More on Blackboard’s Inline Grading

Screenshot for Blackboard's inline grading interface.

Screenshot for Blackboard’s inline grading interface.

I’ve just finished grading all the reflection papers from my summer data-driven decision-making class, and I think it’s safe to say that the inline grading tool is my favorite new Blackboard feature since back in the CourseInfo days. CourseInfo was one the the earliest of the LMS (learning management system) software solutions and William & Mary was one of its first university customers in 1999. I’m doing this as a follow-up on the topic Rachel introduced in an earlier post since this promises to be a great time saver (not to mention a paper saver) for anyone with lots of complex assignments that require extensive comments.

No More Downloading and Uploading

The most useful aspect of this feature is the elimination of all the downloading and uploading that used to be required in previous iterations of Blackboard. We now have a single interface that students can use to submit their assignments, faculty can use to provide feedback and grade, and then students can access again to get the results of a particular assignment.

It’s simple for students to download PDFs of the papers with all the markups intact. Now that I’ve used the gradebook feature for a couple of classes, it’s hard to imagine managing even a medium sized class without it.

Marking Up the Files

The assignment a student hands in can be a Word document, PDF, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation.  Once a student uploads their document file, an instructor can mark it up from within the Blackboard interface using a combination of inline or text comments, freehand drawing, highlighting, strikeouts, and/or text entries. (See Rachel’s earlier post for more details on the tools available to you.) I haven’t tried marking up all the different file types yet, but the formatting that I’ve tried in both Word and Excel has been pretty well maintained.

The markup features aren’t quite as robust as you might find with a full featured-PDF tool like Adobe Acrobat, but they worked fine for everything I wanted to be able to do. After marking up a document, the instructor can view the comments inline or collect them all together in a list of “Comments and Markup.”

Comments can be of three kinds: point, inline, or area, and all of the styles seemed to work quite well. When students view their submitted attempt they see the converted document in an inline viewer as well as any annotations the instructor may have added. The student cannot edit instructor annotations or add their own annotations.

Two other features of Blackboard inline grading are also worth mentioning: using rubrics and using inline grading to manage multiple submissions.


The kinds of classes I generally teach have not made extensive use of rubrics, but in larger undergraduate classes they can help organize the grading and communicate expectations more clearly to students. They are a pain in the neck to build and validate, but once you have a good rubric developed, tested, and applied, you can begin to reap the benefits. Rubrics can be imported directly into the inline grading.

Rubrics help instructors:

  • Maintain consistency among students.
  • Save time in grading.
  • Provide students with more detailed feedback in a useful format.
  • Refine teaching skills by evaluating rubric results.

Rubrics help students:

  • Understand expectations and components of an assignment.
  • Convert learning activities into understanding course objectives.
  • Become more aware of their learning process and progress.
  • Improve work through timely and detailed feedback.

Multiple Submissions

This new feature makes it very easy to keep track of multiple submissions so that you can easily check to see if students have made corrections and followed suggestions that you make for them. Just clicking the buttons at the the top of the grading pane allow you to move through the draft quickly and efficiently.

Finding Help

A nice video is available in the quick start series if you’d like to get started using the inline grading tool. This is a good resource of how to use the various applications.

For more information see the following link.

About Gene Roche

Gene Roche is director of Academic Information Services with responsibility for assisting faculty in using technology effectively in their teaching, learning and research. He also has an academic appointment as Executive Professor in the School of Education where he teaches courses in educational technology planning, emerging technology, and adult education and works with with students on independent study, dissertations and comprehensive exams. Current projects include working with the SOE’s Executive EdD program, co-chairing William and Mary’s Survey Center, and serving as chair of the Electronic Campus of Virginia. Gene completed his AB degree at Hamilton College and his MS and EdD degrees at Syracuse University–all in the snow belt of upstate New York. Before coming to William and Mary, he was the Director of Career Services at Hamilton and taught in graduate programs in Adult Education at Syracuse University and Elmira College.


  1. We would like our instructors to have the option to turn Inline Grading off if they so choose, for a variety of reasons. The release notes for SP-12 provide a procedure for doing so, but we will be upgrading SP’s 12 and 13 together. Was that option (Default OFF in tools availability) removed since SP 12? If so, will everyone HAVE to use inline grading when we upgrade to SP’s 12 and 13?

  2. Susan Kern says:

    Is there a way to test how the markup works before I promise a class I’ll use it? It sounds better than the previous system but I still find comment boxes don’t quite satisfy the way I want to mark up a paper.

    • Hi Susan,
      I’m happy to give you (or any other faculty member) access to a test course so you can play with the new feature. You can call me directly or send a ticket to the Blackboard support email: