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Shaun Moon

One Quarter of COVID

Posted by Shaun Moon Employee Jun 12, 2020

Exactly three months ago today, Instructure’s Chief Product Officer, Mitch Benson sent an email to the company with this TL;DR:

The world in which we operate and live is changing dramatically and quickly due to the Coronavirus. Right now, we have an opportunity to be of service to the global population of teachers and learners who depend on our tools and people. Let's keep the world engaged in quality teaching and learning despite the challenges presented by physical separation.

The three months since then have been exhilarating, often exhausting, sometimes anxious. A lot has changed globally. Things are changing in our communities. Things have been changing in Canvasland, too.


But there are also things that have been constant through all this: you and us.

  • You: Our community is bursting at the seams with the most giving, service-oriented, collaborative folks that I have ever had the honor to serve.
  • Us: Canvas is graced with astonishingly creative, passionate, and hard working people.


This beautiful cocktail of people-power makes it possible to do just what Mitch called on us to do—keep the world engaged in quality teaching and learning. 


In another blog post today, Mitch shared our touchstone belief that “everyone learns together.” On Canvas, this is our North Star. We are aligned to this guiding principle. Starting now, and for years to come, we are investing in inclusivity for all. We are focusing on the heart of learning by empowering students and educators. We are creating communities where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


There’s a lot of work to be done, but given that it’s you and us, I know great things are in store.

With recent world events turning K-12 schools and districts to online learning, we are excited to release a feature option that specifically aims to improve the experience of our youngest learners in Canvas—those in primary and elementary grade levels. The Canvas Elementary Theming feature option presents learners with a new look and feel including a newly introduced font and simplified course navigation. 


The new font, Architect's Daughter, makes the Canvas course more inviting as it is casual and playful in nature. The font supports those learning to read and write as the letter formation is simple and friendly, with clear distinction of letters that are not easily confused with one another. Also, because the single-story a and g glyphs (as shown in the lowercase letters in the images below) are used in the font, which is consistent with the letter formation that is taught in the primary grade levels and is included in most early literacy programs. 


This fun, new font is presented in the Global Navigation, Course Navigation, and Breadcrumbs Bar when the feature option is enabled for a course. It has also been added to the Rich Content Editor (RCE) as the default font for content creation. With the simplified Course Navigation, if a teacher has not previously customized the Course Navigation, it will automatically be simplified to show only four links for students - Home, Announcements, Grades, and Modules. If you have LTI tools enabled that should show in the Course Navigation, they will also show by default. It is important to note that students will not see Announcements or Modules as options in the Course Navigation if no content has been added to these index pages. 



If you are teaching in a primary or elementary education setting, we hope you will give this new feature option a try. If you do not see it listed in your course options under settings, contact your district administrator to have it enabled for your account. We highly suggest that this option is set to allow to provide teachers the option of turning it on for their own individual courses as they see fit.


Also of note, this option will be enabled for all institutions in July 2020 as an account-level setting. Administrators will continue to manage the availability of the feature for teachers to manage within their own courses.   


Have fun and keep learning!

Understanding online user behaviour has been paramount to the majority of our customers. During COVID-19, user click data is sought after even more. Canvas LMS has multiple tools for our customers to extract click data, such as Canvas Data request logs, live events, and our page view APIs. We also have course analytics tools with insights into student course participation. All data products provide a way of deducing common user online behaviour patterns but they require some data infrastructure investment, introduce unwanted data latency, or lack department level data aggregation. 


Our recently released User Course Access Log provides a simple csv data extract with a handful of useful data points such as user, section, term, content viewed, times viewed and last viewed timestamp. One could request data for up to a month timeframe from a present moment. As a data product manager, I looked for an opportunity to lessen the burden on our average customer when it comes to accessing, transforming and interpreting data. This report gives everyone an opportunity to analyze user LMS access patterns without expensive data processing infrastructure.


Typical use cases for this report are around student online access trends and analysis of most used content. There are also a handful of customers that could find this data useful to track user online presents and reflect it in their attendance dashboards. 


My team continues to work on reporting improvements. Presently we are working on introducing a new Quick Reports feature to our course Analytics tool. The reports we are creating will provide our teachers with a quick access to data they could see already in Canvas on multiple pages but not yet available as a simple csv extracts. Some examples are Missing, Late, and Excused Assignments for students in a section or an individual student; Course Roster; Students To Do List; and Students Course Content Access Log. This feature will be posted in the release notes when available. 

As part of Canvas’ rapid response to COVID-19, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a group who has been focusing on video conferencing solutions as part of a broader look at the changing dynamics of remote collaboration.


One of the most exciting aspects of this work has been cooperating with our partners to integrate video conferencing with Canvas much earlier than previously scheduled.


