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I am a part of the team to train people in Canvas at my institution. I have also touched on some of the issues I mention below in these blogs You can lead a horse to water...  Seeing the digital world unfold Introducing Canvas to a new University - 5 things Paper Pumpkin - Moving marking online, the uphill battle . I hope that some people find this useful.


We have been using Canvas in a training and trial capacity since last year, but it only went live in January this year and full implemented for the start of semester one in March. I have been a part of the team learning the system and training people since just about day one, and in some cases being on committees which were a bit above my station. Through all this I have been trying to keep up with my PhD which is in Archaeology. There have been challenges throughout this process from all sides, but none have been any that were not eventually figured out by the support teams or one of the facilitators. It has been a wonderfully frustrating journey, some days I wanted to quit, others I was excited about what has happening around me.


The first challenge I realized was that some of the people in support roles did not understand or realize what the "boots on the ground" a.k.a. teachers would want from Canvas. The other issue I realized straight away was that we were going to have a generational challenge ahead of us, with some of the more technically un-proficient people would struggle with this new software. I worked with these teams and committees and gave my naive opinions about what I thought should be done, some comments were listened to, some were not. Things were compromised between the needs of the system and the wants of the teaching staff. Things were getting done and the trial classes were going well.


We started training the staff in a variety of ways, and for the most part it was successful, we had people taking the system with both hands and using it to teach how they wanted. Others, not so much. Some teachers simply wanted to know what they had to do, why they had to do it, how long it would take, and how do they replicate what they had always done into the new system. On some of those days I wanted to tear my hair out. Then I stopped worrying. We were never going to get everyone on board with this, and to be honest we did not have to, we just had to get the system working, teach people the basics, and deal with any issues as they came. The majority of the people with a problem with the system were from the older generation, those who genuinely did not know what a internet browser or tabs meant, and for those people we had to shift the training accordingly. For other people we had to try and slow them down as they ran through the system like a bull in a china shop, doing everything they had always dreamed of, without knowing the tricks of the software or how to use it. Muting assignments before marking is still something we are drilling into peoples heads. Training sessions needed to be tailored for who we were talking to, often on the fly.


Getting all the systems and tricks that teachers would want into Canvas was another issue. The Canvas software is fantastic, but there will always be institutionally dependent tools that need to be made in house. Sometimes we didn't have time for a feature request to go through the community, or knew that this was something unique to us and our systems. In these cases the IT developers worked miracles and did a great job. In other cases there were features that certain areas of the institution needed that others did not, these were discussed, meetings held, administrations consulted, and ultimately the ideas were put on the list of additions or rejected. The problem then was telling the teachers who needed this addition that it either wasn't going to happen or that it would be awhile, and to try and find a mid-term or permanent solution for them. It is all about thinking on your feet to solve the problem, kind of like on The Martian but without the potentially dying on Mars part.


Other times it was just something to make peoples lives easier, which is where these guides came from Creating a "button" oriented syllabus page iframes (UoA Lecture Recordings) Embedding a webpage in an assignment (iframes) Embedding a pdf in the rich content editor. What was a bit heartbreaking was when you showed someone these and they didn't want to because it either took too much time or looked too complicated. Neither of which is true, but they could instead be working on a journal article or something else. I keep making guides and things in spite of these people, as there are some people who use these resources and are getting really great feedback about them. My hope is that these people will help to raise the standard that students expect that that those who don't want to will have to.


I can see some other issues that will likely come up in the coming months, and I will be there to help solve these when they come up too. You just need to keep on keeping on.


It's not over yet.

With the February 20, 2016, Release, Canvas replaced the number of assignments needing graded with a 9+ indicator when there were more than 9 that needed grading. No one thought much of it before it happened, probably because their examples all used single digit counts.


Here's what my To Do list looked like on the morning of Saturday, February 20, 2016.


Once the February 20 update was released, people started complaining, explaining how they used the count in their workflow, and asking for the real count back. After several days, Canvas came back with it as an attempt to simplify the interface and that we should file a support ticket so that they could track the number of affected users, not just those in the Community (even though my original plea to restore the actual count had 20 helps and 22 likes as I write this). So, please read the discussion in the Release Notes and then go file a support ticket if this change bothers you.


