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Greg's Canvas Blog

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Almost exactly three years ago Brian Rueckert proposed the idea LTI External Tools - Ability to Add Rubric. I am getting ready to use a Google Docs cloud assignment in a class next semester and discovered some unsettling things about rubrics. A search within the Canvas Community led to this idea. My response was long enough and I expect my colleagues to ask me about this, so I decided to blog about the experience and what the workarounds might be.


In the embedded video I demonstrate the following:

  • Adding a rubric to a Google Docs cloud assignment 
  • Showing that the rubric is not visible on the same page as the assignment
  • Showing why it's not a good idea to copy and paste the rubric into the instructions of the assignment
    (no, I did not do a screenshot -- not exactly universal design even with alt text)
  • Showing how students can find the rubric if they can access the assignment instructions
  • Showing how students can find the rubric if they cannot access the assignment instructions
    (yes, it depends on whether the assignment is published but unavailable)

All of this likely applies equally to any External Tool assignment type. Until it gets fixed, students will be justified in feeling like their instructors don't want them to see the expectations for assignments before submission.

Thank you to Matthew Moore for asking a question about how faculty can write comments on essay questions in quizzes. I wasn't sure whether the question was for Essay or File Upload questions and wanted some more experience with them so I made a video showing things from the student to teacher perspective and back again.


A comment on the Canvas Guides document How do I create an Essay quiz question? caught my eye: "Note: Any general answer comments are visible as soon as a quiz is submitted and cannot be hidden from students." I had not thought how useful it could be to give students immediate feedback in between the "you've submitted the quiz" to the final score and feedback.


In the embedded silent video I show how the general feedback is visible to students immediately upon submission. I also show how neither the File Upload or Essay question types allow for inline commenting in the SpeedGrader. A File Upload assignment this is not. It's also not yet an option to limit the type of file that can be uploaded. 


A colleague asked me how to view the grades of a student who had been dropped from a class. Our SIS processing gives dropped students a status that prevents us from using the View Prior Enrollments link, so we have to be creative with our .test instance.
Here are the steps:
  • Go to the .test instance, where data from the production system is copied over every three weeks. Instructors can log into this instance but students cannot. Also they receive no notifications of any activity that takes place there. The Canvas Guides has a document with more information: How do I access the Canvas test environment as an instructor?
  • If the student is not enrolled in the course on the .test instance, their user can be manually enrolled there by selecting the +People button on the People page and using the student ID number for Login ID (or SIS ID). Grades and activity data will reappear for students who were formerly enrolled who are then re-enrolled in a Canvas course.
  • If it is after the semester has ended, you will notice that the +People button is not active. You can activate this by going to the Settings page for that course on the .test server and de-selecting the check box "Users can only participate in the course between these dates" and selecting the Update Course Details button. The +People button on the People page will then become active.


The best part of all this is that an instructor can do all of this on their own without needing a sysadmin's help (at least on our instance).

At the end of each episode of This Week in Canvas, I ask viewers to make a suggestion for tip of the week. We began the series this semester and have only received a couple of suggestions, and the first one we used as the tip of the week in a subsequent video. This week someone asked for a histogram of grade data, which is a feature that our former LMS had. I started to imagine how to fit in the process of downloading, creating a chart, etc., and wondered how well that could fit into the short videos we like to create.


Then serendipity touched me when I made the connection to Analytics Beta, which is now available in our production instance. So I created a demo video and showed how to enable it, selected a couple of links to show features (including a histogram), and ended with encouragement to be an active member of the Canvas Community:


Thanks to the inspiration of Laura Gibbs I have decided to try Grade Declarations for my fully online history class in the spring. One of the assignments I am going to use it with is the primary source analysis, which students do several times over the course of the semester. They find a primary source that is from a specific time period, and I have them write a three-paragraph analysis of the source. The paragraphs focus on the source's context, content, and finally an interpretation.


