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!
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).
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.
1994-1996: Transitioned from 68k processors to the PowerPC architecture
2001-2003: Transitioned from Mac OS 9.2 to Mac OS X (the latter now known as just macOS)
2006-2007: Transitioned from PowerPC to Intel processors (the computer that I am typing this post on is from an Intel-based Mac)
January 2006: Mac OS X 10.4.4 was released, supporting the Intel architecture for the first time
June 2006: First Macs with Intel processors started shipping
June 2007: Transition almost complete
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.
2020-2022: Transition from Intel processors to Apple Silicon is underway
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.
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.
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.
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:
Conversations & Notifications
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.)
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
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The MagicMarker app syncs with the Learning Mastery Gradebook. You can separate your students into groups and even export the data.
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!)
Everything’s green and the driveway is covered in sidewalk chalk and life is totally normal, so that means it’s time for a mobile update!
As you would expect, all of our teams have been racing to remove impediments to remote learning in Canvas for most of the past eight weeks. The Canvas mobile teams, for their part, have shipped 20 updates over the same time period across all apps and both platforms. Here are some highlights of those updates in case you missed them.
QR login. Logging in can be hard on multi-tenant platforms. It’s harder still on multi-tenant platforms that allow for vanity domains and web portals and multiple authentication providers and cross-listed courses. Not only do you have different keys for different people, but you have multiple locks on each door! You can think about finding your school in the Canvas mobile apps as an adventure in getting you to the proper door and lock. But the happy path on this adventure can get narrow, and there are dragons in these woods! With the addition of QR login, we submit that if you’re already through the door, you’re allowed to bring your phone through the door, too. There’s some tweaking underway on the implementation, but with well over 100,000 successful QR logins so far, the concept is working to reduce unnecessary friction.
Conferencing upgrades. Since video conferencing usage is up, we wanted to make it easier for students to join conferences from mobile devices. If you use BigBlueButton for conferencing in Canvas, the student mobile experience is significantly better than it was a few weeks ago. We created a native conferences list, and more importantly, we added alerts for active conferences to students’ dashboards so they can join conferences as soon as they launch the student app. That alert looks like this:
Student View. With more course content than ever making its way onto Canvas, we wanted to make it easier for teachers to see how students experience their courses on mobile devices. You can launch Student View from within any course in the teacher app to be redirected to the student app as Test Student. That flow looks like this:
We have a few other irons on the fire, namely improving discussions, exploring a lightweight offline mode, reducing friction in parent/student pairing, and something about confetti. If there’s something we can do to boost your sanity or better serve your students, make sure you've created a feature idea in our Ideas space—post the URL to your idea in the blog comments, and we’ll see what we can do!
In providing support for faculty and courses, certain best practices have been validated repeatedly.
One of those is optimizing Canvas content pages to increase the likelihood your students will actually see and use them!
Unpack Course Documents to Become Canvas Pages
When new instructors are transitioning to Canvas, the process can be overwhelming. An unfortunate, frequent shortcut is to simply “link” documents like the Syllabus or assignment instructions. This may appear to be a quick solution—but only for one semester. When the complexity of updating increases, the missed opportunity to apply best practices becomes apparent through extra hassles and files housekeeping over time.
“A shortcut is the longest distance between two points”— Charles Issawi
Bad reasons to Link documents in the RCE or Modules:
Lower faculty skill-level or understanding of Canvas. Links to files are all the instructor knows how to do.
Instructor already has a big Masterfile with .pdfs and WordDocs that hasn’t been changed in years.
Imaginary threats, like the fear that students will change the Syllabus and argue some detail with the instructor.
Student UX hogwash! Courses have always been a big stack of papers to manage. Why suddenly make life easy for short attention spans?
Document was made on an old typewriter (or on MSWord) with lots of tabs and spaces to center the text. It will be a nightmare to learn the Word ribbon tool at this late date.
Signs that .pdf/.doc overuse is an issue
The course files area has 6 old versions of the Syllabus from which to choose.
Course content is not updated because the instructor can’t locate their original doc for editing.
Students don’t read the syllabus.
Instructors don’t understand why students don’t read the syllabus. See hint.
Hint: Students are looking on an iPhone and don’t want to clog up their memory by accidentally downloading that 10-page Syllabus yet again,plus the document opens in a tiny viewer in a 1 pt. font. Instead, use Canvas content pages to stream beautifully!
Instead of waiting for increased difficulty all around, consider unpacking your .docs into Canvas as a best practice.
Transitions are an ideal time to use Headings/Styles, alt text, descriptive links, ribbon tools, and correct tables in the pages rich content editor (RCE).
Encourage mobile streaming view for all content, versus documents to download and manage.
Increases the likelihood of students being able to see and use the content on any device.
Transitions are an ideal time to check copyright, record your Fair Use justifications, and/or update content into safe compliance.
Quicker updates each semester.
Compare updating a Syllabus in Canvas (Edit, type, save) with updating a linked document (Locate master doc, make changes, save, replace in Canvas, test to make sure you linked the correct doc, get rid of old doc, preserve link, etc.)
Remember, if you don’t do this every day, the workflow is forgettable. Once a semester, and you’ll forget what you’re doing.
No need to search for master copies on a former employee’s home computer. Everything related to the course lives in the Canvas course.
.Docs that are already Accessible easily become Canvas content pages that are accessible, with a simple copy and paste.
The transfer process reveals old-school tabs and spaces misuse. Oops. Those must be manually corrected once the content is in Canvas RCE.
.pdfs can be a nightmare. Depending on the complexity of content, you may need to open a .pdf in Adobe Acrobat Pro and export it as a WordDoc, then scan carefully for substitutions, misspellings, and other transcription errors.
Course builders work with what we have. Sometimes you just let one thing go—temporarily—to meet a deadline or inch toward progress.
*Good Reasons to link a document in RCE or modules
Students need to download and print an entire document intact. Example: APA or MLA formatted example research paper.
Information is not likely to change and is not available another way. Example: an archived out-of-print article.
Information that is already accessibility checked. Example: Government website downloads or official releases.
Ready or Not
Ready or not, increasing numbers of students view Canvas courses on mobile devices. (Numbers may vary by institutions, but the overall trend is upward for mobile use.)
Even if your course is designed for desktop/laptop, a quick check on iOS and Android devices will give you a more complete idea of what students see—and why they interact with the course the way they do.
In this version of the parent app, we added support for messaging between parents and teachers. This has been a request since we originally launched the app, and we think we've figured out how to incorporate messaging in a way that benefits both parents and teachers (and in turn, students)! Here's what's new.
Floating message icon:
Parents have access to messaging from several views around the parent app, including the assignment details view shown above.
Pre-filled composition view:
Since the parent tapped to compose a message from the assignment details view, we pre-populate the subject field with the student name and assignment, and set the recipient as the teacher of the course.
When the parent sends a message, the student name and a link to the related assignment are automatically appended to the end of the message the teacher receives, so absent any other context, the teacher can see which student/course/content the parent was referencing.
