Using the Grade Book feature of Blackboard(ex-WebCT)
with a Excel spreadsheet

I am a firm believer in open courseware, so I do not use the Course Content feature of Blackboard, but the Grade book is very useful in allowing students to see their individual grade inputs and current class grade, with entry from their My WebCT link in their My Courses web page for each course. Starting in the Fall 2006 semester, I am importing my Excel gradesheet columns into the WebCT Grade books for this purpose. Apparently for those of you who tried this already, there are improvements for this current version taking effect in Fall 2006.

For those of you who wish to make the BlackBoard Grade book your primary grade location, you can insert your grade formulas with weighting factors for the Midterm/Final grades and forget all this import/export business and skip the rest of this web page. I am not sure how you can nicely print your grade data though. Perhaps someone can let me know. [Rachel?] I am able to print my entire Excel spreadsheet for each class on one landscape page.

The BlackBoard Grade book is a sort of clunky interface to a spreadsheet, so I prefer to keep my Excel spreadsheet as my primary grade source file, while import and export  require .csv [Comma Separated Values] format, which Excel can read and save to, so this leads to using .csv files as intermediaries in the process of uploading new grades.

To get started you can export the 4 existing predefined grade text columns for each class (LastName, First Names, Student ID, Role) to .cvs format for subsequent copy and paste into your Excel spreadsheet if you choose this route. Delete the exported instructor row and the demo student so it does not interfere with copy and paste from your Excel spreadsheet.
[The first time I did this, I then completed the row of column identifier names in the .csv file by copying from my Excel file the rest of the row of column names with all the 9 quiz grades, 4 test grades, Maple grade, Cum, and LetterGrade onto the .cvs file for upload. Uploading this new file will create the additional columns for all the semester grade inputs I will have, although one by one you have to override the default property of text rather than numeric input for these automatically created grade related columns and then assign decimal digit numbers and maximum grades to each column. I also hide the columns for which no grades have yet been assigned.]
Each time I have a new grade column to import, I copy it from my .xls file to the appropriate .cvs file and import it, changing the default text column it creates to "numeric" and assigning the number of decimal digits and maximum grades and a grade for the demo student) choosing not to waste time setting up empty columns in BlackBoard first. This seems to be more efficient use of my time.

Thus I have one master .xls file, with a tab for each course, and one .cvs file for each course that I use to upload grades into BlackBoard. I hide the 2 grade columns supplied by BlackBoard (Midterm, Final) which I do not use since they require formulas to compute grades from the BlackBoard data; instead I just upload my already computed midterm and final grades.

CAVEAT. Using the BlackBoard gradebook is like trying to peel an apple with a keyboard driven set of mechanical arms (the apple is the spreadsheet, BlackBoard is the computer-driven interface in this analogy). Every editing change (and most things can only be done one entry at a time) requires rewriting the page before the next operation, and it is somewhat laborious to edit the column properties.
[There was a SAC hardware problem slowing down the response for BlackBoard refresh to almost 10 seconds every time anything was changed in my gradebook in my SAC office, which was a real drag. Mysteriously after a few months of this frustration for me Fall 2006, it disappeared, well, at least went down to something like one second.]