The first of these integrations was with Microsoft Teams. As urgency related to the global pandemic escalated, Microsoft accelerated the release of an application that could be integrated with Canvas and our team worked through the weekend of March 14th and 15th to make sure the integration was live when remote teaching and learning spun up on Monday, March 16th. In less than 40 hours, Canvas and Microsoft put all the pieces together to make it possible to Microsoft Teams Meetings in Rich Content Editor so educators could easily add Teams Meeting links to Calendar Events, Announcements or wherever they needed them.


Shortly after co-developing the Microsoft Teams Meeting LTI, we worked with Google to provide the same capability for Google Meet. Before this, instructors had to manually add Google Meet URLs into their courses. Now folks can generate Google Meet links directly in Canvas. 


We also worked with Zoom to help institutions with Zoom Business and Enterprise accounts use the latest app, Zoom LTI Pro, for conferencing to connect educators and learners.


Tackling the technical challenges has been rewarding, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing how people are using Canvas to learn, of course, but also as a means to stay connected during an unprecedented global event. In the third week of “going remote,” we saw one BigBlueButton conference that was an outlier among thousands that day. It had been live for six hours. When we looked a little closer, we found a group of students in South Korea had created a meeting and just left it running. Maybe it was a marathon group study. Maybe they just wanted to be together. Probably it was some of both. Regardless, it really is something special to be a part of our learning communities, especially now when community is so important.


I know that all of us, here at Instructure and our partners at Google, Microsoft, Zoom and BigBlueButton, feel a deep sense of pride in being able to provide critical infrastructure for institutions and schools as they modified their teaching and learning practices during these bizarre times.


If you’re interested in a recent chat about video conferences and a few thoughts on the evolution of remote education, check out the Canvas tl;dr podcast Episode 5.

Hello everyone!


It's been several weeks since my last update, and wow - things have changed a little bit. I wanted to share an update on the latest developments in the Learning Activities realm, as we're refocusing and getting back to a normal-ish routine. 


Lots of you are asking about the RCE enforcement date, and we're discussing new dates internally. We haven't been able to spend enough time polishing things up so we won't force that on in July as previously planned. More info to come. LTI favorites, access to external media tools, and accessibility features remain at the top of the list for RCE development.


I am most excited about our new feature to edit Assignment dates in bulk! This project has been on the team's plan for awhile now, and we've been able to accelerate the timeline. The first phase of the feature is released in production, with additional capabilities in development. Phase one includes editing all assignment, discussion, and quiz dates in a single page in a table view. We've been mindful about how to display assignments with multiple due dates, adding date validation as things shift around, and how to indicate assignments when the user may not have permission to make edits (like those in closed grading periods or with moderated grading). We really wanted to build a foundation with flexibility to add more options down the road. A few things in the immediate pipeline include:

  • selecting multiple assignments and shifting dates by a number of days
  • removing due dates and/or availability dates
  • filtering assignment items by date range
  • publish/unpublish multiple items
  • deleting multiple items


Other items for consideration are editing assignment time, handling peer review dates, filtering by assignment type, and whatever else you can think of! 


As part of the COVID-19 response, we know that many instructors may be creating new courses and/or need to quickly share information and course materials with their students. One way that happens might be through Files. So we did two things:

  • We made improvements to the Files section of Canvas so that it's clear that you can drag and drop multiple files into that area. And the previous drag/drop area was a bit finicky, so now you have a much bigger target on the page. This change was highlighted in the Ready Release Notes (2020-04-18) 


canvas files drag and drop area


  • We made some small changes to the new Course creation workflow. This is still in development, but very close to release. In today's new course workflow, you have an option to create Modules. With the new feature, you'll be able to quickly add files and create new module items, either by dragging and dropping files onto the Modules shell, or by hitting +Add Item to Module dialog. This will be a quicker way to share course content if you already have files ready to go on your computer. 


All the best to each of you in these wild times, and let us know what you think!

“Enjoy the little things.”

- Tallahassee Zombie Land



The world is a challenging place. Life can be hard. In the last couple months it’s gotten even more challenging as we all learn a new way to live, work and learn together. The fears of a nation are weighing heavily on our students and making the job of educators even harder and more important.


Education is difficult. Tests, stress, books, knowing where classes are, balancing a million activities, and now doing it from your living room with your mom on a con-call, your little brother tugging on your leg and a cat who desperately wants to get onscreen with your class at the worst possible time. It’s difficult and stressful, and we want to help.


Being relatively new to Canvas, I’ve been talking to a lot of Educators, Administrators and Students over the past several months. I’ve learned so much, and it’s been amazing as users share their lives with me, the wins, the losses, the difficulties and the successes.


One thing was a bit of a surprise to me, students regularly rank Canvas lower in satisfaction than teachers and educators do. At first I was puzzled by the discrepancy, until you realize what is going on: Canvas is an educational platform. It was built to make the job of teaching easier. It doesn’t focus as much on the process of consuming that teaching.