Inbox in parent app:
The parent receives the teacher's reply in a simplified inbox in Canvas Parent.
A few other things to note:
All of this is using the existing Canvas inbox/messaging features that teachers and observers can already access in Canvas web/API/other Canvas apps today.
We hope this improves the communication flow between teachers and parents in a way that doesn't introduce unnecessary noise and helps support students. Feedback is welcome.
iOS plans to release 3.1 to the App Store this month.
Android won't release 3.1 outside the Play Store beta linked above. As per the original plan, Android will release all of the 3.0+ updates to the Play Store as 3.2, and from there the iOS and Android parent apps will be in lock step again. My guess is that 3.2 will ship to the App Store and the Play Store next month.
Up next: new calendar for parents (Canvas Parent 3.2) and students (Canvas Student 6.7)!
We’re at nine million monthly active users of the Canvas mobile apps, which is many millions more than when I last posted about Instructure’s approach to mobile. If you’re new to Canvas, or if you’re curious about how and why we do the things we do, this post is for you!
We anchor mobile app development to a few principles:
Focus on experience. There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to making Canvas fit into your pocket. The mobile apps have to be secure and accessible and scalable. They have to be translated into 34 languages. The mobile apps have to evolve with regular changes to Canvas web and mobile operating systems. They have to handle courses with 10 students where every assignment is an LTI launch, and they have to handle courses with 200 students where every assignment is a discussion. The iOS and Android apps have to look and function the same way despite being on two different tech stacks produced by two different teams of people. But just as importantly, the mobile apps have to deliver worthwhile experiences. If regular operations take too long or make you miserable, or if the interface just looks like bad, you might as well be using any other LMS. Canvas has to be better.
Here's a subset of the 82 polish items to address before releasing Canvas Parent 3.1, for example:
These polish tickets are usually cosmetic, and they come when we compare iOS and Android side-by-side at the end of developing a feature.
Ship things. Product development exists on a spectrum. On one end, you plan every detail and you never take risks and as a result, you never ship things because you find that details change and risks can’t be avoided. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t plan enough and you ship quickly and you break things. The outcomes at either end of the spectrum aren’t good. The Canvas mobile teams strive to be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, always erring on the side of shipping. We can’t deliver the value that we don’t ship. We believe that when we mess up, we ought to listen and learn and ship again.
People over process. In my experience, this is the most overlooked value from the agile manifesto -- which is roughly the constitution of agile software development. Our teams do their best to reconcile what’s planned and what’s right when there’s a gap. We try to keep enough perspective to prevent process from lulling us into doing stupid things. There are scenarios where this principle doesn’t work, but we try to create situations where it does (small teams, smart people, taking on new challenges, limiting recurring meetings, encouraging communication, etc.).
Here's one of my favorite parts about working at Instructure:
This is the mobile support lead's way of saying something is on fire somewhere, check it out. I've worked for companies where people roll their eyes when they see this and say they'll get to it next sprint. That's the worst, and it's what you get with process over people. If there's a fire, we're going to stop regularly scheduled programming to go deal with it.
Prioritize real-life benefits. When you’re planning a project on a platform as versatile as Canvas, it’s tempting to miss the forest for the trees. What happens with our new feature if this course setting is on and this feature flag is off and this sub-account hides this button and this root account has this permission disabled for this role and this ticket hasn’t merged to beta? Concerns like these take up a huge amount of mental space, and to a large extent, it’s the job of product and engineering teams to make sure these cases are hashed out. At some point, it’s also true that 99.723% (see: made-up numbers) of users won’t experience the case you’re worried about, and you’re better off figuring out how to remove extra bits of friction for the average user. This is not a straightforward thing to balance, but in general, the mobile teams will prioritize delivering maximum value to maximum people over checking every last feature box.
Throw a little weird in there. Our software is designed and built by people as quirky as our users, and it ought to reflect that fact for the sake of everyone involved. If you like your software a little more dry and dusty, I’ve had good luck recently with printer utilities, insurance apps, and SimCity 2000 doesn’t hold up quite as well as I expected. Weirdness is especially vulnerable to atrophy over time, but it’s worth protecting. We want to flex those weird muscles.
When you mix those principles together, you get role-based apps which are updated regularly and rated best-in-class by users -- with spinning Canvas logos and panda avatar builders to top it off!
This definitely doesn't mean everything is awesome. Our approach involves tradeoffs. Let’s use peer reviews as an example. It’s a cool feature, and some people rely on peer reviews, and you can’t conduct peer reviews from our mobile apps today. We consider peer reviews every time we touch assignments in mobile. We have a design, and we know how it would work, and we know what it would take to support it. The problem is that peer reviewing is a relatively lesser used feature of assignments, and it would take a lot of effort to support natively. Instead of working on peer reviews last fall, we focused on things like improving load times on grade lists in student and teacher apps, and increasing the visibility of feedback on submissions, and reducing taps to submit assignments. But if you created those peer review assignments, this is still a bummer, and I get it!
I can think of a few escapes for this predicament, in no particular order:
If you’re on a tablet or Chromebook, Canvas web is fully supported in your native web browser
Some schools contract with our professional services team for custom development
Our mobile apps are open source, and some schools build their own mobile apps using our repositories as a model
You could build the feature yourself and submit a pull request for our mobile team to review
We can hop on a call and you can argue that we’re doing it wrong
You can submit a feature idea in our community and see how it resonates with other Canvas users
If you want to know more about web/mobile parity, our documentation team has created some guides for the student and teacher apps that you may find helpful. If you have feedback on making those documents better, send it on!
We recommend uninstalling any other version of Canvas Parent installed on your device before you install the beta. You can connect to production and/or beta environments to try it out! Here’s what’s new in this version:
Grades list support! This list includes support for grading periods, and it’s now the default view for each course in the parent app! If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the grades list in the student app.
Improved syllabus! If a teacher chooses a syllabus as their course home, that syllabus appears in the parent app, and it now includes the associated assignments/events list (“Summary” tab) visible from the student app. And get this: links from the syllabus now function!
Front page support! If a teacher chooses a front page as their course home instead of the syllabus, that page now appears in the parent app. Links from the front page also function. (Already noted: the current beta version misspells “front page” as "frontpage." This will be fixed before release.) Other notes that won't apply to most courses: Syllabus and front page cover most course homes in K12, so those are the two course home types supported by parent app in 3.0. If another home page type (like “Course Activity Stream”) is selected, we’ll attempt to show the syllabus. If a syllabus doesn’t exist and a front page isn’t set to course home, the parent will only see the grades list in 3.0.
Go play with it! If you notice any wonkiness, you can “Send Beta Feedback” through the TestFlight app, or reply to this community post. Once we're through testing 3.0, we'll release it and move on to Canvas Parent 3.1: messaging!
(Android beta link coming before long, I think. If you want to know more about the Android parent app release plan, check out the fall update.)
We’re waffling between snow and sunshine in Utah and my discolored pumpkins are shriveled and leaking, so that means it’s time for a fall update! Here’s what the mobile teams are working on.
