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Did you know that you can embed images in a unit that dynamically size, according to your page size?


This is ideal for embedding images into your Canvas unit that can be viewed on a mobile with no issues.


The embed code from the HTML editor will refer to the width and height of the image:

<p><img src="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/courses/22607/files/6877530/preview" alt="Adobe Creative Cloud by application" width="1000" height="1600" data-api-endpoint="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx//api/v1/courses/22607/files/6877530" data-api-returntype="File" /></p>


If we change the width to be 100%, the image will dynamically resize depending on the resolution of your screen/browser window:

<p><img src="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/courses/22607/files/6877530/preview" alt="Adobe Creative Cloud by application" width="100%" height="1600" data-api-endpoint="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx//api/v1/courses/22607/files/6877530" data-api-returntype="File" /></p>

The rising popularity of online college courses creates new opportunities for completion and success. Unfortunately, more students who sign up for online courses also fail or wash out!  Students and instructors alike benefit from clarifying the skills needed to succeed and the mental preparation needed to prime students for online success.


While the goal is to encourage enrollment--not discourage it--students must be prepared and personally responsible for their online experiences especially if they are fresh from high school or not yet used to the discipline and organizational skills college courses demand. 


Ideally, the online courses of today are engaging, relevant, and organized with instructors who are truly present online and student-to-student interactions adding immense value. Online courses also demand a higher level of empathetic user experience design (UX), clear instructions, clear expectations, zero instructor "winging it," and superhuman anticipation of all possible roadblocks that diverse students might encounter!

Advantages of Online Courses

  • Online courses allow additional schedule options for busy students. 
  • Online courses may mean less time and money wasted commuting, sitting in traffic, adding to air pollution, searching for parking, etc.
  • Online course scheduling may be more feasible if you work full-time or have other obligations. 
  • Some online courses may allow you to work a week ahead, for example, if you have upcoming events or vacations. 
  • Well-designed online courses allow you to review materials--at any time--to gain full benefit. Review and self-pacing can additionally benefit diverse student populations including students who require accessibility accommodations or ESL assistance.
  • The online format encourages you to interact with your instructor and other students in writing and discussions even more than you might in a classroom lecture format. 
  • The online format provides opportunities to practice higher-level reading, writing, and technology skills.

Questions to Ask Yourself in Preparing for an Online Course

  1. Am I prepared to spend the same amount of time (or more) in an online course as I would in a traditional classroom format?  Typically, colleges advise students to plan for 2-3 personal hours of homework time minimum for each credit hour during a week. For example, a 3 credit hour class may require approx. 6-9 hours each week for a typical student or possibly even more time.
  2. Am I aware that online classes are not easier or faster? For some students, online courses are significantly more difficult. Are the trade-offs worth it for you?
  3. Am I self-motivated and organized with completing my homework and scheduled deadlines even without continual guidance from an instructor
  4. Am I willing to ask questions, persistently communicate, and ask for help in advance of due dates?
  5. Am I persistent with technology hassles, including reading directions and solving issues?
  6. Do I have continual access to a reliable computer and high-speed internet?
  7. Am I personally responsible for gaining the full value from course materials and finishing what I begin?
  8. I am prepared to focus my attention and gain meaning from written text or videos with or without additional explanation from an instructor?
  9. Am I prepared to complete college-level writing assignments and/or seek assistance from writing centers to bring my writing skills up to expectations?
  10. Am I aware of options to take courses for credit, non-credit, technical training, hybrid mixtures of online and classroom interaction, etc. with a clear understanding of financial repercussions in worst-case scenarios? 

a Handshake with one arm reaching out through a computer screen


Resource links:… 

Updated 1/14/2020


A new year and a new semester is a time of renewal.  As you refresh and revise your courses for the coming semester, please consider making your content more accessible.


I hope you've heard that word, but here's what you really need to know about accessibility: it's about making your content easy for everyone to understand.  Yes, there are laws that require accessibility, before you get a student needing it, for those that are differently-abled.  But really, making content easy to understand benefits everyone.


This blog will cover really easy things you can do with the Canvas Rich Text Editor that will make your content much clearer and at the same time, more accessible.


This image below is the rich text editor*.  The 4 circled icons that have functions that will help you create accessible content in Canvas.

Lists, headings, Images, and accessibility checker icons



Headings are the easiest way to start making your content clearer. In the past, you may have simple bolded the font of a heading and made it large.  Stop doing that!  Instead use the rich text editor and choose the heading level.  What this does it is allows a student that uses a screen reader to interact with the content the same way a sighted student would, all through the miracle of the background coding you don't have to know.


Header dropdown listWhen you want a heading, click "Paragraph" in the rich text editor.  In the dropdown, you can choose the heading that fits the level of your content.

  • You should use the Headings in order - In Canvas, the list starts with Heading 2, because Title and Heading 1 are already used in the standard Canvas layout.
  • Sample Headings could include: Overview, Introduction, Instructions, Examples, Grading.
  • When you hit enter after a header, the next line is automatically set to paragraph so you can start entering content.


When you set headings correctly this gives all students:

  • chunked content that is easily scanned.
  • a quick overview of the type of content on the page. 
  • a way to organize the content they read so they better understand and retain it. 
  • an easy way jump to the section with the content they need.


It is true, the format for heading 1 comes standard, and it may not be exactly what you want.  You can let that go.  What you loose in control you gain in consistency and accessibility.  (Ok, once you set the heading, you can change its font, but what a lot of extra trouble! Just be sure you set the heading level first and try to be consistent throughout your Canvas site.  This is why using the standard font for each heading is just easier.)