I am used to assigning points for each criteria within a rubric:

Writing quality
Is the writing free of grammatical errors, and does it flow smoothly from one paragraph to another?
5.0 pts
3.0 pts
0.0 pts
5.0 pts
First paragraph (context)
Does the first paragraph contain at least one properly formatted citation from the text that is used to support the description of the document's context?
10.0 pts
7.0 pts
0.0 pts
10.0 pts
Second paragraph (content)
Does the second paragraph contain at least one properly formatted citation from the document that is used to support the description of its content?
10.0 pts
7.0 pts
0.0 pts
10.0 pts
Third paragraph (meaning)
Does the third paragraph include properly formatted citations from the text and/or document that effectively support an interpretation of the document's meaning?
20.0 pts
15.0 pts
0.0 pts
20.0 pts
Works Cited list
Does the analysis include a properly formatted list of works cited that includes the text and the document being analyzed?
5.0 pts
0.0 pts
5.0 pts
Total Points: 50.0


After seeing a question from Danielle Casey about Student Self-Grading for Variable Credit? and Laura' response, I thought about how I might make a Grade Declaration for each criterion.


I created two quizzes. For one I made each criterion a separate question worth the appropriate amount of points. This ended up with a quiz long enough to require a page down before seeing all of the questions:

Quiz preview with multiple questions


The second quiz I have with just one question, which is in line with how Laura does Grade Declarations. This one fits much more easily within a single window:

Quiz preview with a single question


This will also be a peer-review assignment, so my students will be doing an assignment in addition to taking the Grade Declaration quiz. And they will select from the analyses created by the entire class as part of the capstone assignment. Both the peer review and the within-class repository will make these public, so students will be thinking of their peers as the complete the Grade Declaration assignment.


It all boils down to whether it makes a difference for students to do a separate declaration for each criterion or one declaration for all of them. They will separately submit it, provide and read peer feedback, and then read my feedback. It might be enough for there to be a single declaration question instead of several. Since this is new to me, either option will teach me something.

I had a question to confirm that the mobile app respects the module prereq and requirement settings for students, and I made a demo video:



I did the recording using the Student app on an iPhone, and I assume the same is true for the Android app.

When my college started using Canvas a couple of semesters ago, I used the opportunity to change how I communicate with fellow faculty about upcoming training, tips and tricks, and other news related to our LMS. I started a weekly email, "This Week in Canvas," as there was always at least workshops to publicize. This also fits in with dealing with frequently updating software that is hosted by the vendor, two things about Canvas that we had not dealt with before. The weekly emails include reminders about where faculty can get help, next week's training, and a tip of the week.


This semester I am working with my department mate Michael Bittner to make a video for each week. Mike makes awesome videos, and therefore the response has been positive. We have a YouTube channel for our department and this week decided to make our playlist public:

Of course the tips of the week are the same from semester to semester, so we plan to decrease the frequency of videos we make. We will do sixteen for this semester, a few more next semester, and then isolated ones after that. Each video takes time to plan, shoot, edit, and caption. So I hope that all our references and suggestions are timeless.

Earlier this year I proposed the idea Arc Recognize Captioned YouTube Videos, but it has not happened yet. So I did some poking and searching and found a solution.


In the embedded video I demonstrate the following tasks:

  1. Use the website to generate a .srt file from a YouTube video's captions
  2. Upload the caption file into Arc

The video demo I made on my iMac, and I was able to download the .srt file directly from the website. It is also possible to create your own .srt file by copying the caption from the website into a plain-text editor (like Notepad on Windows) and saving that with a .srt extension.


Edited with a new process:

This week I looked at the site mentioned in this blog entry and found out it no longer functions. Ugh! Before I fell into too much despair I saw that it is possible to download a copy of the captions file from YouTube. The video must be set to allow community members to contribute captions. If the video already has English captions provided by the creator those cannot be downloaded, but I discovered that I could tell YouTube I was contributing captions in a friendly language, say Canadian English, and I was able to one-click copy the published captions to my new language. That could then be downloaded. (I say "friendly' because I tried to create captions in Klingon but that language does not have the one-click copy from English.) 


YouTube does not download captions in a file that is recognized by Arc. so I had to convert those captions (.sbv file) into an Arc-friendly format (.srt file). I found a site that does this ( We'll see how long this one lasts! 