Rise of the Machines
After a couple of relatively smooth iOS update cycles over the past two years, iOS 13 landed like Jello in a mud puddle. Its release coincided with a few big changes shipped as Canvas Student 6.6 and run-of-the-mill fall start firefighting. This combination resulted our patching the iOS student app every two weeks since August. While most of our users weren’t impacted by most of the bugs that were fixed, we didn’t hold onto fixes any longer than necessary. Now that the fall start rush has subsided, we’ve decided to redouble our efforts to automate testing in our mobile apps.
We’ve made more progress on automated testing in the past six months than in the previous three years combined, but we expect the robots to do more -- and to do it faster -- so that humans can focus on creating cool new things instead of shipping patches for defects that robots would have caught.
To illustrate the point, here’s a gif of an automated test of quiz-taking in the Android student app, first through the quizzes list and then through the assignments list:
So that’s much faster than a human doing the same thing.
The up-front cost is high: it takes longer for a person to write the test above than it does for a person to test that flow. But once the test is written, it can be run as often as necessary. When you consider that the student app test suite is comprised of hundreds of tests, being able to run all of those tests in minutes instead of weeks is a substantial improvement.
The iOS and Android teams are both committed to writing and running all P0 and P1 [highest priority] tests by the end of this year. The good news is the automated test runs are already catching defects! A test run failed earlier this week when “Stop Acting As User” resulted in the robot admin being logged out altogether, for example.
The bad news is the increased focus on automation slows down our progress on parent app feature improvements. But I think it will be worth the wait.
Canvas Parent 3.0
In case you didn’t see the previous mobile update, we’re dividing parent app work into three chunks: grades list and syllabus (3.0), messaging (3.1), and calendar (3.2).
We’re in the process of testing one API change scheduled to go to production this week to finish up work on iOS Canvas Parent 3.0. I think we’ll be able to provide a link to the TestFlight version of that update by the end of this week. Apple allows public TestFlight links now, so no need to register beforehand anymore!
I’ll provide a little more detail when I post the link, but at a high level, you’re going to see a grades list in the parent app for the first time, more robust homepage support (syllabus and frontpage will both be supported), and links from each of those places will work. Here's what that looks like:
This replaces the old "week" view within a course, which was redundant within the parent app.
If the TestFlight version looks good, we plan to ship it to the App Store in December.
For a variety of reasons -- some of which have to do with automated testing -- the current plan is for Android to bundle all three parent app chunks into a single update, which we’ll call 3.2. I’ll post a public link to that work-in-progress within a few weeks. We’re predicting that both platforms will ship 3.2 at about the same time in the new year.
Keep your eyes peeled for a separate post with more details soon!
Since this post was relatively light on visuals, I took a picture of my desk neighbor and Android QA lead, "Just-Try-And-Stop-Me" Joe, working on automated tests for the student app:
Hope summer is going well for you! After the second-rainiest spring on record, the atmosphere over Utah burned away and now we're all walking around in climate-controlled space suits and eating sand.
Here’s what the mobile teams are working on.
New assignment details and submission flows are coming in Canvas Student 6.6! We showed off this update at InstructureCon two weeks ago, but in case you missed it, here’s what that looks like:
The student app assignment detail view is the most-used detail view across all of our apps, and we’re really excited about this upgrade going into the new school year. We improved assignment details in a few ways:
Grade visibility. Most students access the assignment detail view to check a grade (surprise!), so we needed the design to reflect that pattern.
Feedback visibility. Grades are just the tip of the feedback iceberg. Almost all the value for the student -- and the bulk of time spent grading -- is in the comments. We wanted to beef up the visibility of teacher feedback (off the top of my head: annotations, annotation comments, submission comments, media comments, rubrics, and rubric comments). The student can now find all feedback in a single place while also viewing and interacting with their submission. And for the first time, students can navigate all rubric details -- all scores, definitions and descriptions -- both before and after submission.
Submission flow. If you’ve never submitted a file to Canvas from another app on a mobile device then you haven’t felt confusion. You may have heard about it, but you haven’t felt it in your bones. That’s a problem because students increasingly rely on the mobile app to submit assignments. Well, problem solved in 6.6. Here’s the new share extension in action -- submitting from the Files app on iOS to Canvas:
Submitting from within the app is also much better -- with the one exception of cloud assignments: those remain unchanged. To ship this update before fall start we had to save improvements to cloud assignments for another day. To play with new submissions yourself, see the TestFlight link below.
Lastly -- unrelated to assignment details -- hold onto your wigs and keys if you use Canvas Student on iPad because here’s the thing you’ve been waiting for:
That’s right, support for split view is coming in 6.6!
We’re in the process of testing 6.6 for both platforms right now. The iOS team is on track to begin rollout in the first week of August, and the Android update will happen a few days afterwards. If you want to help us test the 6.6 update by playing with it on iOS through TestFlight, here’s a link:
As usual, if you find any funny business, feel free to report it below. (...unless the 6.6 update is already released to stores when you're reading this. Once a release hits stores, you're better off reporting any issue you find to Canvas Support.)
Over the past few weeks we’ve worked on improving load times for submissions in the teacher app. If you work in large courses -- on the order of hundreds of enrollments -- stay tuned for the next teacher app release on iOS and Android. It should hit stores within the next few weeks. Everyone will see improved load times but it will be most noticeable for large courses.
Next up for the teacher app is adding support for post policies, which are the new gradebook’s equivalent of the old gradebook’s muting/unmuting grades.
We’ve already released two updates that should really help the observer self-registration process for teachers and parents this fall. If your school/system uses self-registration for parents, take note and help spread the word:
[INSERT LASER-LIKE FOCUS HERE]
Teachers can now create pairing codes for an entire class with a single click. Check out the documentation onexporting pairing codes to see how.
Parents can now add additional students to observe from the parent app. Android added this feature a little while ago, and iOS supports it as of this week. Canvas guides are being updated right now with directions for parents, and I'll update this post with the links when they're live. Update: Check out the iOS and Android guides for adding students to observe from the parent app.
I’m super excited to have these updates live before fall start, and I hope you are too! They should really smooth out the parent onboarding process.
Now for the fun part: improving the in-app experience for parents! Our goal is to help parents support their students on a daily basis by answering some simple questions: How’s my kid doing, and what’s due and when? We have three updates planned to answer those questions in a better way, divided as follows.
3.0: New grades list and updated syllabus. Today, parents can only view grades in the week view, which means there’s no way to see a summary of assignment grades in a particular course. In the 3.0 update, parents will have access to the same grades list that students have today (including grading period filter). In addition, we’ll make access to the course syllabus more obvious and add support for linking from rich content.
3.1: Messaging. The parent app is getting an inbox! Parents will be able to send and receive messages from the app, and message composition will be contextual. Parents will be able to compose a message from the assignment detail view, for example, and we’ll add the appropriate teacher(s) as recipients automatically. We’ll also include a link to the content being referenced in the text of the message so teachers have a little more context on the receiving end. (Yes, the parent app will use the existing Canvas Inbox to make this happen.)
