. You can type in your comments, attach a document, record audio or video comments or use voice recognition to add text comments. See the SpeedGrader link below for specific guidance.


Depending on the type of submission, you can also add comments directly to the document in the preview window. See the DocViewer link below for specific guidance.

Messages from the Gradebook

You can send messages to students using filters based on specific assignment categories:

  • Haven’t submitted yet – students who haven’t submitted the assignment, even if they have been manually awarded a grade.
  • Haven’t been graded – students whose assignments have not yet been graded (submitted or unsubmitted).
  • Scored less than [point value] – students who earned a grade on their assignment less than X number of points.
  • Scored more than [point value] -students who earned a grade on their assignment more than X number of points.

More than one student may receive the Gradebook Message, but each student will receive an individual (not group) message.

To chat with a member of the faculty partner team about communicating through the Gradebook click on this link to schedule a consultation




Designing Grading Rubrics

Using DocViewer in SpeedGrader

Sending messages to students from the Gradebook

Orlando, J. (2021, July 28). Use Revise and Resubmit Instead of Extra Credit [Higher Education]. Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

Prevent Burnout with Self-Care Strategies

2nd annual T&L Day, Jan 21, 2022 HHS 204, 1-3:30 pm

Join us for our 2nd Annual Teaching & Learning Day.  We will meet from 1 – 3:30 to discuss strategies faculty can use to prevent burnout in these demanding times.  We will also discuss ways in which we can encourage and support our freshman and sophomores whose academic preparation was affected by the pandemic. 

We have invited an expert on helping faculty prevent burnout through self-care to give the keynote address.  Dr Julie Harrison-Swartz, DNP, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, is an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing at UNC Pembroke.

In the second hour of the event, we will discuss supporting students to be successful. We had an unprecedented increase in failure rates last semester at WCU.  But we are not alone in this as other institutions across the country are also experiencing this situation. We will discuss what’s happening and brainstorm some ways in which we as instructors can help these students succeed this semester. 

Let us know you are going to attend REGISTRATION LINK

Getting the Most out of the Gradebook and SpeedGrader in Canvas

What’s Different about the Canvas Gradebook? 

The Gradebook in Canvas and the Grade Center in Blackboard are similar in many respects. The Grades link is how you and your students access the course gradebook – just like the Grade Center in Blackboard.  The gradebook is where you will view and grade student submissions and assign weights to assignment groups for Total grade calculation.  Unlike Blackboard, you can’t weight a column without putting it an assignment group. Also, you can’t manually create a column in the gradebook like you could in Blackboard, so you must create an assignment for a column to be created in the gradebook, even if that is activity is not submitted through Canvas.   

Enhancements to Gradebook include the options to automatically assign a zero score to missing assignments or deduct points for late submissions.   

Activities can be graded by simply entering a grade, using a rubric, or using SpeedGrader in Canvas, which is similar to Blackboard’s in-line grading function.   

With SpeedGrader you can:

  • View student submissions (text entries, website URLs, media recordings, and/or file uploads); preview supported file types in Canvas 
  • Make annotations on supported files 
  • Assign a grade based on your preferred assessment method (points or percentage) 
  • View Rubric to assist with grading (if one is added to the assignment) 
  • View comments created by you or the student about the assignment 
  • Create text, video, and/or audio commentary for the student 

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 1: Getting Started “Assignment, Grading and Quizzes”


Additional Resources:

Our next article will highlight Mobile Apps – Student & Instructorvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Designing an Inclusive Survey

Designing an inclusive survey

Inclusive design is an approach to better serve people from diverse backgrounds and in diverse situations, such as ability, gender, religion, age, education, socio-economic status, quality of life, and others. It is concerned with a survey’s language and its accessibility.

Be flexible with answer choices

We want to allow the respondents to quickly identify with an answer choice and the opportunity to express themselves the way they prefer. Therefore, in addition to the commonly used choices, for instance Male, Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Female, Gender non-conforming in a question about gender identity, the following choices are recommended. This helps keep the list of answer choices short and allows respondent feedback.

  • Prefer not to answer
  • Not sure / Do not know
  • Not listed / Other
  • Please specify

Asking demographic question

When asking demographic questions, we want to pay special attention to the answer choices and the language. Harvard University provides a tip sheet on suggested language for Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Race, and Ethnicity questions.  Visit Chalkbeat’s  How to design your source diversity audit survey with inclusivity in mind to learn more about the differences between Native American and American Indian, between Black and African American, and between Hispanic, Latino(a), and Latinx.

