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Greg's Canvas Blog

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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.

Gregory Beyrer

YouTube Captions to Arc

Posted by Gregory Beyrer Aug 26, 2018

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.



Wouldn't it be great if Instructure's developers took care of this automatically? Encourage them to do so by voting on the idea Arc Recognize Captioned YouTube Videos

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.

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.

Canvas privileges continuing student access to information once released. For example, an assignment cannot be unpublished once students have made submissions. Since the assignment instructions are visible on the page, this means that students can always access those instructions once a published assignment's availability date has passed.


A colleague of mine puts the details for an assignment in a separate file that is linked from the assignment instructions, and he wants to hide those files after the assignment due date. Canvas allows us to change the availability dates of individual files, so this interest can be met by scheduling the date for each file to match the associated assignment's until date. Note that the file availability date cannot be set separately for individual students, which may complicate assignments with differential due dates.


Specific details about managing the availability of files are in the Canvas Guides document How do I restrict files and folders to students in Canvas? 


The embedded video demonstrates the following workflow:

  1. Student can access a file attached to an assignment after the assignment's end date
  2. Instructor finds the attached file in the Files tool
  3. Instructor changes the file's availability date to match the until date for the assignment
  4. Student cannot access the file

We know that plagiarism is not limited to the papers that students submit to Assignments and that copied words can be used for Discussion replies as well as answers to Quiz questions. One of the things that I like about the native integration of VeriCite with Canvas is the check box on an Assignment with the Online option selected for Submission Type. This option is not yet available for Quiz answers nor Discussion replies, but a workaround is possible when using the LTI option for VeriCite. That option allows instructors to submit assignments on behalf of their students.


The embedded video demonstrates the following:

  1. Copy the text of a student's submission to a graded Discussion
  2. Create an Assignment and choose the LTI option for Submission Type
  3. Click the Find button and then select the VeriCite option*
  4. Click the Save button (not Save and publish)
  5. Click on the student whose text was copied in the first step
  6. Click on the link to copy/paste text, paste the text copied in the first step, and then Submit Paper
  7. Printing the VeriCite report.

*: Though these steps and the video are specific to VeriCite, it is possible that a similar process can be used for other LTI tools for plagiarism detection.

I already posted a blog entry on Using Google Slides to Make an Image Rotator, and Sandy Lumley's question on Video - Autoplay and Loop prompted me to see if the same thing could work for videos. It does!


I begin in Google Slides:

  1. Add a YouTube video to each slide in a Google Slides presentation (Insert >> Video...)
  2. Right-click on the video within the slide and choose Video options...
  3. Turn on the check box for Autoplay when presenting
  4. Publish the presentation to the web (File >> Publish to the web...)
  5. In the "Publish to the web" dialog:
    • Select the Embed tab and pick a size - I like using the Small option for "Slide size" because it gives me more space to type the instructional context for the embedded media
    • Select the check boxes to turn on:
      • Start slideshow as soon as the player loads and
      • Restart the slideshow after the last slide
  6. Copy the embed code


And then in Canvas:

  1. In the Rich Content Editor, click on the button to Insert/edit media
  2. In the "Insert/edit media" dialog, select the Embed tab and paste the embed code
  3. Edit the embed code so that the delayms= value is a second or two longer than the longest video within the presentation
  4. Click Ok

Edited embed code


I did some testing and learned a couple of things. It looks like the Google Slide needs at least two slides for this to work. The time code cannot be different for each slide, and I added the extra time to account for the time it takes for the video to start playing.

I like to give one grade for group assignments, but I then run into a problem for students who do not participate at all in a given assignment (or for whatever reason need a score that differs from their teammates'). The embedded video demonstrates the following workflow:

  1. Create group assignment and set for one grade for the whole group
  2. When I am ready to grade, mute the assignment
  3. Grade all submissions
  4. Edit the assignment to set for individual grading
  5. Adjust individual grades as needed
  6. Unmute the assignment

The mute/unmute steps are good to prevent those students who got a zero for the assignment from seeing points they did not earn.


I work with an instructor who has her students take pictures of themselves doing course activities, and she wants to share those pictures with the rest of her class. Without a learning management system, she would create a PowerPoint presentation and show it during class. Since she started teaching that class online, she would love to put those images online in a rotating slideshow that appears inside her course home page.


Google Slides has options for auto-advance and looping presentations using easily created embed code, so it is a natural choice to use for this purpose.

In the embedded video I demonstrate the following:

  1. Clicking the File menu in Google Slides and selecting Publish to the web...
  2. Selecting and then copying the Embed options for an auto-advance and looping slide show.
  3. Editing a page in Canvas and paste the embed code into the Insert/Embed media dialog box.

I find this works pretty well. The Google Slides presentation does not have to be shared, and the viewer cannot copy or download the presentation unless it is shared. New slides can be added at any time to the Google Slides presentation without needing to upload new files or change the embed code. Since PowerPoint files import directly into Google Drive, using extant presentations is easy. However, the slideshow controls do appear so the viewer could arbitrarily advance to the next slide, see the speaker notes, etc. That opens up the possibilities to add notes to students about each slide or image that could be used for all kinds of possibilities.


EDIT: This post (and video) updated to reflect the easily visible Insert/embed media button.

Our instructors use the cross-listing tool to put multiple classes into the same Canvas course. One has a group activity where her students who pick the same topic work together to submit a group assignment. Since she has cross-listed two face-to-face courses, she wanted to know what would happen if she used the Canvas groups tool, allowed self-select, and also limited the groups to students in the same section. That way she could count on all students in a group being present during that part of the class meeting set aside for group time.


In our exploration we discovered that any student can join any group, and the first student to join a group locks that group so that the members must be enrolled the same section. To discourage all groups being locked by students in the same section, she will include the meeting pattern as part of the group name (e.g., "M/W Cardio Systems Project") and encourage students to join a group that matches when they attend class. In addition, she will turn off the self-select option and then manually move students if they joined a group with the incorrect meeting pattern.


In the embedded video I demonstrate how to create a group set that has the options for self-select but is limited to the same section. I also show a student user joining a self-select group and what happens when a student from another section in that course views the list of self-select groups. Students from other sections can see who is enrolled in a group even if they cannot join it.