Skip navigation
All Places > Canvas Mobile Users Group > Blog > 2017 > April

Mobile Apps

Posted by JESSE EMLING Apr 26, 2017

Very excited to hear of updates with Canvas Mobile apps. Testing of the new Teacher app is going on now. Any news on other apps that might be updated??

Disclaimer:  This entry may vary a little from a "mobile" post.  However, if it was not for the Canvas mobile app, this experience would probably not have happened.


For approximately two years now I have been working with an American Sign Language (ASL) teacher at one of the high schools in our district.  When I started working with her, we were focusing on the basics of Canvas, such as the calendar and adding events.  Throughout the year, her ASL students would create videos of themselves signing and turn them in for the teacher to fulfill requirements for various assignments. I happened to be in the ASL classroom one day when the students were turning in their videos.  Some students had emailed them to the teacher, while others brought them to school on flash drives.  Other students were connecting their phones to the teacher's computer so the videos could be downloaded as though the mobile device was an external hard drive.  After that, the teacher had to locate all of the files, save them to a folder, and make sure that all of the students had turned them in by going through each of the files.  My first thought while observing this was, "I can save this teacher a lot of time."  Well, Canvas could save this teacher a lot of time and I could help with the implementation.


Most of the students in the ASL classes had their own phones and were either already using the Canvas mobile app for other classes or could easily download it. I asked the teacher if she would be willing to explore Canvas assignments and have the ASL students submit their videos online. To make a long story short, we had success.  Not everything was perfect, but we learned a lot through the process.  Here are some of the things we learned:

  • As you would expect, even short videos take a while to upload.  The uploading from the mobile devices is a two step process.  The first part compresses the video to prepare it for uploading.  The second part actually uploads and submits the video. The compressing of the video was very obvious, including a progress bar that was very visible to show when the compression was complete.  When the upload begins, the screen kind of returns to normal with a very thin, hairline sized progress bar towards the top of the screen that is very subtle and fairly easy to miss.  The students would think the uploading was done after the compression phase and become confused why the teacher had not received their submission.
  • If you want to watch the videos in Speedgrader, set the submission type to Online and media recordings.  File uploads work too, but there is a downfall.  When videos are submitted as media recordings, they can be played right there in Speedgrader almost instantly.  If submissions are uploaded as file uploads, they will need to be downloaded before they can be viewed.  Since videos take a bit of time to guessed it...they also take a bit of time to download.  Since the teacher would share these videos as presentations with the class directly from Speedgrader (prior to grading them) it was nice to have the videos start right away and not require the time to download.
  • This process made it easier for students than the old way of bringing their submissions to school in a variety of ways.  Students used their phones to create the videos, opened the Canvas app, and submitted them for the assignment.  They could turn them in as soon as the videos were completed and did not have to wait until the next class to turn them in.
  • This process had definite advantages for the teacher as well.  All the class time that was previously used to transfer videos could be used for further instruction or enrichment.  All videos were organized in one location as soon as they were submitted.  Videos could be easily and quickly accessed via Speedgrader by class section to present them to the students.  Once submissions are graded in Canvas, grades can be sent to our SIS system with a few clicks of a mouse.  If the teacher was not satisfied with a students video, she could have them easily resubmit at any time. 
  • We did run into some times when students could not get their videos to upload in the Canvas app.  When this happened, a solution that usually worked was to have the students log into Canvas using the browser on their mobile device and submit the video that way.  (I am not going to say that this was fault of the Canvas mobile app because I do not know what the problem was.  There are so many variables that come into play in these environments that we just need try to trouble shoot the best we can and find something that works.)


I am sure that there are more things that I could add, but this post is getting rather long and it has been a long day to begin with.  Plus the weather is beautiful and my wife and dogs are waiting for me to go on a walk.  So, if you have any thing to add from your experiences or have any questions about mine, please add a comment or question. I will be happy to hear from you and more than happy to share whatever I can. canvas mobile apps

Kona Jones

What do students want?

Posted by Kona Jones Champion Apr 18, 2017

As an initial foray into how do students want us (the College) to communicate with them we had a small group of students answer some questions about how they are already using technology and how they would like to receive information. The information below is a slice of what we found and how it relates to mobile.


We asked students how frequently they checked different types of communication methods (ex: Student e-mail, personal e-mail, Canvas inbox, Facebook, Twitter, Text Messages, cell phone, etc). The biggest takeaway from their responses? In regards to immediate (pop-up type notifications) 72.5% of the students were getting them for text messages and 67.5% were getting them for other applications on their phone. These percentages were by far the largest and seemed to clearly indicate that these students get information the fastest on their phones.


We also provided students with a list of types of information (Official College business, Instructor/course, student events/activities, academic success, & technical help) and asked how they would like to receive this information. Overwhelmingly students did not appear to want information sent via text message (everything was 36% or lower) or an actual phone call (13% or lower). So on one hand students get information the quickest from their phones. Yet, they don't seem to want to get information from the College sent via text or a phone call, so from their phones.


