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bwalters
Community Member

What does “Total Activity” mean?

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How is the “Total Activity” time that’s shown on the people page in Canvas calculated.  Is it based on total interaction time on pages?  How does “hang time” between interactions get taken into account?  If at all.

32 Replies

Canvas states "Total Activity records any time spent viewing course content that exceeds two minutes. If the time between a new activity and the last completed activity is under ten minutes, all time between these two events will also be included."

I have tried to verify this, and have not had success.  For example, a "refresh" of a browser window is considered "activity".  Oh, really!  I have also logged out, logged back in, an the clock appears to keep running continuously.  Hmm, I guess Canvas considers this as activity, logging out and then logging back in.

Right now, I tried this little experiment:

Logged into Canvas, went to course 1, noted my activity time in Course 1.

Immediately switched to Course 2, noted my activity time in Course 2.

Stayed in Course 2 doing absolutely nothing.  Then, 5 minutes later refreshed my browser.

Course 2 reported 5 more minutes of activity.  Well, doing nothing in Canvas is not activity.  Far from it.  I guess refreshing the browser by Canvas is considered activity... this is all I did.

Then, I immediately switched back to course 1.  Guess what, it had added 15 minutes to course 1 activity time, even though I only spent 5 minutes doing this experiment and did nothing in Course 1.  For 5 minutes I was staring at Course 2, not Course 1.  Even worse is that Canvas thinks I spent 20 minutes in Canvas, if I were to add up times in each course.

The point is that this continues to be a bogus calculation and cannot be accurately repeated or verified.  As such, it is very misleading to those who think that they can track student's "activity" using Canvas.  This is why I suggest that it be removed.

My conclusion is that there must be people who like seeing numbers, regardless of how meaningless or incorrect, than seeing the reality that "activity" in Canvas cannot be tracked.

Hi  @richard-jerz ​

I was just reading through the conversation here, and it looks like it has been a valuable one.  Thank you for brining your questions, and, Doc team, thank you for providing clear answers!  Rick, I'm sorry you didn't get the answers you wanted, but our docs team provided the best information they have based on how the feature works today. 

If you look through the Find Answers​ and the Canvas Feature Ideas​ spaces of the community, you will see that this idea and conversation is not new - it comes up frequently.  In-fact, I was the original poster of a related idea in our very first community.  You can find it at " modifiedtitle="true" title="Student Activity Report: Student Time Log.   (please add your vote and use cases there).

We all know that it is virtually impossible to track time on task in the virtual environment.  In my opinion, that is where instructional design strategies come into play; utilizing strategies that require engagement for advancement in the course.  Unfortunately, as I stated in the original idea, there are still outside constraints that require time tracking.  In that case, we do offer Canvas Data.​  You might want to explore that feature to draw out raw data that you are seeking.

Renee, thanks for your post.

I feel sorry that there are administrators who lack a basic understanding of what LMSs can and cannot track, and who think Canvas can track students' activity time.  The fact is that no LMS (not picking on Canvas) can track a student's activity.

I also feel sorry that Canvas is supporting this incorrect idea and is providing this "Total Activity" statistic to appease administrators that don't understand the above stated fact.

For administrators who want a student's activity logs, the student should simply write their activity time on a sheet of paper and submit it.  If administrators don't trust what the student writes down, it is a shame that they trust bogus data from the Canvas LMS.

lesley_cryderma
Learner II

Is it still true that activity that takes place within the Mobile app is not documented in these numbers at all?  This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue as students are using the mobile apps more and more.  How do we know (when and how much) if a student is using the app?

 @ ​, Canvas Data captures mobile app activity: Identifying Mobile Users in Canvas Data

This conversation needs to be picked up again.   I have a very hard time explaining to faculty, designers, administrators that the 'Total Activity Time'  is worse than not absolute, it is meaningless.   It would be more helpful for all if it were removed from the people page.   You can record gets and puts but nothing else indicates active use on a web page at all.