3.2: New calendar. The parent app’s calendar isn’t awesome. We’re going to be redesigning it to include more course content like announcements and to-do items, which don’t show up in today's parent app. Parents should also be able to filter the calendar by course and content type, and see busy days upcoming for their students at a glance. (Then we plan to reuse the new calendar for the student app.)
These updates will be built and released throughout the fall. I’ll post progress updates, designs and links to beta builds in CMUG in the coming weeks.
Happy fall start to everyone! If you experience any issues, report them! We're here to help!
Put simply - if we weren't already, we need to begin considering mobile implications for course design. Having the checklist before, during, and after course development removes any instructional designer's best guesses at what needs to be considered.
Is there a tip you are able to (or plan to) apply to your work in the future? How will it help you overall?
The Mobile App Design checklist will be implemented into our instructional design and development process. The checklist will be shared to all team designers which in turn will be shared with instructors during design consultations. I believe starting with one instructor on mobile considerations will have a trickle-down effect to other instructors in their department/college.
Do you have follow-up questions for CMUG members? Is there a discussion you'd like to open?
I'd be interested in best practices for instructors providing feedback to assignments/assessments via the SpeedGrader on mobile devices.
I get excited about mobile learning because it opens up possibilities inside the classroom and outside the classroom. I believe that mobile devices, when used strategically with clear boundaries, can operate on all four levels of the SAMR technology model. I want to share two examples of mobile learning that have inspired me.
I have invested some time into the research on videoconferencing tools. Most of the time, that research is merely trying to prove that videoconferencing and distance learning are as effective as in-person instruction (short answer: it is). However, one researcher's work explored a fascinating way to implement mobile videoconferencing in a face-to-face teaching environment. Researchers Ting, Tai, Tseng, and Tsai published their paper Innovative Use of Mobile Video Conferencing in Face-to-Face Collaborative Science Learning: The Case of Reflection in Optics in 2018 where they examined using mobile devices to teach middle schoolers about the physical properties of light.
Typically we look for ways to incorporate hands-on learning to get students engaged, especially if we can get them to personally experience the principles we're covering. Optics has a unique problem, though. The way you perceive light being warped, reflected, and refracted by different surfaces is entirely contingent upon where you are standing in relation to the light source and the surface. The moment you move, the interaction changes. For a young child, this is difficult to explain. All they know is that this is what the light looks right now, which is different from how it looked a minute ago.
So, the researchers setup the optics lesson to center around videoconferencing. Students would partner up, mobile devices in hand, and would assume different positions around the light/glass/surface assemblage. Then, they would videoconference each other and point their cameras at the setup. This allowed students to see that the same setup could produce two radically different optic effects based on your position around the activity. Mobile devices enabled a lesson in a way that would not physically be possible otherwise.
Apps like Aurasma incorporate augmented reality into regular lessons without requiring radical changes to the lesson structure. Here's an example I found compelling: students were given coloring sheets that depicted all the components of a cell. Once students finished coloring the illustration, they could point a tablet at the drawing and an app would turn the drawing into a 3-dimensional diagram. The trick is that the app would pull the students' coloring and map it onto the 3-d object. If Suzy painted her mitochondria orange, she saw orange. If Timmy painted one of his mitochondria pink and another green, he'd see pink and green. This is so much more powerful than a standard diagram. It provides students the opportunity to organically and independently identify the various components of a cell without having to worry about the technical names. Then, students can learn the proper names for different components using a model that they themselves participated in creating.
Can mobile devices be distracting in a classroom? Sure. Does that mean we should ignore them? I hope these two applications show why the answer is "no." When used with purpose and limits, mobile devices can enrich learning.
Here's some stuff that's worth writing home about!
We’ve been working for months on a new assignment details page and a new submission workflow for students in mobile. I outlined some of the features of that project in a post last fall. To minimize the risk of disruption, we don’t plan to release the update in stores until summer, but we will provide a link to a beta version of this update as it nears completion.
Cloud assignments have been harder to make good than we originally thought they would be, but we aren’t giving up yet. Everything else is going swimmingly. This is going to be an awesome update. Right now, it’s slated as Canvas Student 6.6 – more to come soon.
We will have a smaller feature release – Canvas Student 6.5 – likely before the end of the school year. That’s going to contain a syllabus update for both platforms. The old (current) syllabus works like this:
That’s...one way to present a syllabus. But probably not the best way. If you use the syllabus as your course homepage, you probably create attractive and/or important content to be featured on the syllabus, which today gets hidden behind a “Syllabus” button when the student has already tapped to view the syllabus. The old design is also inconsistent with the way the syllabus is presented on the web: rich content more prominent, and list of assignments less prominent.
The new syllabus looks like this:
So that’s better.
The 6.5 update will also include some cool iOS-specific features: support for viewing augmented reality files, checking grades via Siri Shortcuts, and updated Apple Pencil support.
We’re almost done with the most-requested feature for the teacher app, which is adding support for modules. Starting with Canvas Teacher 1.8, you’ll be able to navigate your course via modules list, like this:
Editing the module progression is significantly more complex because of features like mastery paths and module item prerequisites, and it also seems like a task more aligned with course creation rather than course facilitation, so that won’t be included in this release. Instead, if you like navigating your course via modules, you can do that!
This update also improves our use of temporary file storage so the teacher app stops eating all the goshdarn space on your iPad.
If you see anything wonky, wobbly or just straight up whack, please reply to this post so we can fix it.
I’m on a mission to make the parent mobile experience good. Less like Twinkies good, more like Plato’s Form of the Good. That means two things for the app most urgently:
Improve the process of connecting parents and students and teachers and Canvas. We started this last summer by unifying the parent user/Canvas user paradigm, which was 100% necessary and fundamental for kicking things up another notch, but now we need to actually kick things up another notch: allow teachers to mass produce pairing codes, allow students to create pairing/QR codes from mobile, allow parents to connect with multiple students from the parent app…that kind of thing.
Provide parents with more/better information. They access Canvas because they’re trying to help their kids. That could require viewing course announcements, school announcements, course content, calendar, assignment grades, communication with teachers, maybe even content recommendations to help them understand the topics their kids are learning.
We’re in a position to help parents support their students, and to reduce stress for admins and teachers in dealing with parents, and most importantly, to accomplish these things in a way that actually helps kids (instead of creating more noise or adding unnecessary burden). I’ll provide more specifics on upcoming parent app development soon, but if you feel passionately about this, I’d love to pick your brain and steal your ideas! The best way to arrange this is probably through your CSM.
From the outset I hope everyone know how much I love Canvas. I love the mobile apps. They are great and people like email@example.comRyan.Seilhamer@ucf.edu an firstname.lastname@example.org an outstanding job covering and promoting the app(s). First there was the Canvas app. Then SpeedGrader, Polls and Magic Marker. Next up was the Parent app and then finally the Teacher app. I have been a part of the Canvas family for five years now and I have seen so much grow in the mobile strategies.
