scottd@instructure.com

How to write a good feature idea submission

Blog Post created by scottd@instructure.com Administrator on Apr 19, 2015

This blog post has been adapted and updated into an Official Canvas Document: How do I write a good feature idea submission.

The feature idea forums exist to help Instructure learn what product development goals and feature developments are top priorities for the Canvas user community.  Anyone can submit an idea, the community as a whole has an opportunity to vote these ideas up or down, and Instructure will study and respond to the ideas that receive the highest up-vote counts.  You can read more about the feature idea voting process here.

 

Here are a few simple guidelines to follow if you want to write clear and useful idea submissions.

 

Have one idea per submission

‘I would like to be able to weight rubric points so that all of my criteria have the same weight but differing point totals, and I want parents to be able to see rubrics from the syllabus’ would not be a good feature idea because when people vote on it it would be unclear which of these two ideas they would be voting for.

 

Clearly describe the need or current deficiency

Oftentimes people have the best ideas for improvement when they are the most frustrated.  Try to state your idea clearly and concisely and avoid ranting or unnecessary information.  Remember that you are in a sense asking many community volunteers to read and consider what you write

 

Do not be overly proscriptive

State the desired outcome or goal and then let the product managers and engineers think about how they can best add a given functionality to the product

 

I would like for there to be a way for teachers to submit assignments on behalf of students.” is a better idea submission than, say, “I would like for there to be a blue button in the upper right corner of the student submission screen in the SpeedGrader that when clicked opens a file browse option that lets the teacher upload a file to the SpeedGrader and adds a “submitted by..” text next to the submission date and time.  And the student and any other graders in the class should then receive a notification that the teacher has submitted for the student.

 

Give use cases and scenarios

Make sure other readers can understand why you want the option to do something in Canvas.  What is the teaching technique or activity that this feature would enable teachers and learners to employ?  Adding a paragraph that begins something like, “In my discipline professors often ask students to…” can go a long way to helping people who may not be familiar with the world that the idea submitter is coming from understand why this feature would be a priority.

 

Give it time

Canvas is developed using agile methods that let Instructure update the LMS every three weeks with occasional warm fixes coming even more frequently.  Community input is very important to that process.  Over the past three years we have implemented about 40% of all community ideas that have received 30 or more votes.  But while it is true that the product changes frequently, many of these improvements take months and and thousands of hours of work to develop.  It is also true that we periodically do major overhauls of different areas of the LMS such as the gradebook or analytics.  This means that even if everyone agrees that developing a given feature would be a good use of finite development resources it may be a long time before the feature can be developed and it may have to wait in line as part of a larger development schedule.

 

To recap:

  • One idea per submission
  • Be clear
  • Remember you are sharing your idea with, potentially, millions of Canvas users
  • Give a scenario
  • State who your audience is, who will benefit (Admins, K12, HE, etc.)
  • Be patient

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