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Canvas Mobile Users

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I am creating this blog post with full the expectation of disagreement posts. My goal is to create a discussion that explores the best way to design a complex project like Canvas for use on many types of devices, screens, and operating systems.


My History with Mobile Apps

  • I initially tried using Speedgrader mobile when we first started using Canvas and did not find it any more convenient than using the web version.
  • I have explored Canvas Student and Teacher a few times, including today.  I find that the apps are quite convenient for certain tasks and that I miss being able to quickly accomplish others.
  • My students use Canvas Student all the time, even in class, so I know they are using it to keep track of assignments.  This is actually a problem when students ONLY look at the To-Do list and miss other pages in the modules.
  • I teach exclusively using iPad, and very often do grading and even course creation on iPad.  The only task I have attempted that did not work was scrolling quizzes when in speedgrader,  but using quiz moderating it works fine.
  • I have designed web-apps and am a 'hack' coder.  Meaning I do a lot of coding, but was not formally trained so I am always researching the best way to accomplish coding problems.  However I know just enough to be dangerous. 


My Question in a Nutshell

Why do we need to create mobile apps when virtually all devices have web browsers and we can create responsive websites that provide the same functionality via responsive Graphical User Interfaces (GUI's) based on the screen and Operating System (OS).


More Explanation

Responsive web design is considered one of the most important features of a well-designed website.  The goal of responsive web design is to provide the same information and functionality, but formatted in the most accessible and navigable and easy-to-read manner specific for the user's device.


We have all seen websites that look one way on a desktop (large) screen, but then reformat with content flowing in a different order when the screen is smaller.   You can test this by changing the size of your desktop screen to see how the content layout changes as the screen gets smaller.  With the page you are currently viewing, for example, when you make the screen smaller than a certain width the top navigation bar collapses in to a drop-down menu, and the buttons at the bottom which are side-by-side on the larger screen become stacked top-to-bottom.  


This is done via Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  The basic idea behind CSS is the importance of separating content from formatting, thus allowing the same content to be presented in a variety of manners.  A different style sheet can be applied to the same content making it accessible by smaller screens, visual-assistive devices, hearing-assistive devices, etc.


Because much of what the mobile apps accomplish is this same reformatting of content, I'm not sure why we need separate mobile apps when we could just use CSS and create the various versions of Canvas in the web version.


As for OS, this is where things can get much more complicated because different OS's and different browsers can have completely different application programming interfaces (API's).  Even CSS can be interpreted differently.  This is why there are different versions of many apps on say, the iOS and Android platforms.   HOWEVER, as web designers and programmers, we have many tools available to us to make that process easier.    


For example, JQuery is a cross-browser javascript library that handles all of the various browser differences, allowing a designer to simply use the JQuery API and be assured that everything will work on most browsers.  I say "most" because as older versions of browsers age, they become unsupported. Bootstrap is another popular cross-browser framework.   jQuery is in use by Canvas, which is why we have access to things like collapsible menus.  There is also an extension library for jQuery called jQuery Mobile, which adds a lot of functionality for mobile devices.


Many mobile apps we use today are basically web apps wrapped into packages and installed as separate applications.    


The Point

Since web application design has evolved so far and is so widely used, there are many advancements and tools available that make it efficient to create a web application that can provide all the functionality we have in Canvas across many devices.  A web app can be dynamically served depending on the device, OS, and screen, presented in a format most logical for that device.   So why not leverage that technology and put the time and resources of Canvas into developing each new advancement directly into the web application for various devices at the same time?   This is instead of creating advancements in the web app and then adding those same advancements to each of the mobile apps.  Why spread out our development into so many apps instead of focusing our efforts into one cross-browser, cross-platform web app?


I am tempted to continue, pointing out all of the feature requests that want a specific feature in this app or that app, or the PDF's I found of the feature lists of various apps on various devices and how those are prioritized for development.   Even polls could be added to Canvas within the current web application.  But I think I've written enough to get a conversation started.


I look forward to reading replies!