However, since my role is that of a Sub-Account Admin, I just don't get a lot of use out of the mobile apps. I do not teach and I am not a student, which leaves me with having to login through Safari when I am out of the office and get that frantic email from a faculty member that something isn't quite right in their course. If you haven't tried using Canvas through the mobile browser, particularly on a smaller screen phone, you may not be quite aware of how cumbersome it can be.
I would love for the great folks at Canvas to maybe make a new addition to the app family. To help those of us that support our faculty and students. To help use get out from behind the desk and be out there with them when they need us.
I guess the the question then is what would that look like?
Well... I think that it would have to work a lot like the teacher app. Maybe just replace the To Do option on the bottom of the screen with the Admin option as the To Dos are typically course related and not "real" to dos for the Admin. I know some people may be both, but that is why this would just be used for those administrative tasks and not for teaching. You would still have the teacher app for that.
Here are some quick mock-ups I made this morning:
Home screen with a quick link to the Admin area on the bottom tool bar.
Admin page that lets you select which Account/Sub-Account to view.
The Account/Sub-Account page.
The Courses drop-down menu could load the navigation menu as a selection option.
I know it is much easier to make the mock-ups then it is to make the app, but I think there are many Canvas admins that would love to be able to work through an app then through the mobile browser.
What say you CMUG? Is it time for a Canvas for Admins app?
It’s been quiet around here lately! To help kick start some new collaboration in CMUG, Ryan.Seilhamer@ucf.edu, email@example.com, and I designed a quest! Now, this quest will require some reflection and some writing. All of of the requirements center on mobile design and maximizing student engagement within the Canvas Student App.
Are you ready? Let me out line them for you!
Read this blog post! (Easy, right?)
Watch Ryan and Kenneth’s InstructureCon 2018 presentation . Feel free to add a comment or a question under the video. While this isn’t a required part of the quest, it would be great to hear about your biggest takeaways from the presentation or your favorite tip and how it can be applied to your work. You could also ask a question!
Write a Blog in CMUG. Based on what you learned from the video, the poll, the checklist, and the other mobile-friendly instructional design you’ve picked up along the way, write a blog and share your insights! If you want, feel free to use this template to get started.
When you’re done, you’ll receive a nifty badge for your Community profile and 150 points. You'll probably earn more points with likes and comments on your blog, too!
Please note: When you work on quest components, to earn the badge, you have to click on the links in the badge itself. You can find this in your profile, then rewards. Completing it by following the instructions here won’t "complete" the steps that are required to award the badge.
Throughout the coming months, Ryan, Kristin, and I will help develop the discussion that take place as comments and in blogs throughout CMUG. It will be awesome to learn from each other as we browse the materials as I outlined above.
As I fly through CMUG in my newly designed super-suit, I’ll likely award some surprises along the way! Thank you in advance for your thoughtful comments and participation.
It’s about time we published an update from the Canvas mobile teams, don’t you think?
Here are some fall start highlights -- in descending order of how much they excited me:
Neighbor’s kid stopped me taking out the trash and said the student app’s gotten soooooo much better since he started using it last year!
Canvas Student hit 3 million daily active users a couple of weeks ago!
iOS 12 and Android Pie updates broke fewer things than usual!
Canvas Teacher became the highest-rated LMS teacher app on iOS and Android!
Canvas Student became the highest-rated LMS student app on iOS and Android!
Not everything went perfectly. Including both platforms, we closed 50 functional bugs in the month of September, and several more accessibility bugs. The self-registration pairing code rollout for parent app required a couple tweaks. But overall, it was a relatively smooth start for the mobile teams.
Both platforms are in the process of releasing Student 6.4 (adding support for custom help and searching files) and Teacher 1.7 (respecting document orientation set by DocViewer and adding an annotation eraser).
Now we’re on to Student 6.5, which will bring with it a new assignment details page and submission flow. The assignment details page is the most-visited details page in the student app. It’s also one of the oldest, and the current design doesn’t make much sense given how students use it.
For example, we know students look for their grade when they open an assignment after submission, but right now that information is hidden in a separate tab. We know students want information about submission status, but right now that doesn’t appear in the assignment details view. We know teachers want students to see comments and feedback, but right now there's no indication that feedback is available. We plan to fix all of that.
In addition, we think we can significantly improve the experience of submitting an assignment through mobile. Today’s submission flow feels awkward and laborious, and our analytics say that only about half the people that start submitting through mobile actually finish submitting through mobile. With an increasing number of students completing assignments solely from mobile devices, we have an opportunity to reduce some points of regular friction. That includes adding proper support for Canvas cloud assignments.
Today, opening a Google or Office assignment from the mobile app takes approximately 147 taps too many, and that’s because we launch the assignment as an LTI tool in a webview rather than attempting to open the Google or Office native apps. In the future, when a student taps “Launch External Tool” on a cloud assignment, we plan to redirect to the Google or Office apps directly. Combine that with a more streamlined process for submitting to Canvas from third-party apps, and submission flows in the student app all around should be much improved with the 6.5 release.
Let’s see some pictures!
New assignment details -- notice the submission status, the large grade cell, the “Feedback” pill indicating submission comments or annotations, and the large “Submit” or “Resubmit” button:
New submission details -- notice the student’s view of their submission is only a single tap away from the assignment details, the similarity to the teacher app SpeedGrader view, and the ability to view the submission, rubric and feedback in a single place:
New app extension -- students can submit a file directly to Canvas from a third-party app:
The iOS and Android teams are both working on new assignment details and submission flows now, and we hope to release it sometime in Q1 of 2019. We’re super excited about these upgrades.
If you’ve got a pet peeve with assignments in mobile that you feel like I haven’t addressed here, or if you want to give any other feedback, feel free to post a comment!
Oregon State surveyed over 2,000 of their ecampus students about their device preferences and were surprised with some of the results (according to a Webinar I attended that was hosted by the researchers Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, Ph.D. and Katie Linder, Ph.D.). Students don't always prefer mobile as many assume (including me ).
An interesting paragraph from their conclusion (Stritto & Linder, 2018, p. 23): "The results of this study show a wide range and variety of usage of the four main device types: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. However, the students in this study overwhelmingly owned laptops and preferred to use those devices to access their courses and engage with videos and other multimedia. While this study showed that some students were using tablets and smartphones to access their course materials, they were rarely preferred, although they were used for convenience."
Of course, various colleges and universities obtain different results when they survey students using questions that are worded differently and are directed at different student demographics. On p. 29, the demographics describe how three quarters of their respondents were undergraduates with an average GPA of 3.39. Also, 42.9% were seniors and 23.9% were engineering students. The table on p. 27 lists respondent race/ethnicity that is not as diverse as other universities, such as Wayne State University in my home town of Detroit, Mic... and not as diverse as our community college in the Metro Detroit suburbs. Maybe various colleges and universities will administer the exact same student device preferences survey Stritto & Linder (2018) provided within their report. If so, I hope everyone shares out their results!
