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I am frequently asked to give an overview and best practices chat about Canvas Community or get questions about the topic from people who are prepping to do a similar presentation themselves. I thought if I wrote out a few ideas it might be helpful for you the dear reader.

 

  1. The community is large.  There are over 700k discrete content items in the community - blog posts like this one, questions, discussions, feature ideas, uploaded files and videos, etc. All of this content constitutes a growing knowledge repository about Canvas that includes official knowledge including guides and release information alongside the 'tribal knowledge' contributed by users.  The number of members on the homepage continues to grow.  As of now it is north of 500k and quickly heading for 600.  The community is active.  In Fall 2019 there were over 30k active users on a thirty day rolling average.  If you ask a question the Q&A area, 95% of the time you will get an answer within 24 hours.  When you start using Canvas, because of the community, on day one you have 1000s of friends ready to engage with you every day.

  2. Edite Profile Option in Canvas CommunityUpdate your profile.  If you add a picture of yourself - not a cartoon or an image of your cat (unless you have a really cool cat) and some basic information about where you work and what your role is there and maybe a little more bio info about yourself that will go along way with your fellow users.  People will remember you better if they have a face to the name.

  3. Use your inbox and newsfeed effectively.  You might know that you can follow people, places and content in the community but did you know that you can create custom streams for what you follow or follow into your community inbox?  Point your browser to community.canvaslms.com/news to get started with streams.

  4. Follow your friends' friends.  In someone's profile you can see who they are following.  If you found them interesting enough to follow, maybe you will find more interesting people by seeing who their friends are.
  5. Share things with People.  Rather than sending links or copying and pasting into email, encourage the people you associate with to create community accounts so that you can share resources with them that will help them work through challenges they have.

The Canvas Community lives on a platform called 'JiveX' from Jive Software. Jive was recently acquired by another company, and the new owners are not planning on developing or updating JiveX further.


JiveX was a great choice for us when we moved the Canvas Community from Zendesk three years ago. It allowed us to do quite a bit that we couldn’t previously.  But we like living software backed by a company with a clear development roadmap. We’re not excited about the idea of leaving our Community on a platform that will slowly go stale from this point on. So we’re looking at several options in search of the right next home for the Canvas Community. If we move, the transition would happen in about a year.  We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’ll keep you posted. 

People who speak English often use the same words in spoken conversation but spell them differently than their counterparts in other parts of the world.  Sometimes we also use different words to mean the same thing or use the same words to mean very different things.  Someone in the UK might comment on the "lustre of a colour" where someone in the US would be more likely to comment on the "luster of the the color."  Someone in the United States might refer to a "grades" where someone in Australia might refer to "marks."

 

Scriptorium-219x300.jpgDid you know that more than 115 thousand people have now signed into the Canvas Community?  More that twenty thousand are usually active on any given day.  The overwhelming majority are still logging in from the United States but increasingly they are also coming from places like Barbados, The Falkland Islands and Grenada.

 

Unfortunately the search engine in the Canvas community is not smart enough to know that "colour" means the same thing as "color."  Because Canvas documentation and community conversations are largely US-centric as that is the origin of Canvas, I'm afraid that posts about 'colours' will be missed by people searching for "colors."  I hope people interested in grades make their mark in the forums.  Thankfully we can teach the community's search engine about specific word pairs.

 

Lots of comprehensive spelling and terminology lists are just a LMGTFU away but we have to manually enter each word pair in the admin interface.  We really don't want to spend team hours typing in "ardour" and "ardor" into the community admin console if that won't be helpful to some community member.  So, we are asking for your help, dear community members.  This is a call to arms.  Please go here and contribute words you know to be problematic.  Help the global community grow stronger and better for everybody.

 

Banner image courtesy of mental_floss.


One of the first things that attracted me to Canvas as a user was all the information and personal connections I found in the Community.  Early on in Instructure's history the cofounders and those who soon joined them set out to bring about change in our industry.  A central goal of this change was and is openness.  Being open means many things but part of it is giving people access to the information and resources that they need to help themselves and be successful.  It also means encouraging discourse and possibly criticism in an open forum where people can find each other and hopefully work together to overcome challenges, share techniques and best practices and help each other find needed information. 

 

In community management circles presenters and authors often talk about "return on investment" and "cost deflection."  I'm proud to work at a company where investment in community is not seen primarily as a way to reduce support costs but instead as part of a deliberate strategy to help users succeed with using our product and more generally at teaching and learning.  I'm glad that the pervasive attitude I encounter is a desire to continually improve and to work together rather than one of defensiveness and fear.  Complacency is a huge risk but I am grateful that I have the opportunity to put my energy into that rather than being secretive and closed.