Use nonsexist language

Even though the generic use of man and he (hence him, his, and himself) is considered gender-neutral, scholars argued their use to be problematic since 1970’s. Their use can sometimes be considered funny or insulting and in other times convey an unintended message about the sexes. The American Philosophical Association published Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language to counter the issues stemming from the generic use of man and he. Some of the recommendations by the APA include the replacement of his with their, he with this person, one, we, brotherhood with kinship, the Founding Fathers with the Founders, and necessary rewording. Visit the link above for more examples. Moreover, use “gender-neutral” names such as Chris, Kim, and Pat in hypothetical scenarios to avoid stereotyping either males or females.

Use inclusive language

In addition to using nonsexist language, the Linguistic Society of America published Guidelines for Inclusive Language to address issues related gender, minorities, disabilities, and other demographic characteristics. Avoid perpetuating stereotypes and norms such as normally-developed and autistic.

Account for reading proficiency

About 14% of U.S.-born adults (aged 16 to 65) and 40% of foreign-born adults scored at the lowest levels in the Survey of Adult Skills conducted by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Those numbers translate to about 17% of the U.S. adult population or 35 million U.S. adults having very limited ability to evaluate or use written material in English. Use reading levels and choose words appropriate for the target population. Avoid jargons in your field or provide context of the terms.

Designed for both online and offline response collection

There are additional steps to take if the survey involves offline data collection.

  • The survey is suitable for a print copy. That means instructions on how to fill out the survey and, especially, any logic embedded in the survey are clearly defined and explained.
  • If a respondent is asked to view content normally required internet connection (such as a YouTube video or a news article), download and save the content onto a mobile device beforehand.
  • Research and test offline survey apps. Ask University admins or survey platform support whether an offline app of the platform is available to you.



There are 10.8% of the United States population who have a cognitive disability, 5.9% with a hearing disability, and 4.6% with a visual disability (CDC). On average, 1 in 5 of a survey’s target population could have found a survey inaccessible had the survey not designed to take accessibility into account. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) provides WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) guidelines for accessible web contents. The CAST publishes Universal Design for Learning Guidelines 2.2 to ensure access for all learners. Below are recommendations derived from the WCAG 2.0 and the UDL Guidelines 2.2.

Color contrast

People with visual impairment could have difficulties reading text from a background color if the color contrast is low. Use Utah State University’s Contrast Checker to ensure conformance with WCAG 2.0 level AA. A question before you click on the link, does WCU’s gold on purple pass the contrast test?

Font size

There is no recommended minimum font size. However, to achieve sufficient contrast, WCAG 2.0 recommends 18 point or 14 bold point for large scale text.


A study found simple typefaces such as Arial, Courier, Helvetica, and Verdana are more legible and favored by individuals with dyslexia. OpenDyslexic is a free typeface designed for individuals with dyslexia.










CAPTCHA is useful in making sure that a respondent is a human being rather than a bot or script. However, CAPTCHA often implements distorted characters, which are inaccessible to people who are blind or dyslexic. Read Hannah Alvarez’s article on alternatives to CAPTCHA if prevention of computer-generated responses is a concern.

Use a simple table structure

This is to help a screen reader to understand the table.

Avoid split cells, merged cells, nested tables, and blank rows or columns.

    Use text labels or patterns instead of color alone

    Using color as an exclusive visual indicator could be challenging for people with visual impairment to understand the survey. Instead, use text labels or patterns to communicate critical information. Adapting from UXDesign’s good trick, print the survey in black and white and see if everything, especially images, charts, graphs, are still legible and understandable to you. Upload images, charts, and graphs used in your survey to Coblis (Color Blindness Simulator) to gain the experience of what people with visual impairment see.

    Use of multimedia

    Follow some best practices when multimedia is used in the survey.

    • Use alternative text, title, and description for images and non-text content
    • Use synchronized captions in videos
    • Supplement audios with transcripts



    With the evolving cultures and personal choices, survey language needs to adapt to those changes to be more inclusive. The Internet makes a survey more interactive. It also allows survey administrators to reach a larger population, people with or without a disability and people from diverse backgrounds. Facing the changing demographics, it is our responsibility to advocate inclusion and accessibility in survey design.  

