Skip navigation
All Places > Ideas > Blog > Author: cwruck


4 Posts authored by: cwruck Administrator

We all know education is about more than just learning long division and how to compose a sentence. Education is also about fostering thoughtful and respectful human beings. As a platform for learning, it’s not often that we get an opportunity to help with the latter. While at SXSWedu this year, I saw a film called “The R Word” (which I highly encourage you to see) and I saw a different kind of opportunity for us. One of the things I learned from the documentary is that people can grow when they have the opportunity to learn more about how their behavior (even unintentional behavior) can be harmful. It’s certainly not a new idea, but something clicked for me during the Q&A for the film. It occurred to me that one of the challenges organizations like Special Olympics face is getting their materials distributed into the hands of folks who can make a difference. I just kept thinking, “How can I help? How can I help?” While content is freely available on their website, it still requires instructors to know it’s there, take the time to seek it out, and then customize it for Canvas. We have this awesome tool called Commons. If we could find some Instructional Designers to help us tailor the content for Commons, we could make it so much easier for folks to get this awesome content into their courses. Thus, the idea for “Featured Content in Commons” was born and we couldn’t be more excited for the possibilities this new feature will open up. We teamed up with Designers for Learning to make sure the content looks awesome in Canvas. By the way, if you’re an instructional designer who would like to help with this in the future, you should reach out to them!


We’ve only just begun this new kind of partnership. And while we’re piloting this new feature with Special Olympics (and another organization that we’ll tell you about at Instructurecon), we want to hear your ideas for organizations that you’d like to see us partner with for more awesome featured content. Look for the Special Olympics featured content to appear in Commons during Instructurecon in just a few short weeks!


Speaking of Instructurecon... join us for a chat IRL if you're going to be there!

We’ve had a few questions about the removal of the rating system in Commons, and we wanted to provide you all with some insight into our thought process.

  1. The rating system didn’t see wide adoption. Only 6.8% of resources in Commons had a star rating. Of those resources with a rating, 88% of them received 5 stars. We weren’t the only ones who noticed that the ratings weren't being used in a way that truly provided value. Here is an actual review of a resource in Commons:
    (rating: 5) "I'm going to give a five star rating to anything I find that is offtopic because nobody else is going to use the rating system in commons and that lets me game the system to ruin everything."
  2. Rating content in Commons is a lot of work and quite outside a normal workflow for most educators. It seems, for the most part, folks weren’t taking the time to import content into Canvas, evaluate its quality, and then return to Commons to rate the quality of the content. And this behavior is pretty understandable! That’s a lot of steps to take as a busy educator, when there is not direct benefit to your own process.
  3. We wanted a shorter route to surface valuable Commons content for you in Canvas. Commons contains some awesome resources to include in your Canvas course. Currently, that process requires that you launch Commons, locate the content, and then send the content to the Canvas course you were building.


So if ratings aren’t proving to be super useful for identifying valuable content, we asked ourselves: What could we do to help identify valuable content in Commons without requiring our users to do extra work? Taking that problem a step further… how can we help identify that valuable content and surface it in Canvas?


From Canvas, very soon you will see an option to pull up your list of Commons Favorites and directly import content that you’ve identified as valuable. First, we’ll give you that option in the Rich Content Editor (RCE). From the RCE, you’ll be able to choose any video, audio, images, or files that are in your list of Commons favorites and directly import them. Next, we’ll give you the option to add content from your list of Commons favorites on the Index and Modules pages. We’ll also be adding feedback about how often things are favorited and imported to each resource. “Most Favorited” and “Most Downloaded/Imported” will be added to the “Most Relevant” sort options in search results.

Because adding resources to your Commons favorites will allow you to keep track of your favorite Commons content and makes it easier to import content into your Canvas course easily and efficiently, we expect favoriting to see greater adoption than the rating system did. We also feel that number of downloads/imports and favoriting numbers provide a better indication of effective content than a subjective and poorly adopted rating system did.

You guys! We invented a thing!

Well, more specifically, our brilliant engineers invented a thing! Why? Because you asked us for it!