To further clarify your content, you should consider if a list is better than a paragraph.  When the answer is yes, use bullets for a list with no sequence and numbers for a list where sequence matters.  You may have been doing this, but having you been using dashes or asterisks or typing in the numbers yourself?  Use the Rich text editor instead.


When you are ready for a list

  1. click the list icon that matches your needs
  2. type a list item
  3. Hit enter and continue entering items
  4. At the end of the list simply hit enter again or click the list icon to return to paragraph formatting. 


If you have already typed a list, highlight all the list items and choose the bullet list icon or the number list icon depending on your needs.


Here's what lists get you:

  • Organized, easily read content.
  • Content that is easy to rearrange. When you move an item in a numbered list, the list renumbers itself.
  • Automatic indenting for nice white space. 
    • Hit tab while in a list item and the numbering or bullets will change.
  • Clearly ordered sequences.

Again, using the rich text editor creates background information that will allow sight disabled students to interact with lists in the same way as sighted students, so the lists are useful to everyone.


Images with Alt Text

Ever have an image not load and wonder what it was?  Alt text would have saved your day.  For some students, alt text is essential.  The best time to add alt text is when you are adding images to your content.


  1. Click the image icon in the rich text editor.Alt text entry box
  2. Find your image.
  3. Create alt text for your image or designate it as decorative.

If you already have an image, select it and hit the image icon to add alt text.


Wow, I made that sound easy, but alt text takes practice.  The text you put in should answer this question: What is the content conveyed by the image?  So it isn't necessarily a description, but the point of the image.  Here are some other guidelines:

  • It should not be file names with things like ".jpeg" at the end. At least remove the ".jpeg".
  • Keep it under 125 characters.  Longer descriptions should be part of the accompanying text.
  • Do NOT use the phrases "image of ..." or "graphic of ..." to describe the image.
  • Context matters.  Only you as the content creator really know the point of the image, so you get to decide the alt text.


Just know that having alt text is so essential for some students that you should make an attempt. With practice, it will get easier.  WebAIM Alternative Text analyzes the same image several ways so you can see some examples that will help you improve your use of alt text.


Accessibility Checker

The last icon circled on the rich text editor image above is the stick person which takes you to the accessibility checker.  This will review the content on the page, identify what may need improvement and even give you some guidance on how to fix issues.


A Final Word

Please do not think that Canvas is the only place where you have tools to improve your accessibility; they are in every content creation program!  Hopefully you will now recognize the headings, lists, and image icons in everything from Google Docs to Microsoft Powerpoint.  Make accessibility just a part of how you work, and your content will be better for everyone.



*Please note that this image is from the University of Minnesota Canvas Rich Text Editor. Yours may appear slightly different but should have many of the same features.  For more on accessibility, check out

One of the things that I have learned from taking final exams online is the use of the force completion method. 


What is Force Completion?

At our institution, which uses Blackboard, our business teacher activates the Force Completion feature. What that means is that once the test is launched, we must finish it. We may only access the test ONE TIME. Although answers are saved periodically as we work through them, we cannot exit and re-enter the test. From Blackboard, the instructions note that the test must be completed in one sitting once started, and we cannot leave the test before submitting it. Without Force Completion, we may save our progress, navigate away, and return to complete the test.

Let's say that if I accidentally close my browser, leave the test page, or lose power or my internet connection, I can't continue. I must contact the instructor and ask for a new attempt.

Teachers may want to reserve the Force Completion option. Instead, they can require us to take a test on campus, connected to an Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi, and with a proctor. If issues occur, the proctor can reset the test.


How is Force Completion different on Canvas than on Blackboard?

In order to effectively create a test with Force Completion, it is recommended that you use the +Assignment button, NOT the +Quiz/Test button, to create the quiz. That is because you cannot use Load this tool in a new tab when using the +Quiz/Test button, to hide the Global Navigation bar on the left.


Access Codes


Consider one effective scenario of using Force Completion. Teachers pass out Access Codes to each student for them to enter.


Test Overview with Access Code


Once entered, students MUST return the codes back to the instructor after entering it.

Access Code Successful


The test begins as normal.

Access Code Correct


However, a few minutes later, a student forgets to plug in her charger, and the device shuts down. They will need to reenter the access code to get back in.

Locked Out


In Blackboard, if a student accidentally closes their browser, leaves the test page, or loses power or their internet connection, he/she can't continue. He/she must contact the instructor and ask for a new attempt. This is not the case with New Quizzes in Canvas. Starting a new attempt is NOT allowed, even if unlimited attempts are given. While some teachers may be nice and show the access code on the board for the students, others hide the code once the test begins. Furthermore, refreshing the page during the quiz will result in a Loading loop. We strongly recommend that you do not use the Force Completion feature unless it is really necessary.

The element that sets successful online courses apart from old-style correspondence courses is: presence. Well-taught, well-designed online courses can allow students to get to know each other and their instructors even better than in traditional lecture classrooms. Interaction is the key. Online course presence may require instructors to communicate much differently than in their classroom comfort zones. Online communication focuses less—or not at all--on body language and tone of voice.

So, how do you communicate online?