Dello Stritto, M. E. & Linder, K. E. (2018). Student device preferences for course access and multimedia learning. Corvallis, OR. Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.
Instructure's mobile strategy usually ends up outlined in a couple of InstructureCon presentations, but if you’re new to Canvas, or if you haven’t made it to InstructureCon, or if you just want to know more about our mobile strategy, here’s a brief summary.
We build native mobile apps because native mobile offers a much better experience than mobile web from mobile devices. This means we minimize the number of web views in our mobile apps, and instead rely heavily on the Canvas API to present information from Canvas in a way that’s optimized for touchscreens, big and small. There are a few learning management systems that treat their mobile apps like web portals and their mobile experiences generally stink as a result, but many lean native nowadays for that reason. If you’ve ever annotated a paper from a mobile web browser and then done the same thing from a native app (say, Canvas Teacher), you can easily feel the difference in experience.
A few years ago we decided that we could further refine our mobile experience by focusing on how people approached Canvas from mobile devices. We noted a few truths up front:
In other words, Canvas is roughly bigger than the Pyramids of Giza combined, and even a gargantuan phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note is relatively small, and we have the opportunity to bridge that gap by giving people the experience they need from mobile -- tailored to their role -- because their expectations depend on their role.
A student approaches Canvas saying I want to see my grade on this assignment, or I want to see what’s due next week. A teacher approaches Canvas saying I want to post an announcement, or I want to grade this assignment. A parent approaches Canvas saying What’s Canvas? So let's deliver experiences that map to those realities.
This approach is working so far on a number of fronts:
The apps are easier to use because they provide the functions you need rather than the ones you don’t.
It streamlines messaging for us and for our clients. Parents don’t need to learn how to use Canvas, for example, they just need to learn how to use the parent app.
It forces us to decompose problems from the perspective of the user. Rather than let’s build an assignments page for a 4-inch screen, we say students need to submit assignments, or teachers need to grade assignments, and those needs inform how the assignments page needs to look and function from a variety of perspectives.
The apps are easier to maintain because we narrow the set of perspectives to consider for any function within a given app.
For an example that illustrates how roles inform the Canvas mobile experience, here’s the teacher app assignment details page beside the upcoming student app assignment details page:
Teachers see submission dials -- students see information about their own submissions. Teachers see publishing status -- students see submission status. Teachers can modify assignment details and grade submissions -- students can submit (or resubmit) assignments. Especially with limited screen real estate, we want to give people the experience they need to efficiently get things done no matter who or where they are.
We continue to release app updates geared towards boosting productivity and efficiency as quickly as we can build them, which is relatively quickly. Of course, Canvas offers support for tablet browsers, and new features -- like our new quizzes platform -- are built to be fully responsive if you're really jonesing for browser access from a mobile device. But we think if mobile is worth doing, it's worth doing right. With an ever-increasing number of daily active users in our native mobile apps, we're confident that we're on the right path.
Lastly, we make it a point to learn our way forward, so your feedback is incredibly important to the success and usefulness of our apps. If you're passionate about a idea related to mobile, we want to hear from you. Real bad. You can reach out to us through the community or email or client services. We'd love to chat.
With a few more tweaks we'll be done with Canvas Parent 2.0, so here's a final pre-release post! Anything to do with pairing codes or self-registration in this post is only relevant if self-registration is enabled at your institution.
To summarize the changes coming:
We modified the parent self-registration flow to use pairing codes instead of student username and password, which comes with two benefits:
Pairing codes enable self-registration regardless of how students authenticate with Canvas (username/password only worked as long as students were using Canvas authentication)
Pairing codes are more secure than password sharing; they last 24 hours and can only be used once. After the pairing code is used, it expires, the observer remains paired with the student, and anyone who tries to use that pairing code again to self-register will receive an error.
We made self-registration work from the parent app. Now parents will be able to self-register as observers from Canvas web or the parent app, and the account they create will work on both platforms. No more duplicate parent accounts, and no more need for parents to connect to a student from web and mobile separately.
We added an account permission to allow pairing codes to be generated on behalf of students. By default, this permission will be off for all roles (i.e., admin-only). But if you're an admin and you want your teachers, for example, to be able to facilitate parent self-registration on behalf of their students, you can enable this permission. Students can always create pairing codes for themselves.
Parent app works for all observers, regardless of whether the observer was created through self-registration, manually by an admin, SIS import, or whatever else.
As usual, our friends on the documentation team are working on creating/updating Canvas Guides to explain these updates in full detail, but I made a quick (super-duper high-quality) video to show how this all comes together:
This video is currently being processed. Please try again in a few minutes.
The new pairing codes and the new permission are on beta now, so you can mess around with them if you want. The 2.0 update to Canvas Parent will be rolling out to stores on/around July 18th.
This has been a deceptively large project to make the parent/school experience fundamentally better -- more reliable, more secure, more consistent, and more scalable than it was. We hope it helps kick off the '18-'19 school year in the right direction!
The Information School, iSchool, at the University of Washington has been providing templates for our Canvas courses since about late 2012. We started using Canvas in fall of 2011. Our templates have evolved with the available technological advances and we have spent the last few months designing for the next iteration. One of my colleagues, putrih, has spent a great deal of time working on this new generation of templates.
The question that we always struggle with is whether to optimize our templates for responsiveness or make them work best in the app. There are pros and cons either way but we are currently leaning more to the responsive design that works in the mobile browsers. For what our students do on mobile, based on a survey from a year ago, I think our focus on responsive is better at this point. What are your thoughts about developing for the apps, mobile web or both?
So, let's take a look at our "compact" template on both the Desktop and Mobile:
The image above show the desktop version of the template on the left and the mobile version on the right. The desktop version is shown in the Chrome browser and the mobile version is from Chrome on an Android device running Android 5.1 Nearly identical other than the purple menu wrapping and the course stream link loading at the bottom on mobile.
The next image shows "Week 1" expanded on both platforms, desktop on the left and mobile on the right:
You can see that the 3 column layout on the desktop collapses really well to a single column on the mobile side.
The next image show the comparison between the two platforms showing the menu on the syllabus page:
The last thing I will share is a two minute screencast of this template being used on my phone. It works really well.
At UCF we have been using Canvas campus-wide since 2013. When we started using Canvas, there wasn't much mobile available. The SpeedGrader app had been out for a year or so, the iOS app was very limited, and the Android app just came out of beta. Over the past six years that mobile apps have grown to be an essential part of not only the online experience but the overall educational experience for students at UCF.
In 2014 we recognized the need to understand better how students were interacting with Canvas while on-the-go and we conducted our first Canvas Mobile App survey at UCF. The study is critical because it gives us a better understanding of how students are interacting with the most popular mobile app at UCF and help us better communicate needs directly to Instructure and the Canvas Mobile team. In 2018 we completed our fifth Canvas Mobile App survey which I want to share with the community to create discussion, inform your mobile strategy, and help improve the experience for students.
The survey was administered April 1-8 inside of Canvas as a global message to all users. We have found that this messaging feature is handy, but needs to be used sparingly to avoid overloading the user.