Basically, we are recording time on a page between 2 and 10 minutes.   If you are a page for more than 10 minutes it is not recorded (maybe only 10 minutes is recorded?).  Correct me if I am wrong, please.   Again, this time does not track activity, just time on page, but that is even inaccurate by design. An assumption was made that you could determine an active user if they click from page to page from 2-10 minutes excluding some pages.   When faculty look at the people page and see 02:48:46 they think the student has spent almost 3 hours in the course and make judgements based upon that, or worse, administration sees that an instructor has spent 05:00:00 Total Activity Time they conclude that the instructor is doing nothing in the course.

It may be possible to make a guess at the activity in the course at the high times and low times recorded, but even that is highly suspect.   Looking at the type, length, and quality of communication content and if you are assessing properly the grades.

This is my opinion on what I think is a very misleading metric.

David, thanks for supporting my original position.  Apparently some folks, maybe administrators, like to show how active students are in Canvas so they like this statistic, and they like how it errors on the high side.  But as you have also noted, it is meaningless. In my experimenting, it appears that a student's activity time in a second course will be increased even when they were only in a first course (meaning the first course activity time gets added to other courses.)  I have also been unable to verify that the Canvas logic can be always reproduced.

A much more accurate statistic would be "total clicks in Canvas by a student."  But many people want "time."  Total clicks could be multiplied by any "time per click" value that an administrator wants to use, such as 1-minute per click, or 10-minutes per click.  But then the burden would shift away from Canvas' assumptions to the administrator's assumptions, and it appears that administrators would rather not take responsibility for it so they seem to prefer having Canvas keep this in.

This poorly conceived statistics makes me question "any statistic" within Canvas.  It makes me question the Canvas developer's way of thinking.  My position, like yours, is that it should be removed.

 @richard-jerz ‌, as an (evil) administrator I tell faculty to ignore the total time spent and that it's junk. Since I also teach (statistics) I took total time spent for each student and overall course grade and found pretty much no correlation between the two (if I remember correctly, and this was a few semesters ago, r was between .20-.25). More time does not equal better grades or more learning. Yet, as an administrator I also know that sometimes we have have to justify things at a level higher than ourselves. This could be at the Institutional level, State level, or Federal level. If someone tells us we have to assign a specific number to something or else lose funding then guess what, we'll try to find a number to assign to it <-- and yes, this doesn't always mean it's the right number or even a good number, just the only number that's available.

What I've found useful, but once again not statistically significant, is whether students are even accessing the course materials. For this I use the following canvancement‌ - Obtaining and using Access Report data for an entire course

Something else we use at our College that's much more accurate for figuring out if students are doing what they should be doing are the metrics assigned by dropout detective (by  AspirEDU‌). Dropout Detective ranks students from most at risk to least at risk based on a number of factors including: missing assignments, late assignments, course grades, how often the student accessing the course and  materials, etc. We've been using it since 2013 and it is normally spot on in determining how a student is doing.

I hope this has provided a different perspective and some insight.

Dropout Detective has never measured "activity time" or "page views" as a factor in our risk assessment, for the reasons mentioned in many of these comments.  Just because something can be measured, it doesn't mean that measurement has significance.  Submission of gradeable items, course access and grades (or "marks" for you,  @bwalters ) have value, for sure.  

Kona, so if you tell students to ignore this, it might be better if the statistic wasn't shown so you don't have to waste your time explaining that it is "junk."

I didn't mean to imply that all administrators do this, and that administrators who do do this are "evil."  What I meant to say is something like you said, that there are some administrators at some levels who do not understand that the LMS cannot provide accurate "time" information, and that "time" is not by itself correlated to learning.  You said it better.  Smiley Happy  And I also understand the issue of creating information for funding (or accreditation) reasons.

If one has a good grade book, and has a system to penalize students who turn in late work, then the grade book itself becomes one good indicator of student success.  This is what I see most often.  If a student has missed, let's say, 60% of the first 10 assignments, they are at risk of failing the course.  And yes, when I see this, I look at a report that shows which materials they have accessed.  Then I can say to the student "You are not doing your assignments, and I can see that you are also not looking at the links that provide information about the assignments."  Then I might say "Do you have "time" for this course?"  But maybe what I am really saying is "Do you have "energy" for this course?" Well clearly it does take some "time" to be involved.  But a good student who takes less time to do well should not be penalized because they didn't spend more time in Canvas.