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Grading Large Enrollment Courses in Canvas

Grading Large Enrollment Courses in Canvas

Grading can come with extra challenges for large enrollment courses. Here are a few things you can do to make it easier to manage grading. Many of these will assume that your course has sections in it (i.e., is made by merging multiple sections in one course). If you have a course that you would like to use these features with and do not have sections, please open a ticket with us and we can create sections for you manually.

Gradebook (Grades page)

Set Viewing Defaults

Loading the Canvas gradebook can take a lot of time when you have a large course. The gradebook can also become unwieldy to navigate once you have a lot of rows and columns. You can make this easier through some general view settings. Many of the gradebook view options (like filter presets) are per-person and need to be created by the person using them (e.g. your TAs would also need to set these up for themselves, even after you do it for yourself).

  • Hide extraneous columns. Click the gear Screenshot of an icon in the shape of a mechanical gear.  in the top right corner of the grades page and switch to the View Options tab. Here, you can toggle the check boxes to show or hide certain columns, such as not showing unpublished assignments or the notes column or hiding assignment group sub-totals.
  • Sort the gradebook columns. You can have Canvas sort your columns automatically. “Default Order” will sort your columns according to the same order you have assignments displayed on the assignments page, but you might also ask it to sort alphabetically or by due date. (Sometimes you need to change to a different sort order and then back for Canvas to realize it needs to re-sort.)
  • Show extra student information. When you have a large enrollment course, you have a greater chance of multiple students with the same, or similar, names. You can ask Canvas to show additional information (like PeopleSoft ID) to help you untangle these. Click on the “…” that appears in the column header for Student Name when you point at it. Here you can select Secondary Info -> SIS ID to display the PeopleSoft ID next to each student. You can also explore some other options here according to your preferences.

Screenshot illustrating the Gradebook Settings panel. Available check boxes include Unpublished Assignments, Hide Assignment Group Totals, and Hide Total Overrides Column.

Screenshot illustrating the contextual menu of the gradebook student name column. The cursor is selecting SIS ID from Secondary Info.

Filter by Assignment

It’s easy to miss, but you can quickly filter the gradebook to a single student or a single assignment by typing in the appropriate search box above the table. If you are, for example, currently entering grades for Lab Report #3, click in the assignment search box and select that assignment. All other columns will be hidden (except [sub]totals, if not hidden) except the one you selected. The same is true for filtering to a single student. Click the “X” next to a filter criterion to remove it.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the search assignments box at the top right of the gradebook.

Zoom In On One Student

If you want to focus on one student, click on their name from the gradebook and click the grades button that appears in the sidecar that opens on the right. You will get a page that is only this student’s grades, shown in an easier-to-read format. This is particularly handy if you are meeting with a student, or trying to find out why someone’s grade is not calculating correctly. (Notice also you can use Arrange By to sort this page.) This page is extremely similar to what students themselves see when they check their grades, so it’s very useful to check it occasionally. Learn more about the student grades page.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the Grades button from the student detail sidebar that opens when selecting a student name from the gradebook.

Create Filter Presets (easily filter by group or section)

You can create and save filters to show only certain sets of students or assignments at a time. A common use of this is for each grader to create a filter to show only the students they are responsible for. Click the Apply Filters button above the gradebook and then Create and Manage Filters to create a new filter. Click to create a filter preset. Give it a name and select criteria (commonly selecting a specific section from the drop-down list, which unfortunately is not always fully sorted). Then click Save Filter Preset.

In the future, when you click Apply Filters, any presets you have created will appear in the list for you to apply easily. To remove an applied filter, click the “X” next to the filter name that will appear in the same row as the Apply Filters button. Learn more about enhanced gradebook filters.

Tip: Also filter by assignment (above) so you can really focus on data entry!

This feature can be used in conjunction with Launch SpeedGrader Filtered, discussed below, such that graders can always easily find their students and not need to worry about the whole class roster.

Screenshot illustrating the apply filters button. Create & Manage Filter Presets is selected from the menu for emphasis.

