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Instructional Designers

4 Posts authored by: Canvas Admin Expert

One of my favorite features of Canvas when it comes to designing a course is the Sidebar that lets you insert all sorts of content into a content/wiki page. However, one annoyance that I have is that if you use the sidebar to insert documents (both Word and PDF) or media such as audio files, the result when you save the page is that a what I call "new window icon" gets automatically added to the content page.  Here's a screenshot of what I mean.

2016-08-04 10.13.46 am.png

If you have several items on a page and several pages in a course, I personally get tired of seeing that icon. In my mind, it serves no purpose since it's just a download link which is also accomplished by clicking on the link itself. So i set out to try to figure out a way to remove that icon.


The Long Way Method

You can go into each content/wiki page and for each item that has that icon, you can go into the html editor and remove the phrase "instructure_file_link" from each item and save the page.  Below is a screenshot of what I mean. This method was going to be very time consuming for me as each page could have 4-10 places where that phrase would have to be removed and a course could have 12-18 pages so at a minimum I was looking at having to make 48 deletes per course and could possibly have up to 180 places to make that deletion.

2016-08-04 10.26.48 am.png


The Short Way Method

Add the following to your global or account CSS file:

/*remove new window file icon from linked files*/

a[title="View in a new window"]{

    display: none;



Why does this work? Well, when you add a document or media file from the sidebar, 2 or 3 things get added for that item: the download link, a preview document icon (if Word or PDF), and the "new window icon" that I want removed. Each of these 2 or 3 things has its own html formatting and styling that gets automatically added.  Unique to the "new window icon" is that 'title="View in a new window"' gets added only to that "new window icon."  So by targeting that attribute in my CSS, I can target only that icon and the download link and preview document icon are not affected. Here are some screenshots of documents and audio files that have been added via the sidebar and the above css applied in the theme editor.

2016-08-04 10.33.35 am.png2016-08-04 10.33.47 am.png

But what about accessibility? Since I'm targeting the "title" attribute, the "alt" attribute is not affected for images, and you can still add title text using the "title" attribute as long as you don't use the exact phrase "View in a new window"   You could use "VIEW IN A NEW WINDOW" and not affect the document as seen below. Heck you could probably just add a period to the text you add and it would still show. The phrase that is targeted in the above CSS is case sensitive so you can make any change to have the same text appear just in a slightly different format.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.56.03 AM.png

But what about mobile? I've tested my course on both an iPad and Android devices and nothing was affected. Everything in the course displayed as it should and opened just fine in the Canvas app.

I also tested this using mobile browsers (Safari on iPad; Chrome on Android) and it displayed just like the browser, with the annoying icon removed. w00t!


What if I've forced a link to open in a new window via Command/Control-K? Here's the good news. Those links are not affected because using that method does not add "title="View in a new window"" to the HTML code. So those links will appear as normal and will still open in a new window.


Two Words of Caution/Recommendation

1.) Don't try to hit the "target="_blank"" attribute in your CSS as that will affect links you've forced to open in a new window using the Command/Control-K method.


2.) I have tried to be as thorough and detailed as possible in testing this. However, I still recommend that if you want to try this for yourself, use your beta/test instance first and go through the entirety of your course to make sure nothing disappeared.  Courses are going to be different in their design and in the features they use, so test this for yourself before implementing it. 

I'll be honest. Our distance education courses are on rolling enrollment so while I've understood the concept of differentiated assignments, I've never given them much thought because there is no real use for differentiated assignments when on rolling/open enrollment. Or so I thought.

In addition to rolling enrollment, our courses also use pre-requisites in the modules to help students pace themselves and prevent them from turning in all of their assignments on the last day (and thus overwhelming the Professor and TA with grading). Pre-requisities include discussion forums, quizzes (if applicable), exams, and other applicable assignments. For example, in our Hebrew Exegesis course, a student has to do all of the work for the first 4 modules (i.e. 4 weeks) before unlocking the next 4 modules of work to complete.

So what are we to do when somebody wants to audit one of our courses? Rolling enrollment doesn't so much present an obstacle, but the pre-requisites do.  We don't want auditors to be able to post in discussion forums. Our auditors are light on the access they have via permissions. So what are my options?

1. I could create a custom role, but that doesn't help anything because permissions are still not granular enough.

2. I could EXcuse each of the assignments for the auditor.  In Hebrew Exegesis, this would amount to excluding 34 assignments for EACH auditor and for future auditors. That's a lot of work I don't want to have to do!

3. Enter differentiated assignments.  I created a section within the Hebrew Exegesis course called "Auditor."  I then went into each of those assignments and assigned them to the non-auditor section.  Voila! The students still have pre-requisites, but the auditor can now access all modules without having to submit faux-assignments, interact in forums, etc.  AND, for future auditors, I simply enroll them in the "auditor" section of the course.


I always thought of differentiated assignments from a "positive" angle of being able to give different students (or groups of students) a different assignment based on their knowledge, ability, etc. However, this approach takes more of a "negative" angle of excluding students from certain (or all) assignments.


I thought I would share my light bulb moment with the community and hope others (or future others) can potentially benefit from it.

The obvious benefit of Canvas for assignments is the “green” benefit of going paperless for papers, assignments, tests, and quizzes. A feature which has been used in some of our Psychology and Counseling courses are group assignments. It is great to have the ability to make groups, give them their assignment and then simply distribute the group grade to all students in the group from the one uploaded assignment. Another neat assignment feature that can be set up is the graded group discussion which allowed all the students to see each other’s uploaded presentations (the option to allow file attachments to a discussion has to be enabled) and gain access to the variety of subject material shared. The feature also allows for grades to be added that reflect both the discussion of the presentation as well as the presentation itself.

Our institution has a distributed campus model that follows the traditional semester structure for courses, while our Distance Education program utilizes the rolling registration model for courses. The DE program is easy because it is more of a “set it and forget it” system where the class just runs once it has been designed and it runs until we decide to replace it (3-5 years).   Here’s what I do to make sure our residential campuses and extension sites can use Canvas, as much or as little as they like, for their semesters.


Training:   I hold a Professor & Teaching Assistant training session in July.  I review the basics for those who are new, while highlighting new features for those who have been using Canvas for a while. I also have them enrolled in a “Professor-TA Training Course” I created that utilizes Canvas video guides so they can always reference that first before coming to me.


Terms: I gather semester start/end dates from all 7 of our residential campuses and extension sites to set up the term in Canvas.  I give our professors 2 months advance access so they can be working on setting up the course ahead of time.


Technology: We have our residential course shells setup via an automated process. I just have to tell our head IT guy when to start incorporating an upcoming term into the automatic sync. Obviously, I do this around 2 months before the term so the course shells can be there for the professor to go in and start setting up.


Template: Using what I learned from this instcont15 presentation, Hammer of the Gods: Content Distribution for Non-Coders,  I use Postman to push a single residential course template to all of the courses at all of the campuses in a given term. This could be approximately 30 courses for the Winter and Summer terms and 150-200 courses for the Fall and Spring terms.


Support (alliteration failed me at this point):  I support our professors with their residential courses. This includes everything from cross-listing, if necessary, to helping them think through and set up their course as a hybrid to migrating course content from the last time the professor taught the course.

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