Please help me setting up this graded activity in Blackboard. Students will participate in class discussions any number of times throughout the semester. For each such attempt they will be graded for up to 5 points. For the whole semester a student can earn a max of 20 points. To capture their attempts, I created a column in the gradebook for each class meeting and set the point value to 0 and not to count the column in grade center calculations. If a student participates twice and earns 3 and 5 for those two attempts, I shall enter 8 in the column. I also created a calculated column to calculate their running total for participation. How to cap this column to 20 points? Also, since the discussion grade columns have a 0 points possible, the calculated total column is not adding any points to the overall total points. So, I think I am doing this all wrong.

How to set up the columns in the gradebook?

I suggested the pro forma column because I interpreted your "How to cap this column to 20 points" as the "Possible points" in the Grade Center Column. With a "Possible points" equal to zeor, a meaningfull % for the column is impossible. In a calculated total column Blackboard sums not only the scores, but also the "Possible points".

But you meant to avoid total scores above 20.

This is also possible, in the Grade Center. I know two methodes, but both of them make use of the % of total column. So, you have to be sure that the "possible points" for the total column is non-zero. If you sum columns, each with "possible points" zero, you have to add the "pro forma" column (with "possible point" = 20 and all scores are zero) to set the possible points of the total column to 20. In your case. Then, you need a method to capture all total scores above 100% (above 20) to 100% (20).

Two methods...

1°) Sometimes I use a grading scheme, with 20 levels. I use it for the primary display (the "My Grades" display). It shows for the students "20" when the % of the column is above 100%. But this "20" (and all other scores shown in primary display) are "text". If you use this column in further calculations, 110% will still be calculated as 110% (22/20).

2°) Mathematically better is: Add two extra columns...

- the first I will call the "genius" column, comparable with the "pro forma" column. In your case you choose for "possible points" = 20, and in this column all students get a score = 20 (100%). Hide this column for students (don't make them too happy by showing this), eventually hide this also from the Grade Center. To fill this column with scores for the students, you can use export/import (Work Offline). Don't forget to add the 100% score for late registrations (so, maybe not good to hide it from the Grade Center).

- the second is a minimum column: take the minimum of this "genius" colum and the column you want to "capture" to 20.

Now you have to realise that minimum and maximum columns in the Grade Center look for the % of their "arguments". For example: If you define a minimum column for two columns with a different "possible points", f.e. "20" and "5" for a student with 8/20 and 3/5, the minimum will be the 8/20 because 8/20 = 40% and 3/5 = 60%. Not the absolute score counts for min/max, but the score relative to the possible points. This explains why "possible points" <> zero is needed in your first total column.

I hope this complex method is helpfull for you,

but I hope some Blackboard engineer reads this and understands that in future releases we need simpler procedures for things like this. I like the Grade Center very much because of the communication possibilities (collaboration between colleagues, feedback and comments for students, things you don't have in Excel), and because of the coupling with assignments, group assignments, and all the other learning tools. But a simple option "capture to 100%" in a column-definition can't be very difficult to implement.