During the summer of 2017, a number of UCF faculty were able to preview the Canvas Teacher App and use it in their classes. In an effort to better understand the impact of this app and help communicate our experience to Instructure, we conducted a number of face-to-face interviews. In the first of a series of blog posts, here is the story of Rick Brunson. Rick is a beloved Journalism instructor in the Nicholson School of Communication at UCF. He is always willing to learn and bend new technologies if it will have a lasting impact on his students. In fact, he is one of just a few instructors that teachers a mobile journalism class to prepare his students for the workplace. 


His belief in the smartphone can be summed up in the following quote "The smartphone is very important to me because 90 percent of the content I capture for my classes is done on a mobile device. This includes photos, videos, and lecture notes - and quizzes too!"


“Grading is hypertension, the silent killer of faculty and this app is the prescription because grading is always waiting."


During the interview, Rick repeatedly praised having access to SpeedGrader on his iPhone as the most important feature. This will enable and empower him more with a mobile device to grade wherever. If he’s at a barber shop, a doctor’s office, or just waiting in line, he can grade assignments. All technology is a double-edged sword and it can help you make more of your time, but also be available when you shouldn’t be working, but that’s up to him, and not the tool. He doesn’t see the Teacher app providing more extensive feedback because the nature of mobile is “short” and quick, but thinks it will be great for short assignments on his iPhone. 


“The faculty members greatest enemy is time and this app empowers us more with our time.”


He tells his students on the first day of class to email him through Canvas because he gets a notification in the Canvas app and it’s likely to give them a speedy response. Rick believes that he might let communication bleed a little too much his personal life, but he sees it as a positive. He has relied on the Canvas Student app for years as a communication tool to stay in contact with his students. Even if it’s “I’m at dinner, I’ll get back to you in an hour.”  Students aren’t necessarily impatient, but technology has trained us to expect fairly rapid responses when we have questions. The app empowers him to do that and meet those expectations. Even though some faculty manage their communication in blocks of time and set expectations that they only answer in certain hours, which keep their lives organized, he doesn't do this. He tells a story about a student who contacted him about her first internship and she was really excited! Because of the Canvas app, he was able to immediately respond and give that virtual high-five. He doesn’t want to stick to a 24-hour policy because it’s important that he is not only responsive to concerns but celebrates their joys. It means something to his students. 


“The app helps me take care of the next task, lessen the load, and use time more effectively.”


The student context cards are going to be helpful in enhancing communication with students because he can verify messages from students when they have questions about grades and assignments. In particular, this will give him more information when a student asks "why did I get this grade?" or "how am I doing in class?" Before the Canvas Teacher app, he would have to run back to a computer, look at their progress and then reply. This can take time and hold up the process by hours or days. With the app, he can do that on the fly and communicate much faster to students. 


Rick mentioned that the "Message Students Who" feature inside each assignment will be useful for smaller classes, but still might be hard to use for larger class sizes (125+). This will take more time to explore how this feature can enhance communication and possibly increase student engagement. 


Every semester UCF conducts the Student Perception of Instruction (SPI) for each course. These are incredibly important to faculty and can be tied to many important performance factors. Rick consistently gets positive notes on how responsive he is when students have a question or concern. He mentioned a quote by the famous educational researcher Chuck Dzuiban; "Does my instructor care about my learning?" This is always the most important question asked by students. Communication style and responsiveness are important to show you “care” about their learning and the app enables you to do that. Rick believes the Canvas Teacher app will be a valuable tool as he continues to increase communication, engage with students, and be more efficient. 

Hi all,


I just finish the 'Mobile Series' quest videos, and I'm wondering if all of the information and functions presented in the videos are still accurate and valid... see below. Can anyone advise?

Quest Details - Mobile Series

Thank you!



Can I just say "thanks" for all the great documentation that Canvas puts out regarding the mobile applications? Just over the past week, I have had mutliple conversations with students about finding things on Canvas through the application. I have had multiple conversations with instructors about the differences between the student and the teacher app and when they should use either one. I've been able to help my own students while being out and about by just pulling up the various apps and making slight changes that would have required multiple minutes of squinting at my iPhone screen as I zoomed in an out on the mobile web version of Canvas.


So thanks, Canvas. Thanks for the helpful documentation. And thanks for making an application that makes my job easier.

We made these Inside Look posts a regular feature in the Canvas Teacher Focus Group, and it seemed to work pretty well, so I’m writing this one to see how it flies in CMUG. The basic premise is to illuminate little nuggets of our product development process for people who might be interested.