Canvas provides a place to deliver and manage the content, courses and the ideas that are central to the educational process. It’s not built to help the student directly. It’s a place where they have to go do the hard work of learning those ideas.


It’s a place where they go to do homework, take tests and be judged on performance, it’s where they submit assignments. In many ways it acts as an extension of the authority of the school. Of course they will enjoy it less than the teachers do!


Canvas has focused hard on hosting, managing and delivering content, we make creating, tracking and grading possible, but we haven’t had too many opportunities to manage that process better. We enable the educational process, but we don’t guide it, or facilitate it in any way.


We want canvas to be more than just a system of record. We would like Canvas to be a trusted ally in the educational process, a friend in learning. We want to make sure things don’t get missed, that teachers and students are aware of important things that are happening, we want to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. We want to make life easier. We want students and teachers to get a distinct feeling that Canvas has your back! That we’re there to help, and let you focus on the learning itself, and not the tool.


The writer James Baldwin said: 

“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world."

In these challenging times, it’s important to remember to focus on each other, it’s important to celebrate the successes we achieve. Research tells us that a tiny bit of encouragement at the right time can cause tremendous change and makes us want to try for more.


As a team we want to do more to celebrate success and encourage the learning process and increase student engagement. Two of our core corporate values are Customer Experience and Excellence. We want to do as much as we can as a team to encourage these traits in ourselves and others.


Canvas is going to work to improve the product and the educational experience and do more to encourage and guide the process in small ways—giving users more control over their notifications, integration with new chat tools to improve communications with classmates and others, and improving the User Experience and making it more simple and clean.


One of the things I’m most excited about is a simple feature celebrating on-time assignments. When a student submits an assignment on time, they are congratulated for their work and getting it submitted on time. This is a small and simple act that acknowledges and rewards their success.


Feature Background

Some have asked if our new celebration act is superfluous, but as we’ve talked to hundreds of students and educators, many of them mentioned that one of the things they love about Canvas is the personality we bring, and how much we care about students and the educational process. We want to do more of that. If something is difficult, little moments of delight or satisfaction help tremendously.


In discussing this idea among the engineering team, we thought it would encourage good behavior, motivate students to do well, and hopefully reduce the load on teachers and reduce stress in the process. As it turns out, one of the things teachers like doing the least is dealing with the fallout of late assignments, such as chasing students down, and reducing scores due to tardiness. Getting stuff in on time makes life easier for everyone, so encouraging positive behavior is a good thing.


One of the great things about Instructure is each engineer has some time budgeted to work on personal development, skill improvement, or to work on innovation projects that are outside the normal stream of work. A couple of engineers decided to build a prototype of a celebration project with their personal development time to test how students would respond to this idea. This project was done outside the time allotted for our regular roadmap development tasks. Sometimes personal development projects are based on an engineer’s desire to build something specific that will make a difference to our customers, which was the case with the celebration discussion. This project happened to come together very quickly and we started showing it to students.


Feature Research

Students often express a desire to make education more engaging and fun. The assignment celebration feature was a small test we ran based on the science that says the more you encourage or reward an act, the more of that act you tend to see. We want to provide little moments of reward or satisfaction when students are doing the right things.


Originally we thought this feature would be more useful for younger children in the K-12 school as college students are more mature, or “too cool” for something as simple as a “good job” for submitting an assignment on time.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some amazing students at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem. Their project was to improve the feedback process from Students into the Canvas Product team. Students want a voice in their educational system and have a lot of really great ideas to make their time in Canvas more productive, easier, and sometimes even fun. One of the central themes was making education more fun and engaging.

I showed them the prototype for the celebrations feature to get some feedback, and they loved it. Even the massive football linebacker in the class, who I thought would be the least likely to care about something as simple as a “good job”. 


Feature Results

Our feedback and research (not all mentioned here) suggested we can release assignment celebrations to the masses. We want to encourage more on-time submissions (no garden gnomes if you are late!). We want Canvas to have your back and have students be a more active participant in the educational process. If a student hates joy, they can disable it. (There are some students—I know, it’s hard to imagine), but for the rest, submitting an assignment on time should bring a little burst of happiness and a feeling of satisfaction that’s a lot more fun than just “assignment submitted”. 

Other applications are also incorporating more happiness into their products. A popular list-making application, Trello, also includes a way to add a celebratory emoji to a completed column and produces celebration confetti when a task is complete. Users of this application are able to control this action and incorporate it because they find it brings them joy.


Like Tallahassee said, in the training film “Zombie Land”, it’s Ok to “Enjoy the little things”.


If we can’t enjoy the little things, and celebrate the successes, what can we enjoy?


Stay safe, stay healthy in this new and challenging time, and as always, we welcome your feedback. We live to help make people better, smarter, and happier, and we love spending time with our users and hearing their stories.


