In Part 1 we explored best practices, practical tips, and considerations for creating online assessments. In this Part 2, we’re focusing on the assessment itself and the provisions that can be put in place to ensure that online assessments run smoothly.
Consideration 1: Will Canvas be able to handle this?
In short - yes! Canvas can automatically scale to address increased needs imposed by COVID-19 and then again heightened by assessment periods, or indeed by any other situation that might require an increased use of the platform. From more users, to more assessments, to more simultaneous access, Canvas will scale. And we have. In March 2020 alone, millions of users used Canvas around the world, we saw an 85% YOY increase in learners accessing the platform simultaneously, and through it all we maintained 99.9% uptime.
For more information, and solid reassurance on how Canvas will scale, take a look at the following blogs that have been written throughout COVID-19.
While Canvas has proved it is up to the task, technology is only as good as its users. There are important steps we can all take to ensure that students, teachers, and everyone involved in the process are suitably prepared for a successful online assessment context.
Empower everyone involved in assessments by clearly communicating both the expectations and support options available to them. Students need to know where to find their assessments, how to complete them, and what to do if they need support at any point of the assessment period. Teachers need to know how to create assessments (if they are required to do so), as well as how they can access support with the transition to and management of online assessments.
Once you have decided on the workflows and resources you would like to provide for students and teachers on how they can gain support, communicate this clearly so that everyone is empowered with access to the correct, relevant information. This could be achieved with a Global Announcement, differentiated by user so that Teachers and Students see the information that is pertinent to them on their Canvas Dashboard. Additionally, customise the Help Menu to prioritise relevant assessment support available.
When considering support resources, make the most of existing resources to both provide and communicate these support options. Use the existing Canvas Guides to provide students and teachers with ‘how-tos’ for completing assessment activities within Canvas. These guides include screenshots alongside comprehensive, step-by-step instructions and best of all, we keep them up to date so that you can have complete confidence that they will always provide accurate information.
You may also have additional internal support resources such as student experience, learning support, or ICT department telephone or email addresses. For Teachers who will be creating their own assessments, training provisions need to be considered so that Teachers are able to make informed decisions about how to use the available tools.
Taking proactive support measures empowers students and teachers with the information they need to achieve a successful assessment experience, and can minimise the need for reactive support at the time of assessment itself.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Provide students with the opportunity for a trial run. If they will be taking a Quiz, create a practice Quiz and include different Question Types that will be used during the real assessment. Questions could even be related to the process of how to complete the assessment, reinforcing understanding of the workflow. If students will be submitting an Assignment, create a test Assignment and ask students to practice accessing and submitting the Assignment. Make these practice assessments available ahead of the real assessment, so that students have plenty of opportunity to ensure they know how to complete their assessment when the time comes.
Consideration 2: Providing Time Parameters
All assessments require students to complete a given task within a certain time frame. There are various ways to replicate this on Canvas depending on the type of time parameter required.
Deadline for Submission
If you have a specific date and time that an assessment must be completed by, add this as the Due Date in any Assignment or Quiz. Canvas will still accept submissions (for Assignments) and allow attempts (for Quizzes) after the due date, though they will be identified as late to both the student and the teacher. Adding an Until Date can be a helpful way to replicate any existing policies you may have around late submissions (i.e. late submissions will be accepted for up to 1 week after the deadline with a penalty applied during the grading process). The Until Date prevents Canvas from accepting any submissions or attempts after this date.
For assessments that have specified start and end times (such as exams), there are two methods for facilitation in Canvas. For exams using the Quiz tool, a time limit can be applied to each attempt. For all Assignments, we can add an Available from date, which when used in combination with a due or until date creates a start and end time parameter around the assessment. Keep in mind that setting an ‘Available From’ date will prevent students from accessing any information added to the RCE or settings applied to the Assignment.
There may be information about the assessment that you would like students to have access to ahead of the Availability Dates, such as what resources they might require or how long they will have to complete the assessment. A great way to do this is using an Announcement. Not only will this be easily accessible to students from within the Course, but it will also trigger a notification via their chosen notification preferences. The release of the Announcement can also be coupled with a delayed posting, effectively providing a timed release of this assessment information.
Scheduled Release of Assessment(s) and/or Resources
Where there are multiple pieces of assessment content that you would like to be released at a specific time, use the Lock Until feature within Modules to schedule the release. This will allow students to see only the title for each piece of content before this time, providing them with the reassurance that they know where to find their assessment content as well as the exact time they will be made available to them.
This feature is useful particularly when there are multiple assessment points opening at the same time. Do keep in mind that if you have added any Files within the Module or RCE that these could still be accessible from the Files tab if this is available to students within the Course. Make sure to add availability dates to the files that match your assessment if this is the case.
As with in-person exams, occasionally situations may arise during the assessment where responsive action is required. The Moderate the Quiz panel allows us to monitor student progress during the quiz, as well as give extra time or attempts to individual students should this be required in response to any given situation (perhaps the student had a connectivity issue for example). We can even manually submit any outstanding attempts should students forget to do this, allowing the grading process to continue without delay. Though if a time limit has been applied, Canvas will do this automatically once the set time has passed.
Keep In Mind
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”
As educators, we are all too aware that even the most well planned in-person assessment can be impacted by unforeseen circumstances. Adverse weather can lead to rescheduling, an on campus event can lead to a distracted cohort, or a forgotten resource can impact a students’ ability to access material. Technology will never entirely remove the risk of unforeseen circumstances, but we can certainly make ourselves aware of the potential risk factors and mitigate them as best we can.