Since Canvas really botched this and it's important for me in my teaching load, I wrote a user script that will restore the functionality that previously existed. It's a shame that I have to make extra API calls, one for each assignment that needs grading, but it is a work-around until they restore this much needed functionality. I truly hope this is one script that I wrote which quickly becomes obsolete.


Here's what my To Do list looks like after installing my script.

It's pretty quick, unless you happen to have hundreds of assignments. As a user script, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to use it. The browser add-on and the user script need loaded on each machine/browser that you want to use it with, but it won't mess up the general experience for everyone.


It has been tested on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. It has been tested with the old UI and the new UI. It changes the Needs Grading counts on the Canvas Activity Stream (initial page when you log in) or any Course homepage (all of the four styles). It even works when you get that little message to load more assignments.


Be sure to follow this issue and the Canvas Release Notes. If/when Canvas restores this functionality, please disable this script or uninstall the browser add-on.



  1. Make sure Greasemonkey for Firefox or Tampermonkey for Chrome or Safari is installed and enabled
  2. Install the needs-grading.user.js file


This script will automatically run on any Canvas instance hosted at * If you have a custom domain, then you will need to modify the \\ @include line to refer to your site.


This script is a Canvancement and designed to improve the user's experience with Canvas. It is up to the user to decide whether or not to use it. The source code is available on the Canvancement website.

I was first introduced to Canvas somewhat jet lagged on my way back from a conference in Europe, being told by my supervisor (whom I didn't know was on the flight) at 3am somewhere that we would be using it for the class starting the next day. In my jet lagged state I had the course running my the mid-morning, and then with a small revision I had it looking a bit better a few days later when I had caught up a bit, the result of which is here Creating a "button" oriented syllabus page. Our course was a part of the pre-release of about 10 courses, part of the advanced users group as we called ourselves, each from very different disciplines of the University, and me being the most junior person in the room. I did not have the benefit of the training the others had received before going it, but I soon caught up and was finding new ways to use Canvas. One of which resulted in a way to manage the lecture recording links that we use iframes (UoA Lecture Recordings).


Before long, whether by nagging, luck, or skill, I was offered a part-time position as a Canvas Facilitator for the University, helping to train the staff at the University of Auckland in the use of Canvas. I ended up just focusing in the Faculty of Arts due to my PhD and teaching commitments. I have posted other blogs about some of the challenges I have encountered while doing this job; Paper Pumpkin - Moving marking online, the uphill battle and You can lead a horse to water..., but for the most part the result of the training sessions have been interesting to see. What the other facilitators and myself are seeing is people taking the LMS on board and using it in new and innovative ways. Some people are playing more with the html editor, while others are salivating about all the ways they can improve their teaching styles. This is all in contrast to our old LMS, which while it was state-of-the-art when we got it many many years ago, is now tired and needed replacing. What is exciting is to see what people can do with Canvas and what they will continue to do with it as they are introduced to it, hopefully without the jet lag.

We are now well into teaching Canvas to all the staff in preparation for next year at my institution. In my Faculty, the overwhelming response has been positive to the switch to Canvas, with people getting very excited about what they will be able to do with their courses in Canvas. But, and yes you knew there was a "but" coming, this is not always the case. Some staff simply do not want to put any more effort into their courses than what they currently do, which is to upload a few pdf's and maybe some power-points and call it a day. This response mostly comes from tired and jaded staff, but also surprisingly from some people who you would assume would be excited. To them, the prospect of putting in a bit of extra time to set up their courses is unthinkable. I have tried to sell it to them as an investment of time, if they put it in now to make an awesome course, it can be copied over to the next time they teach it, but that line only works about half the time.


Along with Canvas, my institution is introducing Talis Aspire to help manage our copyrighted content, which again brings a collective groan from those same staff. In one case, a staff member suggested that they may retire instead of deal with adding the copyright to all of their 30,000 images that they have. Whether or not they use all 30,000 images in their course I never did ascertain.