The survey this year included a record number of users (1688), and we suspect this might be to the addition of global messages being available on iOS for the first time. In the past, this was only available to web users and the smaller subset of Android users.
At UCF we are BIG and this includes a large diverse student population of over 66k. The following charts give a breakdown of the demographics behind the 1688 student responses.
App usage has been high at UCF since 2014 with very little change in usage, which is very high. In other studies, mobile app ownership is approximately 3:1 iPhone over Android devices. This survey was mostly in line with ownership. One interesting fact is that 3% of student reported both Android and iOS.
Outside of this survey, our Canvas Data shows approximately 20% of all Canvas traffic is through the Canvas Student app, which includes over 500 million page views and 40k unique users per month.
The following question is always interesting because the biggest reason why students didn't use the Canvas Student app was they didn't know it was available. This used to be a more significant issue, but when smart banners were added to Canvas in 2014, we noticed that adoption jumped up significantly.
This survey and our previous have proved that student who use the Canvas Student app, use it a lot. In fact, 96% use it at least once a week with the majority (87%) using it even more. It's the most used app at UCF just in front of the popular UCF Mobile app at 84%.
Since we started this survey in 2014, this hasn't changed much. Students generally want to know three things:
How am I doing in class?
What do I need to do?
How do I do it?
The survey shows that students are using the mobile app for light interaction and staying connected to their class while on-the-go.
In 2016 we added the following question to learn even more about how students use the Canvas apps, and this is in line with my statement above about what student generally want to know and how their interactions a light. There isn't a lot of interaction around assignments, discussions, or quizzes. These features are being used to get more information about a particular assignment, but not to submit one.
The favorite features have a lot of similarities to the most popular features like grades and assignments. Thought it's interesting to see how the app gives access and is convenient and easy. I am particularly interested in the word "check" which shows student value being able to stay connected with short interactions.
Which devices students own and how they access Canvas is essential as we continue to manage resources and support users on all platforms. One interesting point that has become common in recent surveys is laptop/desktop ownership is slightly less than smartphones. The 2018 survey is no different with 12 students reporting not owning a computer, with only four not owning a smartphone.
When I discuss these surveys I always say that usage doesn't equal importance, and it's no surprise that laptop/desktop is extremely important to students, with the smartphone in the middle, and tablet way behind at 11 percent.
If you take extremely important and very important to one data point, the smartphone is essential to almost 3/4th of the students in the survey with the tablet still well behind.
Communication through mobile technologies is often known as "non-traditional" but from our recent survey its obvious this is becoming less true as students reported push notifications (70%) to be more important than email (66%) with the more traditional SMS at 29%.
I hope to dive more into these numbers over the next few months but would love to know what you think. Also, if you are interested in running this survey at your school, please let me know as I'd be excited to compare numbers.
We’re making some really good progress on Canvas Parent 2.0, so I wanted to post some screenshots/flows here to keep you all informed and answer some FAQs. If you haven’t read the original post on Canvas Parent 2.0, I’d recommend checking that out before reading this. As always, if you’ve got questions or concerns, feel free to post them here or send me a message.
Observer login flow
If a parent already has an observer account in Canvas, this is how they’ll sign into Canvas Parent 2.0 (red circles indicate taps):
If it looks familiar, that’s the same login flow used in the student and teacher apps. We’ve made this flow work for all observers (whether self-registered, imported from the SIS or manually created), and observers won’t have to add students from the app anymore if they’re already connected to students in Canvas.
Observer self-registration flow(only relevant for accounts with self-registration enabled)
If a parent doesn’t already have a Canvas observer account, they’ll need to create one. If self-registration is enabled at your institution, this is what that self-registration flow looks like in Canvas Parent 2.0:
If your school doesn’t enable self-registration, and observers are instead manually created or imported from a SIS, parents will already have observer accounts, the "Create Account" button won't appear on the login page, and they’ll go through the login flow shown at the top of this post.
Parent signup form(only relevant for accounts with self-registration enabled)
We’re tweaking the parent signup form, as you may have noticed in the fourth screenshot above. Here are today’s (old) form and the yet-to-be-released (new) form, side by side:
So there are a couple of things happening:
We’re adding password creation to the parent’s account creation process. Today, parents sign up and then receive an email with a link to create a password. We’re making that a single step in account creation.
We’re removing student username and password from the equation and replacing it with a pairing code. More on the pairing code below.
Pairing codes(only relevant for accounts with self-registration enabled)
As I mentioned in a reply to my last post, requiring student username and password in the observer self-registration process is a problem for two reasons:
Sharing passwords is bad, and
Those usernames and passwords only apply to Canvas authentication, and many schools aren’t using Canvas authentication for students, so observers couldn't self-register even if the school allowed it.
To remedy this, we’ve created pairing codes. Here’s what pairing code creation is going to look like from the student’s perspective:
Some notes on the pairing code:
The “Pair with Observer” button only shows up if self-registration is enabled at your institution. When it’s available, students can see it for themselves, and admins can see it for all students.
For now, each pairing code will live for 24 hours. That means once the pairing code is generated, it will remain valid for 24 hours, then it expires.
Each pairing code can only be used once. Once it’s used in account registration, the pairing code expires and the observer remains successfully paired. If you want to pair two observers to one student, each observer needs a unique pairing code.
For now, there’s no limit to how many pairing codes can be created per student. If a student creates one for herself, and then an admin creates one for her, both codes are valid for that student for 24 hours.
This is a solution that doesn’t require password sharing and works regardless of how the student authenticates with Canvas.
We want to release this with Canvas Parent 2.0 in July, so we’re keeping the approach simple; no configuring how long the pairing code lasts on the account, no creating codes en masse, no automatic form letters generated with codes. With this release, we want an easy path for generating an individual pairing code and we want better security and flexibility than using student passwords. Our stretch goal is students generating QR codes from the student app that parents can scan from the parent app to use for pairing.
Are there any feature updates happening outside the authentication process with Canvas Parent 2.0?
There are a few:
UI tweaks: We’re moving the course/week/alerts tabs to the bottom of the app to more closely resemble the styling of the student and teacher apps, and we’re replacing the carousel with a dropdown for student switching. The carousel didn’t work very well, and version 2.0 won’t have the same scaling issues that version 1.0 had with multiple students. Here’s what that change looks like:
We’re adding the global navigation menu already available in the student and teacher apps, which means parents will be able to “change user” if they’ve got kids at multiple institutions (i.e., if they’ve got multiple Canvas accounts) without needing to sign in every session. Here’s what that change looks like:
We’re adding masquerading to the parent app. Admins haven’t historically been able to help parents directly with the app, and now they’ll be able to. Just like in the student and teacher apps, if you sign in as an admin to Canvas Parent 2.0, you’ll see “Act as User” as an option in the global navigation menu.
That’s about it! This release is very much about getting the user model straightened out.
What will happen to Canvas Parent Tools™ LTI tool?