Matt Meservey

Canvas Product Team

Jody Sailor

New In-Product Training

Posted by Jody Sailor Employee Apr 14, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, announcements were made that school buildings would be closed and that teaching and learning would be done remotely from the homes of teachers and students through online platforms. In a perfect world, educators would be provided professional development and time to familiarize themselves with the tech tools to be used in delivering instruction. Students would also be taught how to access curriculum and submit course work in those same platforms. But, we're not living in a perfect world. Not even close. And, let's face it, we never will be. 


While administrators, coaches, and facilitators rushed to get teachers trained on Canvas and instructional designers worked to create templates and blueprint courses, we at Instructure got to work updating features that help our new users to access in-product training and scaffold their learning of Canvas in order to ensure a higher level of success in using the platform. We've known that these in-product training and supports have been needed and that they will continue to be valuable to our users, but this unprecedented time  pushed these initiatives to the top of the priority list. 


In an effort to better understand our users' needs, we analyzed support data and feedback from our CSMs to determine specific areas that could use additional support. Given this information, we've updated the help menu to make it easier for users to find needed links. We've also created tour points that orient users to the global navigation. And, for instructors new to Canvas, we've updated our New User Tutorial.


The New User Tutorial is available to all instructors and provides a tutorial tray for each of the index pages found in the course navigation. Information about this feature can be found in How do I use the Canvas course setup tutorial as an instructor? When enabled, a tray opens that includes a detailed description of what the feature is, a call to action for the teacher, and relevant links to our guides and help articles to help the new user get started.


Administrators can enable this feature at the account level by turning on the New User Tutorial feature option. Teachers can collapse the trays or even dismiss the tutorial once they feel confident in their use of Canvas. If, at a later time, a teacher would like to turn it back on, they can reenable it from their user setting under feature options as long as it is still enabled at the account level. 


At Instructure, we are proud to support teachers who are on the front lines in education during this pandemic. We applaud educators around the globe for the outstanding work being done to keep students learning and to stay connected during these difficult and unsure times. Thank you!

“The thing that we are trying to do at facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently.                                                                                                                                                                                - Mark Zuckerberg


What is an LMS? Is it just a collection of courses and students and grades? A place to do school work? That’s how LMSs are traditionally viewed—a repository of learning artifacts. Canvas is more than that—it’s a learning system and a platform to communicate ideas and communicate. 


What is learning but communication? Thoughts, ideas, discussion, relationships. Learning IS communication. It’s the transfer of knowledge and ideas from one to another. As Canvas has grown and evolved through the years, our educators and their students, and the way they learn and communicate are evolving as well. 


Communication: a Memoir of Sweaty Horses and Lasers

The way people live, work, and communicate is evolving at breakneck speed. Last Saturday I spent a few hours riding a motorcycle down the old Pony Express trail in the west deserts of Utah, not far from Instructure headquarters. 


This deep trail was originally worn into the western desert floor by horsemen riding at a blistering pace with leather bags full of mail tied to their horses. Then settlers started following the trail, and more recently, moto riders trying their best to socially distance from everyone. This trail was the backbone of communication across this continent for a couple of years in the late 1800s.


Then, evolution happened again, and this dusty trail was replaced by a trans-continental railroad that was faster and more reliable. It also had the benefit of being less likely to kick you in the teeth unexpectedly.


The railroad was replaced by telegraph lines, which are now plastic tubes carrying pure light and Star Wars–style satellite communications. Which, even though I understand it, still seems like magic. 

Communication is constantly evolving, and we are evolving with it. As people have moved away from email toward more convenient forms of communication, SMS (Short Message Service, or Text), was one of the ways we have delivered information to students.


SMS Messages and Canvas Notifications

SMS messages have always been limited as a means of communication. Originally conceived to utilize the spare bandwidth used to manage telephone calls, SMS messages were a way to test the phone system and deliver very short, text-based content with the spare capacity in the telephony system.


Due to the low cost to carriers, and convenience, SMS messaging was made available to customers and added to Canvas as a notification option, and its use exploded in popularity. The original Twitter limitation of 140 characters in a tweet was largely based on the original limitation of 140–160 characters in an SMS message, depending on the carrier.


As SMS use has ramped up, so have the bandwidth requirements for the providers. The limitations in the SMS protocol became obvious fast. Everyone has experienced multiple text messages that arrive out of order, or dropped messages that never get there at all. (How many critical texts were claimed to be “dropped” that never were?—a modern day “the dog ate my homework” excuse). I know I have used that excuse to get me out of trouble with my wife once or twice.


These limitations of SMS have made text messaging a relatively clunky way to interact with Canvas. We have always wanted a better way to interact with students, without having to log in to the web portal.

Enter the Canvas Mobile apps! FINALLY, a better way to both communicate with students and give them a way to interact with the system. Students can get the data they need and react to it right in the app, without having to go to their web browser to do anything.