So how did they want to receive information? For each type of information listed below the percentage and type of communication is the highest received for that category.

  • Official College business: 61.54% said Canvas
  • Instructor/course: 90.00% said Canvas
  • Student events/activities: 57.78 said Student E-mail
  • Academic Success: 58.97% said Canvas
  • Technical Help: 60.53% said Canvas


I didn't do a formal analysis on this, but it seems from their responses that students want to get College information (of all types) through Canvas. It also seems that in general students get information the fastest from their phones. So what seems to make sense? Harness the power of Canvas mobile and notifications to get information to students! Sounds like a perfect pairing, right? But what if students start getting everything in Canvas, will they start treating it like other types of communication and stop paying as close attention to it? In addition, it seems like there is some new stuff (Student Performance Texts) coming through the pipes that might change the whole playing field. I have a lot more questions than I do answers, but this is a timely and interesting topic and I Iook forward to seeing where the next steps of this research takes us!

According to my latest wireless plan billing, my 14 year old used 1 GB of cell data and 33 GB of wireless data.  As I teach a course that has a learning outcome involving how technology impacts society, these values made me give pause and reflect.  Could this 33GB be one or two full length ultra HD movies?  Knowing my son, he is more interested in sports, humor clips, Instagram (or at least he was last week), sending photos to his pals, etc. and not viewing digitally remastered high definition versions of Casablanca.


So while you may have heard this song before, let me play it again and have us look at the amount of content needed to consume this amount of data.   Let's break it down and look at 1 GB and then you the reader can extrapolate for 33 GB (if interested).  So, what is 1 GB of data? It is either...

  • 3,000 web pages
  • 1,500,000 WhatsApp messages
  • 4,000 photo uploads
  • 10,000 emails
  • 310 minutes of YouTube
  • 160 songs (assuming these are 6 MB .mp3 files)


In reality, it is a combination of the above with probably 1/2 to 3/4 being downloaded multimedia.  I make this conclusion based on the fact that streaming audio and video accounts for 71% of downstream traffic, at least in North America. 


As phones give access to information and content wherever a cellular or wireless signal can be received, the reality is our students have and will continue to use mobile devices.  We can debate how such constant use negatively impacts attention spans and such, however the fact is our minds feed off (are addicted to) the usage of these devices (look up elevated dopamine levels during cell phone usage) and so the reality is we will continue to see people gather in groups with all of them looking at their phones instead of talking to each other. On the up side, recent studies have shown that drug usage is down among teens.  We may conclude that phone usage is the 'culprit'.



Unfortunately, some ineffective and under prepared teachers use student technology as a means to fill time voids by having students play games, etc.. My son tells me a few teachers in his middle school take this approach on a daily basis.  So instead of engaging students with content, they are sent off for a dopamine fix to interact with peers via social media.  Oh me, oh my!  Has it really come to this?


Thinking sunny side up, innovative instructors are successfully leveraging technology to support instruction.  Key in my mind for this to be successful is the need to overcome the prevalent conditioning that is occurring where persons are geared to be mere consumers of content. We all want to see more capabilities for students to be able to create and interact with content.  Be it a course link to free sites such as Khan Academy or paid publisher content, the mechanism to access the materials must be front and center.  And they must provide opportunity to experiment, learn from mistakes, and more. And better yet, introduce gaming or competition to promote effort and initiative.  Just how can we combine the common behavior (students wanting to use cell phones for social media while in school) with a learning platform that enables these students to engage each other with the content.  


Just random musings, maybe more...  thanks of reading. 



ps.  I also wish there was a hip app that let's you know when you had enough screen time.  I know a few people that would benefit.  Do you?  


phone prison


For me, Canvas Trivia was a total disaster this week. While I have the Android Canvas (by Instructure) and Speedgrader apps on my mobile phone and I have all available apps on my iPad, I almost never use them in my work!


The good news: a quest was available that forced me to consider the reasons that I should be using my apps more frequently and (more importantly) being more intentional about integrating mobile-friendly design practices into my daily work.


A Few Takeaways

Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for others who, like me, are lost in the mobile wilderness:

  1. More people are using the app than you likely realize.
  2. There are a bunch of considerations you should make in your design work so that your course is equally accessible to those working in the mobile app course environment. Click here to see some great examples
  3. Ryan Seilhamer knows more about mobile design than I know about my own kids. He starts every presentation with data, folks!

Next Steps

  1. Using the guidelines provided by Ryan, begin to access the mobile-friendliness of my existing courses.
  2. Increasingly coach users, especially our adult learners engaging in staff professional learning courses, to utilize the Canvas app so that they are increasingly familiar with it.
  3. Formalize our presentation of the Canvas app for student usage as a recommended option (we don't have a 1:1 program, just BYOD and most classroom devices are Chromebooks) for students who want to use a personal mobile device for their coursework.
  4. Incorporate our own mobile-design tips into existing Canvas training for teachers and staff.