It's all demonstrated on this video:

As with Conversations, email can also be used to reply to messages in Discussions. In my classes I like to respond to each student's introduction to help them feel welcome, and doing it via email means I can take care of that task when out and about. But unlike Conversations, it is easy to clutter a Discussions page with duplicates of the original message. Just taking care of not including the original message when using email to reply to a Discussion post makes for a cleaner Discussions page.


In the embedded video I demonstrate the following:

  1. Showing that a user is Subscribed to a Discussion.
  2. Confirming that the content of an email and a Discussion post have the same content.
  3. Demonstrating dirty Discussions-via-email.
  4. Demonstrating clean Discussions-via-email.

This does not take care of grading, however, so I still need to log in to Canvas to give students feedback on graded Discussions. And it will not mark the message as read to which I replied.

At my college our exam bluebooks (actually they're green*) include our CRC Honor Code printed on the inside cover. That is part of a college-wide effort to build a culture of academic integrity. We are encouraged share the code with our students in various ways, and it is framed in each of our classrooms. It also is available on a printable form that faculty can give to their students. It has a place to sign indicating agreement with the following statement:


I understand that I, as a member of the Cosumnes River College community, am responsible for upholding this value, supporting academic quality, academic rigor, and an appropriate college atmosphere.


Our Academic Integrity Committee (AIC), a subcommittee of our Academic Senate, developed the code at a time when when less than half of our classes were using the college's learning management system.


The AIC chair asked me recently how the CRC Honor Code might be made similarly visible to students using the Quiz or Assignment tools in Canvas. We are a client of VeriCite (I mean Turnitin) and assignments using the tool for plagiarism detection have the similarity pledge enabled. But his question about quizzes got me to thinking about the various ways something like that could be done there.


One is pretty straightforward: Add a question to each quiz that is a true/false declaration (or even a single-option multiple choice question) that asks students to agree with the statement as if they were signing the paper. If I were to do this I would make it the first question on the quiz and make it worth some points. A zero-point question could work too, but that might communicate something undesirable about how much academic integrity is valued.


Another option is to use the prerequisite and requirement features of the Modules tool so that students are forced to agree with the statement in some other way. Following are some of the options, each of which I would put inside the "course orientation" module that I use as a prerequisite for all other modules in the class:

  1. Require students to view a content page "CRC Honor Code"
  2. Require students to mark as read a content page "CRC Honor Code"
  3. Require students to attempt a quiz that includes a true/false or single-option multiple choice question that asks them to agree with the statement
  4. Require students to get a perfect score on a single-question quiz asking students to agree with the statement
  5. Require students to submit an assignment writing a paragraph reflecting on what they think the code means to them

My favorites are numbers 3 and 4, which easily reward students with points for making a declaration. Since I already give students a pre-course quiz it would be easy to add a question to that assignment, but the standalone quiz draws additional attention to the issue. I wonder what other options there are and hope that other members of the Canvas Community share those here.


*: So was our carbon footprint reduced more by the move to "greenbooks" (made with >30% post-consumer recycled material) or by the increasing number of exams that are given online using the learning management system? Sounds like a great question for an environmental researcher! 

A colleague asked me about a teaching challenge and whether there was a way to do what he wanted in Canvas. He teaches a science lab class and wants to turn the experience of writing a lab report into something more like a scientific paper. This gives students a chance to practice critical thinking. The teaching challenge comes with wanting students' papers and his feedback to be visible to everyone in the class. That way each lab group could see how the other groups wrote their paper and the feedback from the reviewer could be seen as well. What a great way to expose students to aspects of academic publishing.


Of course I thought of using the discussions tool as a way to make students' work (and feedback) public within the class. However, the discussion tool in Canvas does not have a distinct subject for each replies (though maybe that will change if Subject  Lines for Discussions is enabled). This makes it a challenge to use a single graded discussion assignment for the assignment as it would require students to use the browser's search function to find a paper on the same experiment written by a classmate from another lab group.