Set Default Grades

Canvas will treat any grade of “-” (the default grade) the same as “exempt”. It is important that you fill in the 0 for missing assignments for missing work to count against a student’s grades. Finding and filling these in can take a lot of effort to do manually. Fortunately, there’s a tool available to do it in bulk. Click on the “…” that appears in the column header for the assignment when you point at it. Select Set Default Grade. Type the grade to give for missing submissions (usually 0) and click the button. It is very important that you do not turn on the overwrite check box! If you do that, all grades will be what you entered here, no matter the previous grade. (You can use Gradebook History, below, to find out the previous scores and undo this.) Learn more about setting a default grade.

While we recommend doing this as time comes for closing each assignment throughout the semester, you may find yourself needing to do this at the end of the semester for all assignments at once. If you need to do this, click “…” for the total or a subtotal column and select Apply Score to Ungraded”. This will do as above, but for all assignments at once. We advise extreme caution using this feature. Learn more about applying scores to ungraded assignments.

Tip: If a student should be exempt from an assignment (grades are calculated as if it did not exist), type “EX” as the grade before filling in zeroes in batch.

Screenshot illustrating the contextual menu of a gradebook assignment column. The cursor is highlighting Set Default Grade around the middle of the list of choices.

Utilize Late or Missing Submission Policies

You can set late submission or missing submission policies for your course. Click the gear Screenshot of an icon in the shape of a mechanical gear.  in the top right of the gradebook and use the Late Policies tab.

Late submission policy will penalize a student’s grade automatically depending on how long after the due date it was submitted. (Grading is completed as if it were not late; Canvas applies the penalty itself.). This only works for assignments that have a due date set, and were submitted after the due date (that is, had an “until” availability that was beyond the due date). Unfortunately, you cannot set different late penalties to different assignments, though you can manually specify how late a submission was in the Grade Detail Tray or by using SpeedGrader (e.g., remove any penalties for an ad hoc accommodation by setting it to 0). Learn more about late submission policies.

You can also set a missing submission policy. This will automatically set a score (usually zero) for any assignments marked as missing, preventing the need to use the Set Default Grades feature discussed above. An assignment is marked as missing according to its due date and “until” availability settings (full details in the linked help page, blue box at the top). Learn more about missing submission policies.

Important note: Caution is advised for both of these policy settings, since they can apply retroactively and require effort to undo. It is usually recommended you only utilize them if they are set up before a course begins.

Screenshot illustrating the available submission policies. Checkboxes include turning on or off ‘Automatically apply grade for missing submissions’ or ‘Automatically apply deduction to late submissions’. There are also fields for numeric input adjoining these.

Message Students Who

Canvas has a few places where you can send targeted messages to students who meet specific criteria; the gradebook is the main one. For example, you could send reminders to students who have not yet submitted (without bothering those who already have), or those who scored above or below a particular score to encourage them to other opportunities. Using this feature will send each student their own Canvas message, without them seeing who else was sent one. Click on the “…” that appears in the column header for the assignment when you point at it. Select Message Students Who and explore your options. Learn more about messaging students from the gradebook.

Tip: You can also send targeted messages like this from the groups page (for students who have not yet signed up for a group) and with certain filters in the New Analytics area.

Screenshot illustrating the contextual menu of a gradebook assignment column. The cursor is highlighting Message Students Who near the beginning of the list of choices.

Check Gradebook History

When you have a large course, the chances of accidental grade changes are more likely, (especially if you’re not using the filters discussed above). You can always view a history of your course’s grades — who graded which assignment, submitted by who, and at what time, along with what the grade was before and after. Using the gradebook history, you can easily find if a student’s grade did indeed get changed at some point and restore the previous grade. The gradebook history feature also keeps grades even in unusual circumstances, such as if a student drops your course, or an assignment is deleted accidentally. Learn more bout gradebook history.

Screenshot illustrating the gradebook history page. The available columns, each of which can be filtered, include Date, Student, Grader, and Artifact, as well as the grade before and after the change, and the current grade.


Launch SpeedGrader Filtered (by student group or section)

If you have multiple graders accessing student submissions in Canvas by SpeedGrader, you can set a whole-course setting that SpeedGrader is always filtered to a group of students. If this feature is enabled, one can only use SpeedGrader filtered to their selected group; you cannot use SpeedGrader to see all students at once. (You can enable and disable this feature as you need, which would allow you to circumvent this restriction when necessary.) Learn more about launching SpeedGrader filtered.

