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10 Posts authored by: Gideon Williams Champion

On Wednesday we have our second annual Canvas Day for our Year 6 Junior school students. It is an event that introduces the students to Canvas and prepares them (in part) for more extensive use the following year in the Senior school. See here for my blogpost from the previous year How we introduced Canvas to our Junior schools


Here is a video of the Home page. I found a countdown timer that embeds via iFrame!


In order to get my head around badges and conditional activities in Modules, I created a series of Mission Modules for the students. Each module has different criteria for completion and all have to be done in sequence:


I used some Prerequisites too which mean that students can see the Modules but cannot yet open them - its a nice feature..


The modules are tied to Badgr badges. Next year we plan to invest in the Badgr Learning Pathway feature Badgr: Badges, Badge Stacking and Pathways......  to reward students' digital skills and recognise their attributes above and beyond school lessons, so this is a gentle introduction to it.


I created the badges in Word!! and developed them with some simple graphics editing in Pixlr:


Badges are awarded for Module completion with the criteria added for each task.


A much greater challenge this year was to design pages that were easy to read on students' iPads. I drew extensively on the ideas shared in the Canvas HTML Tricks and Tips course to try to create more engaging pages eg buttons and text boxes:


One of the biggest and most time consuming task was to create pages that looked good on the iPad. We use Surface Pros in the Senior school and the design of the pages looks very different when on an iPad (I did not bother with the Canvas App as it would only have confused matters further).


Here is an example of what I mean:


FIRFOX in Windows

iPad in Safari (with Navigation menu)

Other little foibles for those working with iPads include having to double click on the Next/Previous buttons!


We are going to try our hand at creating an ePortfolio with information based on the day and some preparation for the day. Students will submit the link to the ePortfolio as an assignment which will be peer assessed via a rubric. Ambitious!


I've created a series of handouts that guides the students through the work and we have plenty of support at hand.


The one bit I am most pleased with is the embedded use of H5Ps interactive video (H5P - Free Interactive Content Creation with HTML5 if you are interested). 


The main task that students do as a team is a Quiz. I wanted to stagger the entry to the quiz and create a bit of tension. I took a 60 second promotional video that the school used and added Crossroads feature onto the Interactive video. This allows you to place MC questions at different parts of the timeline. You can below then move students to different locations (ie backwards) depending on their answers.


I created 5 observation based questions throughout the timeline (see the blue circles)

Example of a question with choices at 8 seconds into video:


What happens if students choose a wrong answer - go back to start!


The Interactive feature also includes a Summary set of questions which reviews your understanding of what you watched. I repeated the questions and then altered the scoring chart at the end.


If students scored 5/5 they got a message with the Access Code to the main Canvas quiz.


The scoring range is below. I've blanked out the code in case any students read my blog!



I foolishly designed the main quiz with not checking if the Access Code worked with iPads - it does not!! I then recreated the quiz back in the old Quiz feature - it does..


Some things I changed/learned when making the pages:

  • I created tables using % rather than fixed widths - hoping it would impact less on iPad
  • I altered the banner headings for each page to 100% width - again hoping it would impact less on iPads
  • Where possible I encouraged the use of hiding the Navigation Menu to increase screen acreage
  • Very few designers seem to test on iPad and Safari
  • You need a test buddy to try things out and report back! Thanks so much Liz Jones. Wouldn't have caught the H5P issue with Go To target otherwise (H5P interactive videos seem to lag about 1s behind Windows based)



Just going through the course and updating the quiz scores as it was a team task to make sure students are given Badges for their performance. The Badgr individual Learning Path looks particularly impressive:


It has also been nice to see so many badges earned from the Leaderboard too:

Managed to get access to the new Quizzes LTI tools and had a play. Brief thoughts so far:


Like the following a lot:

Ordering - much needed, like that you can do ordering with range of media and have full editor for Maths/Science formula