    If you’d like to talk to a member of the Coulter Faculty Commons about group work, please click here to schedule a consultation.


    References and resources

    Alvarez, H. (2014). Think your site needs CAPTCHA? Try these user-friendly alternatives. Retrieved from

    Batalova, J., & Fix, M. (2015). What does PIAAC tell us about the skills and competencies of immigrant adults in the United States? Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from

    Bauman, C., & Bushra, L. (2021). How to design your source diversity audit survey with inclusivity in mind. Retrieved from

    CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Disability impacts all of us. Retrieved from

    Color Blindess Simulator.

    Linguistic Society of America (2016). Guidelines for inclusive language. Retrieved from

    Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance of Harvard University (2020). ORARC tip sheet: Inclusive demographic data collection. Retrieved from


    Rello, L., & Baeza-Yates, R. (2013). Good fonts for dyslexia. doi: 10.1145/2513383.2513447.

    Stanley, P. (2018). Designing for accessibility is not that hard. Retrieved from

    Warren, V. L. (n.d.). Guidelines for non-sexist use of language. Retrieved from

    WebAIM. Contrast Checker.

    World Wide Web Consortium (2008). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from

    To Flip or Not to Flip? That is the Question.

    Whether you call it inverted instruction, classroom flipping, or some other term, the concept behind this kind of instruction is basic. Students get the foundational knowledge they need outside the classroom and class time is spent on higher-level learning. Properly executed, this instructional methodology changes the instructor’s role from one of a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” (Bergmann & Sams, 2007)

    How do the students get that foundational knowledge?

    • Video
      • If you record your own videos:
        • Keep them short (7 minutes max)
        • Topic focused
        • Provide captions and transcript
      • If you don’t want to make your own, there are plenty of sources:
        • Khan Academy, YouTube, Ted Talks
      • Assign specific time ranges as appropriate
    • Texts
      • A history, account, narrative, or case study
      • From the course texts, assign specific pages if the students don’t need the whole chapter – they are more likely to do the reading
      • Consider developing a reading guide to target their attention on particular concepts or ideas 
    • Websites
      • Again, assign specific pages or parts of the website as appropriate
    • Research
      • Give your students a list of questions and let them find answers

    How can I know they have attained the foundational knowledge?

    Barkley and Major, in their text Learning Assessment Techniques, offer concrete ways to assess students’ foundational knowledge, and they fit the “blending” teaching paradigm:

    • If asking them to recognize – consider an online quiz that focuses on verification, matching, or forced choice, to be taken prior to coming to class.
    • If asking them to recall – consider online quiz questions that focus on low cues or high cues.
    • If asking them to interpret or exemplify – consider an online quiz that focuses on constructed responses or selected responses.
    • If asking them to infer – consider questions that focus on verification, matching, or forced choice.
    • If asking them to explain – consider questions where students must reason, troubleshoot, redesign, or predict.

    What are some effective classroom strategies to engage students in higher-level learning?

    • Muddiest point
      • Have your students bring a list of points they’d like to have clarified to class
        • Alternatively, have them post them to a discussion board
      • Address these points first before moving on to other learning activity
    • Group discussions
      • Students discuss/clarify muddiest points in groups
    • Group presentations
      • Have students teach what they learned
    • Knowledge Demonstration
      • Let the students demonstrate what they have learned

    Is flipping right for me?
    The real question is whether or not flipping is right for your students. One of the big advantages of flipping is that it gives students more control over their learning as they guide the classroom activity with their questions. Another is the opportunity it provides instructors to review their teaching methods. After considering your options, you may decide that flipped instruction does not provide any advantages. However, keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You may determine that some material in your course is suitable for flipping, while some still require more of a hands-on approach. In either case, you’ll have reflected on how you are teaching and that is always a good thing. (Trach, 2020)

    If you’d like to talk about group work with a member of the Coulter Faculty Common, click here to schedule a consultation.


    Barkley, Elizabeth F., and Claire H. Major. Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

    Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2007). Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. International Society for Tech in Ed.

    Hertz, M. B. (2012, July 10). The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con. Edutopia.

    Trach, E. (2020, January 1). A Beginner’s Guide to Flipped Classroom.