Tips for Managing Large Classes in Blackboard

Last Updated: Aug 14, 2014 10:55PM PDT
Teaching large classes is challenging, but Blackboard can help simplify the "behind the scenes" administrative tasks. How can large classes be divided into small groups to work online? What is the Early Warning System, and how can its notifications assist with managing large classes? What tools are available to organize assignment submissions? How can the Blackboard Grade Center be structured to simplify tracking grades?

Below is a list of tips and recommended best practices for efficiently managing large classes using Blackboard. 


  1. Turn off "All users" email option
    Sometimes in large classes, a student may mis-use the Blackboard email feature to spam other students. To minimize this, you can turn off the ability for students to email all users with a single click. This is an option under "Manage Course Menu," then Modify Communication.
  2. Encourage students to use Blackboard to send email
    Email sent from Blackboard automatically has the course number in the subject line, which can help sort and identify email in your inbox.
  3. Remind students what email address Blackboard uses
    At SDSU, Blackboard email is sent to the students' email account on file. It is important for students to check this email regularly.

Discussion Board

  1. Graded discussion forums
    Set during forum creation, graded discussion forums simplify grading student posts and responses. The "Grade Discussion Forum" page organizes all posts by student rather than by thread. Faculty can quickly view all student posts and submit a grade from the same page.
  2. Set guidelines for subject lines
    In large discussion forums, it can be difficult to follow the thread of a discussion or to find a particular post. It can help to set guidelines for what students should use as the name or subject line for their postings.
  3. Assign students as discussion leaders
    It is very difficult to keep up with all of the postings for a large class. One technique is to identify specific students to function as discussion leaders. These students can pose discussion questions and respond to other students. The position can rotate each week or topic, and a group of students can divide the responsibility among themselves.
  4. Use Group discussion boards
    For very large classes, it may be more manageable to divide the class into smaller groups for discussion purposes. The faculty member can either create separate forums for each group within the primary discussion board or create individual discussion boards within the group areas that will only be available to the group members. More meaningful discussions can take place with fewer participants.

Assignments and Assessments

  1. Assignment Tool
    The Blackboard Assignment tool provides a single point of submission for students to submit their assignments directly through Blackboard. All of the submissions are organized by assignment and student in the Grade Center. The faculty member can also send comments or a file back to each student to provide detailed feedback. 
  2. Turnitin
    Turnitin checks the submissions for plagiarism by comparing it to a variety of resources, including websites, online journals, and the institutional database. Turnitin provides a matching score and a detailed report that identifies where suspected material was found.
  3. SafeAssign
    SafeAssign is similar Turnitin, but we've found that the originality reports generated by the tool are less accurate than Turnitin, so we typically recommend Turnitin as the primary plagiarism-detection tool.
  4. Tests and Quizzes
    Online testing is better suited to low-stakes testing, because the risk of cheating can be decreased but not eliminated. However, with large classes, Blackboard's testing features are extremely helpful. For objective questions, like multiple choice, true/false, and matching, Blackboard can actually grade the tests automatically. 


Groups do not have to be tied to a group assignment or ongoing teams. For example, a group could be created for individual sections of a master course or for recitation/lab sections. If sets of students are assigned to a particular TA for grading, those students could also be assigned to a group. Besides the typical collaboration that groups enables, Groups are also the basis for other functions in Blackboard.
  1. Utilize Group Discussion Boards
    Smaller group discussions may be more meaningful and encourage more discussion.
  2. Using groups enables other functions in Blackboard
    Groups are also the basis for several filters in Blackboard. For example, once groups are established, materials can be released to only the members of a certain group using Adaptive Release. Group membership can also be used to set up a Smart View in the Grade Center.
  3. Group email
    When groups are officially created in Blackboard, that also enables Group email. Using Group email allows faculty and students to email all of the members of the group with a single click.

Grade Center

  1. Remove unneeded columns
    Extra columns in the Grade Center creates visual clutter that can make grading difficult. Hide or remove unnecessary columns to make the Grade Center easier to use.
  2. Sort by any column or item
    View students in alphabetical order, numeric order by Z-ID, or by performance on an assignment/item. Click the top of any column to sort students according to that column.
  3. Use Smart Views
    Smart Views filter the amount of content visible in the Grade Center. A Smart View can consist of only a small set of users or only particular columns or categories of assignments.

Other Blackboard tools:

  1. Early Warning System / Retention Center
    Create rules that identify students who may be struggling. View at-a-glance students who may have low grades on an item or overall, those who submitted an assignment late, or those who have not been participating online.
  2. Performance Dashboard
    Offers a quick "at-a-glance" view of student performance. The dashboard displays all of the students on a single screen and includes the days since the students' last access, the number of discussion board postings each student made, the number of Early Warning System rules the student matches, and a link to the Grade Center.