Keep in mind, online courses do not run themselves. Effective instructors leverage clear, frequent messaging and considerate planning. Ongoing instructor availability for timely questions is vital. Instructors must stay engaged daily to keep students progressing and adding value for each other. Online teaching takes as much time as classroom teaching; it just happens at different times and locations. Here are some ideas:

Create a Good Beginning

  • Create introductory Discussions with detailed question prompts to break the ice and help students connect personally. Example:

"Please introduce yourself to your fellow classmates. Include your name and why you are taking this class. You may also choose to include your major, your personal interests, hobbies, a photo, and something fun or memorable that will help people get to know you. (Approximately 5-10 sentences.) As you reply to your classmates’ posts, ask questions, look for interesting details, and keep your upcoming group projects in mind.”

  • Shy students who may not speak up at all in classrooms will often write more in an online discussion post.
  • Clarify expectations. In addition to the official policies in a syllabus, be sure to include separate discussion board etiquette instructions and basic explanations of the course structure. Example: “All materials and assignments are accessed through the Modules link. Discussions are due each Wednesday by 11:59 pm and major assignments are due on Sundays by 11:59 pm.”
  • Include an Instructor Bio content page with a photo or short, personal video. Avoid reciting information that is already in the syllabus. Reveal what you love about your field, what you want students to gain from the semester, and assure students that you are looking forward to working with them.
  • Include Week 1 setup assignments for Instructure Canvas LMS system success (notifications, profile, assignment submissions and system requirements.) Include an email requirement for immediate student questions or comments to you as the instructor.
  • Answer each email personally. Use repeated student questions to trigger your creation of general Announcements and course improvements.
  • Grade weekly assignments before the next assignment is due. Students cannot improve without timely feedback.
  • Post due dates for the entire semester on day 1 so that busy students can plan for success. Lack of pacing and direction is counterproductive. Canvas Assignment Due Dates trigger the To-Do List reminder system and populate the student calendar for your course combined with all of their other courses. (To reduce your instructor communication burden, avoid available and until dates unless absolutely necessary. Example: A Final Exam with a solid end date and no re-takes needs an until date.)
  • Use the Canvas Gradebook reminder/messaging feature to quickly remind students who miss assignments, if late work is accepted.
  • Be present in your course daily and strive to complete some type of communication with each login.
  • Aim for twice-daily [minimum] to respond to messages and questions. State your communication policy in advance to inform students who may be used to a 15-second response to messages.

Design for Success

  • Be clear. Detailed instructions are written for the least tech-savvy students. Make no assumptions. Include info links, definitions of terminology and expectations of writing length. Include links to specific Canvas Guides for Students in your assignment instructions for those who need step-by-step tutorials.
  • Be sure you understand Canvas and get help from Canvas Instructor Guides to avoid creating navigation dead-ends and frustration for your students. (Example: Make sure that hyperlinks to outside sites are functioning and use built-in modules navigation. Internal Canvas links can open in a neighboring tab. (Use HTML code snippet target="_blank" to avoid links within text that divert your students to another location in Canvas. Students won't finish reading a page if they click a link mid-sentence and land elsewhere.)
  • Curate multiple examples of successfully completed assignments for students to emulate and surpass. Varied assignment examples will invite deeper learning inferences and creative thinking.
  • Use Rubrics. Students will know where to spend their energy on assignments and have fewer complaints or questions. Rubrics help instructors give consistent, fast feedback without writing the same comments again and again.
  • UX. User test your navigation and course layout to ensure it is not confusing. The adventure is in the course materials, not in the navigation. (Research QM Quality Matters Rubric for Online Course DesignQOLT, and other quality assurance standards.)
  • Plan your course assignment due dates and pacing with the Academic Calendar and Holiday Calendar. Many students work during the week and appreciate Sunday night due dates. 
  • Be available for questions immediately prior to deadlines. Clarify your anticipated response times and weekend availability for questions.
  • Include early course feedback—approximately week 2-3 in a semester—to gather student feedback on the course design, not the instructor! Minor course adjustments and clarifications can create major attitude improvements and student success. Use the Quiz tool for a required survey, grading only the student’s participation and not the answers.
  • Aim for quality, not quantity. Use the auto-grading quiz tool for low-stakes chapter quizzes to ensure that students read materials. Save precious grading time for the most meaningful projects and writings that require your human touch.


  • Reward Curiosity. Make your ePortfolio assignments the most memorable, impactful part of your course. (Research topics: Problem-Based/Project Based LearningBackwards Design, and High Impact Teaching Practices.)
  • Be flexible. Keep assignment settings unlocked wherever possible so that students can look ahead. 
  • Consider. Many students take online courses specifically for flexibility. Allow responsible students to submit early for holidays, vacations, and personal obligations.
  • Reward Persistence. Ease student anxiety by using low-stakes quiz settings that allow multiple attempts to raise grades. Allow major writing assignments to be resubmitted after feedback and revisions.
  • Reward Contributions. Create opportunities for students to locate and share content from current events with each other in course Discussions.

Maximize Student Interactions

  • Participate with your own instructor comments intermittently for strongest results. Watch discussion spaces and participate subtly to allow students to converse more authentically.
  • Plan group projects in detail. Include detailed outlines, expectations, and suggestions for group roles that align with grading rubrics. Use collaboration spaces like GoogleDocs and Presentations that allow group members to work asynchronously and visibly.
  • Offer forums and opportunities for students to answer questions for each other.
  • Create open peer reviews in Discussions and set parameters for meaningful feedback where students take on the teaching & feedback role for each other.

