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Mobile Users

Adventurer

With the introduction of Apple Silicon at last week's Apple WWDC 2020, the Mac is ready for the most significant transition of all time! Will we see Canvas Mobile Apps on macOS for the first time? The truth lies below!

What is Apple Silicon?

Well, you might think that it is Apple's version of Intel's x86 chip, right? Wrong. Apple Silicon is using ARM processors (the AXX processors found in many iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad).

Apple Silicon

Chart showing the features of Apple Silicon

ADVANCED POWER MANAGEMENT
With advanced power management, performance and battery life will improve, better than ever before.

SECURE ENCLAVE
Secure Enclave will bring best-in-class security, and Apple's high-performance GPU is going to deliver better graphics performance to every Mac. This enhancement makes them even better for professional applications like Final Cut Pro (post-production video editing), Motion (motion graphics), Compressor (video encoding), and high-performance games.

NEURAL ENGINE AND MACHINE LEARNING
Combined with Neural Engine Technology, Apple Silicon chips will make the Mac a fantastic platform for machine learning.

OTHER TECHNOLOGIES
Apple is also bringing many other custom technologies, such as video-display and image-processing engines, that will help make the Mac better than ever before.

Why make the switch from Intel to Apple Silicon?

The transition will establish a universal architecture across all Apple products. It makes it far easier for app developers to create their apps for the entire Apple ecosystem (not just iOS products, but also Macs as well).

(Running mobile apps on the desktop has been made possible for Chromebooks when Android apps and Google Play were introduced.)

Until WWDC 2020, there have been a total of three significant transitions in Apple's history.

  1. 1994-1996: Transitioned from 68k processors to the PowerPC architecture
  2. 2001-2003: Transitioned from Mac OS 9.2 to Mac OS X (the latter now known as just macOS)
  3. 2006-2007: Transitioned from PowerPC to Intel processors (the computer that I am typing this post on is from an Intel-based Mac)
    1. January 2006: Mac OS X 10.4.4 was released, supporting the Intel architecture for the first time
    2. June 2006: First Macs with Intel processors started shipping
    3. June 2007: Transition almost complete
    4. August 2009: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard dropped support for PowerPC based Macs. Support for PowerPC-only applications still supported on this version, however.

With WWDC 2020, Apple has announced two more major milestones.

  1. 2020-2022: Transition from Intel processors to Apple Silicon is underway
  2. 2020-2021: macOS Big Sur (11.0.x) will be the first version to support these processors. After nearly 20 years, macOS finally moves from version 10 to 11.

Will there be any impact?

App developers can easily convert the apps they have created for iOS products to run on the new Apple silicon to take advantage of its latest technologies and performance. And for the first time, developers can make their iOS and iPadOS apps available on the Mac without having to modify the code. That would mean that the App Store could merge into one unified store in terms of Apple platforms (currently, there is one App Store for iOS, another one for the Mac). For Canvas Mobile developers, there won't be a huge impact; there is no need to rewrite the entire source code from scratch.

The Transition Process

Even though Apple will ship the first Mac with the new Apple silicon processors by the end of 2020 and complete the transition by 2021-2022, Apple will continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come, at least until 2025-2026. Furthermore, Apple will continue to sell new Intel-based Macs in the future. The transition to Apple silicon processors represents one of the most significant milestones in the history of the Macintosh.

Universal App Quick Start Program

The Universal App Quick Start Program (UQSP) includes all the tools and resources developers need to build, test, and optimize their next-generation Universal apps for macOS Big Sur. For $500, in addition to developer resources and one-to-one technical support, Apple will send a Developer Transition Kit (DTK) for developing and testing Universal apps. The program will last no more than a full year.

(We don't know if the $500 fee is for an individual or an organization.)

Developer Transition Kit 2 (DTK-2)

(This is actually a Mac Mini, but with an Apple A12Z Bionic processor instead of an Intel Core processor.)

While some developers think of the DTK-2 as a gift from Apple and want to keep it as a token of appreciation, that isn't really true. According to the terms and conditions, the DTK-2 is the property of Apple. Developers must return the kits to Apple within 30 days following the conclusion of the program.
The first time the UQSP program occurred was back to 2005. It cost $1,000 to join, and Apple gave developers a DTK-1, which is a Power Mac G5. As with the new DTK-2 devices, those Macs also had to be returned at the end of the program, although Apple did provide participants with a free first-generation Intel iMac in return.