Mobile Apps Transition

The arrival of the Canvas Mobile apps, with its richer interface, the ability to interact with Canvas right in the app, and ability for users to manage their messaging preferences in a much better way, is giving us an opportunity to refine how we communicate with students inside Canvas.


Communications vendors are also charging increasingly higher costs to move data over the SMS system—especially large amounts of data—the improved functionality of the Canvas mobile apps is making this the right time to change the primary way we communicate with users in Canvas.


In this time as we are being forced to evolve even faster with the emergence of COVID-19 and schools moving online at lightning speed, we want to make messaging easier, more responsive, and make the most important messages easy for user response.


On Saturday, 2 May, all types of Canvas SMS notifications except announcements will be disabled within Canvas. Announcements are a good fit for the SMS model as they communicate information without requiring action and are usually of high importance.


Any schools that specifically rely on text alerts for communication and cannot transition to mobile apps should contact their CSM to discuss their situation. 


Instead of using SMS notifications, we want to encourage users to install the Canvas mobile apps for their user role and use it as their main source of communication and notifications from Canvas. Recent updates to the mobile apps and the Canvas web allow users to more easily log in to the apps using a QR code, which makes logging in as simple as using your mobile device’s camera. The Upcoming Canvas Changes page includes various resources to help everyone learn how to use the mobile apps, including full how-to documentation and videos.


The evolution of education and how people interact with their teachers and peers and learning environment is constant and never-ending. We are looking forward to a better way to communicate with students and teachers who are communicating thoughts and ideas in the Canvas framework, and we will continue to evolve with our educators, students, parents, and administrators to make learning as easy and efficient and even as fun, as possible.


As always, thank you for your feedback, your ideas and your passion for learning. Our users are the most important thing to us as a company, and making your jobs easier and making learning better is why we get up in the morning.


Matt Meservey

Canvas Product Team

For quite some time now, teams at Instructure have been working on a more scalable, robust, accessible quizzing engine for Canvas. Sixteen months from now, in July 2021, New Quizzes is going to be the out-of-the-box tool for Canvas assessments.


Transition Timeline

The transition from Classic Quizzes to New Quizzes is a big milestone in the evolution of quizzing in Canvas. I’d like to highlight other significant dates that are part of this process.


December 2020: Quizzes Cross-fade

This December is an inflection point in the “cross-fade” period where New Quizzes and Classic Quizzes live side by side. December will see two important events:

  • Content migration capabilities will be available for Course Copy and Course Content Import. I’ll share more details about this functionality later in this post.
  • New Quizzes will be enabled for all courses in all Canvas accounts.

The cross-fade period will help customers ease into the July 2021 milestone instead of everyone having to “forklift” quizzing activities from Classic Quizzes to New Quizzes in one fell swoop.


February 2021: Classic Quizzes Deprecation

In February of next year, Classic Quizzes will officially be deprecated. You can learn more about  deprecation in our Upcoming Canvas Changes document.


July 2021: No Student Submissions, etc.

July 2021 is the fulcrum on which this whole plan pivots.

This milestone of Classic Quizzes Sunset affects creating, attempting, and submitting Classic quizzes.

  • Students will not be able to attempt or submit with Classic Quizzes.
  • Instructors will not be able to create with Classic Quizzes.

Classic Quizzes APIs for creating, attempting, and submitting will be disabled at this time.

This milestone means that beginning July 2021, New Quizzes will be the only out-of-the-box assessment engine that can collect student submission.


October 2021: No Content Editing

In the three months after New Quizzes takes the reins from Classic Quizzes, instructors will be still be able to edit Classic quizzes and question banks. While the same content could be migrated to New Quizzes and then edited, we wanted to provide a window where instructors and staff could make adjustments in Classic Quizzes before migrating the content. Classic Quizzes editing will be disabled October 2021.

From October 2021 until the next milestone, Classic Quizzes content and information will be read-only in Canvas.


July 2022: UI End-of-life

July 2022 marks the end-of-life for Classic Quizzes user interfaces. At this point, instructors will no longer be able to view quizzes or question banks authored and delivered with Classic Quizzes. Student data will still be presented in the Gradebook.


July 2026: API End-of-life

July 2026 is the last milestone in Classic Quizzes Sunset. Five years after New Quizzes becomes the assessment engine for Canvas, Classic Quizzes APIs will be unpublished.

Please note that Classic Quizzes Sunset does not change current data storage policies or procedures. End-of-life for the user interfaces and APIs changes modes of access, but they do not change storage and archival.

The above timeline is fundamental to our plan for the future of quizzes in Canvas. There are two other cornerstones for our work—content migration tooling and development of critical capability for New Quizzes.


Content Migration Tooling

Content migration is crucial for the transition from Classic Quizzes to New Quizzes. You must be able to carry your institution’s quizzing content into the future. We are working on a very elegant workflow that seamlessly augments existing activities.