Example use: A law internship course sets this so that each adjunct only sees their allotted students to grade weekly activity reports.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the ‘Launch SpeedGrader filtered by Student Group’ option from the Canvas settings page.

Build a SpeedGrader Comment Library (Save and reuse comments)

Canvas allows you to save comments (that appear in the overall assignment comment box) and easily reuse them. Unfortunately these comments are per-person (and not shared across the course), but if you are giving feedback to a lot of students in Canvas, this can save time. This feature does not yet work with annotation comments, nor can the be anonymous. Learn more about the comment library feature.

Screenshot illustrating the location to find the comment library button from SpeedGrader above the add a comment input box.

Anonymize Grader Annotations

You can ask Canvas to hide the name of who made the note from annotations in SpeedGrader. Unfortunately, this only applies to annotations in the document view and not overall comments in the comment box. (However, as a work-around, you could standardize that overall assignment comments could be added as a point comment in the top right corner of the first page of every submission.). This is a course-wide setting and is not related to anonymous grading, which can hide student names from graders. Learn more about anonymous instructor annotations,

Have Moderated Grading

Moderated grading allows a lead instructor to allow graders to do grading, but require a final confirmation (moderation) before grades are accepted. It also allows for multiple graders to grade each assignment and the lead then consolidates those grades into the final score. You can enable this feature under course settings, on the feature options tab. Moderated grading might work best in conjunction with rubrics, but it is not required.

Screenshot illustrating that moderated grading is an option that can be enabled or disabled per assignment and can be set to require a minimum number of distinct graders if turned on. There is also a checkbox controlling whether graders can see each other’s comments.

Grade Quiz By Question

You can set SpeedGrader for Quizzes to grade question-by-question, rather than grading all of a quiz before moving to the next quiz. You can enable this in SpeedGrader. It will change your view a little bit (such as how Fudge Points appears). Once this is enabled, grading a quiz question and then moving to another student’s submission will automatically scroll to that same question on the next student. This will also show a number bar above the quiz to more easily navigate between questions. You might use this to divide up grading a Canvas quiz by question rather than by student or section. Learn more about grading one quiz question at a time.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the settings gear at the top of SpeedGrader. The first menu item, options, is selected.

Other Areas

Import Your Grades from Canvas to PeopleSoft

With a proper setup in Canvas, you can tell PeopleSoft to import your final grades from Canvas. You will still need to repeat the process for each section in PeopleSoft (and to verify your grades for approval), but it can save considerable time from typing in the letter grades. Please carefully read the linked documentation, since you need to make sure your course is set up right (including your number-to-letter-grade scheme). Learn more about importing your grades.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the ‘import grades from canvas’ button from the PeopleSoft Faculty Center grade input screen.

Override Calculated Final Grades

If you need to adjust grades a little bit over what Canvas has calculated (or you calculate your grades externally in Excel), you might still use this feature to save you effort. You can enable final grade overrides for your course. This will add an extra column to the end of the gradebook called Override. The PeopleSoft import will use this (if present). If a particular student does not have an override specified, it will move on to the default total calculation. Learn more about final grade overrides.

Screenshot illustrating that another column titled Override appears in the canvas gradebook at the end, after the Total column. Most of the entries are blank. One student with a borderline store is receiving a score higher than Canvas calculated.

Use Rubrics

Using a rubric to grade your assignments may allow faster and more consistent grading. The general process is to create a rubric, attach it to an assignment, and then grader(s) use the rubric in SpeedGrader to guide comments and feedback. If using rubrics, be sure to enable the check-box to use the rubric for assignment grading once you have attached it to an assignment if you want the rubric’s numeric score to be used for the assignment score. Learn more about rubrics.

Screenshot illustrating the location of the ‘Use this rubric for assignment grading’ checkbox from the rubric editing screen. The checkbox is fourth of the five available.

Analyze Your Quizzes

Canvas Quizzes allow you to view (and export) item and student analysis reports. The item analysis report will evaluate the difficulty, reliability, and discrimination of your quiz questions. The student analysis is a raw export of each student and their responses so you might create your own reports.

Learn more about quiz statistics.

More information for how item analysis is calculated.

Screenshot illustrating what the Quiz Summary page looks like for Canvas Quizzes. The buttons for Student Analysis and Item Analysis are highlighted, as are the presence of calculations for average, high, and low scores, as well as the standard deviation and average time to complete.