Experiment with Your Role

  • Become a coach. Online courses are designed and polished in advance to free instructors for the coaching role rather than being the Sage on the stage.
  • Distill your life wisdom to re-examine the most efficient ways to think like an expert. Then, add inspirations for creativity and allow your students to add value by teaching you in return. Courses are improved semester-to-semester by engaged students.
  • Help students create their own tools for life and work.
  • Help students create proud evidence of what they have learned in the form of research papers, meaningful projects, and creative ePortfolio artifacts.
  • Keep feedback positive and encouraging, wherever possible.
  • Be specific when revisions are needed. If your requirements are strict, then assignment instructions and rubrics must match that precision. If your instructions are loose and flexible, your grading should reflect this style of teaching.
  • Be human. Use a conversational style in your Announcements and assignment directions that balances professionalism and friendliness. Written format is automatically more cold sounding, so account for this in your writing. 

* This article is offered based upon experiences as an Instructional Designer, Institutional LMS support staff member, and online higher ed. instructor. These suggestions are not affiliated with nor compensated by Instructure Canvas.

Canvas Dashboard

The Dashboard is the very first screen when we come arrive into Canvas after successful authentication.  At the University of Minnesota it goes to “Card View” by default, which represents your courses as “cards” but I tend to call them tiles. The cards  may have images, or they may simply be a color.  


image of Canvas Dashboard

Anatomy of a course card

image indicating the parts of a dashboard card

If you do nothing to your cards

If you don’t customize the Dashboard at all, Canvas decides what is on there, and in what order.  Usually it does not do a great job of guessing what courses you want to be in the cards, so it’s best to dictate that yourself.

Customize the Dashboard “Card View”

Customizing the “Card View”  is easy, but not obvious.

The first thing you should know it that if you add even 1 course manually to the Dashboard, the default automatic  list will disappear. So, once you start customizing you control it all. 


Adding & Removing a course from the Dashboard

Use to change the courses button image to change the cards in the dashboard button.


  • First, click on “Courses”, then “All Courses”
  • Then click on the star next to each course you want on your Dashboard.  
    • Click a unselected star image to become at selected star imageto add a course to the dashboard button
    • Click a selected star image to become a unselected star image to remove a course from the dashboard button


Once you understand this is the way it works, and you are able to remember this again next semester, you are in business.  You can change your Dashboard quickly to match your semester.

Remove a course from the Dashboard “using” the Dashboard

You can click on your course card menu, click “move” then select “unfavorite”


card using unselect

Next, Rearrange your course “cards”

Drag and Drop your cards into your order of preference. 


Customizing the “Card View”  is easy, but not obvious. Once you understand how it works, you’ll be able to make your daily interactions with Canvas easier, more feng shui (digitally speaking). 



Related to this:

How do I add an image to my course card in the Dashboard?

One of the big hassles with testing accommodations is having students submit a testing request EVERY TIME for each individual test within any course. This is no longer the case with New Quizzes.


Here is an example from Pasadena City College (PCC), our closest local community college, which also utilizes Canvas as their LMS. 


Pasadena City College


Students will be prompted to submit their current Accommodation Plans and let their instructors know that they will take tests under accommodated conditions and that the local Disabled Student Program department will contact the instructors. They will need to have their syllabi ready.


For New Quizzes, the same rules apply. However:

  • Instead of submitting a test accommodation form for each test, students only need to submit a form only once for each course that they would like to request testing accommodations for. That's because these settings will be applied to all course assessments in New Quizzes for this student, making things more convenient.
  • Students will only need to resubmit if there are changes to accommodations.



Some institutions have various availability times when the request form will be open. Check with your school for more info.


As always, students should submit their requests as early as possible to guarantee a spot, especially during finals.



Students working in groups to learn just learn better.  That is what years of research have shown us.  Managing groups can be difficult, and not just during class.  Canvas has some group functionality that instructors can use to manage group work:



There are tricks to using groups, group assignments, and group discussions, but today we are focusing on how to change group membership in the middle of a term.


Changing Group Membership - Heeding the Warning


When you attempt to move a student into a new group after group submissions have already occurred, you get a very special warning:


Clone Groups warning


Being safe, most instructors will then Create a New Group Set and Submit.  Here are the problems that follow:


  • The change they were attempting to make initially did not occur in the original group, and it was also not done in the cloned group set.  So NO MEMBERSHIP CHANGES ARE MADE!
  • The new Cloned group set is not assigned to any assignments or discussions.


You have several more things to do to finish changing the membership. Here's what you need to do next.


  1. In People, click on the Cloned group set tab.
  3. Change the membership of the groups, including the one you started with that prompted this whole process.
  5. Go to every future assignment and future discussion.
  7. Edit the activity.
  9. Change the group setting from the original group set to the (Clone) group set and save.


Now you have adjusted the groups and all the future group assignments and discussions will be set up for the new groups.

Unless you missed one.  And if you did, once there is a submission, you can't change the group set.  Your only option is to duplicate the assignment, choosing the correct group set and asking students to submit again.




  • Keeps an accurate history of group changes.
  • It is the option prompted by Canvas.
  • When you import and copy this Canvas site into a blank course site, only one group set is created and all previous group assignments/discussions are set to that "Project Groups" group set




  • You MUST change the assignment/discussion settings for remaining semester.
  • If you want to maintain the group assignments to specific group sets when importing, you must create the exact group sets in the blank course site before importing the course content.


The Other Way - Ignoring the Warning


This way may not work for all instructors because it requires one best practice that must always be done when grading Group Assignments:


Once Group grades are entered, edit the assignment and check Assign Grades to Each Student Individually and save.