I was a bit disheartened at some of these responses, I couldn't see why people would not want to make their courses a bit better, which is part of their jobs after all. While my initial response to these negative attitudes was that of disappointment, I have come to see the situation another way. The people who don't want to learn Canvas or put in any time at all, probably weren't doing it in the first place with our old LMS. I have done my job and tried to get them enthusiastic about Canvas and what it can do, but at the end of the day I can't do much more than that. All I can do is help those people who want it to make their courses as good as they can be.


You can lead a horse to water... but you can't make it drink.

When I work with a faculty member who is a bit of a technophobe, all I have to do is show them the wonders of SpeedGrader and Crocodoc and they're sold on Canvas.


I start by asking by them how they normally grade written work (essays, research papers, etc...). They all tell me some version of, "The student emails it to me, I download it, print it out, make corrections by hand, and then make a copy for my files and give the student the original in class a week later.


I respond by asking if they'd like to save paper and hours of time. They look skeptical until I walk them through the work flow of grading written assignments in SpeedGrader and using Crocodoc to leave comments on the document.


Hands down, it's been the biggest tool in my toolbox for converting folks to using Canvas in their courses.


Plus it saves trees! What's not to love?

How do I go paperless in Canvas for my hybrid Statistics course? Here are nine ways I've cut down or cut out using paper for my class and instead use Canvas!


  • Textbook - My textbook is OER and I provide the PDF in my Canvas Course!
  • Syllabus - No printing of my 15+ page syllabus! It's in Canvas for my students to read!
  • Handouts - I have a lot of handouts ranging from the course calendar to content specific handouts and they all get uploaded into Canvas and added to the appropriate Module!
  • Assignment Directions/Instructions - All assignment directions/instructions are in Canvas and always available! No more" I lost the directions" or "I couldn't find them"!
  • Statistics Tables - No more printed statistics tables! I provide the link to an awesome online Probability Distribution Calculator.
  • Quizzes - No paper/pencil quizzes in my class! All quizzing is done in Canvas! My favorite part is that the questions are formula based (or there is a large question pool to draw from) so I can let students have multiple attempts. This helps students who aren't getting it to try and figure out what they aren't understanding and do better (or ask questions!!).
  • Assignments - The majority of the Assignments for my class are turned in on Canvas (we do some hands-on stuff in the classroom) and graded in Canvas (I LOVE Speedgrader!). This works well because I'm not collecting papers from the students and it's easier/quicker to grade!
  • Google Collaborations - I use Google Collaborations to create and share information/data with my students and my students use them all the time for their group projects!
  • Attendance - Instead of keeping paper attendance I keep track of attendance in Canvas!

My institution is known for elementary and secondary teacher education.  In the past, student teachers had to complete both a work sample and portfolio.  Students often turned in bulky three-ring binders to their supervisors.  It was cumbersome, paper rubrics were used, and students had to coordinate a time with their supervisors for feedback sessions. Since our implementation of Canvas, both of these assignments have been converted to submissions in Canvas.  Naturally, the portfolio assignment utilizes the e-portfolio section of Canvas.  Supervisors now have the opportunity to grade these submissions online, using the coordinating rubrics to provide feedback.  No bulky binders, no hassle of setting up follow-up sessions; it is now all online!  A great and simple solution for two very important submissions! 

My school had the luxury of a gradual transition to Canvas. Over an 18-month period, a small team of instructional designers and one contractor (me) met with professors to redesign and reformat their courses to bring them over to the new learning platform. Since I taught humanities and philosophy courses, I primarily worked with professors who teach English, history, and of course humanities courses: writing-intensive courses. The first few semesters of transitioning consisted of migrating those courses that were already conducted fully online.


That was the easy part. We were now faced with helping those professors who primarily taught face-to-face to consider adopting some aspects of Canvas. One of my roles during this part of the transition was to meet with groups of these professors to obtain their buy-in.


