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martinacc
Community Member

Dealing with Hebrew on Canvas

This post is not a question. It is about the problems I have experienced and the solutions I have found. I don’t know where else is the best place to post (if anyone knows a better place to post, please let me know), but I think this may be helpful to many teachers/graders who deal with Hebrew on Canvas.

 

I was frustrated lately by the “poor” way Canvas handles Hebrew until I found out why. It’s not Canvas’ fault. Here, I’d like to share my findings so that other Hebrew graders may also benefit from them.

 

Before I point out the problems and the solutions, let me first explain what (I think) was going on behind the grading. When we ask students to type Hebrew for the Fill-in-the-blank questions, it looks (to me) like Canvas compares the Unicode character value of a student’s answer and that of the answer key for automatic grading. If they match, the answer is accepted as correct. Otherwise, it is regarded as incorrect.

 

These are the problems I’ve experienced and their solutions:

 

1. The most common mistake that the students make is to confuse Qamets (long A vowel) and Qamets Hatuph (short O vowel). Using the SIL Hebrew keyboard (I ask all students to use the SIL Hebrew keyboard), on Mac, typing “Shift + A” will produce Qamets, typing “Option + O” or “Option + A” will produce Qamets Hatuph. (Use “Alt + Ctrl” instead of “Option” on Windows). They look the same: שָׁב (shāḇ[Qamets]) and שָׁב (shoḇ [Qamets Hatuph]). But they are different. The latter does not exist in the Hebrew Bible. The Unicode value for Qamets is “05B8”, and the Unicode value for Qamets Hatuph is “05C7”, as indicated in the keyboard manual. A student’s answer will be marked wrong if he/she uses Qamets for Qamets Hatuph or use Qamets Hatuph for Qamets. If the grader is not aware of this, he/she may put the wrong answer as the answer key.

 

Solution: the grader should type the correct vowel into the answer key, and the students must be informed of this distinction as well.

 

2. A less common issue is with dagesh. Take בּ for example, if ב and the dagesh are taken as one unit, its Unicode value is “FB31”. However, if we take them separately, its Unicode value is “05D1” (Beth) + “05BC” (dagesh). If we type Beth and the dagesh separately, I don’t think it will be turned into “FB31”. 

 

Solution: If we all use the SIL Hebrew keyboard, we probably won’t encounter this problem.

 

3. A big problem is with the web browser. For קִטַּלְתָּ, I typed the dagesh before the vowel. On Safari, Canvas automatically twists the answer, making the vowel comes before the dagesh. Chrome, Firefox, and possibly Edge do not do the twist. Therefore, we need to recommend future students to avoid using Safari for typing Hebrew on Canvas. 

 

Solution: We can add answer keys in both Safari and Chrome.

 

4. There is another problem I have experienced. Even using the same SIL Hebrew keyboard, the letter שׁ (probably שׂ as well) may be processed differently. On Mac, ש and the dot are taken as one unit, represented by the Unicode “FB2A”. On Win, they are taken separately, as “05E9” and “05C1”, as indicated in the official SIL Hebrew keyboard manual. However, when I use Safari on Mac, שׁ is decomposed into “05E9 + 05C1”. Safari is not consistent with this decomposition. In some websites (such as Canvas and https://stackoverflow.com) it does the decomposition, in other websites, it doesn’t. 

 

Solution: We can add answer keys in both Safari and Chrome. I think It is best to ask students not to use Safari at all for Hebrew.

 

5. The above decomposition problem adds another complication. Naturally, even if we type ש and the shin dot separately, we would type ש, and then the dot, and then any vowel that goes with שׁ. Therefore, the Unicode for שָׁב would be “05E9 [ש] + 05C1 [dot] + 05B8 [Qamets] + 05D1 [Beth]”. But, Safari produces “05E9 [ש] + 05B8 [Qamets] + 05C1 [dot] + 05D1 [Beth]”!

 

Solution: We can add answer keys in both Safari and Chrome. I think It is best to ask students not to use Safari at all for Hebrew.

 

The best way to find out what was going wrong is to use a Unicode converter. There are many other websites, but I’ve used https://www.online-toolz.com/tools/text-Unicode-entities-convertor.php to solve this mystery. This page contains four text boxes. Paste/Type a Hebrew word (or any word) into the first text box and click the “Convert” button below, the second text box will display a Unicode-value string for the word (every Unicode value is preceded by the “%u” sign). For instance, שָׁב is “%uFB2A%u05B8%u05D1”, שָׁב is “%u05E9%u05C1%u05B8%u05D1”, and שָׁב is “%u05E9%u05B8%u05C1%u05D1”.

 

Put any Unicode string in the third box and click the convert below, the fourth box will show the corresponding word. We can use this box to create Hebrew words as answer keys when needed.

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