Grades in D2L [Spring 2016]

Author(s): Brandy Perkl, Ph.D.

Originally posted: February 16, 2016
Tech Recommendations Disclaimer: Updates to how things work in D2L and how individual instututions implement/manage their technology vary widely, so any explanations made in the past may not work at another University or in the future.

I feel like Grades are a constant struggle to make sure the tool is communicating what I want it to say to students. For that reason I tend to tweak them often. This semester I'm happier with it than I have been in the past, so I wanted to share what I'm doing.

This is not an in depth step by step tutorial, it assumes a working knowledge of D2L Grades. If you need tutorials, I highly recommend Pima Community College's D2L Faculty Site - including their Grades User Guide and the Tips of the Week (go there and then use Ctrl+F to search for the term 'grades' to find some really great ideas - there's a brilliant one from December on Final Grade Calculations).

General Approach

I try very hard NOT to have things in too many places - and since I already use a combo Google Site + D2L course design - it's very easy to forget to update one and not the other. Especially in online classes.

I used to almost have my Grades replicate my syllabus for the students, but the legwork involved in updating just wasn't where my teaching time should really be spent. Now I only keep really confusing and recurring item explanations there. I'll share an example further down in this post.

Undergraduate Course Grading Mentality

  • I use a weighted grading scheme. This allows me to add and remove things from categories during the semester without it changing the overall course (or the syllabus). In my opinion this adds some much needed flexibility to my online classes, and has made teaching in that format more bearable for me (increased autonomy for the win!).

  • I allow 'bonus/extra credit' points for what I deem Organizational Citizenship Behaviors. I know bonus/extra credit is contentious to some, but in these courses it makes sense to me, primarily because of the variance in my students and their needs. This gives me a way to allow them to do a wide range of supplementary work which they can benefit from, and it's only approved if the class or a classmate will also benefit.

  • I use a very plain performance appraisal system for grades across all my classes and assignments. This wouldn't be appropriate in all circumstances, but again for the types of courses I am teaching and the goals of my students it makes pedagogical sense to me. Especially for my I-O Psychology course, it feels like the right fit, which I explain in more detail here.

The Nitty Gritty in D2L

Grade Schemes

My University has a set scheme for the final letter grades which involves symbols (A - E) and corresponding colors which is a default available in our D2L system. For this reason I have created my own schemes which use the same colors and use 'symbols' for my students. The goal is to increase transparency. I have schemes for the following:

  • Completion (typically they only have these in the first week or so) with two anchors: Did Not Complete and Completed

  • Performance Appraisal (this is my standard scale and it matches that with my anchors being the 'symbols')

  • For OCB Grade Items I use another included by my University - Percentage (it uses the same colors as their standard), I'll explain why I think this works well below.


I am currently using the following Class Display Options, in part due to my choices which I explained above:

  • Displaying zero decimals to me or the students

  • Showing only the Grade Scheme symbol and Grade Scheme color in student view by default (you can edit this on individual items when needed)

  • Displaying Final Grade Calculation (you will want this selected if you choose to show their current final grades to them all semester like I do)

Manage Grades

Category Items

For category items, I add a description and make it visible to students if needed. For example, my Participation category almost always says:

  • Items may be removed or added to this category throughout the semester.

Then I also edit the Display Options to be as follows:

  • Show Class Average and Grade Distribution

  • Show Weighted grade, Grade scheme symbol, and Grade scheme color

Regular Grade Items

Depending on how these items will be graded, they get the appropriate scheme applied to them and then I'm done.* The fastest and easiest way to check categories and schemes is to use the Bulk Edit option.

*Because I already edited the Grades tool Settings to reflect how I want the majority of these to look for my students, that's really all I have to do here.


For OCB/bonus/extra credit items I was finding students were never sure how much these counted for in the past. To fix that I now do the following:

  1. Match the points available for the items with the percentage of credit they are allowed in that category (i.e. 10% = 10 pts., or 10% = one item worth 8 pts. and another worth 2 pts.)

  2. Have visible descriptions to these items to help clear it up (shown above). The most important part is noting the % and then including 'Each point shown will represent a percent of credit gained.'