Canvas and the UQSP

Now, back to Canvas. The main topic is: How can Instructure optimize the performance and layout for Canvas Mobile on macOS? We know that there is a Responsive Layout on the web version of Canvas, and resizing the width changes the view. We want to find out how the layout will look like for Canvas Mobile running on macOS.

Here is a look at Canvas Student on the iPhone in portrait orientation, showing the Assignments page of the Math 3 course. Below it lies the Course Navigation links. Even though it may look similar to the Responsive Layout for the mobile web version of Canvas, the title bar (Assignments - Math 3) is not clickable to get to the Course Navigation page with these same links.

View Assignments

Now, let's look at the iPad view of the History 101 course. It resembles more of the desktop web version of Canvas, with the Course Navigation links on the left side.

View Course Navigation on iPad

What that means is that there are currently some inconsistencies between Canvas Mobile and Canvas Desktop. It's not just the title bar that can open the Course Navigation menu on the iPhone, but also resizing and scaling for font size and accessibility.

352166_Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 3.12.45 PM.png

What I want to see in Canvas 7 is the ability for Mac users to resize the app window, switching between the iPhone view to the iPad view, and vice versa.

Mobile View (Apple and Google platforms only)

There needs to be an option to open the course content in the Canvas Mobile Apps.

Mobile View is not available for Windows 10 since Windows 10 Mobile support ended back to January 2020.

The following items are supported in Mobile View:

COURSE

  • Announcements
  • Assignments
  • Conferences
  • Discussions
  • Files
  • Grades
  • Modules
  • Pages
  • People
  • Quizzes
  • Syllabus

USER

  • Groups
  • Calendar
  • Conversations & Notifications
  • To-Do Lists
  • User Files

Mobile View in Global Navigation

Clicking the Mobile View button will pop up this dialog. If you are enrolled as a teacher, you can choose to open the content in the Canvas Teacher or Student app to see how the content will look like as a teacher or student, respectively.

(If you do not have the corresponding app downloaded, it will redirect you to the app store for the platform you are running (App Store for Apple platforms, Play Store for Google platforms).)

(This does not work correctly for Canvas Parent, as parents can only view assignments, course events, grades, and the front page for a student within that app, not other portions of Canvas.)

Open in Mobile View

Limitations

There are potential issues that need to be fixed as soon as possible to optimize the mobile experience for the Mac. Here are a few.

QR Code for Mobile Login does not work on the same device

Even though there is an option to log in to Canvas with a QR code (How do I view a QR code to log in to the Canvas mobile apps as an instructor?), this cannot be done on the same device.

This feature is designed to work on two devices at the same time: the desktop platform displaying the QR code, and the mobile platform scanning the code. In order to fix this issue, biometric technologies may need to be used (i.e., Touch ID and Face ID on the Mac; Pixel Imprint on the Chromebook).

(When enabling biometric login for a certain device, users must reenter their Canvas password for security reasons.)

Issues

FINGERPRINTS AND TOUCH ID
Will the same fingerprint work for additional Canvas institutions added through the list when Change User is selected? We don't want 5 fingerprints each representing a different institution, making things more complicated!
(Up to 5 fingerprints can be added on a single device with Touch ID.)

FACE ID
Things may get complicated with Face ID on Apple products including the iPhone X series, iPad Pro 3, and later devices. One scenario is that if your parent's or sibling's face looks just like yours and breaks in (Scenario 1)! Another scenario is when you can successfully authenticate when you are really young, but not when you grow up (Scenario 2). According to Apple, the statistical probability is different for twins and siblings that look just like you, and among children younger than 13 years old because their distinct facial features may not have developed fully, making them unnoticeable until they grow up.

Haibao

Scenario 1: Twin stuffed animals acting as siblings (younger one on the left). Assume that the registered face is that of the younger sibling. If they were real humans, will Face ID succeed on both of them, or will it only succeed on the younger sibling?

Age Progression

Scenario 2: Age progression of the same person (6th grade on the left, senior year on the right). Notice that her facial features are more noticeable as a young woman on the right.

Incompatibility with Intel-based Macs

As of right now, there are no Macs that run Apple Silicon processors. Doing a search for Canvas Instructure in the Mac App Store will not return any results. Apple Silicon is an ARM type of processor, and the first Apple Silicon Macs may arrive for consumers before the end of the Fall 2020 semester.

Canvas Mac App Store

Seriously? No Instructure desktop apps for the Mac?

Lack of touch screen support

When there are iOS apps running on a Mac with Apple Silicon, not having a touch screen can be a problem. What if a teacher needs to make annotations on images using the Apple Pencil when he/she forgot to bring in his/her iPad? Not having a touch screen hampers the process.

