I've been making some recordings recently on the theme of dealing with with coronavirus shutdowns that so many schools have been experiencing. I posted one of my episodes earlier dealing specifically with using Zoom to remote proctor a written exam (Using Zoom to remote proctor an exam) but thought I'd create another post to contain all of my recordings and keeping adding to it. The focus of the recordings is more around questions we are getting asked right now at my school, so if they don't seem well organized and linear, that is why. But, I figured some people might still appreciate them.
During COVID-19, all online educational platforms have a responsibility to our teachers and students. I co-founded Instructure in 2008, and I recently co-founded the Derivita online math system with Ryan Brown. As you can imagine, the education community is incredibly close to my heart.
Many of you have already felt COVID-19’s impact on your classrooms. If you’re already using Canvas, the change from teaching in a classroom to fully online will be a bit easier. But teaching math remotely without an online math system can still be incredibly tricky.
To aid you in this transition, we are offering the Derivita math homework system for free, Spring and Summer semesters. We will also install it on your Canvas course in under 24 hours, so the disruption you are already feeling will be minimal.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do everything we can to provide you with guidance.
You can also find us at derivita.com, where you will learn how students around the world use our online system to learn math from their own homes. An online classroom does not need to be a lost learning moment for your math students.
We are privileged to serve the wonderful education community. We care about you, and we’re here to help.
Devlin Daley, CEO at Derivita, Co-founder of Instructure
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.
A common frustration of teachers using Canvas at an institution is when their course navigation gets messed up by an admin. A teacher may have been teaching their courses for a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden, their institution adds a new LTI that has a course navigation launch and it messes up their course navigation in all their courses. Then their students start asking about the new LTI and the teacher has to tell them all they aren't using it and hide it in their course settings.
However, the story is worse for those instructors who don't know to customize their course navigation. Before you know it, they have a course navigation list that is so long that students have to scroll to see everything on it (see image to right). Core Canvas tools will hide themselves if they aren't being used (light grey items), but not with LTI's. So now those teachers have their students asking about each new tool and wondering why their teachers aren't using it...
Part 1 - Installing New LTIs
As the Canvas admin, you have the ability to decide, when an LTI is installed, whether you want it to be visible or not. Most LTI vendors want to encourage your teachers to use the tool and they enable it by default. A simple edit can help you avoid the above hassle for your teachers, while allowing you to roll the tool out to the teachers who need it.
When installing an LTI tool, the 3rd party provider will generally provide you a URL to configure the tool. If installing the tool from the apps tab in Canvas, the URL's for the installs can be found at the tool's detail page on https://www.eduappcenter.com/. These URLs should end in .xml which is the format needed to configure an LTI tool. Navigating to these URL's in your browser should take you to a page that looks like this:
<blti:title>Course Wanda Fish</blti:title>
<blti:description>This tool adds a course navigation link to a page on a fish called "Wanda"</blti:description>
The trick is to find the <lticm:optionsname="course_navigation"> part of the xml file so we can customize it a little bit. We just need to add one more line after this and then we can install the LTI by pasting in XML. So here are the instructions:
Copy and paste the XML into a text editor (Notepad for Windows or textEdit for Mac)
Find the <lticm:optionsname="course_navigation"> part of the code
Copy and paste the following code immediately below the course navigation line
If you already have LTIs that are visible by default that you'd like to change, you can do that by using the Canvas API. There is a lot to working with the API that I will not go into on this post, but if you have a Mac you already have "cURL" installed by default so you can copy and paste the following code to update your LTI tools. If you have a PC, you can try and follow the instructions here to install cURL on Windows.
You will need to:
Copy and paste the following code snippet to a text editor
NOTE: If the tool has other custom navigation parameters they need to be added to avoid breaking some functionality
View the existing parameters by viewing the response from step 4
Using Google Analytics means that your institution is subject to Google's terms of service. Please verify with your institution's legal team before installing Google Analytics in your Canvas instance to ensure that you are in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
This outlines the use of Google Analytics without Google Tag Manager. This is an old implementation. You may want to look into some of these other community resources if you are configuring Google Analytics for the first time. It does require a little bit more upfront time to get configured, but is considered the new way of doing Google Analytics.
Navigate back to Google Analytics and view real-time data to see if it is tracking real-time users on your account. Know that you may have to wait for 15 minutes or so to be able to see custom dimension data.
Build Dashboards & Reports in Google Analytics
You may wish to get started by downloading the following dashboards:
The updated script has undergone significant change. Below are some highlights of what the updated script does. The updated script is mostly backwards compatible with the previous version.
Fixed a bug that meant some pageviews were never sent.
Added a timeout if API requests fail to avoid server spamming
Added support for Google Analytics User-ID tracking
Altered API Endpoint & Data Caching
Instead of pulling the course information (/api/v1/course/:course_id), the script pulls a user's courses ("/api/v1/users/self/courses?per_page=100") which includes an enrollment object and caches the returned value into local storage. The associated enrollment object allows us to set the "Canvas Course Role" dimension. Caching the data should also result in significantly better performance due to reduced API calls. If a course does not appear in the user's course list just the course_id and user dimensions will be sent (should only be for Admins and public courses). Also it will only pull the first 100 enrollments for a user (let me know if you need support for pagination with the revised endpoint).
Canvas User Roles Updated
Instead of filtering for a best match of a user's roles and only returning 1 value this is now a comma separated array of all of a user's roles. When filtering on this value, look use something like "contains" & "student" to get any users with a role of student. The data is still pulled from environmental variables. You should be able to build better Audience Segments from this data. (ie: Students should only have user, student, and maybe ta roles).
Canvas Term ID New
This can be a valuable filtering tool as much of Canvas built in reports filter on terms
Canvas Course Role New
By altering the way the script queries the course data, we are able to now capture the exact role the user has in a course. If a user has multiple user roles in a course, the value assigned to the pageview will always be the first role in the array. This should be a very useful dimension for building reports and analyzing course usage. If you think capturing all user roles will be helpful, let me know in the comments.