I wanted a better option for students to help them find those other papers, and then I remembered there is a setting to allow students to create their own discussions in a Canvas course. I have never used this nor met anyone who has, though my own experience with online discussions is small. So I proposed using this option to help make things easier on my colleague's students:

  • Each student creates a discussion following the instructor's guidelines for the title
  • For the discussion prompt the student writes an executive summary of their paper and attaches their paper
  • The instructor replies to each discussion with public feedback on the report

My colleague did not mention peer feedback as part of the assignment, but that could be added as well by requiring students to post replies to their classmates.


There is a minor additional hassle for the instructor, which is that a separate assignment needs to be created for the purpose of assigning a grade and giving confidential feedback on the assignment. But the main benefit for students is an easily scrollable list of paper titles on the Discussions page in the course, almost like the table of contents of a academic journal. And like an online academic journal, all the reader needs to do is select a title to see the executive summary and find easy access to the complete paper as well as an editorial response and maybe even feedback from fellow scientists.

Thank you everyone who read this blog entry. I discovered a way to import YouTube captions into Arc and wrote another entry about it: YouTube Captions to Arc (updated 26 Oct. 2018).

It is awesome that YouTube videos can be played inside the Arc media player and thereby allowing instructors to use all of Arc's goodness with videos from that source. In my U.S. history classes I'm going to have to work in some late-90s popular culture so I can use Arc to make pop-up videos of VH1's Pop Up Videos. 


Unfortunately, the Arc media player does not recognize that a YouTube video has been captioned. It is possible to show the YouTube captions within the Arc media player by opening the video within a YouTube window and enabling captions there. Hopefully Instructure's developers will be able to figure how to have Arc Recognize Captioned YouTube Videos. Until then, our students will get an opportunity to practice their fine mousing skills in order to make those captions appear within the Arc media player. The embedded video demonstrates the following workaround:

  1. Hey students, carefully hover your mouse over the the lower-right part of the video. You might have to move your mouse pointer onto the video from the top of the video and not the bottom or side as the pop-up Arc controls cover the place you need to click.
  2. Once you see the YouTube watermark, click on it to open the video in a new browser window or tab.
  3. On the YouTube page, select the option to display captions.
  4. Close that YouTube page.
  5. Refresh the browser window or tab with Canvas to continue watching the video using the Arc player.

Chris Hofer Thank You for asking the question that led me to this discovery.

California's community colleges are fortunate to have supporting programs like 3C Media Solutions, which among other things hosts and streams videos for our faculty. The service has a connection the Distance Education Captioning and Transcription grant, which means that getting instructional videos captioned is as easy as filling in an online form linked from videos we have uploaded to 3C Media Solutions.


For those of us who also have access to Arc, this presents a challenge. On one hand, the time-stamped comments and viewer insights make Arc a no-brainer for making effective use of instructional video. The ability to answer my students' questions in situ is a big step on the road toward instruction perfection. On the other hand, the workload involved in captioning videos is a disincentive to using them and finding an easy way to take care of that is a great boon. 


The embedded video demonstrates a workaround that uses both systems:

  1. Upload the video to 3C Media Solutions and Arc
  2. Request captioning at 3C Media Solutions
  3. Download the caption file from 3C Media Solutions and upload it on the Canvas page with the Arc video

Hopefully we'll be able to Integrate Any Online Video with Arc and this workaround will no longer be needed.


Sonia Parada from Pasadena City College shared an awesome icebreaker she uses in a face-to-face class and wondered if it could be done online. In person, each student draws an image or series of images that correspond to the syllables in their name. The class then does a gallery walk where everyone tries to guess the names represented, ending with a reveal. Genius!


This is not possible using the Canvas tools since there is not an option to do anonymous discussion replies. I did some testing and using a Google Presentation might work for this activity. Here are the steps:

  1. Create a Google Presentation and share it so anyone with the link can edit it
  2. Share the link along with the activity instructions to students (including admonishing them not to edit their classmates' slides)
  3. At the end of the activity encourage each student adds their name to their slide


The embedded video shows the results of my testing:

The California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative created a series of Online Readiness Tutorials that help prospective online students decide whether they should take classes in this mode. The tutorials have been available for a few years and I and other faculty at my college have used them within our online classes. Some of us tie assessments to those tutorials so that students earn some points by taking quizzes after viewing them.