When instructors and staff create and prepare courses, they will have an option to import assessment content as New Quizzes. This option will appear in the Course Copy and course Content Import screens. With this option, administrators and teachers don’t have to learn how to use any new tools or screens. They can simply check a box to add quizzes, banks and outcomes to the course as New Quizzes content. 


Development of Critical Capabilities

We know there are many high-impact improvements that could be made to New Quizzes. We’ve had to be extremely focused when prioritizing work to be completed before July 2021. Plans are, of course, subject to change based on work of other teams and evolving information, but here are some details about what we’re working on in this space.

We are in the final stages of work on a partial-scoring option for multiple answer questions. We’re also in the process of validating Respondus Lockdown Browser support and expect that to be available in a few months.

As these efforts are nearing completion, we’ve started to ramp up work to improve the liquidity of New Quizzes data. This will include integration with Canvas Data Access and the Learning Mastery Gradebook.



There’s a lot going on over the coming months and there will likely be no shortage of questions and feedback. I hope this information can provide some structure for the conversations to come. The New Quizzes User Group will be a great place to keep the conversation going. Please feel free to ask additional questions in the group, and my team and I will be happy to respond.


We’re looking forward to working together for a brighter (more scalable, robust and accessible) future!

Hello everyone!


I wanted to take a few minutes and share some of the latest developments coming from my sphere of the Canvas product world. 


My team - known as the Learning Activities team in Canvasland - manages the creation and structure of a course along with any learning objects, including modules, assignments, discussions, pages, files, RCE, syllabus, mastery paths, direct share, course exports, and Blueprint courses. Whew, that was a lot to type. 


Needless to say we stay pretty busy, but here are some highlights of what we’ve been up to. 


  • In the very near future, instructors will be able to control the number of submission attempts on an assignment. This is coming in the March beta release.


  • We’ve got an auto-save option in the RCE that will recover your content in case you accidentally navigate away from the page before you had a chance to hit that save button.


  • In January we released improvements to the student workflow of assignments. In today’s workflow, we don’t do a great job of surfacing instructor feedback. Students have to dig into their submission details. But now the submission, instructor comments, and rubric are all on one page. Plus students have a better way to track their submission progress and manage multiple attempts. This is currently in beta, and I’d like to hear from more of you on what’s working or not working with this before we roll it to production, so please comment in the user group.


  • On the Syllabus page, you can now hide the auto-generated course summary.  This idea has been out in the community for a long time, so check it out if you’ve been waiting for it! This is available in beta today, and will be in production in March. 


The RCE is another very hot topic, so let’s discuss. We’ve got a chunk of work to complete before the July enforcement date, and I know there’s a lot of feedback. I’ve been reading it! Here are a few things that are top of mind:


  • We’ll soon allow Administrators to choose two LTI “favorites” that will show directly in the toolbar. We’re starting this work in March. It’ll look something like this within the Admin settings. 



The two favorites that you choose will show directly in the toolbar, and the other installed LTI tools will be within the existing modal under the plug icon. 

  • For those of you utilizing the Usage Rights feature for your content, we need to make sure that’s easy to do while you’re uploading documents, photos, media, etc. 
  • I know Kaltura is a really popular media tool for content, and we want to make sure that things are working as you expect before July. I’ll be reaching out to a handful of you via CSMs so we can get that right. 
  • In terms of accessibility, we’re tidying up media subtitles/closed captions and alt-text for images, whether you're uploading content for the first time, or coming back to edit it. 
  • We’ve cleaned up the Alt+F9 menu - you might find a couple goodies in there soon. 


I’ve made a goal to post quarterly updates, so as soon as it starts feeling warmer here in Utah (can’t wait!), I’ll be in touch again.

We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on the similarity score icon changes that will be going to production with the next release. Some questions have come up about how many different icons we display, the nature of the icons, and the purpose behind the changes. I’d like to address some of those questions in this post. 


What were the goals of this project?

Our goal with the current icon changes was twofold. First and foremost, we wanted to make the icons that we have accessible. The previous icons all had the same shape and were distinguished only by color. Second, we wanted to bring a bit more consistency to how and where the icons were displayed throughout Canvas. Depending on the integration method and the plagiarism detection provider, icon behavior could vary.


What’s changed with this project?

The three “bands” or levels of similarity scores have remained unchanged. The change for this release simply modifies the iconography to be accessible and a bit more consistent. This objective was the extent of this project’s scope.


What can be changed in the future?

We’ve received fantastic suggestions about how we can make our icons more useful by adding additional granularity. This is something we’ve been considering as part of a separate, larger and more complex project. Some of that complexity comes from the varied interpretations of similarity scores. Some users see a 30% similarity as unconcerning, while others want to investigate anything that is above 10%. Some see a very low score as a red flag, while others do not. Factors can vary based on class size, assignment type, subject matter, institutional practices, and a host of other considerations. 