Today, we’re talking success metrics. Every major Canvas project starts in a ‘Discover’ phase, in which a product manager (PM) researches a problem until they feel comfortable with it from a bunch of different perspectives. Then the PM prepares a project summary, which is a high-level review of the problem, and what Canvas could do about it, and how it fits with our product strategy. The PM also defines success metrics for the potential project, which take the form of, “If we do this thing, then we would expect this result by this timeframe.” Then the PM presents the project summary to leadership, who gives a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down or a “keep digging.”


Supposing the project makes it through those gates, and is developed and then released -- at the end of the project, we measure success by the metrics that we agreed upon at the outset. Usually with the mobile apps, we’re measuring success by usage and client satisfaction. In the case of the teacher app launch, we’re measuring usage by monthly active user count and we’re measuring client satisfaction by app store rating.


The new teacher app’s success metrics were:

  1. By the end of Q3, this app will have at least 15,000 monthly active users.
  2. By the end of Q3, this app will have at least a 4-star rating in stores.


Great news: We had over 30,000 monthly active users in the teacher app in the month of September! Woah! By comparison, we had roughly 7,000 monthly active users in the old SpeedGrader app at this point a year ago.


Okay news: The iOS teacher app is currently at a 4.1! The Android teacher app is currently at a 3.3 – but we think we’ll see a bump in Android ratings with version 1.1 out the door.


These metrics aren’t used to get people in trouble, but they are used to try to compare what we expected to happen with what actually happened, and then to make better metrics the next time.


If you want to help us out, make your feelings known in app store ratings!

I wanted to write a quick post about where we're going with the student app in the near future for those who might be interested. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments below.


(Note: We're in the process of transitioning the name of today's Canvas app, or red app, or "Canvas by Instructure" app to officially become Canvas Student, or slangily, the student app.)


Over the past two years, we've talked with students, teachers and admins from dozens of institutions around the world to gather feedback about our student app. Here are the categories in which people are looking to see improvements:


  • The iOS and Android student apps look nothing alike. This is particularly a problem for teachers demonstrating mobile access to a classroom of mixed platforms, and admins/coaches/support staff trying to offer assistance.
  • The student app doesn’t do what the web does. This is less of an issue all the time, but we've still got work to do. In the past year, we've added support for mastery paths, multiple grading periods, student annotations, and native quiz questions, to name a few significant upgrades. Looking forward, we want to fill the following gaps: Arc/Gauge launches, institution announcements, course invites, and cloud assignments.
  • The student app doesn’t look like Canvas. Schools spend time styling Canvas to be just-so, then students log into the mobile app and they don't see anything that looks like their school.


The challenge for us is to (1) address each of those areas (2) in a timely manner (3) without upsetting all the people. We're particularly sensitive to the third point, because the student app is now simultaneously averaging two million daily active users while maintaining the highest average store rating among LMS mobile apps. So the plan is to release changes iteratively to make steady progress without unnecessarily rocking the boat.


Let's look at an example of the sort of iteration we're talking about. Here’s the landing page for the same student logging into iOS and Android student apps today:


Those are pretty different. Bottom tab bar on one, not on the other. Card buttons on one, not on the other. Menu button on one, not on the other. Different icons all over the place. It's weird and annoying and hard to interpret. Here's a redesigned home screen:


Those are much less different.


I use this example in particular because it impacts each of the three categories I mentioned above:

  1. More consistent design between mobile platforms (see: they look alike!)
  2. More functional consistency between web and mobile (see: support for institution announcements!)
  3. More consistent theming (see: the same custom styles supported by Canvas Teacher, which impact things like bar and button colors, or replacing the Canvas logo with an institution's logo)


If you've used the new teacher app, this layout probably looks familiar. That's because we've built teacher app components with reusability in mind.


We plan to ship changes like these throughout the school year. If you want to be a part of testing these changes before they hit stores, fill out this form! Feedback from beta testers in the Canvas Teacher app has been incredibly helpful, and we'll take all the help we can get as we're rolling out changes to Canvas Student.

Are there any student friendly resources out their to help students with the Canvas mobile app? I made an interactive for my desktop/ laptop users and have embedded it below. I would love to make something similar for our mobile users.

