Home / Uncategorized / Which Learning Management System? A Comparison of Blackboard, Canvas & Moodle Part 3 – Assignment Grading

This is the third in my series comparing the Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle Learning Management Systems (LMS).

In this article, we’ll focus on grading assignments.

A typical assignment of a class would ask that student write a paper and submit a Word document or solve a problem and submit an Excel file with the solution. As an instructor, I’m interested in being able to review, comment on, and grade these assignments as expediently as possible.

Online Grading

When an assignment in selected for grading in Blackboard and Canvas, both systems use software from Crocodoc to display the contents of the paper a single screen where you are also able to enter the grade and enter comments or upload a document with comments.

This functionality is very useful when grading short papers or small spreadsheets. The submissions can be read quickly. You don’t have go through a multiple click process to download the files and then open them in Word or Excel.

Moodle doesn’t have this preview capability, so each submission has to be downloaded and opened individually. While this is not a much of a problem for a single assignment, jumping back and forth between Word and Moodle when you are trying to grade 20 or 30 assignments in a row can be rather tedious. I’ve also found that by the time I’ve opened 20 or 30 Word or Excel files, my system starts to bog down and I end up needing to reboot to clear things up.

Score: 2 points for Blackboard and Canvas: 1 point for Moodle.

Downloading Submissions

Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle do offer the functionality to download all of the submissions for an assignment into a zip file. I use this functionality for longer papers or more complex problems, where I want to print the papers for grading or need to review the Excel calculations.

When the submissions are downloaded by Canvas, the system the student’s last and first name to the filename of the document in the zip file. This makes it easy to sort the files alphabetically for grading and open them as needed. Moodle does something similar, except it adds the student’s first name then last name to the document filename, so they can’t be sorted for grading. If Moodle would reverse this process, I wouldn’t have to hunt for the file to open.

Score: 2 points for Blackboard and Canvas; 1 point for Moodle.

Grade Scales

Years ago, professors used to grade students with A’s and B’s. With the advent of the learning management system, the A and B process has given way to a numeric grade. 100 is an A+, 95 is an A, etc.

Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle all use numeric grades instead of letter grades. When you create an assignment in Blackboard or Canvas, the set up screen allows you to specify the number of grade points for the assignment. When its time to enter grades, the instructor simply enters the number of points earned by the student. Both systems allow the entry of integer values or decimal values (e.g. 10, 9.5, 9, etc.)

Moodle grade entry is a bit more clunky and restrictive. In Blackboard and Canvas, and assignment can be worth any number of points (as defined by the instructor). For instance, I often make weekly assignments worth 50 or 100 points, but then make the final project worth 200 or 250 points. When I set this up in Blackboard and Canvas, I simply enter the number of points for the assignment.

When I try to do this in Moodle, I run into some restrictions. First, Moodle’s grade entry is via a dropdown box, and the default setting for the system do not allow for assignments worth more than 100 points. Moodle does offer the user the capability to import their own scales if they need to create assignments worth more than 100 points.

Additionally, Moodle’s default dropdown grade scales are set up low-to-high rather than high-to-low. This means that when you first click the dropdown box, the first grade you see is 0, then 1, then 2, etc. It takes a while to scroll to the high end of the scale so I can give a student an A or A+ grade on an assignment.

I’ve found these default low-to-high dropdown scales in Moodle to be a drag on the grading process, so I import my own scales that run high-to-low. Overriding Moodle’s defaults greatly improves the efficiency of the grading process.

The downside to creating your own scales is that some technical knowledge is needed to get the format right (I bring the scales through Excel as .CSV files) and save the scales so they can be reused.

Score: 2 points for Blackboard and Canvas; 0 points for Moodle.

Each of the systems does have a few features in their grading systems worthy of comment.

Locking and Releasing Grades

Canvas’s Speedgrader function (the primary grading function for assignments and forums) has a function that allows you to mute (i.e. lock) the assignment grades and comments that the instructor enters until grades have been entered for all students.

I like this feature as it allows me to adjust the grades and comments for the early students if I discover as I grade the rest of the class that I’m grading too harshly or not being harsh enough. The only drawback is that the instructor has to remember to mute each assignment as he or she begins grading. It would be much more useful if muting the assignment could be the default.

Score: 1 bonus point to Canvas.


All of the systems allow the instructor to place comments in the document being graded and upload this document back to the student. To include this comments in Blackboard and Canvas requires a multi-click process where the file is selected from a directory on the instructor’s computer and then uploaded back to the system. Moodle allows the dragging and dropping of files right onto the comments screen. Moodle’s process is much faster than the upload process in Blackboard and Canvas.

Score: 1 bonus point to Moodle.

What’s Missing?

Many courses today include some sort of team projects. I’ve not found a convenient way to effectively grade team projects in Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. Ideally, I should be able to assign students to a team, the team submits an assignment, I can go in and grade and comment on the assignment, and have the comments and grade flow to the members of the team. This functionality is not supported, so I end up moving around the grading system from student to student copying and pasting comments and reentering grades.

The other functionality that’s missing in the grading systems in these LMS is the ability to release solutions to students as these submit assignments and exercises.
Within each LMS, you can structure pages and solution files to automatically appear at a specific time (such as immediately after an assignment due date), but you cannot structure the process for an individual release to each student as they submit.

For instance, this past semester one of my finance classes included many learning exercises. Some students completed these early in the week. Some completed them late in the week. The system was set up to release the answer keys immediately after the due date. Ideally, I would have liked to release the solutions to the students as they submitted their work (often days before the due date). The early birds wouldn’t have to wait until the end of the week to get the solutions. I think this is one of those nice to have’s that would greatly enhance the learning process.

Score: 0 points for Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle.

Total score for assignment grading: 7 points Canvas; 6 points Blackboard; and 4 points Moodle.

Next up, discussion forums.

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