I have always wanted one place for my college's students to access those tutorials for a couple of reasons. One is to know which students have accessed them, making future research more authentic. As we ask about so many of the things we do for students, does this make a difference? The second reason is to prevent students from being asked to complete the same assignment for multiple classes. While repeating the same task over and over might reinforce learning, it will also be perceived as busywork.


I solved the first of these problems by creating a self-enroll class in Canvas. It contains the readiness tutorials as well as a quiz so students can demonstrate they understand the content. I put the link to that class on my public-facing "Distance Education" web page, and I contact our counselors, librarians, and faculty teaching online classes and encourage them to refer prospective online students to that resource. I hope in a few years to have a large enough n (or is it N?) to answer that question about difference.


The second problem has been tougher. I am the instructor for the self-enroll class so *could* let the other online instructors know which of their students completed the quiz. While I like to be helpful, I also fear those requests would take up all my time. I would rather spend my time fighting to make readiness activities a requirement before taking an online class.


My solution for now is to link a Google Form in the self-enroll class. Thanks to the requirements options for Modules, the link to the form is not visible until students have passed the quiz. The form asks for a preferred name, collects the form-filler's email address, is limited to people who have user accounts in my college's Canvas instance, and emails the form results back to the form-filler. The form-filler can then forward the email as needed. Fortunately we are a Google Suite for Education client, and Google Forms created within that domain can meet all of these interests. There is also an option to limit to one response, which mitigates against the benefit of unauthorized collaboration among students. The form I designed has a congratulatory message and an image that indicates success, which means it looks nice if printed. Just don't call it a "badge." 


However, students have other Google accounts and might already be logged in to those accounts before they access our Canvas instance. Google does not yet perfectly manage that situation, especially when a Google Suite file has its sharing settings limited to users in its domain. This is not so bad for Google Documents, Slides, or Sheets. If a user tries to access a domain-only file while logged in to another Google account, there is a handy button to "Switch accounts." Unfortunately this option does not appear for Google Forms. These display "Need permission" and prompt the user to ask the owner of the form to grant access. This less-than-helpful message is a reason why I have not been an active user of Google Forms when it matters to record who fills out the form. I have used regular expressions to require a properly formatted username that matches our system's format, but that does not prevent one user from typing in another's username.


Single sign-on came to the rescue! We enabled single sign-on for our Canvas and Google systems among others, and now our students cannot log on to Canvas without concurrently being logged on to our Google Suite domain. So now I can set up my self-enroll class with a module requirement to manage access to a Google Form. As originally intended, that form only asks students to type a preferred name and sends them a congratulatory email that they can use to document their readiness to learn online.


In my final testing I discovered a couple of things about vanity URLs and single sign-on. I do not know if there are single sign-on settings that will fix these issues:

  • Using our single sign-on URL works perfectly -- even though the student is first logged in to another Google account, they can easily access the domain-only Google Form inside Canvas
  • Using our vanity URL works the same, as that redirects to our single sign-on URL
  • Using the Instructure URL does not work -- the browser behaves as if the user has not logged in to the Google Suite for Education domain, yet the user is able to access Canvas


Before I start sharing this cool trick with my colleagues who will create undreamt uses for domain-only Google Forms, I figured out a specific set of circumstances that could cause this to fail and present a student with the dreaded "Need permission" message: 

  1. Instructor links a domain-only Google Form from inside a Canvas course
  1. Instructor gives students a direct link to *any* page in the course (i.e., including in the URL)
  2. Student is already logged in to another Google account when they select that link
  3. Student navigates to the Google Form and gets the “Need permission” message

Students should need no permission to learn.


In the end I feel confident about the Google Forms solution to my problems with documenting student readiness. The benefits of centralizing data collection on student access to readiness tutorials and the ability for students to share their completion of those tutorials with all instructors hopefully outweighs the risk of having to ask for permission. And this way I'll get a fair idea of how many instructors share direct Canvas links *and* use domain-only Google Forms in the same class.