Check Course Analytics

New Analytics is a tool available in Canvas that can get you reports about when and how your students are active in your course. You can use this information to find out when your students are most active in your course, or you may be able to use this information to determine students who are at risk of falling behind so you might attempt to check in on them. You access it by clicking New Analytics from the right hand navigation menu on your course home page. Some reports available from new analytics include: course grades, student grades and activity, and to get a detailed report on any missing, late, or excused assignments.

What is New Analytics?

Learn more about Canvas New Analytics.

See our interactive tutorial about some Course Level Learning Analytics.

Tip: Don’t worry about it being called New Analytics. Canvas had a classic analytics feature that was replaced by this one around 2019. New Analytics is mature and stable, though it still gets new features sometimes too.

Screenshot illustrating the Students tab of the New Analytics page. The columns shown are name, grade, percent of assignments on time, and count and most recent values for both participation and page views.

Consider Integrated Tools

Several additional tools are available outside of Canvas that are of particular use to large enrollment courses. These all integrate with Canvas. If you would like to learn more about any of these, request a consultation with us so we can discuss your goals and find the right tool for you.


Peerceptiv is a peer learning tool. Its two primary uses are:

  • reliable, valid peer assessment (including the option for entirely student-sourced grading without any instructor intervention required)
  • peer evaluation, where students (or group members) can evaluate one another’s contribution to the course or group activity

Trivia: Peerceptiv was developed in part at the University of Pittsburgh LRDC.

Learn more about Peerceptiv.

Screenshot illustrating the Peerceptiv assignment creation workflow. The screenshot shows the possible steps for an assignment are submission phase, review phase, feedback phase, and evaluation phase. The peer evaluation phase is described as, ‘allows students to evaluate the contributions of their group members. It can be a stand-alone assignment or an optional phase for group assignments.’


Gradescope is an assignment and feedback platform. It has three primary features of interest to large enrollment courses:

  • Digitizing paper-based assignments (i.e., collecting hand-written homework and exams for digital grading). Bulk scan your exams distribute to your graders (who grade by-question and not by student) electronically, and return feedback electronically so you do not need to spend time returning paper. Learn more about Gradescope.
  • Standardizing grading through shared “checklist style” rubrics that can be built in advance, or built as you grade. Changing the point value of an item will automatically regrade everyone. You can also group similar student responses to get the same feedback together. Anonymous grading is also available.
  • Bubble sheet exams. Gradescope can be used as a “Scantron” replacement, allowing you to scan and process bubble sheet exams on your own, including the ability to link these to your gradebook automatically without working with spreadsheets. Gradescope bubble sheet assignments will also highlight uncertain marks for correcting mistakes and doesn’t require a specific pen or pencil to function. Learn more about Gradescope bubble sheets. (Coming soon.)

Screenshot illustrating the assignment grading screen of Gradescope with labels pointing to the action bar at the bottom, the navigation at the left, the student submission in the center, and the rubric at the right.

Screenshot illustrating the bubble sheet assignment screen of Gradescope. This screen is an array of numbered questions, each with an A, B, C, D, E choice. Each question has a settings button and there is a global defaults area at the top.


Perusall is an e-reader and social annotation platform used to motivate and engage students with learning materials. You can use it to orient student discussions around texts or other sources. Students can mark-up the document and reply to one another’s comments and questions. Perusall can be set up to grade automatically based on quality and quantity of participation, and defaults to breaking up your roster automatically into smaller discussion groups. Thus, it would allow you to use “online discussion boards” even for a large enrollment course without requiring significant grader intervention. Learn more about Perusall.

Screenshot illustrating an example Perusall assignment. Two students have highlighted the same passage in a course reading and have had a conversation about it.


An often overlooked part of Turnitin is the QuickMarks feature. This can make it easier to grade large numbers of essays. Turnitin QuickMarks is comparable to Canvas comment libraries (above), but more robust and works with in-line comments. It allows you to build feedback “stamps” that you can drag and drop for easy reuse. You can save and share your QuickMarks sets with others. Learn more about QuickMarks.

Screenshot illustrating the Turnitin quick marks panel. It shows a palette of commonly-used editing marks, such as “awk.”, “frag.” and “vague”. The “Improper Citation” stamp has been applied to the artifact being graded.

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