This tool will go away. We created it to give admins the ability to manage Canvas Parent users - but when those users are observers, you can use all of the normal Canvas administrative tools and reports to manage them instead.
Do I need to make any changes toauthentication on my account?
All you need to do is make sure observers can log into the mobile apps. You can test this today by attempting to log in to any of our apps as an observer.
If you use multiple authentication providers, I'd recommend asking your CSM to add both (or all) providers to mobile smart search, which will make them show up when people search for your school (e.g., search for "Smith Schools" and see "Smith Schools - Parents" and "Smith Schools - Students"). Here's a real life example:
"Brown County Schools - Students/Teachers" and "Brown County Schools - Parents" represent two different authentication providers for Brown County Schools.
This here’s meant for the K-12ers in the house. HE folks are welcome to keep reading, but I bet you won’t find it very relevant.
I mentioned in my recent Canvas Mobile Update post that we’re going to improve everybody’s experience with the parent app by changing the way authentication works. This post will provide a deeper dive into what that means and what you can expect from the parent app in the coming months. It’s nothing scary; I just want to make sure everyone has a proper heads-up and a chance to ask questions.
Let’s start with how things work today. Your institution handles parent accounts in Canvas in one of two (or both of these) ways:
You provision parent accounts in Canvas -- likely as observers -- from your SIS or some other user import. In this case, you’re either using Canvas authentication or some other authentication system (LDAP, SAML, etc.) to allow parents to access Canvas. You probably also communicate with parents about how to access these things…maybe at back-to-school night, maybe in packets you send home with kids, maybe through email, maybe through snail mail, or whatever else. Provisioning is the method of choice for a lot of larger schools/districts.
You enable self-registration for observers in Canvas. In this case, you tell parents to go to ‘yourschool.instructure.com/login/canvas’ to create an account for themselves. This option enables a little button on the Canvas login page that says: Self-registration is the method of choice for a lot of smaller schools/districts.
In both cases, you end up with parents as users in Canvas. Cool! That means parents can engage in their kids’ education and you can facilitate that engagement depending on the policies and preferences of your school or district.
Okay, now less cool: We created an entirely different user model for the parent app when we launched it two years ago. There were good reasons for it, like wanting registration for parents to be easy from a mobile device -- and wanting parents with kids at different institutions to have an easy way to navigate between those kids/institutions. But in the end, this other user model:
Doesn’t play nice with SIS integrations
Doesn’t play nice with Canvas services like inbox
Means parents (at least until we added support for observer authentication in the fall of 2016) needed two Canvas accounts – one for web and one for mobile
Necessitates all this duplicate tooling like Canvas Parent Admin Tools and a Canvas Parent feature flag to manage mobile parents separately because Canvas Parent Users aren’t technically Canvas users
Made the first-time experience for parents worse
That all stinks. And that stench totally outweighs the theoretical benefits of having a separate model for parents.
In case the solution isn’t obvious yet: we’re going to get rid of the Canvas Parent user model and everyone’s going to authenticate in the parent app with their ordinary Canvas credentials (just like students and teachers do in the apps today). Here’s what the current release plan looks like:
When: Likely the second half of April
What it does: Removes the “Create Account” button from the parent app’s login page
What parents can expect:
Won’t change anything for existing users.
Brand new users will need to have Canvas observer accounts to log in to the parent app.
Why: Since we’re getting rid of the Canvas Parent user model this summer, we’re removing the ability to create accounts that won’t work a few months down the road. Instead, new parents will need to be Canvas observers.
When: In July, when parent app usage hits its lowest point
What it does:
Forces observer authentication to use the parent app
Likely gets rid of Canvas Parent Admin Tools and Canvas Parent feature flag (because they duplicate other Canvas admin functionality)
What parents can expect:
Will need to log into the app again, this time using their Canvas observer credentials, following the same flow they would to log into Canvas web or the student app (No more having two accounts!)
Any kids they’re observing will automatically populate once logged in (No more re-adding students you’re already observing in Canvas web!)
I have worked with a number of Learning Management Systems. Some of which no longer exist and/or have been bought and swallowed up by the more major players in the industry. I have seen the industry change - at least most with helping the student succeed in mind.
One thing that I really appreciate about Canvas is that, 1. not only did they develop their own mobile app, but, 2. they offer it as part of the purchase package and it's already configured!
If you have never had to beat your head against the wall dealing with "some of the other major players" then consider yourself lucky.
This post starts with a history lesson from my childhood. I grew up in Australia in the 80s. One of my fondest memories was rushing home from school to ensure that each afternoon I could catch my FAVORITE show, The Goodies!
The Goodies were three friends; Tim, Graeme and Bill, who ran a business where they spent each episode solving other peoples (or their own) problems. Let me give you a quick sample of their genius below.
So what made the Goodies successful? Well, it was easily their appealing slogan. "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime" and it is this very same message I use when talking Canvas Mobile!
From the very early days Canvas recognised that for true adoption we needed to be where the users were, when they needed us on whatever device they were on. Or, what I simply refer to as "The Goodies Method". And while thankfully we do it with a higher level of success and professionalism than the original intrepid trio, the ethos remains the same.
Be it through a purpose built App (Teacher, Student, Parent) or through the Mobile Webb, Canvas ensures that users get quick and easy access to what they need in a quick and efficient manner. And that includes not just access but also notifications.
So when was the last time you unleashed your Goodies?
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.
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:
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:
Make grades and submission comments easy for students to access
Allow students to see their submission, submission comments, rubric and annotations in a single place
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:
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.
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 modifyingthe 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.
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:
Find their school
Enter their observer credentials
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:
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.
It has taken some time to encourage students and faculty to use mobile apps when accessing our Canvas instance, but we have made a lot of progress. This push came after we encouraged users to use the Calendar feature in their mobile devices. Our curriculum revolves around class calendars, and they needed a convenient way to access all the events in their classes. This has been a tremendous success, they can even access assignments and download attachments posted in the calendar through their phones and tablets.
Now it might be time to push for the use of mobile devices for other components inside Canvas. We recently acquired the Canvas video solution Arc, and students may be consuming these videos in mobile devices and not so much on PCs.
Regarding notifications, we have seen students turning them off more and more, they find this feature a little annoying, I find it useful though.
I want to know more about the Canvas mobile options and features, I will be doing more research on this and hopefully I will be able to share with all of you.
I am thrilled about the announcement of Canvas Student iOS 6.0 and Canvas Teacher iOS 1.4, and I hope that the Mobile Team and Cody have some energy left! I probably will create some work for them at the conclusion of March’s CMUG Mission.
Within CMUG, start a discussion about a feature you wish was included in Canvas Student, Canvas Teacher, or Canvas Parent. Click HERE to go to a template. Next, fill it out, but do not remove the pre-filled “cmug mobile idea” tag.
Even if you don’t initiate a discussion, you have a mission as well! March is going to be about developing potential ideas. I need all CMUG members to participate in these discussions. Share your ideas, use cases, and comments. The more voices we include, the stronger the final ideas will be.