I decided to showcase SpeedGrader, Turnitin/GradeMark, and Crocodoc's annotation tools. I traveled around our campuses to show professors of brick-and-mortar writing-intensive courses how they could leverage Canvas tools and integrations to simplify and streamline the grading and revision process for themselves and for their students.


At this point in the story, you should know that all of my experience in teaching college-level courses has been online. Having never stood before a lecture hall of college students, and having never used a pen to mark comments on an actual piece of paper, I embrace a mindset of saving trees, eschewing print cartridges, and indeed, happily allowing the printer sitting in the corner of my office to gather copious amounts of dust. I even made a game of keeping a mental count in my head of how many pieces of paper I had to print over the course of a semester, with the goal of keeping that number in single digits (and even that entirely due to administrative stuff like contracts and withdrawal forms): the "Under 10 Club," if you will. So when these professors asked me what was--for them--an obvious question, it took me a moment to think it through:


If we use SpeedGrader to mark up papers, can our students print their annotated papers to bring them to the Writing Center for review and revision?


I confess I hadn't given that any thought, and indeed, at that time, I didn't even know the answer. But what flashed through my head was the memory of my own professors complying with FERPA by laboriously placing every single student's graded and annotated paper in a separate envelope, writing the student's name across the front, and sealing the envelope to leave them for pickup. The old days, I thought, at the same time realizing that what for me were "the old days" were "these days" for the professors sitting before me--and "today," for many more even now.


I can be fast on my feet when I need to be.


"They don't have to! Save trees," I quickly replied. "Students can pull up their courses from anywhere where they have access to a computer and an internet connection. So once you've annotated your students' papers (and please, let's start calling them 'Essays' or 'Submissions,' since I hope you will agree that the term 'papers' is increasingly becoming anachronistic), they can go to the Writing Center and pull up their Canvas course. They can sit side-by-side with a tutor and look at the annotations together. Your students can launch the essay in a separate window so they can work on corrections to their draft. They can resubmit the revised assignment on the spot. Or, they can go home or to the library to continue to work on it, or they can pull it up at Starbucks. Wherever they are, they can continue to work on their assignments, and they never have to hit a 'Print' button again.


"And neither do you."


After the first meeting I learned that yes, of course, students can print their Crocodoc- or GradeMark-annotated assignments. But they don't have to! I hope that hundreds of instructors and students joined my Under 10 Club during our transition to Canvas and are no longer plowing through thousands of reams of paper.


Has your transition to Canvas allowed you to join the Under 10 Club?

Not to get all John Hughes on you, but Speed Grader is where it's at for grading. Electronically submitting comments is more effective for students and teachers. Reading comments from your instructor no longer feels like trying to interpret hieroglyphics. The feedback is precise. Teachers can effectively and efficiently leave comments all while having a rubric in front of them. One more benefit of Speed Grader? Students and teachers have an electronic record of essays with specific feedback. This is useful for revisions and general reflection in the classroom. Speed Grader for the win!

     Now, this is a story all about how,

my life got flipped-turned upside down.

        And I'd like to take a minute,

              so just sit right there;

  I'll tell you how I became the prince

           of a town called Bay-lor.


Flipped classrooms are nothing new to world of higher education, but they aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they should be.  Since Canvas uses LTI standards to integrate with hundreds of third-party applications, we recently integrated Kaltura into every course in Canvas.  Now, recording short lectures online is as easy as one-click!  Instructors can spend quality class time evaluating, expanding on, and re-visiting information with students who come to class already prepared.

I can't take credit for coming up with this, but since the faculty member who did is not in the community as of yet, I will share their project here for them.


One of our Biology Instructors has students take a bare bones (no pun intended) model of the human body, and then use modeling clay to create muscle groups and attach them to the models. He then sets up each of these models into stages around the classroom and uses pins with labels to indicate a specific muscle groups on each model. The labels just have letters, not the names of the groups. In the past, he would create paper quizzes and hand them out at the beginning of class and have students split up into groups and then go to each stage and try to answer which muscle group was indicated by the pins at that model. As soon as a group completed all the stages they would turn in their quizzes to him, he would furiously grade them as fast as possible, return them, and let them go over what they got right and wrong.


