More Than Average - Using Outcome Calculation Methods in Canvas

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni
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I love talking to Canvas users! Something I hear occasionally is how outcome calculation methods can be confusing. So, let’s dig into what a calculation method is and why they are essential to outcomes usage in Canvas. 

First, let’s define terms. A calculation method is used to translate at least one and potentially many student scores on assessments of a particular educational standard or outcome into a categorical level on a mastery scale. Common mastery scales often have between 3 and 5 levels from Below to Above Mastery. In Canvas, these results for students are then reported in the Learning Mastery Gradebook and admin-level report exports. 

Canvas currently has 4 options to choose from when an outcome is defined. What option is chosen for a particular outcome should be carefully considered. It speaks to an educator's philosophy about how students can display sufficient knowledge or skill levels to be identified as proficient - the very thing a student is expected to achieve when they enter a course. Let’s think through some of these ideas and match them to a calculation method. 

  • If you want to take a student’s best performance or most recent performance on an outcome, you only need one assessment opportunity (at a minimum). You could use “Highest Score” or “Most Recent Score” in Canvas. 
  • If you want students to display mastery a certain number of times choose “N number of times” in Canvas. We've recently raised the maximum N value from 5 to 10 (the most amount of unique scores at mastery or above that needs to be displayed by a student to reach overall mastery) to provide more flexibility in cases where there are a number of outcome assessments.  
  • If you want every assignment to count but want the most recent score to count the most then choose “Decaying Average” and set the balance between the two. 

To this group, we’ll be adding a straight “Average” or mean as a fifth option in the coming months for cases where every student score should be treated equally. We've received lots of input that institutions need this available to use outcomes, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. 

If you’d like to investigate how a calculation method works when applied to a set of student scores, check out the examples shown when creating or editing an outcome in Canvas (see the image below for an example of the examples :-). You can also check out the resources for this InstructureCon session on standards-based grading from Brian Bennet where there is a cool interactive spreadsheet.  

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