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2019

Before I begin this blog, I do want to send huge kudos to Erin Hallmark who kept me sane through a more-than-trying Canvas release week.  Erin, you are a hero who stuck with us and helped throughout the week. 

 

However, I must articulate my frustration and concern over the latest Canvas release – which I can only consider a debacle.

 

I spent almost every waking hour of last week with my finger in the dike, so to speak, trying to help users from all of the four institutions I support.  It appeared that every time we identified an issue and created a workaround, another issue sprang up.  Although engineers worked on resolutions diligently, the issues were just too far-ranging and too impactful – on both old and new gradebook users -- as well as students. Not one communication about the new release had any indication whatsoever that students (or old gradebook users)  would be impacted in any way – and yet they were.  We are still waiting for the resolution to the broken Plagiarism Framework, which is not working as I write today.

 

I realize that sometimes things do not work out as planned, and I have a very strong heart for the challenges of software engineering. However, I need to articulate some issues that I truly believe Canvas must address if they wish to maintain their customer loyalty.

 

  • Listen to your Beta Testers. Reading back through the comments from beta testers (https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-16958-canvas-release-notes-2019-07-13), the issues with this release were identified well in advance.  Tester Karen Matson even said, “Why did you make muting grades so complicated? It was simple: they are on or off.  Now we have so many layers we can't figure it out. Please remove this feature.”  Why did no one really listen to feedback received throughout the beta testing process?  What purpose does Beta Testing serve if it the comments you receive are not taken seriously. Folks even knew there were problems with the Plagiarism Framework. Why did this release get pushed to production when issues were not fully addressed? Is there anything that can stop a Canvas release?
  • Do NOT go dark when being transparent is truly important. How very frustrating it is when avenues for communications are closed or hidden.  You can see from the Release Notes site that commenting was turned off.  The ostensible reason was that people needed to submit tickets. What that did was close off a single avenue of communication and force comments out to myriad different threads – so the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. There needed to be a single place where issues were uncovered, workarounds posted, and communications recorded.   Your greatest ally in service is this community, and you sent us all out on crazy wild goose chases to figure out what others were finding and try to get answers to questions. Again, I can only shake my head and wonder what you were thinking. This is not the transparency one would hope for.
  • Be open to the WHY question. I am feeling very strongly that Instructure is operating on some hidden logic – rather than using the community to determine direction.  This latest release does not seem to have added any value to the student or instructor experience – and turned a simple and elegant functionality into something convoluted and ungainly. It is very hard for us to understand WHY this change was more important than the myriad of requests voted up by the community that never seem to get done. Just explain yourself. I don’t even care what the reason is – I just want to know that someone at Instructure is actually thinking about why what they are doing actually makes a positive experience on the user experience – in any way.
  • End-user test your customer communications. I do not know who writes the notes called “Canvas Status Updates” that I receive in my inbox. What I do know is that these communications rarely articulate the issue in a way that our end-users could possibly understand. For example, “Allow instructors to grade in the submission details page with manual post policy.”  There is no way any of the users I actually work with will understand what this means.  I have to go through each item and explain exactly how this impacts them. To my users, something like, “ The grade entry box you used to see on the submission details page is now restored.  You may once again enter grades by clicking on a student’s assignment” (probably with a screenshot).   I think this is related to the post I saw indicating that Instructure would be well-served by having its customers provide user stories.  These kinds of updates seem to have no connection to the user stories that surround this issues, and therefore I have to spend large amounts of time translating and explaining.

 

I still believe that our organization made a good decision in moving to Canvas. I just want Instructure to realize how disturbing things are looking to some of us out here working with real students and real professors and trying to hold our fingers in a dike that is growing increasingly scary. 

 

Please, others, reassure me by commenting on this blog.

 

Image: Photo by Nery Montenegro on Unsplash

In one of the courses that I have been responsible for there is a final oral presentation with formal opponents who have previously written an opposition report. During the final oral presentation, I have found it very useful to have a spreadsheet with the presentations sorted into time order - and with columns ready to take notes on the presentation, on the oral oppositions, etc. Now that another teacher is going to take over the responsibility for this course I have been showing other teachers how to organize things to make it easier for them in this course. I realized when showing my spreadsheet to the new person that will take over the course that I have been stupid and should have made more of this directly in the gradebook. The result is that I made a program to add the desired custom columns to the gradebook for the teacher to write their notes during the presentation and to populate the columns with the material that is known (in this case the scheduled date and time for the presentation and the names of the opponent(s) for each student (these were peer reviewers of a draft of the report). I have separately added a column that contains the name of the project group that each student is in. The resulting program can be found at:

https://github.com/gqmaguirejr/Canvas-tools/blob/master/add-columns-for-II2202-final-presentation.py

 

Still to be done is to extract the title of the project from the draft report that was submitted by the project group and possibly a compressed version of the grading and feedback on the written opposition.

 

In any case, the program shows what can be done with the API to get the users in a course, the groups in a course, the members of each group, calendar events for the course, etc.

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