Classification - great addition, many other quiz engines have this, super for lots of things

Adding images - so very easy and simple, miles better and such less pain

Quiz Management - very easy of ordering questions, add to bank simplicity, fast to load

Looks - Smooth


Things I would like to see develop:

Matching – needs the full editor for anything useful eg maths symbols, formulas, pictures

Hot Spot – one hot spot only? Needs multiple hot spots to be effective 

Classification - would like to see the full editor here to allow grouping of images

Fill in blanks – only 1 item per question, need to have the options for many of these



We are an Office365 school but it would appear that pretty much every student has their own personal gmail account. The Head of MFL Faculty approached me about using Google collaborations with her A Level/IB French groups.


I spent this morning exploring and then writing a help guide for it. Have to say the collaborations tool is pretty impressive as is the entire integration package. Google just works! No fuss, no hassle (Office365 - learn this lesson!)


Whilst I would much prefer, both in terms of workflow and how teachers work, to be able to share an existing document as a collaboration, it is not a massive inconvenience to then go in an edit a blank document to make it meet your needs. Of course you need to make sure there are not any sharp eyed and keen students around who want to get on with the task (why can we not hide provide a Hide/Show feature to let teachers plan?)


The next step is to pass the guide to the teacher and let them get on...


Will update the post as I do. In the meantime, my PDF Help guide is free to share/download (excusing the UK flavour)

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.

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.....

Why are parents often among the last ones to be informed about digital developments' in a school? After working on virtual learning environments for 15yrs I am never quite sure this is by accident or design :O)


It got me to thinking what possible reasons there might be for this hesitancy. Here are a few...

  • we perceive parenta don't have the necessary digital skills
  • parents may not have the time or interest
  • we are inviting parents to participate in the learning process ans sometimes that feels quite threatening?
  • we are unsure just what information parents want/need
  • we are sometimes not so good at communicating with parents other than in formal meetings?
  • we may think they parents don't understand enough about blended learning as many of the tools/systems were not in place when they were in school


25 years into this teaching malarkey, I can pretty much say with a degree of confidence that success for a child in school is best achieved by parent, child and teacher/school working together. As a father of a 16yr old, approaching his first set of external examinations I am well aware of this (and not just because we are a little worried and very reliant on the help of his extremely patient and very understanding teachers!)


Anyway, back to Canvas. We launch in January. For every subject. At every level. Its a bit scary!


There will be no fanfare or trumpets because this is a 'soft launch'. We actually started in September with a small number of core subjects who were ready to take a leap of faith (and have been well rewarded as a result). Other subjects have carried on using Edmodo. Throughout this time, students and parents have been great! It cannot have been easy juggling both things. Of course students are wonderfully resilient and adaptive and have taken the changes in their stride (aided by some training/rewards/badges).


We have now written to all our parents informing them of the changes and how they can best support their child in Canvas. We have made a promise to them that links to all homework will appear on the calendar. We have also explained how some subjects will be using Grades and others will not (those not using grades have been told to hide the grade in the menu). We are about to put "About this Course" pages on each subject course that clearly sets out our expectations for teachers using Canvas to support learning. We have a dedicated Canvas support email address (run by yours truly) and we are also setting up "Pupil and Parent" Saturday morning drop in sessions.


The thing I am quite proud of and would not have worked without the amazing work of our IT Support team is the Canvas Help page on our Parent Portal. The site includes, step by step help guides, an A-Z glossary and a series of FAQs. Here is a quick show:



(and yes I've just spotted the grammar mistake....)


Its not perfect, but its a start and hopefully something that will be useful and valuable in the first few months.


For those asking, we are not pushing out the Parent App. It does not (yet) include the features that we need as a school and is a little limited. The focus on assignments and grades is a little one dimensional and the assessment model does not match our own (which includes collaboration, feedback, target setting, self reviews, reflection etc - come on Canvas more of these tools please!!!).