Another layer of complexity comes from the nature of a gradebook. By definition we’re trying to convey as much information as possible to graders, while keeping the gradebook easy to use, navigate, and understand. Changing information that is being displayed in every cell of the gradebook has the potential to introduce something that will be distracting. We also need to be careful to always keep the actual score at the center of the gradebook. While other information is important, we want to be sure that the various status and icons don’t overwhelm the assignment grade that was given.


We didn’t want to wait for this larger project to be ready to make the similarity score icons in Canvas accessible. So we broke it up into two parts. This first smaller project keeps the underlying logic unchanged, and we were able to place it on the roadmap much sooner, with the emphasis focused on improving accessibility. The second project will be more complex and introduce more granularity. However, we don’t yet have a timeframe for the larger project.


As always, we deeply appreciate the feedback that’s been shared. If you’re interested in giving feedback on designs for the future similarity score project, keep an eye on the Ideas space for opportunities to contribute when available. 

Data is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform the way we offer education to students. Over the past five years, the Canvas data sharing product has been very important to our users and institutions.


In its current offering, Canvas Data is very limited in the type of datasets we share and sharing capabilities. Our customers have been asking to improve the existing product as they consider Canvas Data to be an essential feature of their Canvas learning management system.


We are working on an improved version of our data sharing feature. This updated edition will provide access to various Instructure educational product data, allow more scalable ways of downloading large datasets, and most importantly, deliver data changes just in time to make time sensitive decisions. 


We have already reviewed and planned to implement basic datasets around scores, submissions, enrollments, courses, users, and a handful of learning activities such as assignments, discussions, and quizzes. At this time, we need your help to prioritize what you would like to see in the next version of the datasets schema. If you are interested in sharing your feedback, please fill out our Data Access Feedback Form. This form will only take a few minutes of your time. Email addresses are required, so please log in using an account where we may contact you if we have additional followup questions.


Please share your thoughts so we can make product choices that include your voice.


Responses will be accepted through Monday, February 17. [CLOSED FOR VOTE]


Thank you!



UPDATE 2/21/2020


We conducted a successful survey to collect all of your thoughts around data you prefer to see in our  Data Access Offering. Thank you so much for participating and sharing your thoughts! 

These are the results of the survey; we will use them to guide us through planning our Data roadmap.

Addressing some of your feedback 

  1. We still need access to all data that is currently available in the old Canvas Data but not listed in survey.

The new data offering will provide access to all datasets currently available in old Canvas Data. The survey conducted simply aimed to identify a subset of additional datasets that we may make available as part of this solution.  

  1. Need the ability to have datasets scoped by access role/account so faculty could have access to it; need the ability to receive the report via email. 

To address this feedback, let me share the vision for this new product.

 The new Data Access Offering is a set of services and technologies that will provide you with access to your institution raw data across various Instructure educational products. It is a revamp and expansion of our “Canvas Data” offering, and the purpose  of this offering is to allow institution IT/data teams to retrieve their school’s LMS data in bulk so they can conduct their own research and build custom analytics dashboards and tools to meet the unique needs of the institution. The intended audience for this tool is institution data analysts, developers, or data administrators with some knowledge of raw data collection and transformation. Features that allow users to interact with analytics or generate reports from within the Canvas LMS UI are not part of this work.

The following list displays the datasets prioritized by your votes:

  1. Modules
  2. New Quizzes
  3. Account: roles, account users
  4. Rubrics
  5. Outcomes
  6. Originality Reports [ Plagiarism related data]
  7. Conversations
  8. Attachments
  9. Master Courses
  10. Wikis
  11. Developer Keys
  12. Mastery Paths
  13. Calendar
  14. Commons
  15. Catalog


Other  datasets you requested in the survey comment that we haven’t considered yet:

  1. Studio
  2. Portfolium 
  3. Faculty Journal 
  4. Attendance [ Roll Call]
  5. SCORM 
  6. User Access Tokens metadata only  [ who created them]
  7. LTI tools data access level


Note : if you don’t see your feedback addressed above, we’ve already placed it on the roadmap, or it is an idea that is more difficult to implement and we are considering options to breach the gaps. I am also planning on reaching out to some of you directly to get more details about your specific feedback. Please stay tuned for more updates! 

Over the last few months, the Canvas product team has been navigating some process changes within Canvas. We’ve been improving how we work with our engineering teams, how we work with our customer success teams, and how we provide information to you, our customers.


One of our most recent projects has been the release of a new product podcast. It’s called the tl;dr, which stands for too long, didn’t read. The premise of the podcast is to review upcoming release features, so if you didn’t read the release notes, we want to highlight some of the production changes. We know that the release notes reach a variety of audiences. We hope that the podcast offers a little more detail for everyone about why we do what we do. Maybe we’ll also help you learn something about the product team that you didn’t know and hope to offer more behind-the-scenes insights, perhaps from our engineers as well.