Check the grade individually box


There may be reasons you are already doing this.  It allows you to change the scores of group members that did not contribute or were absent.  The key is that this setting LOCKS IN all the grades as individual grades.  That gives you the freedom to change the existing group.


  1.  Attempt to move a student into a new group.
  3. In the warning box, choose Change Existing Group and Submit.


That's it, you are done.  Future assignments are still using this group set with the newly modified group.  Past graded assignments have the grades locked to the individuals and are not changed.


Unless you weren't done grading a group assignment.  That's the only condition; you must have any group grading done and set to Assign Grades to Each Student Individually.  And this could be a pain if you have many changes to make.




  • You do not have to change assignment group settings
  • The change you were intending to make is made.




  • You have to be sure to check the “Grade individually” settings of assignments BEFORE you make the group change.
  • You do not have an accurate running history of group changes.


Which will you choose?


You can imagine that which you will choose will depend on where you are in the semester and what your normal grading practice is for group grades. Because Canvas prompts users to clone the group, that is the easiest, safest solution but the additional work of making the group changes and then changing the future assignments/discussions must be done.  If you always change group grades to the individually graded option, ignoring the warning might be for you.  


Need more information or a different explanation?  Check out Canvas: Changing Group Membership during a Semester.


*The CBS-RLT Tech Tip is written by academic technologists at the University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences.  It may contain references to Canvas settings and integrations that are specific to that institution. 


My favorite Ideas for improving groups in Canvas.  The ones without links are feature Ideas I haven't found yet.



Updated 11/4/19

As a humanities teacher, I love using the RSS feed for Announcements.  There are some phenomenal news feeds and podcasts that support a variety of my course content and it was awesome to have the announcements automatically appear in my Canvas courses.


My biggest frustration, though, was when I found great resources while navigating the internet that I wanted to make available for my students.  I would copy the address, open my Canvas instance, navigate to the particular course, open an announcement, embed the URL with an explanation for my students, and publish it to my course.


What if you're on your phone and find a great link while navigating social media?  The steps to posting can be prohibitive.  You can set up an external feed and "clip" articles to it!


There are two different methods (that we know of): Evernote Webclipper and OneNote Webclipper. This post will address Evernote, but the steps are similar for OneNote!


Steps for Creating a Customized RSS Feed using Evernote:

  1. Download and explore Evernote here.
  2. Create a specific Notebook that will be dedicated to your RSS feed.
  3. Download and install the Evernote Webclipper here.
  4. Create a free account with Zapier.  Note: You can create 5 free "Zaps."  If you are creating a feed or two, the free option will cover all of your basic needs!
  5. Begin a New Zap: Make a Zap
  6. Follow the prompts to create a "Trigger Event" (the action that starts the Zap process):
    1. Choose App: Evernote
    2. Choose Trigger Event: New Note
    3. Evernote Account: sign in to your Evernote Account to link it to Zapier
    4. When asked to Customize Note, select the Notebook that you created specifically for your feed.
  7. Follow the prompts to create an "Action" (the result of the Trigger event created above):
    1. Create the action (this :  When asked, Choose App: RSS by Zapier
    2. Choose action Event: Create Item in Feed.
    3. Customize Item: Create a unique FeedURL 
      1. Make sure to Copy to Clipboard your full Feed URL to use as you set up your Canvas RSS Announcement Feed.
    4. You do not need to enter anything under "Max Records"
    5. Set your Item Title: 
    6. Set your Source URL: 
    7. Provide a brief description of your Feed: 
    8. The remaining options (Author Name, Email, Link, etc) can be left blank.
    9. Select "Continue"
    10. Select "Test and Continue"
  8. Use the web clipper to start the process!
    1. Navigate to any website that you would like to add to an RSS Feed
    2. Use your web clipper and "Save Clip" to the pre-determined Evernote Folder that you established specifically for your RSS feed.


NOTE:  There will be a delay between when you clip an article and when it appears in your Announcement feed.  Most of my tests are delayed a few hours, but I have seen shorter and longer!


Enjoy customizing your own RSS feed!!

Over the summer we gave the New Gradebook a good “tire kicking” before releasing it en masse this fall.  Most of the changes are subtle, some changes are powerful but just under the surface. However, some changes are very informational, yet are confusing until you look a little deeper.  Also, there are some advanced features that you may be excited to try. So, “What’s new?”


Let’s start with the cool stuff.  It's cool on an Academic Technology level, anyway.  I'm referring to the new feature that is helpful by filtering the gradebook down to see only the specific group of students you want to see.  The new gradebook makes it possible to filter your list of students assignment groups, by module, by section, and by student group.  


So, it might be used to find the:

  • weekly reflection (grade group)
  • for the week 2 module
  • in section 004 
  • student group “the cooliest biologists”

 Of course you don’t have to drill down that far to be useful.  The filter feature is super handy, but you have to pull it into view, or that functionality sits hiding below the surface.

To pull them into view, in Gradebook, go to “view”>”Filters” and then click on the one(s) that you want to try.  


In contrast, there are a things that are immediately in view with the new gradebook that are, let’s say not perfectly clear.  One such item is the color based “status” indication.  By color, you can tell if an assignment is late, missing, or excused.  If the color doesn’t work for you, you can change it.  

The defaults are:

Blue : Late submission
Red : Missing submission
Green : Resubmitted assignment
Orange : Dropped grade
Yellow : Excused assignment


Also in the realm of informative but potentially confusing is the icons that appear in the new gradebook.  With a glance you can tell much about the current grade situation, however, you may not have a clue as to what the iconography means.  I find it easiest to just look it up the key and instructions in the Canvas document specific to the icons and colors in the New Gradebook. 