You asked for a way to see the contents of the resources that are shared in Commons before importing it into Canvas. We wanted to give that to you, but those Commons resources are stored as “Common Cartridge” files and a web-based “Common Cartridge Viewer” isn’t a thing that existed in the world. Our industrious engineers worked very hard to find a solution that would allow us to crack open those cartridges and show you their contents. And they did it! Seriously. They invented a way to extract and then preview common cartridge files in the browser. That means we will be able to show you a preview of assignments, pages, discussions, quizzes, modules and courses in Commons.


You can try out the Preview technology here, using our stand alone Common Cartridge Viewer. There are a few cartridge examples there for you to test, or you can export a course from Canvas and drag it onto the browser. The Common Cartridge viewer is open source and you can check it out on github.  


Our next release to production (January 5, 2019) will include a feature option for Commons Previews on the Commons Admin page.  Because we invented this thing (did I mention that yet?), we wanted to take a little time to collect feedback on the Previews before turning the feature on for everyone in March 2019. We’ve set up a User Group where we’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and any issues that you find with the Previews.

***Please note updated Flickr Removal Dates, due to Flickr Clarification***

Thank you to Ian Linkletter for pointing out the clarification.

Flickr is Removing Millions of Images

On November 1, 2018, Flickr announced a plan to remove millions of images on February 5, 2019. For Canvas users, this news was quite concerning, as Canvas offers Flickr as an easy way to find and insert images into content and as Canvas Dashboard Course Card images. On November 9, 2018, Flickr clarified their announcement, explaining that material licensed by Creative Commons would not be removed. The good news is, the Flickr search mechanism we implemented for all course content in Canvas will only return Flickr images licensed by Creative Commons. Therefore, images added to your courses using Canvas’ Flickr search are expected to be safe from the February 5 removal of images.


However, the Canvas Dashboard Course Cards may not be as safe. The Flickr search mechanism we employ for this feature uses both Creative Commons search results and Public Domain search results. This combination means there is a chance that images may be removed from Canvas Dashboard Course Cards.

We want to help!

While Flickr didn’t give us a ton of time to find and implement a solution to help our users with this problem, we jumped into action as quickly as possible.  In addition to a short time frame, a few considerations have made it tough for us to have a perfect solution.

  1. Flickr replaces removed images with another image that says “image not found”. While that behavior seems like a nice thing to do, it’s quite out of the ordinary. Normally, when images that are hosted on other sites (like Flickr) are removed, we can detect the image removal. Flickr’s method of replacing the removed image with another image makes normal “image not found” types of detection ineffective.
  2. Flickr is removing images at the very beginning of a semester (February 5). Why is that a problem? Well, it creates a challenge for us because the beginning of a semester is when a lot of classes are just beginning and just ending. Determining which courses are active or soon to be active becomes a challenge.

So what’s the plan?

  1. We very quickly updated the Course Link Validator to detect Flickr’s unusual broken image method. That work went to beta December 10th and will be in our next production release, January 5th.
  2. We will run the link validator globally on February 4th to check for Flickr images. We’ll do the same thing on February 6th after Flickr has done its mass removal of images. At that point, we should have a pretty good idea which courses have been affected.
  3. We will send an email to all owners of the affected content to tell them exactly where we detected a Flickr broken image.

Introducing Unsplash

We’re happy to have come up with and implemented a short-term plan to handle the mass removal of Flickr images on February 9th, but we also saw this change as an opportunity to look for a better long-term, more holistic solution for all of our Canvas users. As many of you may know, we’ve had a history of issues with Flickr returning unsafe images to our “safe search” query. This has led some schools to block Flickr, and some requests that we remove Flickr from Canvas.


The one thing Flickr had over its competitors was a Creative Commons search and a “Safe Search”. For a long time, we couldn’t find anything to properly replace Flickr by meeting both of these searching requirements.

Until now.


In early 2019 we’ll begin the process of untangling Flickr from Canvas and replacing it with a fabulous product called Unsplash. Unsplash provides hand-selected, professional photographs for free. We highly encourage you to go check out their site. They are a fantastic, collaborative company, and we think when you see the quality they provide, you’ll be as excited as we are about what a positive effect Unsplash will have on your Canvas course content in the future.


Watch for future changes to the Canvas Interface to be announced in the release notes, as well as additional information about our new partnership with Unsplash.