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2020

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