Perhaps you recently learned that your institution will be switching from your old learning management system to Canvas LMS.  Perhaps you have also heard people talking about Canvas Community.  If you are a teacher or professor you might be asking yourself, ‘What does this mean for me?”

 

In the Canvas Community, you can:

 

Find answers. Quickly find answers to questions you might have about Canvas and how people use it.  You’ll find 1000s of Guides articles and videos. We keep them up to date as Canvas changes.  You’ll also find thousands of your peers, including Canvas Coaches, ready and waiting to answer questions and share best practices. 

 

Join groups. There are dozens of user groups in the community that you can join.  You might join a group for people who teach the same subjects that you do, or a group for a specific user type such as Canvas Admins or Instructional Designers.  You might want to ask people in groups how they use Canvas and other technology in their own teaching.  What works especially well? What is challenging?

 

Share ideas. As you begin using Canvas, you might have an idea about how to make the software better.  You can submit these ideas in a special forum and read through ideas submitted by other Canvas users.  By voting ideas up or down, you can help shape the future of Canvas. Our Product team watches the Community closely and a majority of the new features can capabilities that we deliver begin as ideas submitted in the community.

 

Some people never visit the Canvas Community.  Others come once or twice for one specific fact or piece of information and then never come back.  Still others come to find that participating in the Community to be an integral part of their success with teaching and learning in Canvas.  No matter what your needed level of engagement is, the Community will be there for you.




How to update your status?

Go to: https://community.canvaslms.com/news?channel=recent

Type your update in the "What's going on?"  You might even want to bookmark this link.

 

Why update your status?

Status updates let other people in the Canvas community know what is going on right now for you. Updates provide a great way to communicate what you're up to by using a quick, specific message, such as "Heading out for a week's vacation" or "Leading a Canvas orientation today." Post a new update as frequently as you want. You can use plain text, include links, or even add a picture: add an @mention if you want to make sure your status shows up in the right people's Communications area.

 

Status is tracked like any other kind of activity in your Activity and Communications area. You can read everyone's status updates quickly from your Activity stream by clicking All Activity > Status Updates Only. If you want to see a specific person's status updates, go to their profile page and click on Activity > Status Updates Only.

 

Add an Image, Link, or YouTube Link to Your Status Update

You can insert an image, link, or YouTube video link to your status update. This is a good way to share information with your contacts in the community.

 

To insert an image into your update, click the upload image icon, browse to and select the image you want to insert, and then click Post to include it in your update. To insert a link or YouTube video that others can click to open or play without leaving the community, paste the entire video link in your status update, including "http://" and then click Post.

The new Canvas Community platform's public launch took place a little over six months ago, which means that we have been live for one of the two major busy time for those of us who support academic institutions; the start of fall term (the other big activity spike happens in the first week of January.  It the middle of August/beginning of September we saw a spike in activity in the community roughly corresponding to teachers getting all set up and the students coming back to school and logging into Canvas, many for the first time.Screenshot 2015-10-06 10.31.32.png  One thing I found particularly interesting was that while the increase in people logging into the LMS and also filing support tickets increased dramatically then also fell off relatively quickly (which is normal), participation in the community leveled back off at a more gradual rate.  I think this may mean that for a number of folks, they poked their head into the community's door for the first time and then stuck around to participate in communities of interest, feature idea voting, etc.  Another aspect that I found interesting is that if you establish a monthly average for activity in Canvas and also support activity and activity in the community and then look at monthly standard deviations, the spikes in activity correlate but the standard deviations in community activity far outpace those in Canvas itself, meaning (I think) that when people are spending more time in Canvas than they usually do, they are spending much more time in the community.

 

On a more anecdotal level; we saw huge increases in the number of questions being asked in the community but for the first time ever during a fall start I personally didn't feel overwhelmed and stressed out because the Canvas Coaches (Community Jedi Masters) and the Community Team stepped up and waded in.

 

During the same time period, the Community because a much more integral part of our company's feature development process with much more information flowing back and forth between our product managers and product users with more of that information getting to Product in useful formats, but I suspect that is another blog post entirely. 

Screenshot 2015-10-06 10.42.41.png

Screenshot 2015-06-03 14.40.16.pngThe second round of feature voting began today, the first Wednesday of the month.