In the MacBook Pro series, there is already a touchpad and a Touch Bar. A touch screen would be excellent, bringing all the multi-touch gestures from iOS to the Mac. An Apple Pencil puts the icing on the cake.

352204_IMG_31041933DA18-1.jpeg

A teacher grades a random student with a caption and drawings from the iPhone.

Lack of augmented reality (AR) support

Even though AR support is available since Canvas 6.5, there is no rear-facing camera on MacBooks. There should be a MacBook Duo to resolve these issues.
(MacBook Duo is a fictional name for a 2-in-1 Apple Silicon MacBook that looks similar to the iPad Pro with a detachable touch screen and keyboard, but runs macOS instead of iOS. This has not been officially announced by Apple yet, at least until Q1-Q2 2021.)

352284_ar-button.png

Augmented reality files use the USDZ file extension.

SpeedGrader annotations gone wrong

Another issue is the orientation of SpeedGrader annotations. In the example below, both the image on the Mac and on the iPad are both in portrait mode without any problems. A teacher performed his grading on the iPad with Apple Pencil, and it was OK. The graded annotations were on the picture in portrait mode, as you can see in the image below. When going to the Mac to check it out, the annotations that he did on his iPad shows up in landscape mode, which is different from the image from the Mac.

352205_Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.34.40 PM.png

The orientation of annotations on an image can be annoying. With five questions wrong in Part I and 12 wrong in Part II, what did the student really miss?

"I can't read this. Can someone help out?"

When we tested Canvas Mobile with Chromebooks on displays with very high resolutions (Pixel Slate), we found out that the font size is too small and unreadable on the default accessibility settings. Canvas Mobile on Mac really needs to address this accessibility issue ASAP.

Canvas Teacher view

The font size is too hard to read when using default accessibility settings for Android apps.

One font for all platforms

I've been a fan of typography ever since I got used to the December 2016 facelift of Canvas (Canvas Production Release Notes (2016-12-10) > Other Updates > User Updates > Global Font Update). The Lato font needs to be included in not just the web interface, but the mobile apps and the new community (New Community Almost Here) as well. This makes the experience consistent across all Canvas services.

Other Apps

There are two Canvas Apps that haven't been updated for a long time. Here's why they need to stay and not be delisted.

Polls (last updated 9/7/2017)

The Canvas Polls app is an easy way for you to request students' opinions in the classroom and collect responses with ease. They only need to download the Polls for Canvas app on their smartphone devices. A teacher uses his/her Mac as a hosting device, while his/her students use their smartphones as responding devices.

Share Results

Sample Polls screen showing a sample question from the hosting device. In this case, the correct life span of captive pandas is between 25-30 years (marked with a blue dot).

MagicMarker (last updated 5/19/2016)

The MagicMarker app is an efficient and effective way of recording the mastery of learning outcomes in the classroom. This syncs with the Learning Mastery Gradebook in Canvas (How does MagicMarker appear in the Learning Mastery Gradebook?). Tables created in MagicMarker are different than the groups you create in Canvas.

View Dashboard

The MagicMarker app syncs with the Learning Mastery Gradebook. You can separate your students into groups and even export the data.

Conclusion

I hope that the Canvas Mobile team gets its hands on the UQSP and DTK-2 soon! Believe me, when the new students arrive for the Spring 2021 semester and beyond, Canvas users can set up mobile apps for grading notifications, due date reminders, and vice versa. When TestFlight for Canvas 7 comes out, educators can demonstrate how Canvas Mobile on Silicon really works and what really needs to be tweaked. Remember, we don't want students to leave out negative course evaluations in the Mobility section (if listed).
(TestFlight invitations are limited up to 10,000 users, so be quick to join in once the TestFlight program starts!)

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Instructure
Instructure

Version 6.0 of the student app has been in the wild for a few weeks, and I wanted to give an update on what you can expect from the Canvas mobile apps over the next few months.

CANVAS STUDENT

We’ll continue releasing feature updates to Canvas Student through the rest of this school year, in roughly this order:

  • Version 6.1: New, shiny, and performant course announcements and discussions!

Announcements and discussions are two of the most-used course components in Canvas, and both our iOS and Android teams have been working for weeks to make them more usable and more scalable in mobile.