I just started using Canvas 4 weeks ago. My experience so far has been to build a very traditional set of classroom assignments (reading homework -> quiz -> chapter test -> unit test) and now I'm ready to start pushing into more project based learning using the tools that I am learning about in the Canvas training videos. The biggest inspirations have been seeing how to leverage smartphones into learning devices. 


My school is fighting an unwinnable war with students and their mobile devices. As an Instructional Technology Facilitator, I have been trying to get teachers to see the powerful tool that their students have at their fingertips. The biggest disconnect though, is that you can't just throw a smartphone at a traditional assignment and expect the same learning outcomes. Many of the teachers at my school are unwilling to rethink what it is they are actually trying to accomplish in student learning. The fundamental question is: am I teaching to give a grade OR am I teaching to measure learning? 


So, rather than ask people to do something I haven't done myself, I'm taking the opportunity to experiment with the 1 class I teach this semester - Honors Anatomy and Physiology. I'm ready to implement the tools and examples I have seen and ready to reshape how we quantify learning with my one small class as the start. 


My plan is to build modules around the next 4 body systems that we will be studying. They will be self-paced, allowing students to have freedom of choice in demonstrating clearly defined learning objectives that they will demonstrate through a variety of digital media assignment submissions. I'm also planning to put in performance requirements that set a minimum score threshold before the student unlocks the next module. All while sharing and demonstrating with my colleagues.



iOS beta users will be happy to hear that we released Canvas Teacher 1.2 to TestFlight this morning! If you're on our list of TestFlight users, you'll have received an email from TestFlight. Here's what we need you to break:


  1. Student context cards. From anywhere in the app (including from the new People list!), you can tap a student's avatar to view their context card. It's cool! Let us know what load times you're experiencing when launching a card. It shouldn't take more than a couple of seconds. You can also tap on an assignment from the context card to launch of submission preview in SpeedGrader. The context cards look like this:

  2. Audio/video comments in SpeedGrader. You can now add audio or video comments to a submission in SpeedGrader by tapping the "+" button from the Comments tab. There's a known issue where the sent video doesn't display properly in the comment stream until you navigate away from and then back to the comments tab, but recording, previewing and posting should all be working properly. The option to add audio or video looks like this:

  3. Attendance. If you've enabled the Roll Call LTI attendance tool in Canvas, you'll see an "Attendance" component added to your course components list in the teacher app. Once launched, you can tap on a student name to mark that student as present, absent, or late. We want to hear your feedback on load times and user experience with this component. Attendance in the teacher app looks like this:


You can also add attachments to announcements, discussions and inbox messages now. 


So that's version 1.2!


What about 1.1, you say? iOS will be pushing a 1.1 version to stores which is everything mentioned above minus attendance. We need some more feedback on attendance before we make that available everywhere.


We have dreams for the attendance tool that haven't come to fruition yet. We want teachers to be able to set a phone or tablet at the front of the classroom that records attendance as students enter the room. We feel like it's technically possible today, and would be better than paper attendance, and shouldn't require schools to purchase any special hardware or adopt lengthy setup procedures. But the technology is still new, and not all smartphones have the right hardware, and not all kids have smartphones, so it'll be a minute before our dreams come true.


As usual with teacher app betas for iOS, you can send us feedback by taking a screenshot from anywhere within the app.


Android teachers - stay tuned, 1.1/1.2 will be out soon!


Eliminating the Zero!

Posted by Stacy LAMBERT Sep 3, 2017

At Callaghan College Wallsend Campus, we have a good BYOD program (bring your own device) with over 500 students with a registered BYOD (not including phones). However, students do not always bring them everyday for whatever reason. BUT - they all have a phone permanently attached to their hands/ears etc. There is a school rule that if the phone is being used for educational purposes, they can have it out in class, but if they are just sending Snapchats to each other, then no dice! We have been encouraging the use of the mobile app with them and although only in it's infancy, there are some surprising results. (Apart from their typing speed with two thumbs).

