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Gideon Williams

The Rewards of Risk

Posted by Gideon Williams Champion Jan 18, 2017

We are just over 2 weeks into the full launch of Canvas at our school. We spent a considerable time planning for the implementation (over a year!). Wherever possible we tried to listen to the needs of each department and incorporate them in our planning. A key feature was to allow a choice of starting date: September 2016, November 2016 or now.


Too my initial surprise, quite a few departments chose to run from September. Whilst a number of different reasons were given, one common to all was a willingness to accept that student and teacher would be part of the same journey and both would learn from the success and mistakes of each other.


The Economics department led by Rachel Kay was one of the early adopters. This week they asked for feedback on the Year 13 (A Level) students' experiences with Canvas. The responses received were hugely enthusiastic and I have shared some of them below:


As the person who has led the implementation of the new learning platform, it is a strong endorsement that we made the right choice in Canvas.


For the teachers concerned, it has shown the benefits of taking risks with their practice. It has also fully justified the considerable amount of hard work and effort to plan and deliver a blended teaching and learning environment.


I hope Rachel is really proud of her achievements. I am, Tim is and so, most importantly, are the students.

Benjamin Bradshaw

On being excited…

Posted by Benjamin Bradshaw Jan 15, 2017

I want to preface this by saying that, on paper (or ‘in the cloud’ as paper becomes more and more obsolete’) that my thoughts and feelings on using a learning environment like Canvas are well into the positive side of the spectrum. The potential for good is so high that I can’t help but feel that something amazing is brewing and a potential revolution is brewing in my classroom.


However, as I just had to write twice in my previous sentence, the big problem is that right now it’s a potential.


I like to consider myself as someone who can take risks with how I teach. I am blessed at my school to be working with a Director of eLearning who has empowered us staff to go ahead and try things. Then, once things have been tried, he is incredibly supportive in troubleshooting any issues and guiding me towards a better outcome. Thanks to this environment, I’ve found many things that have made me legitimately excited about what I can in the classroom with Canvas and 3rd party add-ins, to the point where I was kept up last night by my brain trying to think through some of the issues and consequences with some things I wanted to try.


However, for every single thing I want to try, there seems to be some small barrier that needs to be overcome:


  • Good thing: At parents’ evening, I showed parents the Canvas calendar and how powerful it can be. They were happy and on board with Canvas just through this, with it being a big improvement over our previous system.
  • Barrier: It turns out that there are issues with displaying calendar events on iPads in Safari (we have a 1-1 programme).


  • Good thing: OneNote classroom seems to be amazing at making student portfolios of work, sharing of resources, giving feedback and wonderfully, linking to the Canvas gradebook.
  • Barrier: I couldn’t connect my OneNote to my Canvas course - despite Canvas being the example on the Office Mix website - in school and the response I got from Canvas was “try asking Microsoft, we can’t help”.


  • Good thing: Canvas has a system where if I have an idea for an improvement, I can raise this issue within the Canvas Community and ask for the feature to be added.
  • Barrier: Unless ‘x’ amount of my peers vote for my idea, Canvas won’t add it as a feature, even if it’s been brought up again and again. Also, the system automatically ordered the ideas for votes, so issues that already had lots of votes were prominently displayed to other users.


  • Good thing: There seems to be a work around for everything.
  • Barrier: To make most things work, you have to find a work around.


  • Good thing: Your voice is listened to and ideas are taken up by the developers
  • Barrier: There's often a 6 month development window for anything to be added. A school year might end before you can actually implement something with the students you wanted to use it with.


There’s more small things that come up on a daily basis, but these are the things that seem to be bothering me right now.


I am a Head of Department and I see part of my job as leading on things like eLearning within my department and sharing good ideas and best practice. There’s been a lot of times where I’ve said to my department “here’s something awesome, you should go and try it” but when they come to use it, something gets in the way. I’m incredibly interested in eLearning now and I have the patience to sit and troubleshoot and fix things. I don’t expect my team to feel the same way. Of course, I’ll try and foster the same feelings in my team but it’s not going to happen unless things work a lot more smoothly.


Right now, I’m going through a cycle of


  1. Get really excited about something,
  2. Find out it doesn’t work in the way advertised / as expected,
  3. Find a work around / troubleshoot for hours,
  4. Get something working
  5. Find out that there’s something else that could improve on the experience
  6. Go to 1.


I don’t always get past 4.


It’s a lot of effort.


I think if the barriers were a lot easier to get past, there’d be more teacher buy in. If there’s more teacher buy in, then the outcomes for the students would be far, far better. After all, they’re the ones we’re here to support.


As a Head of Department, if the barriers were easier to get past, the teacher workload could be cut right down, leading to happier and more productive teachers… surely leading to better student outcomes.