He has now transitioned to using college provided tablets and Canvas Quizzes to replace the paper quizzes. Students get immediate feedback, all of the grading is automatic, and he can provide rich comments if the students missed any questions. This is saving tons of time and tons of paper and the students really enjoy the activity. They are up and out of their seats engaging with real physical objects while at the same time leveraging technology to create a wonderful learning experience.

The example I have is from our nursing department.  Prior to Canvas, students in the practicums had to turn in daily  logs detailing the goings on of the day.  The students would record these logs with a phone, digital camera or even software installed on a laptop or tablet.  This was time consuming for the students and a headache for the instructors as they had to have a number of different video tools to watch these videos.


When we switched to Canvas, the nursing faculty loved the built-in video tool that you could use in assignments.  This made the creation of the daily video logs much more simple and removed the barrier of all the needed video recording software and playback software.

As a student, I gave many presentations in class. I hated standing in the front of the class. I hated the unrevisable nature of a live presentation. Sure, I understand that live presentations have their place, but online presentations also have their place, and Canvas makes online presentations easy for both faculty and students.


The built in media tool is great. It can be used to record video presentations by both faculty and students. It is so easy that I have found myself offering more video messages in discussions, conversations, and announcements. These quick and easy videos help me feel a greater sense of presence, connection, and communication with my students. Besides, if I mess up, I can revise.


My students report the same experience I have: ease of use and better feelings of connection.


For more formal presentations, Canvas does a great job of integrating with web services. I like to create slides with Haiku Deck and use Screencast-O-Matic to record the slides, audio, and webcam for a polished lecture type of video. The whole thing ends up as a YouTube video that embeds nicely on any page, discussion, or announcement in Canvas by simply pasting in the url. While my students find these more involved presentations, most of them report enjoying the process.

Our various health care career programs have to grade students by observation at their clinical practicum sites. Previously this was accomplished with a clipboard using check-off sheets for each task observed - one sheet per student. Then the instructor would come back to campus, tally the sheets, and enter each student's clinical observation grade. Tedious! They now convert those check-off sheets to a Canvas grading rubric, attach the rubric to a Canvas assignment, then use the SpeedGrader app on an iPad and the rubric to grade their clinical observations. No paper, quicker, and student grades are immediately available to the student.


Now, many of our other technical programs are using this same method to grade any hands-on observational tasks in their programs. Observe a student painting a car, and grade as you observe. Observe a hemodialysis student perform a venipuncture, and grade as you watch. Too cool, folks. I actually did a presentation on this at InstructureCon 2014.

Groups.jpgOver the past few months, I've helped answer a handful of questions re: people wanting to set up a campus club or group in Canvas that lives outside of any course.  The club/group isn't tied to any one course.  For example, we have a Multicultural Club, an Auto Technicians Club, an Accounting Club, and a Chiropractic Specialist Club (to name a few) in our Canvas instance.


In order to set this up, you need to have Admin access to your Canvas instance.  If you don't have this kind of access, speak to someone who is at your school.  Here's what you get: Home, Announcements, Pages, People, Discussions, Files, Conferences, and Collaborations.


Here are the steps to setting this up:


Go to your Admin Pages (Managed Account) of Canvas.


  1. Go to your Admin Pages (Managed Account) of Canvas.
  2. Click People on the left nav.
  3. On the upper right corner of the screen, click on the More People Options (three dots) button.
  4. Select View user groups.
  5. Click the + Group Set button to name your group set (for example, "Clubs").
  6. Click the + Group button to add the name of a group within that Group Set.
  7. Begin adding people to the Group by clicking on the round + icon next to the name of the group.  You can search for a person's name or their e-mail address.
  8. Click on the cog wheel to set the Group Leader.  At this time, there can only be one Leader per group.


Keep in mind that if you have the same person in multiple groups, it will be necessary to first create an additional Group Set (step #5) since an individual cannot currently be assigned to two or more Groups within the same Group Set.

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