Activity on Canvas has increased incredibly overall – looking at our analytics. Submission rates for tasks have also increased. The good thing we have noticed is some of the students that generally hand in nothing or do not attempt any tasks (that minority of kids that we all have at some stage that are really hard to reach) are actually having a go - all be it a small one. Our 'non-awards' have decreased, some students are actually getting an E or D grade, which sounds like our expectations are really low (this is not the case), but for some of these children, it's the best mark they have achieved in a while. We are actually thinking that maybe with some increased confidence for these students, they might eventually improve across a range of subjects and maybe begin to enjoy learning. We can only hope. The use of the mobile phone and an app may just be the beginning of the end for the ZERO. David SUMMERVILLE callaghancollegewallsendcampus


Hello my CMUG friends,


I hope everyone is enjoying the Teacher App so far. As you begin using it in the fall semester, please continue to share your experience, good or bad! If the app is missing a vital feature, create an idea! If you are lost, ask a question! Kristin Lundstrum and myself are looking over these everyday! 


Teacher App - Part Deux


In case you missed it, the Teacher isn't done and the mobile team needs your help to get over the finish line! If you are interested in the next round of Canvas Teacher beta testing, well here's your chance! 


Canvas Teacher Beta sign-up 


Once again, good luck on the semester and feel free to use this group to share and grow you knowledge with all things mobile! 


UPDATE: Canvas Teacher 1.2 released to TestFlight!



Now that Canvas Teacher is released (with over 100,000 downloads in its first two weeks of life!) and the focus group that helped us build it has wrapped up, we're looking for volunteers from CMUG to help us test pre-production versions of the app, usually a few days or a week before we release them to everybody else in stores.


There are two things we might need from you:


  1. Most importantly, we need you to tell us if you experience catastrophic failures. Here are some examples of catastrophic failures:
    • "Wooooah, I can't log in anymore on the beta version."
    • "Wooooah, the app is crashing every time I do [x] on the beta version."
    • "Wooooah, this new beta feature is garbage."
    • "Wooooah, I left my coffee on the counter and now I've gone too far to turn back."
  2. Sometimes we'll want to test a feature to see if it's working or not. In these cases, I'll post something in CMUG about what we're testing.


iOS users will get beta access through Apple's TestFlight app. Android users will get beta access directly from Google Play. TestFlight restricts the number of external testers we can have, so -- no hard feelings -- we may boot you from testing if you never look at beta versions.


We'll import new beta registrants on Fridays, and we'll leave this sign-up sheet available for the next few weeks, depending on how many responses we get. You'll receive an email from TestFlight or Google Play -- depending on your response -- when we get you added to our testers list.


Canvas Teacher Beta Access Sign-up 

A few years ago in my face-to-face history class I started flipping my instruction. Each time the class meets there is a group activity. Students are grouped based on their interest in a course theme, as there is a theme-related capstone assignment for the class. I like to use the LMS for all assignment submissions, and doing that during class allows me to take roll concurrently. Having a mobile-friendly system like Canvas makes things a lot easier for my students. It also means I can use a broad definition of "mobile" to include any networked device a student can bring to a classroom, from laptops to smart phones. 


I am concerned about the digital divide and whether a particular group will have a mobile device in hand, so the "get to know you" form that students complete on the first day of the semester asks whether they have a device they can bring to class. I then make sure each group has at least two students who can do so. 


It would be great if I did not have to think about device availability. Last fall I applied for and won a mini-grant from my college foundation to purchase some cloud books. I would have them ready for my students to use, and so I was excited about the next semester. 


Can you guess where this is going? Last spring I again divided the class into groups based on their interest in a course theme. Even though I did not have to worry about device access because of my mini-grant, I still asked my students if they could bring a device to class. All of them said yes. 


Each class of course is different and drawing conclusions based on two classes does not make for a change in practice, even if the change was progressive over time. This is especially true for a community college, where so much diversity in every way exists. But it is always good to challenge assumptions, especially those that encourage us to treat people less empowered than they actually might be. 


*This blog entry composed on a mobile device, natch.* 

I have compiled a list of difference between the iOS and Android Teacher app. I discussed with the mobile team at InstructureCon about most of these but thought I'd share for everyone. If you notice a mistake or something I'm missing, let me know and I'll add it to the list. 



There are few subtle differences in the Android and iOS version, which are mostly focused on attaching media to announcement text and the announcement itself.


