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.
Since the release of the New Quizzes platform in June 2018, there have been many advances. Here are some things that you should know about New Quizzes on Canvas Mobile.
CREATING A NEW QUIZ
In order to create a New Quiz, you must do so from the desktop. You cannot do it from the Canvas Teacher app since there is no Add Assignment button on the bottom right corner of the screen.
From Assignments, we will create a new assignment. We will not use the Add Quiz/Test button due to the lack of certain fields.
Now that we've got the Instructions and Content Selector Sidebars, we can go ahead and fill in some details.
For this assignment, please use the Quizzes 2 LTI External Tool.
Once we save and publish, it will be visible in the Mobile Apps. The pencil icon on the top right will be the only way for you to edit the quiz instructions from the Assignments page. To add/remove questions, select the External Tool under Submission Types.
Once the student finishes the test, the results will be displayed.
Wait a second! Something's not looking right when there are fractions.
Students can leave comments to request regrades. The teacher can then open the Mobile SpeedGrader and see the problematic question.
RULES FOR REGRADING
Regrading only applies to completed submissions. If all students are affected, please wait for all submissions before regrading.
Since the correct answer is a fraction, manual grading may be needed. To avoid any issues from occurring in the future, please recommend students to round decimals to the required precision, up to the thousandths.
And that's it! You can now master the power of New Quizzes in the Canvas Mobile Apps!
The improvements made to the Canvas Mobile app demonstrate that its development team is singing the same melody as the teacher-instructor promoters who run their courses on Canvas.
The drive to achieve near-complete transparency between the computer-web based Canvas experience and the mobile-based one is the most important feature to increase usage across a school and campus. Like original Apple GUI guidelines, creating parallel environments that work relatively the same promotes usage because a user skill set is interchangeable across platforms.
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.
My students can be the biggest procrastinators. I suppose we all can procrastinate from time to time but I find that my students every year have trouble with completing their assignments early enough to have proper time for editing and self-reflection. I teach in a graduate school; all of my students are adults and choose to be students at the school. We have discussions in class about the issue of procrastination but for some it seems to be difficult to change. I am hoping to find advice from the community on any tips or strategies you find effective to help students avoid putting off their work until the last minute. Specifically, I am wondering whether there is anything related to the mobile use of Canvas that can motivate students to work in a more time efficient manner. Thanks!
I just started using Canvas 4 weeks ago. My experience so far has been to build a very traditional set of classroom assignments (reading homework -> quiz -> chapter test -> unit test) and now I'm ready to start pushing into more project based learning using the tools that I am learning about in the Canvas training videos. The biggest inspirations have been seeing how to leverage smartphones into learning devices.
My school is fighting an unwinnable war with students and their mobile devices. As an Instructional Technology Facilitator, I have been trying to get teachers to see the powerful tool that their students have at their fingertips. The biggest disconnect though, is that you can't just throw a smartphone at a traditional assignment and expect the same learning outcomes. Many of the teachers at my school are unwilling to rethink what it is they are actually trying to accomplish in student learning. The fundamental question is: am I teaching to give a grade OR am I teaching to measure learning?
So, rather than ask people to do something I haven't done myself, I'm taking the opportunity to experiment with the 1 class I teach this semester - Honors Anatomy and Physiology. I'm ready to implement the tools and examples I have seen and ready to reshape how we quantify learning with my one small class as the start.
My plan is to build modules around the next 4 body systems that we will be studying. They will be self-paced, allowing students to have freedom of choice in demonstrating clearly defined learning objectives that they will demonstrate through a variety of digital media assignment submissions. I'm also planning to put in performance requirements that set a minimum score threshold before the student unlocks the next module. All while sharing and demonstrating with my colleagues.
Let your students do quizzes when they have a minute to spare. Add a mobile friendly quiz to every module in your course.
Let students do quizzes at the beginning or at the end of your lesson. You can check the results immediately and check your students understanding.
Let students do quizzes during your lesson. Quizzes can be used as a polling tool. Prepare some quizzes in advance, or make them when you need them. Ask one or more questions and publish the quiz when you need it.
Create mobile friendly learning modules.
