cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

Trouble in Free for Teacher...

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team
2 10 1,035

Tl;dr Some people are abusing public courses and we need to stop that.

One of my favorite things about Canvas, when I discovered it back in 2011, was and is Free-for-Teacher (FFT went live back in 2010).  For anyone not familiar, FFT is a fully-featured production instance of Canvas where anyone in the world may request to have a teacher role user account, create as many courses as they choose to that will remain open as long as the teacher chooses, and invite as many students and fellow educators to sign up and participate.  FFT lets anyone try Canvas for free and brings an egalitarian element to Canvas that we think is an important element of Instructure’s DNA.

One quality of FFT is that teachers can choose to have their courses only accessible by participants, accessible to anyone who is logged into Canvas, or publicly viewable by anyone with access to the Internet (documented here).  Many educators like the option to open their courses up to anyone who might want to follow along, for any reason.  Other people use Public courses as a way to showcase their instructional design skills or as a kind of eportfolio. Unfortunately, some people also use public courses for more nefarious purposes including sharing pirated intellectual property, SEO/spamming content and also other content that goes against what Instructure and the Canvas Community stand for.  The Instructure Security team spends a saddening amount of time cleaning up these abuses which unfortunately seem to be affecting a growing number of people reporting the abuse.

So, the question before us is how to maintain the best aspects of FFT while also making it impossible or at least much more difficult for some people to abuse what we have.  Could the community play an oversight role? Are there technology solutions that could be brought to bear? What do you think?

Tags (2)
10 Comments
Bobby2
Community Coach
Community Coach

Gosh  @scottdennis I had no idea that people were abusing such a great resource like that.

Such a shame. And what a waste of Instructure's time and energy tidying up the mess they create. 

I'm awfully grateful for the free version lately as my colleague on the mainland  @craig_nicholls ‌ and I will be presenting at CanvasCon in Sydney next week and wanted to collaborate in a Canvas course to provide resources to participants in our workshop. As we are using paid versions of Canvas in our instances we couldn't quite get external users sorted out for this particular project so the free version has been a godsend. 

I certainly hope that this resource won't be impacted by thoughtless users in the future. I'm not sure about... 

Could the community play an oversight role?

...but sure am happy to help in whatever way I can. 

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team

Thanks, Bobby.  Thats a great example of what we know anecdotally to be true - Free for Teacher continues to provide an important pressure release for people even after they become clients for all those scenarios that just don't quite fit normal channels (FFT = Their Canvas Laboratory).  I know when I was a Canvas admin I still used FFT almost everyday and frequently encouraged other people to as well.

Could the community play an oversight role? Numbers is our strength.  I don't know all the specifics but I'm hoping we can provide a moderation function somehow without asking too much of each individual person - something like an approval queue for people who want to share fully public courses.  I'm hoping other people, maybe who are more technically knowledgable will have more specific ideas.

robotcars
Lamplighter II

I typed this up the other day, but was hoping someone would come up with something else... :smileygrin:

How technical?

Using the API, it's possible to expose course title and the creator's name to a moderation queue as you've suggested. Maybe also the syllabus_body and the public_description.

Where does the queue live?

  • publicly available community queue, who hosts?
    • maybe just a listing of public courses sorted by enrollments and activity so we can review/flag based on demand?
  • LTI in FFT instance. Who hosts the LTI?
  • Does it need to be hosted? UserScript or Electron

Who moderates?

  • How many moderators need to approve?
  • How public is the process and decision making? What about appeals?
  • Does the moderator assess the course?
  • Do they review the course for approval? If it's set to be public, is this an issue?
  • Do we post who approved the course?
  • How much time do moderators need/require to review before publishing?

How do we inform the instructor of the process beforehand, so we don't ruin their start date?

Are we only moderating publicly viewable courses?

Since we're dealing with abuse, what happens if the purpose of the course changes after publishing?

What happens if the course is set to public after publishing?

Do we moderate the course state (unpublished, available), or the is_public flag, or the combination?