One of the tricky things about discussion threads in mobile is that they can get really long, really quickly. They can also contain loads of images. And while your four-year-old laptop may have a paltry 8GB of RAM, your brand new iPhone X only contains 3GB of RAM. But you need both of those devices to load the same amount of information in about the same amount of time. So that was one of our goals. Here’s how an image-heavy discussion thread looks in the store version today compared to version 6.1:

271525_Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.01.37 AM.png

To sum it up, replies load more quickly and the interface isn’t so cramped. The reply button in old discussions was also really easy to miss. See it in the top right? Well, a lot of people didn’t. So we added a big and loud “Reply” button at the bottom of the original post (and one less loud one at the top right of the original post).

  • Version 6.2: New, shiny, and performant grades and assignments lists!

The old grades and assignments lists took a long time to load. This update will make them better.

  • Version 6.3: New, shiny, and performant assignment details and submission flows!

Viewing and submitting assignments from the student app today isn’t easy. We want to improve three things:

  1. Make grades and submission comments easy for students to access
  2. Allow students to see their submission, submission comments, rubric and annotations in a single place
  3. Make submitting assignments in mobile less of a pain in the butt

Here’s roughly what the new assignment details page will look like after a student receives a grade:

271526_Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 4.39.23 PM.png

We also have plans to add support for peer reviews and improve support for cloud assignments - though I’m not sure yet if those two pieces will go into 6.3 or a subsequent version.

CANVAS TEACHER

  • Version 1.5: Support for section-specific announcements, better discussions and faster context cards!

This should be released for both platforms within the next couple of weeks.

  • Other note: Teacher app doesn’t support modules today. We’re pretty close to being able to make this happen. Modules necessarily come last in development because almost every other kind of content in Canvas can be attached to a module (i.e., modules don’t do anything without assignments and pages and quizzes and links and files also being supported). Modules are also the way that many teachers interact with their course content, so getting to an assignment through the assignments list rather than through modules feels unnatural. Our first pass at modules will definitely not be adding support for building modules or modifying the structure of modules, as much as it will be viewing modules and module items. The basis for the teacher app’s success so far is its focus on course facilitation rather than course building or course structuring, and we’ll keep that theme going in however we incorporate modules.

    Version 1.5 is the last feature release for the teacher app we have planned on this side of InstructureCon, but we might be able to squeeze some other stuff in.

CANVAS PARENT

  • Version 2.0: Better authentication for e’rbody!

    Today, the first-time user experience in Canvas Parent is no good. The login process is convoluted, and once you log in, you still need to add a student before you can use the app -- even if you log in as an observer already connected to a student in the web. What’s worse, if your first-time experience in a mobile app stinks, you’re much more likely to delete the app than you are to keep using it.

    Generally, parents who get past that first-time experience use the app and it works well. But some parents want to see submission details, and some parents want messaging with teachers, and both of those things are technically impossible with the way authentication works today.

    We’ve found that virtually every K-12 institution either imports observers from their SIS or otherwise allows self-registration for observers. Either way, parents have an observer account in Canvas if the institution allows it. So we’re going to run with that and make everyone’s brains hurt less.

    In version 2.0, parents logging into the parent app will:
    1. Find their school
    2. Enter their observer credentials
    3. Land in the app with their students already connected

If you can’t picture it, this is the difference we’re talking about between login pages:

271529_Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 11.29.12 AM.png

And while simplifying that experience is awesome, this change will also make the app more stable and much more scalable for future development (like adding messaging or viewing submission details).

MOBILE PAGE VIEW REPORTING


Last but not least, we’re making page view reporting from mobile a real thing. Today, we report mobile activity through API calls made from the apps. Those API calls are really hard to use in tracking activity, because a single page in mobile may require four calls, or it may require none. Instead, we’re going to fit mobile into the web URL paradigm to make reporting easier. For example, if a student enters a course from the iOS student app, we’ll report that they went to “https://[account].instructure.com/courses/[courseid]” from "Canvas Student iOS" rather than showing all the calls we made loading that course’s homepage.

----------------------

Stay tuned! App updates incoming!

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Surveyor

Canvas has a great mobile app. It can't do everything, but it can be used to create great mobile learning experiences.

Communication

The mobile app makes it possible to communicate with students on the go.

  1. Open a course and go to people to find and send messages to people in your course, or go directly to your Inbox.
  2. Create discussion topics and let students reply.

Assessment

The mobile app makes it possible to measure students progress.

  1. Create assignments. You can use rubrics for easy online grading, and ask the students to write a few lines, take a picture or record a video with their phone.
  2. Create quizzes. For the best mobile experience you shouldn't use certain settings and quiz types.
    1. Let your students do quizzes when they have a minute to spare. Add a mobile friendly quiz to every module in your course.
    2. Let students do quizzes at the beginning or at the end of your lesson. You can check the results immediately and check your students understanding.
    3. Let students do quizzes during your lesson. Quizzes can be used as a polling tool. Prepare some quizzes in advance, or make them when you need them. Ask one or more questions and publish the quiz when you need it.