It is likely that we will look at the Observer role longer term for supporting parents access.


Happy holidays.....

I use quizzes a lot in my Physics lessons. I try to use a mix of closed and open question both to add variety to the quiz (and, if I am honest, to cut down on the marking!)


When I set open answers, especially formula based questions, I like to give students feedback on their work. This is particularly important when the question may be worth 3-4 marks and they maty not be sure why they did not gain full marks.


One thing that particularly irritated me was the size of the Additional comments feedback box. Invariably I would find myself manually resizing it before each question as I found myself making lots of mistakes in my typing amongst other things.


I mentioned this to our IT expert Michael who, quick as a flash, altered the code to resize all the comment boxes:

As I said, its just the little things, but boy, do they make a BIG difference.....

Starting Canvas in our school, it was agreed that all homework should be put on the calendar for the course you teach to encourage students to get on to and explore the platform.


Staff could make entries either as:

  • An event - For tasks not related to Canvas eg complete a worksheet, drawing images or reading task
  • A Canvas feature - If you wished students scores to be stored on the gradebook eg a quiz, discussion, on/offline assignment etc


In addition, we asked all teachers to create a syllabus page on each course with information to parents and student about the course  and our expectations of Canvas in supporting the learning that would take place. The syllabus page is very handy for showing the course calendar and a list of every item (homework) added to the course.


Now for the tricky bit....!


As a school with a UK curriculum, we have upwards of 15 different courses that students (and some staff) are enrolled in. The global calendar is currently limited to 10 which means that students either have to:

  • Unselect one course then select another course to view the homework on the global calendar (not easy with younger ones and too easy to get lost in different shades of colour!)
  • Go to the main course then look at the syllabus page and list of events (the syllabus calender is quite small and often the homeworks get lost in the list below)


The challenge for staff is even greater because:

  • When adding a homework via the global calendar, it is too easy to forget to select your course when writing the event (leading to homework being given to different groups!)
  • If your course is not on the global calendar then you cannot add an event to it without re-selecting it (annoyingly upsetting work flow)
  • If you decide to add an event via your course you cannot do it because the calendar on the syllabus page only links to the events below it (I didn't tell staff that one - I was too scared :O)


I posted an idea to the Community in hope rather than expectation. This was to add a link to the course calendar in every course that could bring up the course calendar for students to view and staff to add to. You can see the post here - Add link to Course Calendar on Course Menu bar


I also asked Michael Kop, our outstanding technical support person in school who has done some amazing things with our Canvas such as integration with our MIS (SIMS), CSS styling and links with H5P for resizing their quizzes (amongst many others) if this was something he could have a think about..


15 minutes later he had done it.


Michael has written (in his words) some 'quick and dirty' javascript which places a link called Check Homework at the bottom of every course.


Here is what it looks like on a course:

When you click on the link it takes you to your course calendar eg


So to the code. Here it is below, kindly used and to be shared with permission of Michael:


You can edit the link text on the first line, and more importantly it will automatically pick up on the current tenant (url)...


var LinkText = "Check Homework"; //Edit between quotes to change the link text


var cururl = location.href;

if (cururl.indexOf("/courses/") >= 0)


var CanvasTenant ='.')[0]

                var courseid = cururl.split('/')[4];

                var newsechtml = "<li class='section'><a href='https://" + CanvasTenant + "" + courseid + "' class='settings' style='font-weight:bold;' tabindex='0'>" + LinkText + "</a></li>";




I hope it makes sense. Let me know if it works for you :O)


Thanks Michael, you are a superstar! We wouldn't have achieved half as much without your support, expertise and answering the phone long after you should have left the office.

I was directed to Versal last week by a tweet from @alicekeeler. Versal is a free course generator that allows you to develop a number of interactive learning activities using 'gadgets'.


The software is very straightforward to use. Sign up is simple (either with Google or your own email). You create courses which contain a variety of activities. Each course is accessed through a main dashboard:



To create a course simple select the Create New button and add a course title.