Create at least one learning module that's 100% mobile friendly. It could be a course introduction, or a course summary (everything you need to get a C). This module can be used by students when they have a minute to spare.
Mobile friendly course
Make your courses mobile friendly.
Reduce the width of your browser window when your creating content. By doing this you will get an idea of how your course looks on a mobile device. Try to avoid the horizontal scrollbar in your content.
Don't add to much content to a page.
Add your pages to modules. It's incredibly easy to navigate through modules on a mobile device.
And last but not least: Did you know that you can use pdfCreator to create a mobile friendly pdf version of your course text.
Open your course text and choose print
Choose pdfCreator as your printer
Go to printer properties and to advanced settings
Change the page size from A4 to A5 or A6
Your course text will be converted in a pdf that looks beautiful on a smartphone screen. You can make it even better if you decrease the page margins and increase the font size a bit.
I have been working in Higher Education for twelve or thirteen years now. I can remember using a VCR to record videoconferencing sessions, and now we have SaaS technologies for remote learners around the globe. I remember the click wheel on the iPod. I also remember when the idea of mobile learning on some campuses was providing a podcast of lectures in iTunes. Recently I have been struggling with K12 mobile initiatives; mainly because it directly affects my family. Let me preface my writing with some warnings:
I have two children. One of my children is in first grade and I have engulfed him in mobile technologies in our house since he was about 18 months old (with limitations). My second child is a bit older than 3 and has had relatively little exposure to mobile devices.
My wife is an elementary educator. She teaches Special Education and was first in the classroom in the Fall of 2007. She stayed home for a few years, but she is now wrapping up her 5th year teaching. Because of her, I have "seen" mobile devices in the classroom, out of the classroom, and district wide "initiatives".
Because my wife is an educator, she was very concerned about exposing my oldest son to "screen time" when he was so young. By the age of 2, he was navigating an iPad like a pro. I was amazed at his brain and how he was able to handle these "tasks". He would start in one app, play a little, go to another and sing a song, cycle through some more, and then complete the circle by coming to the app with the song and continue singing where the song left off. I was amazed. Granted, there's always the chance I scarred him (if there are any early childhood experts here, please let me know!), but I wanted that exposure for him. We were fortunate that I had A LOT of mobile devices for testing purposes at a previous job, so we might as well use them, right?
Now with my second son - he has had considerably less interaction with mobile devices. He turned three in December, and he probably played on an iPad or iPhone for the first time in the past 3-4 months. His frustration with the device is noticeable. He gets confused about where to tap, doesn't understand the purpose of the games/educational learning activities, and eventually just switches to the next app.
Why does the difference between my two boys matter?
I truly believe it is imperative for any educational institution, both Higher Ed and K12, to have a strong, top down, mobile learning initiative in place. However, sometimes when just technical people or district level trainers are involved, pedagogy or learning outcomes are solely missed (I'm guilty as well).
Take my two children - they come from the same house, have access to mobile devices (as long as we allow them!) and both Windows and macOS machines - yet I would only label one of them as "technically proficient" (and yes, I know one of my children is 3). The district my wife works for and my oldest attends recently had a large iPad roll out, and my son has said "I watch YouTube and play games on them..." I know my son can navigate the iPad just fine, but what about his peers? I know the demographics of his school, and there is a possibility that some children do not have regular access to devices. Are we giving our students an iPad just to say the device is in the classroom? Or are we giving a true exposure with measurable learning outcomes?
What about training for classroom teachers? How do you train teachers to work with students who may not understand the functionality? What about helping your teachers on how the device can impact learning and not just help them in their job? Parent and spouse aside - as a tax payer in the district, I want to ensure I didn't just help pay for a pretty little paperweight. My wife went through 8 hours of iPad training when the massive roll out happened; it was worthless. Teachers were taught how to take a selfie. Then they were taught to take a video and upload it to YouTube. Those two things took one day (two hours).
What is the answer? I have no idea! Every district and college has a different make up. But - ensure your classroom teachers are properly trained on how mobile devices will benefit teaching and learning. Ultimately, ask yourself, "What is the value add for the student?" We have all seen the highly publicized district iPad roll outs in the last few years. How many of them had a measurable success for the students?