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2018

It’s about time we published an update from the Canvas mobile teams, don’t you think?

 

Here are some fall start highlights -- in descending order of how much they excited me:

 

  • Neighbor’s kid stopped me taking out the trash and said the student app’s gotten soooooo much better since he started using it last year!
  • Canvas Student hit 3 million daily active users a couple of weeks ago!
  • iOS 12 and Android Pie updates broke fewer things than usual!
  • Canvas Teacher became the highest-rated LMS teacher app on iOS and Android!
  • Canvas Student became the highest-rated LMS student app on iOS and Android!

 

Not everything went perfectly. Including both platforms, we closed 50 functional bugs in the month of September, and several more accessibility bugs. The self-registration pairing code rollout for parent app required a couple tweaks. But overall, it was a relatively smooth start for the mobile teams.

 

Both platforms are in the process of releasing Student 6.4 (adding support for custom help and searching files) and Teacher 1.7 (respecting document orientation set by DocViewer and adding an annotation eraser).

 

Now we’re on to Student 6.5, which will bring with it a new assignment details page and submission flow. The assignment details page is the most-visited details page in the student app. It’s also one of the oldest, and the current design doesn’t make much sense given how students use it.

 

For example, we know students look for their grade when they open an assignment after submission, but right now that information is hidden in a separate tab. We know students want information about submission status, but right now that doesn’t appear in the assignment details view. We know teachers want students to see comments and feedback, but right now there's no indication that feedback is available. We plan to fix all of that.

 

In addition, we think we can significantly improve the experience of submitting an assignment through mobile. Today’s submission flow feels awkward and laborious, and our analytics say that only about half the people that start submitting through mobile actually finish submitting through mobile. With an increasing number of students completing assignments solely from mobile devices, we have an opportunity to reduce some points of regular friction. That includes adding proper support for Canvas cloud assignments.

 

Today, opening a Google or Office assignment from the mobile app takes approximately 147 taps too many, and that’s because we launch the assignment as an LTI tool in a webview rather than attempting to open the Google or Office native apps. In the future, when a student taps “Launch External Tool” on a cloud assignment, we plan to redirect to the Google or Office apps directly. Combine that with a more streamlined process for submitting to Canvas from third-party apps, and submission flows in the student app all around should be much improved with the 6.5 release.

 

Let’s see some pictures!

 

New assignment details -- notice the submission status, the large grade cell, the “Feedback” pill indicating submission comments or annotations, and the large “Submit” or “Resubmit” button:

new_assignment_details

New submission details -- notice the student’s view of their submission is only a single tap away from the assignment details, the similarity to the teacher app SpeedGrader view, and the ability to view the submission, rubric and feedback in a single place:

 

New app extension -- students can submit a file directly to Canvas from a third-party app:

 

app_extension

 

The iOS and Android teams are both working on new assignment details and submission flows now, and we hope to release it sometime in Q1 of 2019. We’re super excited about these upgrades.

 

If you’ve got a pet peeve with assignments in mobile that you feel like I haven’t addressed here, or if you want to give any other feedback, feel free to post a comment!

I would like to start to get to know some people, in this group!

Confession: my initial reason for writing this blog is that it's part of a quest (called "Mobilize your assignments"), or at least that's where it stems from. I do enjoy the quests - they're a great way of learning and I'm a sucker for some gamification. Anyway. I'm always scouring the community to solve one problem or another, and the more I think about it, this is a big one.

 

Moving to Canvas was pretty liberating for many of our teachers - the simple page editor offers so much functionality to create content exactly how you want it to appear to students, and with no HTML knowledge required! And there's a mobile app for students too, you say? Well great - they can see my awesome course page designs in an even nicer way on their phones, right!? If you're reading this, I suspect you already know that this is unfortunately not the case...

 

So, here are some very simple lessons learned:

 

Using tables just to structure content in a page is a no-no. It may seem an easy way to achieve the look you're after, and it may look perfect on your screen when you build it, but trust me - it won't be so in the mobile app! So now you've got a decision to make:

  1. You should simplify your design, and let go of that dream of placing content exactly where you want it to appear on the screen. Simple linear (i.e top to down) presentation of content can work just fine
  2. If that's just not acceptable then you've got some learning to do about two things - divs and flexbox classes. Accept that you're journeying into coding, but don't worry that you're 'not a coder so this is not an option'. You'll learn these things (and probably more) by copying other people's code, changing it, breaking it, fixing it, and just doing that experiential learning thing!

 

I'll point you towards one great community question to get you on your way - it features many useful responses and further links from savvy members of the community: Anchor a Div

 

I'm sure there are even more posts out there in the community at time of writing (and that will come into existence beyond) - please post links below if you know of any particularly good ones for the sake of future readers

 

P.S it goes without saying that whatever device you're designing for, always make it accessible (use the accessibility checker, alt-tags for images/headers for tables where required, use format text styles and ordered lists where appropriate, check your colour contrast ratios... and I've very likely forgotten more important ones so again, add below!)

 

P.P.S shout out to Debra Mansperger for asking the question in that original post above and inspiring me to write this short blog on this topic

Oregon State surveyed over 2,000 of their ecampus students about their device preferences and were surprised with some of the results (according to a Webinar I attended that was hosted by the researchers Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, Ph.D. and Katie Linder, Ph.D.). Students don't always prefer mobile as many assume (including me ). 

 

Their research report Student Device Preferences for  Course Access and Multimedia Learning

includes all the survey questions and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

 

An interesting paragraph from their conclusion (Stritto & Linder, 2018, p. 23): "The results of this study show a wide range and variety of usage of the four main device types: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. However, the students in this study overwhelmingly owned laptops and preferred to use those devices to access their courses and engage with videos and other multimedia. While this study showed that some students were using tablets and smartphones to access their course materials, they were rarely preferred, although they were used for convenience."

 

Of course, various colleges and universities obtain different results when they survey students using questions that are worded differently and are directed at different student demographics. On p. 29, the demographics describe how three quarters of their respondents were undergraduates with an average GPA of 3.39. Also, 42.9% were seniors and 23.9% were engineering students. The table on p. 27 lists respondent race/ethnicity that is not as diverse as other universities, such as Wayne State University in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and not as diverse as our community college in the Metro Detroit suburbs. Maybe various colleges and universities will administer the exact same student device preferences survey Stritto & Linder (2018) provided within their report. If so, I hope everyone shares out their results! 

 

Dello Stritto, M. E. & Linder, K. E. (2018). Student device preferences for  course access and multimedia learning. Corvallis, OR. Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.

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