 

To see all the new ideas that opened today, follow these steps:

  1. Go to The specified item was not found.
  2. Click the Content link
  3. Choose to view Ideas
  4. Change the stage to Open for Voting
  5. Type "June 3" into the filter

Or watch this step-by-step video: 2015-06-03_1432 - Scott.Dennis's library

 

Feature ideas remain open for vote for up to three months, so the ones that opened on May 5th now have up to two months left to go.  Read more in How does the voting process work for feature ideas?

 

Voting is open to all community members.  Thanks for helping us make Canvas better.

 

Edit, June 5th; All of the new feature ideas can be found here.

Since launching Canvas Community 2.0 on April 15th, 2015, 5600 users have activated their  accounts. Within the past month, 40% of those users have engaged in content (i.e., liking, sharing, bookmarking, etc.)  and 12% have created content (i.e., commenting, asking questions, posting new ideas, etc).Screenshot 2015-05-26 14.48.11.png

 

When it comes to participation inequality in online communities, (aka 90% view, 9% comment, 1% create), our old community enabled viewing but not collaborating or creating content. It was difficult to track the number of active users and follow the conversations that were the most active in the old community. Our best estimates told us that  300 to 400 people commented on a topic or voted for a feature within a given month. Only about 100 users regularly created content by contributing community created resources, submitting feature ideas or answering questions.

 

Our new community is shifting this paradigm because of the tools we provide to enable our community to be more engaged.  Here is what we can confidently report now:

  • 358 people have joined the Instructional Designers group where vigorous and collaborative conversations are happening about course design and building. 
  • 456 people have joined the Canvas Admins group, which is also very active. 
  • 4,454 Content items (documents, blog posts, discussions) have been contributed
  • 3,360 people have uploaded a profile picture

 

The new platform is also increasingly becoming a medium for our employees and Canvas users to interact in ways that make our efforts more transparent. Sales and Marketing teams are posting information about local and regional events. Customer Success Managers are following their clients and advocating on their behalf.  Engineers and Product Managers are active in the Canvas Developers group and the Share Ideas space to glean insights on ways to make our products better.

 

While the patterns of how and where people interact are still being shaped in the new Community, we anticipate this will be the go-to destination for all Canvas users and employees, partners and prospective users... a chance to find answers, share ideas and network with each other!

scottd@instructure.com

One Month In...

Posted by scottd@instructure.com Administrator May 13, 2015

2015-05-13 08.13.34.jpgOn April 15th we publicly launched the new Canvas Community, after months of hard work selecting a platform, doing integrations, custom work and building out an initial platform.  I remember being excited, tired, and a little scared.  What if we put all this effort and social capital into building a new place for Canvas users to find resources and connect with each other and then nobody wanted to come participate?

 

So where are we a month into this experiment?  Data tells us that roughly four to five times as many people are logging in and interacting in the new platform than did in the old forums.  But I think a better measure, from my perspective as someone who spent a lot of time in the old community and now is in the new community daily, is that

 

I can see more people interacting with each other. I see a lot more conversations spinning off and going in directions that I don’t think they would have within the constraints of the old platform.  In that sense we are definitely seeing the potential
come to fruition.

 

There have been challenges and surprises too.  While it brings many new features, tools and opportunities, the new community is very different from the old and for a few has been a bit overwhelming.  Some people had trouble getting logged in initially. The emphasis on searching versus browsing a taxonomy of links has not been to everyone’s preference, which is why we have decided to still provide, for now, the Canvas Guides in their previous format at guides.instructure.com.

 

One of the (pleasant) surprises for me has been the speed and degree to which many Canvas employees have embraced the new platform.  Customer success managers are finding and following their clients.  Engineers are interacting with developers.  Product Managers are closely following conversations about features and product direction.

 

One month in, I think Canvas users have just scratched the surface, potential-wise, of the new platform.  As people continue to join groups, share resources, and provide input I cannot predict where we will be in six months to a year, and I find that an exciting place to be.

Did you know you can bookmark content in the community?

 

Maybe as the month goes by you keep up on all the new feature ideas that are submitted.  As you read along you find one that you can really get behind and you want to remember to come back and vote for it on the first Wednesday of next month.  One option would be to bookmark it:

Screenshot 2015-05-07 16.19.21.png

Then, next month, when the first Wednesday of the month rolls around, you might be wondering to yourself, "How do I get back to that idea I bookmarked, anyway?"

 

The answer might not exactly be intuitive but one way to get back to your bookmarks is to click into the search menu in the upper right and then on the "Bookmarked" link to see all your bookmarks.  See also Browsing your bookmarks.