Learning experiences

Create mobile friendly learning modules.

  1. Create at least one learning module that's 100% mobile friendly. It could be a course introduction, or a course summary (everything you need to get a C). This module can be used by students when they have a minute to spare.

Mobile friendly course

Make your courses mobile friendly.

  1. Reduce the width of your browser window when your creating content. By doing this you will get an idea of how your course looks on a mobile device. Try to avoid the horizontal scrollbar in your content.
  2. Don't add to much content to a page.
  3. Add your pages to modules. It's incredibly easy to navigate through modules on a mobile device.
  4. And last but not least: Did you know that you can use pdfCreator to create a mobile friendly pdf version of your course text.
    1. Open your course text and choose print
    2. Choose pdfCreator as your printer
    3. Go to printer properties and to advanced settings
    4. Change the page size from A4 to A5 or A6

Your course text will be converted in a pdf that looks beautiful on a smartphone screen. You can make it even better if you decrease the page margins and increase the font size a bit.

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Instructure
Instructure

I have been working in Higher Education for twelve or thirteen years now. I can remember using a VCR to record videoconferencing sessions, and now we have SaaS technologies for remote learners around the globe. I remember the click wheel on the iPod. I also remember when the idea of mobile learning on some campuses was providing a podcast of lectures in iTunes. Recently I have been struggling with K12 mobile initiatives; mainly because it directly affects my family. Let me preface my writing with some warnings:

  • I have two children. One of my children is in first grade and I have engulfed him in mobile technologies in our house since he was about 18 months old (with limitations). My second child is a bit older than 3 and has had relatively little exposure to mobile devices.
  • My wife is an elementary educator. She teaches Special Education and was first in the classroom in the Fall of 2007. She stayed home for a few years, but she is now wrapping up her 5th year teaching. Because of her, I have "seen" mobile devices in the classroom, out of the classroom, and district wide "initiatives".

Because my wife is an educator, she was very concerned about exposing my oldest son to "screen time" when he was so young. By the age of 2, he was navigating an iPad like a pro. I was amazed at his brain and how he was able to handle these "tasks". He would start in one app, play a little, go to another and sing a song, cycle through some more, and then complete the circle by coming to the app with the song and continue singing where the song left off. I was amazed. Granted, there's always the chance I scarred him (if there are any early childhood experts here, please let me know!), but I wanted that exposure for him. We were fortunate that I had A LOT of mobile devices for testing purposes at a previous job, so we might as well use them, right?

Now with my second son - he has had considerably less interaction with mobile devices. He turned three in December, and he probably played on an iPad or iPhone for the first time in the past 3-4 months. His frustration with the device is noticeable. He gets confused about where to tap, doesn't understand the purpose of the games/educational learning activities, and eventually just switches to the next app.

Why does the difference between my two boys matter?

I truly believe it is imperative for any educational institution, both Higher Ed and K12, to have a strong, top down, mobile learning initiative in place. However, sometimes when just technical people or district level trainers are involved, pedagogy or learning outcomes are solely missed (I'm guilty as well).

Take my two children - they come from the same house, have access to mobile devices (as long as we allow them!) and both Windows and macOS machines - yet I would only label one of them as "technically proficient" (and yes, I know one of my children is 3). The district my wife works for and my oldest attends recently had a large iPad roll out, and my son has said "I watch YouTube and play games on them..." I know my son can navigate the iPad just fine, but what about his peers? I know the demographics of his school, and there is a possibility that some children do not have regular access to devices. Are we giving our students an iPad just to say the device is in the classroom? Or are we giving a true exposure with measurable learning outcomes?

What about training for classroom teachers? How do you train teachers to work with students who may not understand the functionality? What about helping your teachers on how the device can impact learning and not just help them in their job? Parent and spouse aside - as a tax payer in the district, I want to ensure I didn't just help pay for a pretty little paperweight. My wife went through 8 hours of iPad training when the massive roll out happened; it was worthless. Teachers were taught how to take a selfie. Then they were taught to take a video and upload it to YouTube. Those two things took one day (two hours).

What is the answer?
I have no idea! Every district and college has a different make up. But - ensure your classroom teachers are properly trained on how mobile devices will benefit teaching and learning. Ultimately, ask yourself, "What is the value add for the student?" We have all seen the highly publicized district iPad roll outs in the last few years. How many of them had a measurable success for the students? 

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