InstructureCon 2016: Thoughts on Canvas Mobile...

Community Champion

The InstructureCon 2016 conference was like most, filled with lots of great information, people, and an energy that isn’t typical of an EdTech conference. From the annual Josh Coates mental warm ups to hoedowns, the conference brought a lot of promise and optimism.

Many of you that know me personally and professionally know that I am very passionate about mobile learning and technologies in education. This is no different at InstructureCon. I spend the majority of my time presenting, meeting, and discussing mobile. I thought I’d share a recap of my mobile impressions of the conference.

You get an app, you get an app..

The Canvas Mobile Product Manager,  @peytoncraighill , asked the following question in the annual Mobile SOTU​ (video link😞

It appears the answer is through role-based apps. During the conference, they gave a small sneak peek of the Parent, Teacher, and Student apps on the mobile roadmap. The discussion of these apps focused on the following user needs. 

Mobile isn’t just for students anymore

The “main” Canvas app has always been a pain point for teachers. The app is essentially a student app that has a few, but powerful, features to help facilitate a class on-the-go, but in this mobile world, teachers deserve more. In an effort to make this experience better they announced the future release of the Canvas Teacher app in 2017.

In my discussions with Peyton over the last few months, he has made it clear that it’s a priority to identify the biggest pain points for teachers and make them available on mobile. This is basically focused around eliminating the most common tasks that require a computer. While previewing the Teacher app, I thought it was a good beginning, but there is a long way to go. I look forward in joining others in beta testing and shaping the future of the app. 

Hey Kid! Where’s Your Parents?

In the 2015 InstructureCon there was a discussion about a future app that would make it easier for parents of K-12 to observe their children. In 2016, this is close to being a reality. This app has been the mobile team’s priority for the majority of the year. Being part of Higher Education, my excitement for this app is muted because of the limited use at our school. This is why I was very excited to see  @beth_ritter-gut  work with Deactivated user on hack night to conceptualize the an Advisor aspect to the app. There are still many hoops and considerations, but I’m glad to see the potential. The beta for Parent app should be out soon with a dedicated focus group in the Canvas Community. If interested, I suggest you join!

Students are still students

The main Canvas Mobile app got very little attention during the conference. Total downloads are nearly 6 million, with 1 million active daily users. There was a brief mention of aligning features better with 1:1 schools which would have benefits to all users. While focusing on the Parent and now Teacher app, this app has been put on autopilot. The Canvas Mobile team is very small in comparison to the web team with 18 dedicated employees and 10 full time mobile engineers, so they need to consider their resources.

What about SpeedGrader?

There was no updates or mention of SpeedGrader at any sessions, but there is a new annotations feature in the works. This was previewed at InstructureCon 2015, but hit some snags. I was able to see a brief preview at the conference of what’s to come and it will be a great addition for tablets. As for SpeedGrader on the iPhone, this isn’t currently happening, yet. There was a rumor going around the conference that SpeedGrader would be removed from their app offerings, but I can tell you that’s absolutely false. There is a possibility that it will be rolled into the teacher app once completed.

Polls, Magic Marker, Teacher Tools?

I had some candid discussions about the future of Polls. Everything was mentioned from pulling the app to the desire to make it more useful. Currently it’s not on the roadmap. Magic Marker continues to have a niche market in K-12 and Teacher Tools is still a pet project.

It’s time for a quiz!

Especially for 1:1 schools the support for all questions types in quizzes is vital. In talking to the mobile team, the next generation of quizzes will be responsive to work through the mobile web and native apps. This should make all question types available, regardless of platform.

More things to come..

I only have limited knowledge, but here are a few items in the works:

  • Theme editor for native app. This will give schools the ability to brand the app.
  • More Canvas Data for native apps.
  • Continued work on styling for pages in the Canvas apps, including custom CSS.

What I’d like to see.

The biggest issue with the Canvas by Instructure app is App parity. Functionality of mobile apps across platforms are going to be different. This is why I use an iPhone, but you might use an Android. With that, the features shouldn’t change. This is a fact I highlight in the Canvas Mobile Day in the Life video. I have seen countless mobile idea request that simply are parity issues and closing the gap on this would make it easier to use and support.

The discussions, assignments and inbox for iOS are in need of an update. Since I began testing the apps in late 2012, these features are basically the same. In a discussion with a mobile engineer, they agreed and said that discussions would get the first refactoring. Also, since the Teacher app will include an inbox, this should help make the Student app better.

In talking with others at the conference, the biggest request by students is What If Grades on iOS. There was some discussion that multiple grading periods could put a pause on this, but I’d suggest you take a look at the following idea -

From a teacher and admin perspective, there was a lot of buzz about adding more information in the student activity about the native app. Teachers and support staff still see the mobile app as sort of a black hole while tracking usage on the web. Canvas Data has made it easier to track this, but not everyone has this and the setup can be tedious.

Looking Forward

There is a lot to look forward to before InstructureCon 2017. Hopefully next year the role based apps will be available and make the mobile experience mobile inclusive for all roles (How about an Admin app?). The buzz around mobile is greater than it has been in past. This stems from a vibrant community and an open and responsive mobile team.

Get involved

If you are interested in Canvas Mobile, I invite you to join the Canvas Mobile Users (CMUG). I spent a good portion of the conference collaborating with  @KristinL  on how to make the community better for users of Canvas Mobile apps. This included a meeting with  @RobDitto , mlennox, and the mobile team to discuss our ideas. They were responsive and open to being more active in the community to share ideas, content, and provide beta app opportunities. Over the next few weeks we hope to formalize these changes and invite everyone to participate in this group.

Want even more mobile?

If so, check out the following presentations and recaps from InstructureCon 2016.

Mobile State of the Union

Mobile State of the Union - Recap

It’s a Mobile World, Join Us!

Highlights from It’s a Mobile World, Join Us!

Take aways from It's a Mobile World

Designing a Mobile Ready Course with UD