This doesn't even address the technical or volunteer requirements to develop the queue.

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team

Hey Robert!

Again, I don't have a concrete plan to propose but to try to answer some of your questions:

Where does the queue live? - publicly available community queue, who hosts?

I would think we would create a closed group in the community.  As people volunteer to moderator we could bring them into the group.

maybe just a listing of public courses sorted by enrollments and activity so we can review/flag based on demand?

I can see where a list like this could be helpful.  Running a comprehensive list regularly might be hard because of how big FFT is but but maybe we could do a top ten percent or something.

LTI in FFT instance. Who hosts the LTI?

I'm guessing but probably us.

Who moderates?

I imagine that the only requirement would be people in the community who are willing to dedicate the time.

How many moderators need to approve?

Again, we could adjust as we go but I would imagine two or three?  Like wikipedia?


How public is the process and decision making? What about appeals?

I wouldn't think it would need to be too public.  We could have notification go out to any we disapprove with a link to an appeals form.  I don't anticipate there would be much gray area - either you are or are not abusing the system.


Does the moderator assess the course?

I would not think we would ask moderators to assess the course for quality or anything like that.


Do they review the course for approval? If it's set to be public, is this an issue?

I am not sure.  One option would be to make all public courses no longer public and have people request (extreme).  Another would be to take away the option to make courses public but leave currently public courses public along with introducing the 'make my course public' request process.


Do we post who approved the course?

I would think we'd want to track that internally but not post it publicly.


How much time do moderators need/require to review before publishing?

I would imagine it would not take too long for each review, maybe five minutes or less - quickly scan the course content, announcements, etc for spam or offensive content and then move on.

How do we inform the instructor of the process beforehand, so we don't ruin their start date?

I'd think we would do that along with telling them how to apply


Are we only moderating publicly viewable courses?

Yes

Since we're dealing with abuse, what happens if the purpose of the course changes after publishing?

I'm not sure what we could do to guard against that other than encouraging people to report abuse.  Currently that usually happens via a support ticket I believe.

What happens if the course is set to public after publishing?

I don't think we would provide an option for a user to do that on their own

Do we moderate the course state (unpublished, available), or the is_public flag, or the combination?

I would think the latter.

Again, good thoughts.  I too am hoping others will jump in.

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team

Hi All,

I wanted to give you an update on this topic.  Several weeks before the winter holiday season set in we changed the course settings in FFT so that where people used to be able to set a course from private to public there is now a message directing people to file a help ticket, requesting that their course be made public.  So far the workload on Support hasn't been too onerous and I haven't heard any reports of people being put off by the additional hoop.  Also, I haven't heard of any new cases of abuse of public courses since we put the new plan in place.  If anyone has heard of of examples to the contrary, please advise.

Kelvin_Dean
Adventurer

How will the Public Course Request form look like in that case? Do you have to put what institution you are affiliated with?

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team

Hi Kelvin,

No, you don't have to put in an institutional affiliation.  Here is what the setting interface looks like currently:

Free for Teacher Public Course Setting

Kelvin_Dean
Adventurer

I think there is a similar question here (Restrict who can change course visibility). How will local institutions implement the Public Course Request permission feature in the future, adopting the similar functionality above?

335338_pastedImage_1.png

Also, if I do request a course to be public in such a case like this, can I choose not to include it in the public course index?

scottdennis
Community Team
Community Team

Hi  @Kelvin_Dean ,

Sorry for the delay in responding.  I wanted to talk with the developer who did the work in FFT before I responded.  For a scenario in which the institution would like to modify the course settings so that it shows a choice for public/private course but directs the teacher to contact support or elearning or whoever, unfortunately there is not a good way to do this currently.  I think this would make for a good feature idea though. 

Kelvin_Dean
Adventurer

Guess what? The Courses: Change Visibility permission has been added as of 2/15/2020. The public course request feature is gradually making its way towards local institutions, where they can opt in/out.

Course Visibility