Attaching Media

The Android version allows teachers to attach an image directly to an announcement. This can be through the camera, local gallery, or directly from the device. In testing, I noticed a few things:


  • You can’t take video and use it as an attachment. The camera would only allow for photos.
  • I could attach a video, but it wasn’t intuitive, which makes me think the app doesn’t want to allow this.
  • You can only attach ONE The app won’t allow you to add a second.
  • Not sure if it’s a bug, but I couldn’t edit an assignment and attach an image.


Mark all as Read

The iOS version gives teachers the ability to “Mark All as Read” for announcements, but it doesn’t work. This might be a holdover from the discussion in the app.


Rich Content Editor (RCE)

The teacher app brings rich context editing for the first time to a Canvas mobile app. This gives instructors the ability to add simple styles to text. This includes the bold, italics, underline (Android only), numbered lists, ordered lists, and links.


The Android version includes the ability to insert an image. To insert an image, you need to know the link to the image. The app doesn’t support uploading any media directly through the the RCE.



On the surface there isn’t much difference between iOS and Android, but the biggest differences come when accessing quiz settings on Android.


The Android and iOS app share the following settings in common:

  • Quiz Type
  • Published (On/Off)
  • Require Access Code (On/Off)


The iOS app allows for even more settings that aren’t available on Android:


  • Assignment Group
  • Shuffle Answers (On/Off)
  • Time Limit (On/Off)
  • Length in minutes
  • Allow Multiple Attempts (On/Off)
  • Let Students See Their Quiz Responses (On/Off)
  • Only Once After Each Attempt (On/Off)
  • Let Students See the Correct Answer (On/Off)
  • Show Correct Answers At
  • Hide Correct Answers At
  • Show One Question at a Time (On/Off)


Quiz Summary Information

The quiz summary shows slightly different information in Android and iOS

  • Android shows points in quiz summary, iOS doesn’t, but does at the top of the quiz details screen.
  • Android shows multiple attempts (Yes/No), while iOS shows number of allowed attempts
  • Android has show correct answers as “Immediately” while iOS is “Always”
  • iOS shows score to keep, but Android doesn’t



The Assignments section in iOS and Android include many of the same RCE features mentioned above, and there is only one difference:

  • Under the submission list, Android can’t filter by Graded.



As mentioned above in Announcements, the RCE on Android and iOS share subtle differences. As for the discussions tool itself, here are a few small differences:

  • iOS allows teachers to subscribe to a discussion, but android doesn’t have this option. 
  • Android can attach photos (no video) the discussions and replies. The iOS version can’t attach photos or videos.
  • Android allows a teacher to like a discussion reply (if enabled on the web)



SpeedGrader is really the heart of this app. It gives teachers the ability to do so much on the go, and with the addition of an iPhone version, it’s even more convenient than before.


The parity between Android and iOS is very good with only a few subtle differences:


  • When annotating, the Android app doesn’t have a button for undo
  • On Android and iOS, a teacher can see the submitting grade under the list of comments. The Android app adds the text “Submitted Files” with the submission.
  • The Android version hides “Add Comments” or “View Long Description” in a Rubric if this hasn't been set on the web. iOS hides "Add Comments" if not set on the web, but shows "View Long Description" regardless. 
  • Teachers can’t add media comments in iOS or Android
  • Rubrics display from smallest to largest, left to right - This is opposite on the web version (8/10 Victoria Maloy)



The Inbox is really a nice upgrade over the existing Canvas App version. It’s quick, easy on the eye and had intuitive features. The only difference I noticed in the inbox is the Android can attach photos to a message.



The profile for iOS has no features to update your profile, while Android has limited features. 



Android and iOS are fundamentally different, so it’s not reasonable to expect perfect parity with how features work on both platforms. For instance, Android generally leans towards drop downs, when iOS uses floating menus. Even with this I noticed a few subtle differences


  • Android can switch users.
  • The Android version has a cool loading animation.


I found the CanvasLIVE session on the Mobile Series: Discussions in the Palm of Your Hand to be very helpful as an Instructor. There seems to be better interaction with Discussion Board in the new Canvas Teacher App as well. Although we are limited with the design aspect of our courses (online instructors teach from a template) I will definitely spread the word on this tool to other Instructors in my office. I can see Instructors finding the mobile app for replying and interacting with students beneficial as it is more convenient than pulling up their laptop or waiting to get to a computer.