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InstructureCon 2020

Posted by Champion Jan 24, 2020

Greetings, Canvas world!


As I am sitting thinking about my proposal for InstructureCon2020, I thought, wouldn't it be a great idea if CanvasAdvocates had space where they can present to other users from a direct end-user perspective! These presentations can stretch from beginner to advanced or even open Q and A panel with a panel of "Canvas Advocates" from varying levels of knowledge, we can bounce ideas off of each other, share experiences and provide much-needed advice to users of all levels. We've all had our struggles and random questions. We can pay it forward in 2020 and lend that helping hand to all users!


If this were an opportunity that Instructure would allow, I'm curious as to what type of workshops you like to see?  

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 means less time and money wasted commuting, sitting in traffic, adding to air pollution, searching for parking, paying for parking, etc.
    • Online also means less exposure to diseases, epidemics, violence, and the downsides of social crowding. 
  • 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 homework 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:… 

Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help - The New York Times 

Updated 1/23/2020 with new RCE information


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 Content Editor that will make your content much clearer and at the same time, more accessible.


This image below are two images, the current* and the new rich content editor.  The 4 circled icons that have functions that will help you create accessible content in Canvas.


Current Rich Content Editor

Lists, headings, Images, and accessibility checker icons are circled


New Rich Content Editor

alt text, headings, lists and accessibility icons are circled


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 content 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 content 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 content 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 content 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 content editor.Alt text entry box
  2. Find your image.
  3. Create alt text for your image or designate it as decorative.
    • Note for the new RCE: Once inserted you click on the image and click the options button to insert the alt text.
    • In the current RCE: 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 content 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 content 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.

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