However, there is one icon, hidden icon,that I need to call to your attention right now. The hidden symbol may appear at the top of a grading column, it indicates that the manual grading policy is set for that column.  It also means that at least 1 grade is not visible (posted) to the student(s) for that assignment.  This new icon shows up by default to those that used the "mute/unmute" feature on the previous version of gradebook. That feature allowed you to hide (mute) the grades from view, enter the grades, and later post (unmute) all of the grades at a later time.  The change is that now you can start out with all the grades hidden, and post (make visible to the student) one grade at a time if you want.  So, if you previously used the mute/unmute Canvas assumes that you want to use the manual grading policy.  You do have a choice though, you can also set it to post your grades automatically/instantly by changing the Grade Posting Policy.  but that isn't immediately obvious that is what you need to do from the eyeball on the screen.  You may want to look closer at this one in How do I use New Gradebook?


More functionality includes setting late policies  and  curving grades.  Also, inserting zeros is handy by using the set default grades feature, and you can choose to override your final grades column for whatever reason.  


I hope that helps give you a better idea what the New Gradebook is all about.  If you want help with any of this, shoot us an email, or leave a message below. 



It's the start of another school year, so what better time to use a tool that will make communicating with your students so much easier.  Announcements is so much better than just sending an email to your whole class. If you are not using the Canvas inbox, you will have to go through the trouble of getting all your students' emails and making them a group list in your email program.  If you are using Canvas inbox, it's pretty easy to email the whole class, but with the flood of emails students will be getting from instructors and TAs at the start of a semester, it is really easy to lose an email.


Wouldn't it better if you had a tool that:

  • automatically notified every student in your class and
  • showed up on the course home page the next time students go to the course site and
  • had all the announcements you ever sent for the course in one place where students could easily find old ones and read new ones?

Bonus points if that tool would allow you to:

  • easily link to things in the course site and
  • create your announcements early and have them post later at a date you choose and
  • automatically shift those posting dates when you start a new semester!


This is why you should be using Announcements.  Announcements has all of those features, including all the bonuses!


Creating an announcement

When you want to send an announcement to your entire class, choose to add an announcement (instructions).  

  1. You create the announcement.  You can add links and images or videos using the rich text editor and link to assignments, pages, or files directly using the content selector.
  2. Underneath the text box choose to add a delay date. Even if your delay is minutes, having a delay date will allow the date to automatically shift when importing your announcements to a new Canvas site. (Thanks Elson Boles for the clarification!)
  3. You can also choose to attach files and allow commenting and liking. 
  4. When you save, students are notified there is an announcement based on their notification preferences.  By default this is usually this is email but it can also be by text if students make that choice!


Setting announcements to show on home page

To ensure your announcement shows at the top of the home page you need to adjust the course settings

  1. Go to Settings > Course Details
  2. Scroll down and click on More options
  3. Check the box by  "Show recent announcements on Course home page" and choose how many announcements you want to show.  One is usually enough, or choose two if you communicate often, but avoid three as it takes up a lot of space on the screen.
  4. You can also choose "Disable comments on Announcements" as the default.


Shifting posting dates for a new semester

This process is pretty easy.  When you import your course content from one Canvas site into another, choose to shift the dates (instructions).  Not only will the assignments' dates shift, so will your delay posting dates!  Never again will you have to create that test reminder email!


A few warnings:

  • If you allow comments on announcements, it looks a lot like a discussion, but it cannot be found under the Discussions.  The announcement and all its comments stay under the Announcements item in the navigation menu.  This can be confusing to students.
  • Announcements will not be sent out if the course is not published.  Additionally, students that have never been in Canvas and have never clicked the Canvas agreement (like freshmen) will also not get announcements.  For this reason we recommend that any announcements before the semester starts are sent through your institution's system of record. *For the University of Minnesota, that would be MyU.  Go to your course roster and scroll down to find the Notify All button.
  • This doesn't work for sending emails to individual students, sections or groups.  The Canvas Inbox is the tool that will do that for you.
  • When you import your course to a new site, if you select all content, all the announcements will also be copied over.  If you did not set a delay date, your old announcements may be visible to students!
    • Announcements with a post date before the course is published will be visible to students as soon as the course is published. These announcements are not sent to students unless you edit the announcement. After editing and as soon as you save the announcement, it will be emailed to the address students have set up in their notifications, unless you have set up a delay date.(Thanks again Elson Boles.)  
    • Be sure you either delete or set a delay posting date (instructions) on imported announcements before publishing to prevent students from seeing the all the imported announcements immediately.


Did I miss any Announcement functions?  How do you use this tool in your courses?


*The CBS-RLT Tech Tip is written by academic technologists at the University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences.  It may contain references to Canvas settings and integrations that are specific to that institution. 


Updated 9/17/19

Wasi Khan

Measuring contract cheating

Posted by Wasi Khan Jun 27, 2019

Measuring contract cheating


"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it"* is the inspiration behind this blog post. In this post, I discuss why a way to measure contract cheating is necessary and propose a measurement metric. 


The motivation behind this (and future) posts is to journal the process of building this cheating measurement tool, collecting feedback and getting some help along the way. So, if anyone has any thoughts or is interested in helping please feel free to comment 


Okay, so, the question is...


Why do we need to measure cheating?