Clicking on the bottom navigation bar allows you to add and create a variety of features:


Core Tab

These contain most of the interactive features including categories, Deeper diagram (drag and drop) and visual ranker (ordering task)




Viewers Tab

These allow users to bring in features outside of the program and embed



Labs Tab

A small but impressive group of resources tied to actual subject areas



Versal also promises, through its upgrade feature, integration via LTI;


Whilst a 15 day trial is offered, I cannot see any integration beyond SSI and not sure whether there is reporting back to the gradebook.


My particular interest in the product is to develop the interactive elements which as yet are not offered by Canvas.


I have been playing about with the 3 features that are not in place in Canvas that would enhance learning:

Categories - an interactive grouping task

Deeper Map - a point/click drag/drop labelling task

Visual ranker - an ordering task





There is a very good help guide video released by the company here:



Deeper Map


This is a labelling task activity which can be create with simple steps"


1.     Upload the image:


2.      Click in the image and type your labels:


3.      Press enter to create labels


4.      Drag labels around image and leave the tail at the correct location:



5.     Carry on until all labels are complete:


6.     You can then add in the extra details for each.


7.     On the right hand side of the page you can add an image and further explanations (to consolidate learning):



8.     When done, choose a time limit for your game:


9.     When you play the game you can first review the understanding by clicking each of the labels and reviewing the comments:



10.     You can treat the game as a simple memory one.


11.     When it play, the labels are blank and you have to click on the correct space that matches the label at the bottom:



12.     Or, you can create a learning game. Start by clicking the Start Applying button:



13.     You are then asked to type in a question and click on a label:



14.     For example:


15.     When you are done, click on the + icon and add more.


16.     You can have as many different questions linked to the same labels as you wish.


17.     When you are finished, press the Finish configuring apply task.


18.     When you play, you get a question and you then click on the correct label:



19.     When you get the answer correct, the answer goes green:



20.     If the answer is wrong it goes red:



21.     At the very end you get a break down of your results:




Visual Ranker


1.     This is a simple ordering task.


2.     Start by adding a title and instructions:


3.     Add in the items in the CORRECT ORDER.



4.     You can if you wish add in pictures by clicking on the upload images and select a suitable file



5.     It then adds it as a small icon:



6.     When you click off, you go into game mode and the values are jumbled up:



7.     Drag the rows into the correct positions and press submit to see your score:



8.     Green = right place, red = wrong place.



Publishing a Versal


1.     When done, click on the manage icon to go back to the main page:



2.     Add in any key tags and descriptions you think necessary.


3.     Press the publish course button to get this message:



4.     Press okay to publish your course.


5.     Next, press the Share button and choose which way you wish to share it:

6.     I prefer the iframe route to add to a page in Canvas and this help guide is rather useful - Embedding a Versal course into Canvas – Help center



I have contacted Versal about these - mainly issues with Deeper Diagram

  • Deeper Diagram does not show who page on embedded link - does not autoresize which may be more an issue with Canvas although have tried similar in Microsoft Mix. NOW FIXED - 24HR TURNAROUND!
  • Images added to the Deeper Diagram task don't resize NOW FIXED - 24HR TURNAROUND!
  • Deeper Diagram canvas could be better utilised - a lot of empty space IMPROVED



Need to add in some Javascript (similar to H5P?) to allow resizing on page?




Try these:




Versal - YouTube

Gideon Williams

Changing the CSS Style

Posted by Gideon Williams Champion May 19, 2016

The start of a blog and discussion about how to use CSS styles to develop your courses. The link below is a video to whet your appetite. It is part of a course we deliver for staff training.


WARNING: I am not a coder or designer. I have managed to develop what you see through a mixture of luck, hard work and having some very clever friends. Happy to share all.


Please leave a message and get in touch... more to come soon.

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