Our first episode is available at You can listen to the podcast directly on our webpage, or you can subscribe to your favorite podcast platform using the links in our product subscription page. On Twitter, we'll also publish clips from the podcast using the hashtag #canvastldr.


We plan to publish our podcasts monthly on the Wednesday following the previous release date. The schedule for the podcast can be found in our podcast events page.


Check out the podcast and let us know what you think!

Last July you may remember we announced our new partnership with Unsplash. Now that the new Rich Content Editor is available in the production environment, you’ll enjoy improved content creation tools, including awesome images with Unsplash.


Why Unsplash?

Unsplash provides curated, high-resolution professional photographs for free, which means safe searches at no cost! Images can be used for both commercial and noncommercial purposes. The Unsplash library has over 1 million images, so you will certainly find beautiful images to support your content. For questions about images, view the Unsplash License page.


How do I use Unsplash in Canvas?

Unsplash is used in any feature that includes the Rich Content Editor, such as announcements, assignments, discussions, and pages.


The New Rich Content Editor is currently a feature option, which means some admins may not choose to enable the New Rich Content Editor for an account at this time. However, those institutions that are using the Rich Content Editor can find Unsplash as its own tab when uploading an image.



Where else is Unsplash available in Canvas?

Along with the new Rich Content Editor, Unsplash options are available for instructors when adding a thumbnail image to a shared Commons resource and adding an Unsplash image to Dashboard course cards.


Let us know what you think about Unsplash!

“What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


What’s in a name? What does it mean? Why is it important? 

A name is a set of words that a person, place or thing is known or addressed by. Names are important. They are one of the first things we get when we are born, and they are something that we generally carry with us till we die.


They contain our family history, our past, sometimes our future. They literally label and define who we are to the world. So they are important.


Canvas is releasing the Personal Pronouns feature to allow people to choose their own personal pronouns for their names. This is a feature that has been heavily requested in the community for years—something that’s on a list of features we’ve been wanting to get to for a long time but haven’t been able to address because of other priorities that always seemed to win in the constant balance of needs and resources.


That time has come to an end for this feature. 


As we talk to customers and gather feedback—from the community, through conferences and calls, and in person—we always hear what is important to our educators, the things they need, and what’s on top of their minds. Personal pronouns was a topic we heard about over and over.


Initially this surprised me—I love being surprised in my job and this was one of those times. I initially believed personal pronouns was important for the simple reason that some students or educators wanted to more clearly express who they were, what their name was, and how they wanted to be addressed.


It was so much more complex than that.


Canvas has always had the ability for users to edit their names in their profiles, so they could add a personal pronoun there, but that wasn’t what people were really asking for. This was not directly about changing how their name was displayed. 


As I talked to more and more schools and students, I found out that Personal Pronouns was less about being able to add a pronoun to a student’s name and more about creating a space where it was safe to do so. They wanted support from the school in deciding how they would represent themselves.

I was also surprised that traditionally gendered students—ones who did not have a direct need to display a gender as part of their name—were also interested. Some students have the fear of using pronouns incorrectly, or not knowing how to proceed, and they expressed a need to know how to use gender pronouns. Additionally, some expressed relief in knowing how they could use pronouns, especially in the fast-moving and often transient environments of schools and classes, without offending people.

So we decided that now was the time to give our schools the ability to create the type of learning environment their students were asking for.

We feel like we’ve achieved a good balance with the first release of the feature: 

  • It can be enabled or disabled at the account level
  • The administration retains control over the available list of pronouns


This first version is based on two pieces of feedback. First, administrators wanted the ability to set the list and make sure to avoid duplicates, misspellings, or other things that would make the list of available pronouns less usable. Second, cis-gendered students would have a list of pronouns they knew were vetted and OK to use at their school.


When lists are enabled by administrators, students can choose from the list the personal pronoun that best represents who they are to the world. If students would like another option, they can request it be added to the list so it can be displayed by their name in their profile correctly.


Pronouns has been an interesting feature, and we’re proud to continue to deliver features to customers that allow them to build the best educational experience possible for their students. There’s more to do with pronouns in the future: we’d like to tie it to the SIS, and we may add a custom field for students to add another pronoun if their preferred pronoun isn’t in the list, just to name a few. As customers use this first version, we’ll work closely with them and get feedback to evolve the feature.


As always, we are deeply appreciative of our customers. We work for you, and our entire lives revolve around delivering the best experience possible. If you have questions about this feature, let me know! 


If you have ideas about how to make pronouns better in the future, take a look at the list of existing pronoun-related feature ideas that have already been added in the Ideas space and feel free to add your thoughts, or add a new idea.


Best wishes from the Canvas Product Team,