Over the years, we've all seen interventions in the area of contract cheating increase. And interventions come in many forms: technological (software), political (bans) and pedagogical (less writing assignments/raising awareness). While all such news is great, there is a larger question: how do we know the interventions are working? I feel this is a difficult, yet crucial question to ask (and answer!).


A measurement tool is as necessary as the interventions themselves. Why? Because we will eventually need the measurement tool to gauge the efficacy of the detection/prevention tools. How else can we tell if any government policy/technology is really hurting the businesses of essay mills?


The next question then becomes...


How do we measure contract cheating?


Self-reporting seems like a sub-par method to measure contract cheating interventions in my opinion. Since that approach is a bit biased (un-verifiable), my tiny brain proposes the following way: we measure the popularity of contract cheating websites and essay mills. I mean if cheating is decreasing, contract cheating websites will be less popular and vice versa right? 


Since we obviously don't (and never will) have the actual data of students cheating, I think the popularity of contract cheating websites is the ideal proxy/stand-in to measure the cheating market.


The most straight-forward (and reliable) data we can get on a website's popularity is its traffic/analytics data. But then there are hundreds and thousands of essay mill and contract cheating websites. 


The next question then becomes..


How do we monitor all odem websites?


Fortunately, other people have run into the same problem and they do it as such: they create an index. For example, there are 2,400 companies listed on the stock exchange but the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) only pools the data of the 30 largest companies and monitors their prices over-time. This 'average' then becomes a proxy for the entire stock market and the economy (by extension). Much like how how our website traffic data will be the proxy for the entire cheating economy


The next question then becomes... 


What do we call this cheating measurement tool?


I'm going to go out on a limb and call it the 'Contract Cheating Index (CCI)'. But if you have any better names, please feel free to suggest. Anyway, I feel we have something to build upon now. 


Which begs the question...



Where do we start?


The plan of action is:


  1. Analyze the traffic of a sub-set of contract cheating websites over-time
  2. Pick the top 30
  3. Create an 'index' which shows an upward or downward movement (much like the DJIA)
  4. Automate the process
  5. Display it


In the next post I shall do task 1 and task 2 and get a sense of the data. Just a heads-up our traffic data will come from Alexa (not the speaker, the website), so if anyone can find the time to collaborate with me on this that would be fun. Maybe Kona Jones, with your statistics experience? 


For now, this journey has to stop here. I hope you enjoyed reading, as much as I did writing. What is getting me excited is: in the next post I'll actually have some numbers to play with and data to share! Ain't that fun! 













*I think  the quote is attributed to Peter Drucker. 

I realize this is a bit 'meta' but I wanted to highlight the usefulness of the Canvas guides. Each of the guides has a table of contents that makes it really easy to find the topic you are looking for. Below is a Google Doc on using the Canvas guides:


I recommend bookmarking the  Canvas Instructor Guides  -- you'd be surprised how many questions the folks at Instructure have already answered for us! Each of the guides are clearly written and include screenshots with annotations.


Feel free to share with others or make a copy for yourself to distribute at your institution!

This CanvasTip actually came from one of my faculty and I thought it was definitely worth sharing.


In a user's account Notification preferences, there's an option under Alerts called Content Link Error. I never paid much attention to it but if you hover your mouse over it, it explains this preference will notify an instructor the location and content of a broken link that a student has interacted with inside a course. The default setting for this preferences is Daily, which may be fine but I suggest changing it to Right away ✅instead.


Content link error notification preference

Think about it: if you're teaching a course and a student tries to access something and is presented with an error, how do you think that student will feel? My guess is probably annoyed . If you were notified right away about this and could potentially fix it in a matter of minutes, you could help avoid any further headaches for your students. 


Below is a link to the help guide in Google Doc form:


Get Notified Right Away About a Course 'Content Link Error'



How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as an instructor?

How do I add contact methods to receive Canvas notifications as an instructor?


Please share if this is helpful!

New Quizzes will eventually replace the default Canvas quizzing tool, but in the meantime, there's still a lot of development needed to bring it to feature parity. Here's what led The Wharton School to start using New Quizzes sooner rather than later.


Meeting Our Biggest Need

One of the largest core courses taken by all undergraduate students at Wharton is "Introduction to Operations, Information and Decisions" or OIDD 101. Depending on the term, this intro course will have up to 500 students enrolled. The bulk of the course grade comes from six online quizzes--each one has a mix of 10 multiple choice and numeric answer questions. Often, there is more than one way to interpret a question, resulting in the need to regrade quizzes after they are submitted and recalculate student scores.


In classic Quizzes, regrading is triggered by certain actions (eg, changing the correct answer) and is only available for certain automatically-graded question types. Unfortunately, classic Quizzes do not allow regrading for numeric question types. While infrequent, when the need to regrade a numeric question does arises, it's a pretty big headache. In the last instance of this course, even a small handful of regrades resulted in a few hours of manual regrading. And that's just for one course! Even as I was writing this blog post, I received a report of a manual regrade needed for a numeric question in a quiz taken by 240+ students . . . 


Enter Quizzes.Next

If you've reviewed the Quizzes.Next FAQ or Feature Comparison pages recently or even started exploring the tool yourself, you know that while there are a lot of new features and question types in New Quizzes, there are still several pending features for development. These include some fundamental features, such as the Preview tool, the ability to allow additional attempts, LockDown browser compatibility, Surveys, and downloadable student and item analysis reports. After weighing the pros and cons of the feature comparison chart, the promise of a more robust regrade tool won us over and generated interest in piloting the tool for OIDD 101. 