So, if there was one thing that would keep my excitement up, keep me taking risks and keep me exploring eLearning it’d be for Instructure to have more focus on the day to day K-12 teacher experience. If there was more willingness to fix bugs and add features (without a 6 month consultation window) then I’m sure that Canvas would be something that could drive the student outcomes beyond the excellent standard they already are without eLearning.

canvas + Drive (1).png


I was made aware yesterday, that Google apps integration for Canvas Learning Management System was up and running.  Today, I dived in and tried a few things. I'm sure there is more here, but I'll dig in more when I have time.


Our administrator already added it for us, but it can be added as a normal LTI app through settings.



Once you authorize Canvas to access your Google Drive in a quick couple of clicks, I found there were a couple of great efficiencies for me.


I can access Google Drive files without leaving Canvas.



I can add files from Google Drive directly to my modules without ever leaving Canvas.

I not longer have to go to drive and get a link and put that into Canvas.  I can go right from Canvas by adding an external tool.



Add files from Google Drive into Rich Content Editor.


I like to add instructions and rubrics to my assignments in the rich content editor section.  But to do this, I've always needed to publish the file in drive, copy the embed code, enter HTML editor in Canvas, paste the code, and adjust the frame size for the best view. Now, I can embed the file directly from the rich content editor.  This will save lots of time.  You can also choose the option to link to the file as well.




I look forward to digging deeper into what the app can do.  Our tech integrator said it can do some other things like create copies of files for students.  I'll be interested to see how that works.

Gideon Williams


Posted by Gideon Williams Champion Jan 12, 2017

When I started working in elearning I was given some interesting advice when trying to persuade staff to adopt new practices.


It wasn't the usual stuff like:


Show something that will make an impact, show something that will reduce workflow, show something that will give added value or show something that saves time.


It was..




Basically, its all of the above put together - so not too tough an ask then.


The reason why I mention it is to highlight a number of irritations which is best delivered through the events of the past few days.


A tweet appeared from my colleague who was keen to develop his feedback to students. He had noticed the Media Comment feature on Assignments and had the bright idea of recording his feedback rather than typing. Not only did he think that this would have greater impact but it would also speed up the process (so 2 of the above already ticked off!). He brought up the assignment at home on his laptop and connected in the microphone (at this point he had decided that an audio recording would be more preferable than a video one). Once the connection had been made he began to record his feedback and there the problems began.


The recording box (light box?) appeared in the centre of the page and the assignment, which we needed to read through was 'greyed' out in the background.

Although you can move the box about, there was no way to minimise the box or to bring the assignment to the foreground and to be made visible. His only W.A. was either to open up the assignment in another browser or to export/open the assignment into a different location (oops, there goes one of the above items).


Needless to say he stopped. His initial plans and excitement ended.The alternative was too time consuming and in the end he found himself writing down the points he wanted to say.


I spoke with him the next day and not believing what I heard I contacted support. The issue had been raised before over a year ago as an 'idea' and in the commentary, it was mentioned that the same issue had been raised a year previously! ( if you are interested).


I contacted support to see if something could be done as to my mind this was not a pedagogical idea but a technical issue that needed to be resolved. Unfortunately the fix/improvement had not got enough votes and had been left there.


Not completely downhearted I approached Michael Kop in our IT support team who has done some amazing things with Canvas in the past -  add link.


30mins later he came back with a solution that used 'a bit of javascript to hack the CSS'. It is simple but brilliant. On the bottom of the page he has added a min button.

Pressing this hides the light box recorder allowing you to see the students work.


Once clicked, the button changes to max.

Pressing max bring back the light box which you can press to end the recording.


Works for all types of assignments - submitted works and quizzes.


Problem solved... until it turns out that the Media Comment cannot be played more than once in the comment section without (here's the W.A) - refreshing the page. Canvas are working to solve the problem.


So were are we after this...

(i) Should I be glad that Canvas is so Open that it allows a solution to be found - YES

(ii) Are we incredibly fortunate to have such expertise on site, most definitely - YES

(iii) Am I pretty disappointed that this issue has not been resolved in the first place and 'left' for two years - YES


What gets me most though is that a member of our staff had seen an amazing opportunity with simple use of technology to transform an aspect of his teaching and learning that would have had huge impact for him, his colleagues and his students and the platform could not deliver. It did so in the cruelest way by being there but no longer being fit for the purpose intended.


Reading through this post again it sounds critical and maybe rightly so. Michael Fullan's has a woderful quote 'pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator'. Canvas is a marvellous platform, don't get me wrong, but it needs to be more agile and address a number of these issues. Teachers have a very interesting relationship with technology. Whilst a few explore at the outer edge of EdTech and are happy to try out new features and take risks, the majority just want it to work and to do those things outlined above to make things better.


So perhaps Canvas, have a think about all those 'ideas' submitted that are not 'new ones' but ones where there is an expectation that the platform should deliver. I have a list of my own; the example above (and why there is not a Pause button on the recorder!), self assessment rubrics and embedding O365 in the RCE. I am sure there are others that people can think of.


As for the cryptic title of the piece. The bane of my elearning life - Here Is A Work Around.....

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