Will students have a device and sufficient internet access to enable them to access the assessment? Providing trial runs and practice assessments can help to spot these potential issues.
What if something happens to a students’ device or internet connection during an assessment? In an in-person environment, a student would raise their hand to inform an invigilator - provide students with a suitable alternative workflow when they are working in a remote setting (refer to the Proactive Support section for ideas on how to communicate this with students)
How will IT staff be able to support multiple teachers and assessments remotely if incidents occur? Consider staggering start times and deadlines to allow internal support to be available and responsive at these key crunch times if required.
Just as you might have policies in place for how to respond to unforeseen circumstances in an in-person context, have policies ready for how you will respond with unforeseen circumstances in an online context. Share these clearly with students, and as always apply them with parity as best as possible.
One of the best ways we can respond to change is to embrace it. The current context is forcing us to adapt in many different ways, from how we shop for groceries to how we effectively provide opportunities for assessment. Understanding the tools available to us can enable us to make informed decisions about how to best facilitate assessment within the new context that we find ourselves. The method we use may have to change, but hopefully these blogs have given you ideas for how you can continue to achieve the intended end goal.
When I first started using Canvas I surprised about the lack of accessibility features available to users, so i decided to create my own and to share them with the wonderful community.
Below I have attached some JS and some CSS too which I highly recommend that you implement into your version of the LMS. (I will happily write up a guide on how to implement it as well as how it works if anyone would like).
The accessibility tools below allow learners to change the text size of each custom page that you create. (Nothing native to Canvas, simply any pages, quizzes, assignments, etc that you have created).
It also allows the user to change the background colour of pages too (I may be implementing a text colour option soon too).
Clicking 'Accessibility' on the global navigation toggles the menu that you can see in the bottom left:
I hope this helps your instance of Canvas become more accessible and that you all find it useful
A long, long time ago, in an office somewhere in my building (I'm guessing), a conversation probably nothing like this took place:
"Okay, it's time to implement the new LMS, Canvas."
"Hooray! Anything special we need to do?"
"Well, we should probably decide if our Canvas instance should be one big bucket of stuff, or if we need sub-accounts for our 5 separately accredited colleges."
"I'd think sub-accounts by college would be smart!"
"Definitely. Oh... wait... We're integrating Banner with Canvas, right?"
"Well, we have Banner set up to essentially treat our district as a single entity."
"Well, there's no easy way to tell Canvas which sub-account the course should be in."
"Oh. One giant bucket, it is!"
Fast forward a year or two. The transition from Blackboard to Canvas is complete. Faculty adoption is growing rapidly. Online course offerings are expanding. Requests for adding account-level LTIs keep coming. Data and outcomes and analytics are hot topics. People begin to question with more regularity why we don't have sub-accounts to keep these things useful, streamlined, and logical. The answer continues to be "because we don't have Banner set up in a way that makes sub-accounts possible". Fast forward a few more years. People are asking at least weekly why we can't do a thing that can't be done because we don't have college sub-accounts. The requests finally prompt action. The action hits numerous brick walls. There is a script written that seems to solve the problem by moving the courses from the root account to the correct sub-account after the fact. Testing is going well. There is dancing and singing. Then someone performs a section sync in Test Banner, and the course in Test Canvas gets thrown out of its sub-account and back to the root account. Canvas insists that "account" should be sticky. Testing continues to prove that Banner is a jerk and refuses to listen to what Canvas says. Other avenues are considered and defeated. Tears are shed. And here we are, seven long years into our Canvas adventure, without any hierarchy whatsoever. And we've exhausted every reasonable idea, short of demolishing the entire Banner > Middleware > Canvas structure and starting from the ground up.
So what's the point of my blog post / stream of consciousness rant / discussion prompt / cautionary tale / plea for help? Well, first, my words of advice:
If you are new to Canvas, consider your account/sub-account structure, very very very carefully.
Canvas is a wonderful company full of wonderful people, but they do not have expertise in your SIS of choice, so make sure your SIS of choice is ready and willing to work with you on establishing (and maintaining, and adjusting as needed) a good integration with Canvas.
And my points of discussion:
I know people have created a sub-account structure "after the fact". What makes our situation challenging is the way we set up Banner. We are unable to change how Banner is configured.
We have had various vendors swear they can help us using APIs. This may be true, but they neither understand our Banner setup nor possess actual, practical, deep Canvas knowledge.
We are still using Luminis Message Broker as our middleware. My understanding is that LMB is an outdated tool. But the alternatives (Ethos, ILP) are described to me as not mature enough, not robust enough, and/or possibly not compatible with our current portal (or version of).
We haven't completely ruled out turning off real-time events and doing automated batches. BUT we have a bazillion (actual number) Banner users across our 5 colleges who would need to be re-educated on new processes and that is... daunting.
Is there anyone out there that knows Banner really well AND knows Canvas really well AND is not already working full time for a Banner/Canvas institution? We have tried the "hire a consultant" route, and a creature with such expertise (in the land of hire-able consultants) appears to be rarer than a 3-legged unicorn.
Has anyone had a similar situation and come up with a miracle workaround that they'd be willing to share? I will pay you in cookies and a coffee mug that says "You're Awesome!" [side note: don't search Amazon for "You're awesome" coffee mugs. Someone apparently decided not to stop there and made all the mugs NSFW]
Please consider this an open discussion, and throw any ideas into the comments, no matter how wild and insane they might sound. Tag any groups or spaces I missed, or any smart folks who might know something, anything. It's possible there will be points for creativity, but it depends on whether I'm continuing to lose ground in the Community. I once made it to 17th. Those were the days.