OK, so the title doesn't really make sense, but my sense of wordplay took over.cover of the book "Our New Friends" in the "New Basic Readers" series


My institution isn't big enough, and doesn't have the mobile-focused programs to need, to support serious mobile course development. Like other posters here, as someone working in instructional design/academic technology, I'll often make faculty aware of the mobile apps (especially the SpeedGrader app), but not primarily for the sake of mobile. Rather, my thinking goes something like this:


The same considerations and habits that make for good mobile design tend to make for good course design generally.


  • Being mindful of embedded media and how they present on student devices;
  • Giving useful navigation guidance in prompts/instructions;
  • 'Chunking' content into manageable parts, rather than a long-scrolling mass of text;
  • Using native HTML tags for accessibility, rather than using visual styling or aligning;
  • Building course progression with Modules (you'd be surprised how frequently I see initial course designs on the "click-around-until-you-find-it" plan...).


Most, if not all, of the above are addressed in much more useful detail in Ryan Seilhamer's Mobile Series: Just-in-Time Design Checklist (2015) - and elsewhere throughout CMUG. But I think that making the connection between mobile design practice and general design practice is an important piece of the broader conversation.

As someone who works with ESOL students, I have found that many of our young learners coming from Central and South America have more experience working on mobile devices (particularly Android devices) than they do working on a desktop or laptop computer. When I went into the guides, I noticed there is a not a lot of information to assist Spanish speakers on how to download and most importantly log in and navigate the app-based versions of Canvas. For K12 ESOL students, many also have their parents assist them in this process, which may have little to no English language acquisition. 

In order to assist parents and students in this process, we used the official Canvas guides to translate and create directions for Spanish speakers and wanted to share for anyone in need of these resources. There are directions on how to download and log in Free for Teachers Canvas for both iOS and Android users. Hopefully others will find these useful for ESOL Spanish speakers. Please share! 

I have been working in Higher Education for twelve or thirteen years now. I can remember using a VCR to record videoconferencing sessions, and now we have SaaS technologies for remote learners around the globe. I remember the click wheel on the iPod. I also remember when the idea of mobile learning on some campuses was providing a podcast of lectures in iTunes. Recently I have been struggling with K12 mobile initiatives; mainly because it directly affects my family. Let me preface my writing with some warnings:

  • I have two children. One of my children is in first grade and I have engulfed him in mobile technologies in our house since he was about 18 months old (with limitations). My second child is a bit older than 3 and has had relatively little exposure to mobile devices.
  • My wife is an elementary educator. She teaches Special Education and was first in the classroom in the Fall of 2007. She stayed home for a few years, but she is now wrapping up her 5th year teaching. Because of her, I have "seen" mobile devices in the classroom, out of the classroom, and district wide "initiatives".


Because my wife is an educator, she was very concerned about exposing my oldest son to "screen time" when he was so young. By the age of 2, he was navigating an iPad like a pro. I was amazed at his brain and how he was able to handle these "tasks". He would start in one app, play a little, go to another and sing a song, cycle through some more, and then complete the circle by coming to the app with the song and continue singing where the song left off. I was amazed. Granted, there's always the chance I scarred him (if there are any early childhood experts here, please let me know!), but I wanted that exposure for him. We were fortunate that I had A LOT of mobile devices for testing purposes at a previous job, so we might as well use them, right?


Now with my second son - he has had considerably less interaction with mobile devices. He turned three in December, and he probably played on an iPad or iPhone for the first time in the past 3-4 months. His frustration with the device is noticeable. He gets confused about where to tap, doesn't understand the purpose of the games/educational learning activities, and eventually just switches to the next app.


Why does the difference between my two boys matter?

I truly believe it is imperative for any educational institution, both Higher Ed and K12, to have a strong, top down, mobile learning initiative in place. However, sometimes when just technical people or district level trainers are involved, pedagogy or learning outcomes are solely missed (I'm guilty as well).


Take my two children - they come from the same house, have access to mobile devices (as long as we allow them!) and both Windows and macOS machines - yet I would only label one of them as "technically proficient" (and yes, I know one of my children is 3). The district my wife works for and my oldest attends recently had a large iPad roll out, and my son has said "I watch YouTube and play games on them..." I know my son can navigate the iPad just fine, but what about his peers? I know the demographics of his school, and there is a possibility that some children do not have regular access to devices. Are we giving our students an iPad just to say the device is in the classroom? Or are we giving a true exposure with measurable learning outcomes?


What about training for classroom teachers? How do you train teachers to work with students who may not understand the functionality? What about helping your teachers on how the device can impact learning and not just help them in their job? Parent and spouse aside - as a tax payer in the district, I want to ensure I didn't just help pay for a pretty little paperweight. My wife went through 8 hours of iPad training when the massive roll out happened; it was worthless. Teachers were taught how to take a selfie. Then they were taught to take a video and upload it to YouTube. Those two things took one day (two hours).


What is the answer?
I have no idea! Every district and college has a different make up. But - ensure your classroom teachers are properly trained on how mobile devices will benefit teaching and learning. Ultimately, ask yourself, "What is the value add for the student?" We have all seen the highly publicized district iPad roll outs in the last few years. How many of them had a measurable success for the students? 

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: