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2017

Context

We use publicly visible courses for three primary reasons: 

  1. To allow us to use Canvas for training and/or professional learning purposes with a variety of audiences while not requiring a user account or login in our Canvas instance.
  2. To host publicly-visible resources for stakeholders like parents.
  3. To assure pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers that they can use Canvas with students who may not be able to quickly and/or successfully log into the system.

 

For the past few months, I've been dogged with emails and help tickets from external users who have frequently struggled to access information that I place in publicly-visible courses like this one (CanvasCon @ SMU). These messages typically describe how the user, provided with the URL to the course home page) was unable to access Modules (containing content pages) despite Modules being revealed in the course navigation menu AND being set as the course home page. Instead of seeing Modules, users received a 'Page Error' warning.

Troubleshooting

Befuddled by the issue, I turned to Canvas Support multiple times and received the initial advice to 're-save the course settings to clear out the settings cache'. This step performed for all of our publicly-visible courses, I still heard from users unable to access the course modules. With some persistence, I was eventually informed of the following:

 

Users who access the module's page of a public course (home page in this case) that also has the "Mastery Paths" feature option enabled will see intermittent page errors when trying to access it.

 

If Mastery Paths is enabled, unauthenticated users receive a page error when they try to access Modules page (in this case, Modules is set as the Home Page) of a public course.

 

This actually makes perfect sense when considering that we turned on Mastery Paths at the end of Semester One and these problems first occurred early in Semester Two.

 

So, it's a bug that the engineering team is aware of. The suggested troubleshooting:

 

To work around this issue I recommend to go to the root-account feature options and change the "Mastery Path" option from "On" to "Allow," as this would allow instructors who do not use it in "Public Courses" to disable the mastery path feature option on their individual courses to prevent the page errors.

Next Steps

While it's slightly annoying that I need to go and adjust the courses' feature options, I'm happy to know that the issue is finally known and hopefully being worked on sooner than later. In fact, because most of these courses exist in the same sub-account in our instance, I was able to very quickly adjust some feature options at the account and sub-account level to make the desired change that will hopefully do the trick until a permanent solution is in place.

 

 

Context

Anyone supporting Canvas users for awhile has discovered the need to frequently troubleshoot issues in response to vague statements like, "Things don't look right" or "I can't see it." Therefore, less experienced Canvas admins might find this a useful tip!

Suggested Troubleshooting

Please use these alt. lyrics to sing along to Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now (1972):

I can see clearly now, I've cleared my cache,

I can see all the stuff that had gone away.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind,

It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright tech-integrated day!

 

The latest example of the need to clear the browser cache was just yesterday when I heard from multiple users that their Mastery Path settings had vanished. Upon checking, mine too! Rather than despair, however, a song entered my head . . .

 

I can see clearly now, I've cleared my cache . . .

Information about clearing the cache in a variety of browsers can be found here.

The Payoff

When things aren't looking quite right in Canvas, I've found that clearing the browser cache very often pays immediate dividends for the end user. Why wait up to 24 hours to have Canvas Support suggest the same thing as their first line of troubleshooting?

 

Like the song says, It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright tech-integrated day!

Priority: New Quizzes: General Availability The specified item was not found.

I want to chime in (again) about the issue of question/quiz interoperability particularly as it relates to bulk import into Canvas.

 

The original blog, Batch Uploading Quiz Questions with Respondus, and its comments are mostly fro 2015. In the meantime, Canvas has expanded its question types. It will continue doing this in its quizzes.next_new quizzes.next_phase1 quizzes.next_phase2 version, soon to enter beta. The information in the blog about Respondus 4 is somewhat outdated. Because it's the only game in town as a standalone QTI generator, the laudatory remarks about it are, IMO, misleading.

 

I've used Respondus 4 quite extensively to duplicate the built-in bulk import features of Blackboard LMS. It's clear that the folks at Respondus haven't updated and refreshed its design or function in many years. Editing windows and windoids are not resizable, making for a cumbersome, finger-clicker tiring, eye-straining experience.

 

Functionally, there shouldn't be too much of a difference between publishing quizzes and question banks, but there is. Canvas's current inability to shuffle questions (as opposed to question distractors) forces developers who are planning backwards from the quiz level to create Question Groups from which quizzes will draw questions randomly. (Rumor has it this feature will be included in Quizzes.Next.) Respondus 4 could save time with the choice between quiz- and bank-publication. Unfortunately, bank questions lose their image reference links, unlike the quiz publish function which preserves them.

 

Attempting to pre-format question stems using HTML tags and inline CSS is a punishing exercise. The simplest example to illustrate this is including <p> tags to put images on their own line separate from the text that precedes and follows it. This very simple exercise requires opening the HTML windoid, pasting the code, saving to close the windoid, then saving the question edits before proceeding to the next question. Through trial and error, I discovered that the tag-enclosed text of the stem must also be pasted in the HTML windoid otherwise it won't export properly.

 

Question Editing in Respondus 4

 

As a result, Respondus 4 is the type of indispensable application one loves to hate. I don't even want to surmise why the company has chosen to ignore these flaws, or redefine them as features. I wish Instructure would flesh out the import API it uses in Canvas to create an reliable, robust, and easy-to-use import function, leap-frogging over what Blackboard implemented from many versions ago. With a more robust API, teacher/designers/developers would only need to format a TEXT or CSV file conforming to a data map Canvas defines. The map would permit the following fields: question type, question stem, distractors, correct answer, answer feedback, and frequently used question feature toggles (e.g., distractor shuffle). The map should also accommodate image embedding, similar to what Respondus requires (images need to be in same folder as the bulk question text file).

 

This commonly used routine would be a great feature family update, and what I referred to in the idea currently up for vote: Strengthen Canvas Import Ability with QTI Files.

 

Thanks to Chris Hofer's Blog for the progenitor to this post.

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