Just a quick tip today; If you frequently turn off and on custom notification streams going to your external email, don't forget to scroll down and hit save:

2015-05-05_0900 - Scott.Dennis's library

 

Not that I'd ever, ahem.., do that..

This blog post has been adapted and updated into an Official Canvas Document: How do I write a good feature idea submission.

The feature idea forums exist to help Instructure learn what product development goals and feature developments are top priorities for the Canvas user community.  Anyone can submit an idea, the community as a whole has an opportunity to vote these ideas up or down, and Instructure will study and respond to the ideas that receive the highest up-vote counts.  You can read more about the feature idea voting process here.

 

Here are a few simple guidelines to follow if you want to write clear and useful idea submissions.

 

Have one idea per submission

‘I would like to be able to weight rubric points so that all of my criteria have the same weight but differing point totals, and I want parents to be able to see rubrics from the syllabus’ would not be a good feature idea because when people vote on it it would be unclear which of these two ideas they would be voting for.

 

Clearly describe the need or current deficiency

Oftentimes people have the best ideas for improvement when they are the most frustrated.  Try to state your idea clearly and concisely and avoid ranting or unnecessary information.  Remember that you are in a sense asking many community volunteers to read and consider what you write

 

Do not be overly proscriptive

State the desired outcome or goal and then let the product managers and engineers think about how they can best add a given functionality to the product

 

I would like for there to be a way for teachers to submit assignments on behalf of students.” is a better idea submission than, say, “I would like for there to be a blue button in the upper right corner of the student submission screen in the SpeedGrader that when clicked opens a file browse option that lets the teacher upload a file to the SpeedGrader and adds a “submitted by..” text next to the submission date and time.  And the student and any other graders in the class should then receive a notification that the teacher has submitted for the student.

 

Give use cases and scenarios

Make sure other readers can understand why you want the option to do something in Canvas.  What is the teaching technique or activity that this feature would enable teachers and learners to employ?  Adding a paragraph that begins something like, “In my discipline professors often ask students to…” can go a long way to helping people who may not be familiar with the world that the idea submitter is coming from understand why this feature would be a priority.

 

Give it time

Canvas is developed using agile methods that let Instructure update the LMS every three weeks with occasional warm fixes coming even more frequently.  Community input is very important to that process.  Over the past three years we have implemented about 40% of all community ideas that have received 30 or more votes.  But while it is true that the product changes frequently, many of these improvements take months and and thousands of hours of work to develop.  It is also true that we periodically do major overhauls of different areas of the LMS such as the gradebook or analytics.  This means that even if everyone agrees that developing a given feature would be a good use of finite development resources it may be a long time before the feature can be developed and it may have to wait in line as part of a larger development schedule.

 

To recap:

  • One idea per submission
  • Be clear
  • Remember you are sharing your idea with, potentially, millions of Canvas users
  • Give a scenario
  • State who your audience is, who will benefit (Admins, K12, HE, etc.)
  • Be patient

Creating Futures.jpgMarch 3rd, 4th and 5th, Jordan Dayton, @Rebecca and I travelled east and south to attend the 2015 Creating Futures Through Technology Conference in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Here we found people from all over Mississippi and a few from surrounding states who are mostly just getting started with using Canvas or soon will be.  The mood was upbeat and ebullient.  Rebecca met many clients face-to-face for the first time and there were many excited hugs and handshakes.  Jordan and I came to preview and get feedback on the new community platform that we will soon open to the Canvas community at large.

 

Reactions to Jive were overwhelmingly positive.  When shown the existing community and then asked to tour the new one, the most universal reaction was ‘Yes, this is exactly what we need.’  One woman wanted to selfy with the laptop (a little weird but I can relate).

 

A few people did ask what will happen to the existing discussion threads in the current community.  Every person who did ask about that seemed satisfied with the plan for migrating the most active initial posts and then letting anyone in the community copy and paste over what they are interested in seeing continue.

 

Most that were familiar with the existing forums were also aware of the recent frustration with the amount of feedback from us in the feature discussions.  Everyone we talked to approved of the plan going forward that anyone can suggest a feature but then the idea goes into a kickstarter phase where community member vote or don't vote for it to become something that we then shepherd through a series of idea phases.

 

All in all, I came back from Mississippi even more excited about this project and seeing where the community takes it.

 

2015-03-04 11.20.24.jpg

 

2015-03-03 17.49.43.jpg