We had hoped to start small, by migrating a few low-stakes practice quizzes to the new platform first. But when the faculty told us that practice quizzes would be given on paper this year and that New Quizzes would be used for the bulk of the course grades, we quickly went from dipping a toe into the pool to doing a full canon ball. Fortunately, we had the consolation knowing that if anything did go wrong, we could always revert back to classic Quizzes within the same course.


Spring 2019 Pilot


After securing faculty support (the lack of numerical regrade was a major pain point for the three instructors before, so they were eager to try something new), we enabled New Quizzes for a single sub-account and also enabled the "Quiz Log Auditing" feature option. This was key to accessing the View Logs, which were extremely helpful in troubleshooting issues later on. Two teaching assistants created the quizzes, after which we checked the settings thoroughly before the quizzes were published (our workaround to the lack of a Preview tool). Because the quizzes were named "Assignment 1, Assignment 2,  etc . . ," rather than "Quiz 1, Quiz 2 . . ." students were able to find them easily under the "Assignments" page. Students said they liked the look of the new interface, while the TAs and instructors found it intuitive to build new quizzes and add images to questions. The regrade feature correctly recalculated grades for  numeric answer quizzes (hooray!) and even handled multiple regrades for the same question (a problem with classic Quizzes). Based on this success alone, the faculty have already agreed to continue using New Quizzes in the Fall term.



1. No Auto-Submit with "Until" Date: Each quiz was available to students for an entire week and late submissions were not accepted. Expecting the same functionality as in classic Quizzes, faculty told students that any quiz not submitted by the "Available Until" date would be automatically submitted by Canvas. When this didn't happen as anticipated for Assignment 1 and 10-15 students were left with "In Progress" quizzes, faculty felt like they had lied to students. To fix this issue, we re-opened the quiz for the students with an "In Progress" status, masqueraded as them, and then submitted on their behalf the responses they had added as of the due date (found under "Moderate" > "Attempts in Progress" > "In Progress" log).


For the next quiz, faculty stressed the importance of manually clicking the "Submit" button in order for Canvas to process their quizzes. While there were still a few students each quiz who didn't deliberately click "Submit" (or assumed that clicking "Submit" once, without clicking "Submit" again when the Submission Confirmation message popped up, was sufficient), these incidences lessened over the course of the term. 


2. No Quiz Log Data Saved: In a small handful of instances, students claimed to have answered all the questions, but their responses were not recorded in the quiz logs. After much troubleshooting, we came to realize that a specific behavior was causing the loss of data. Since these quizzes were available to students for a week at a time with no time limit, many students were leaving the quizzes open on their browsers for extended periods of time, sometimes several days without refreshing or closing the page. In that time, the Canvas session was timing out, so that by the time students went to input their responses, the data was unable to push out to the server. Unfortunately, when this happens little information, other than a timestamp for when the student began the quiz, is recorded, even in Instructure's server logs. The problem is avoided by students refreshing the page often or preferably, closing out of the quiz any time they are not actively working on it. 


3. On-Time Submissions Marked Late [FIXED]: If a student submitted a Quizzes.Next quiz within a few minutes of the due date/time, sometimes a processing lag in SpeedGrader resulted in the submission being marked late in the Gradebook. This bug could even happen for on-time submissions that were initially marked as on-time, but then manually graded after the due date! In our situation, the faculty were very understanding of this bug and knew that students weren't actually submitting quizzes late because of the availability dates. But for courses that have New Gradebook enabled and set to automatically deduct points for late submissions, this would be a more serious concern. 


Lessons Learned So Far 

With only one course in the pilot and many more developments in the pipeline for New Quizzes, we still have a lot to learn. But we've also gained a lot of experience in this first go-round. Below of some things we've discovered along the way:

  • Saving Quiz Logs: For quizzes that are available to students for an extended period of time, instruct students to close out of quizzes any time they are not actively working on them. This will ensure that their answers are recorded in the quiz logs and not lost due to the Canvas session "timing out" or a disrupted Internet connection. 
  • Auto-Submit: While classic Quizzes would automatically submit when the "Available Until" time passes, this doesn't happen in New Quizzes. Make sure students know that unless there's a time limit for the quiz, they will need to click the "Submit" button and confirm their submission in order for it to actually process. 
  • Question Types: Be sure you're using the right question type when you create a question. The question type can't be changed once you start drafting the question so if you need to switch types, you'll have to create a new question. 
  • Accessing SpeedGrader: To view all submissions in SpeedGrader, you'll need to access the link through the Gradebook, not in the quiz itself. Only individual attempts are visible within the "Moderate" tool.
  • New Question Types: The stimulus question type is a good replacement for "text only" questions. Note: If you embed an image in the stimulus that is larger than 600 pixels wide, students will need to scroll to see the whole image. The word count for essay questions is really helpful and it's great to finally have ordering and matching question types! 
  • Item Banks: Item banks are tied to user accounts, not courses, so right now only the user who created the bank can view, edit, or use it. This presents an issue for co-instructors who want to share item banks. According to this post, the ability to share item banks is a pending feature.


Thanks for reading about Wharton's initial experience with Quizzes.Next/New Quizzes! I'm looking forward to presenting about New Quizzes at InstructureCon 2019 and sharing follow-up blog posts as we continue this pilot. If you have used New Quizzes before and have other tips/tricks, or are holding off because of pending features, please comment below!

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