  3. Override the Display Options in Student View and set it to show the Points Grade and Grade scheme color only. This way no contradictory information to what I noted for them in the description shows up. (I also make sure my managing view matches theirs on these, just for my own sake.)

Showing Final Grades

There's one method to show these, but two methods to calculate them. And though I always think they should be shown, I flip flop on which calculation option I think is best. (Clearly, I need to gather some data to decide.)

How To

Just like with other grade items, you can edit the names of the Calculated Final Grade item. So you can head in there and change it to something more appropriate to be visible to students all the time, such as Current Grade (or Results of Currently Graded Efforts).

While in there I also Override the Display Options for Students and show average and grade distribution as well as the weighted grade, symbol, and color. (Again, the choice to show Weighted is based on my grading style, if you're using points - show points). (For reasons which make NO SENSE to me you cannot add a description to this item, but it often needs one, the third item in the list below addresses that issue.)

This grade item is NOT automatically displayed to students. To display it you need to:

  1. Go to Enter Grades.

  2. Use the dropdown menu on your newly renamed grade item to choose Grade All.

  3. In this new screen you must choose to Release for this to be visible to students. You can select all and then hit the weird eye icon to release it to everyone. I usually wait to do this until add/drop is over so I only need to do it once.

    • You can add Overall Feedback here as well which will function like a Description on this item for your students.

  4. Now you'll need to choose your calculation method - you can specify if you want to drop ungraded items or not in the Grades Settings under Calculation Options.

Calculation Method 1 - Don't Drop Ungraded items

Overall Feedback Sample Text: The grade reflected represents your total calculated grade up to this point in the course. NOTE: Don't be alarmed if your grade seems low. As you move through the semester and you turn in more assignments, your grade will steadily increase. For example: The highest possible grade at the end of Week 8 is a 50%, which is still an E.


  • I like knowing what the absolute final grade for a student currently is, and some of them like it too. For some it pushes them to watch those red items change color, etc.

  • I personally like the lack of ambiguity in this approach about the exact grade I will turn in to the registrar for them, I used this all last year and had no grade challenges from students.


  • With this method some students find it unduly discouraging to see an E until well after Week 8 in a 16 week semester (my courses are pretty balanced, so there's no way to climb above 60% before we're about that far in the course).

  • Students are not sure when you have done your grading sometimes - they will be scared they have a zero for something they did, but you just haven't graded it yet. So I do answer more questions about that than I might have to using a different method.

Calculation Method 2 - Drop ungraded items

Overall Feedback Sample Text: This grade is your current points earned out of the total points possible for the assignments that have been graded. This can lead you to believe your grade is better than it is - especially if you've skipped something but I have not yet entered a zero for you. However, it is also a good reflection of your current efforts.

Strengths: This is typically the recommended way, as it means anything not graded is not included in the calculation. Which means you're showing them the results of their currently graded efforts and many students are used to seeing that type of 'final grade'. (Though to me that isn't a final grade.) This does make it easier to give students a 'pass' on some assignments if you feel they deserve it, which is less work than trying to deal with it another way.

Weakness: You have to enter zeros for the students who do not complete the work, even on quizzes and other typically automatically graded work. With this method students didn't realize that if they tanked a larger assignment in an upcoming week they could quickly go from an A to a D. That worried me more than anything else did about these options and is why I have gone back and forth on my methods with this, I didn't want them thinking their grade was better than it really was. I used this method again in Spring '16 and the students did like it, I had no grade contests and answered less questions about 'is this graded yet?' than with the other method.

Checking Your Setup

There are two ways to do this - by (1) using the Student View in D2L and looking at the Grades or (2) by previewing the grades as a particular student. Obviously that second one comes in very handy when one student has a specific question about their grades.

I recommend the first approach for double checking your initial work since it's a generic overview but it won't show you the final grade calculation (I also always forget to turn off student view when I'm done with it and then occasionally panic when I can't do whatever I clicked over to do after looking at Grades - learn from my panic - remember to turn it off).

Image sourced from the author.