Articles | To Weight or Not to Weight


Instructors typically use the Grade Center tool in Canvas to display assessment points earned by students. In most cases this is a benefit to students and instructors. From an instructor’s perspective, use of the GC has some key advantages: 1) it provides a secure location to store grades, which helps conform to the FERPA laws, 2) it has a spreadsheet-like user-interface that is easy to navigate and customizable, (3) and it has useful options for reporting statistics. From the student’s perspective, the GC just needs to be informative and precise to be useful. One way to meet all those expectations is to avoid using weighted columns when it doesn’t add value to the assessment process.


Perhaps the most common reason faculty weight points is so those points can be reported as a proportion of the final grade. And that is precisely the problem. When you create a weighted column in the GC you have the option of assigning any proportions you want to the categories of assessments regardless of the actual points assigned. This presents a dilemma for students who are trying to calculate their final grades. To understand this dilemma better, let’s consider an example.


Example 1: Total points students can earn in Course-X is 200pts; 40pts for quizzes, 120pts for assignments, and 40pts for participation. Calculated as a percent of total points possible would yield quizzes (20%), assignments (60%), and participation (20%) (Table 1a). However, for some reason the instructor decides to create a weighted column, in which, quizzes are worth 10%, assignments are worth 50%, and participation is worth 40% of the final grade (Table 1b).




Table 1. Summary of points earned by students. (A) The “real” percent of total points possible. (B) The “emphasized” percentages assigned by instructor through the creation of a weighted column in Blackboard.


Hopefully, it’s clear to see why students attempting to calculate their grades at mid-semester would be confused. In fact, unless the students understand how to actually calculate weighted proportions, which is usually not the case, they would never be able to verify the precision of the grades. So, this alone would negate half the benefit of displaying grades in the GC. The other half of the benefit (informative) is also dissolved because students would be trying to figure out how it’s possible that 40pts earned for participation can be worth 40% of the grade while 40pts earned on quizzes is only worth 10%.


What is a potential rationale for making the switch from “real” percentages to “emphasized” percentages? Well, in most cases it’s used to emphasize the importance of one category of assessments over another category. In the above example, the instructor clearly wants to emphasize that ‘Participation’ is four times as important as quizzes, even though the points earned in those categories are identical. Perhaps, if the instructor wanted the impact of ‘Participation’ points on the final grade to be quadruple that of the quizzes it might have been easier to reduce the quizzes to 4pts each or increase the participation to 160pts and adjust the total points possible.


So when does the use of weighted columns add value to the assessment process? Perhaps the most practical use of weighted columns is in a course that will have many assessments, but the exact numbers of assessments or point values have not been determined. To understand this better, let’s consider another example.


Example 2: Total points students can earn in Course-X is undecided, but there will be quizzes, discussions, written assignments, and Wikis (Table 2).




Table 2. Categories of points and “emphasized” percentages assigned by instructor through the creation of a weighted column in Blackboard.


The rationale in this example is that the instructor is teaching a course that is not quite ready. At this point, the instructor has two choices: 1) make last minute decisions about the number and types of assessments and point values, and create columns for those assessments in the GC or 2) use time during the semester to make more informed decisions about the assessments and create columns for these on a weekly basis. If option-1 is the preferred method than a weighted column would not be useful; however, if option-2 is preferred, then a weighted column should be created.


In conclusion, deciding whether to weight points or not seems to be mostly a matter of whether or not the assessments and associated point values are well organized. If your assessments are clearly defined in terms of point values then it’s not necessary to assign percentages based on emphasis. However, if you aren’t able to decide on the assessments before the course starts, then creating a weighted column may add value to the assessment process.


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