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About Canvas Release Notes (FAQ)

About Canvas Release Notes (FAQ)

 

What are Canvas Release Notes?

A release represents a scheduled event when customer-affecting code is intended to be visible in a specified environment. Canvas release notes maintain a current list of features and other customer-impacting changes that will be included in an upcoming Canvas release.

Features are subject to change based on user feedback and QA testing.

  • Some features may only be available in the beta environment as indicated in the release notes. Production availability will be announced at a later date based on user feedback. 
  • Some features may be deployed to production before the scheduled release. Such changes are indicated in the release notes for the specified feature.
  • Canvas engineers may also modify or add additional code to the beta environment after the initial beta deploy. Modifications to the release notes are indicated in the Change Log section at the end of each release notes document.

What information is not in the release notes?

  • Features that are currently in development or could be in development
  • Notable fixed bugs and non-workflow adjustments
  • Canvas APIs, Canvas Data, GraphQL, and Live Events
  • Undocumented changes that affect styles and code in custom JavaScript/CSS applications
    • Please review the application using the Beta environment for potential customization conflicts along with Canvas Deploys every two weeks
  • Features in Canvas mobile apps
    • Visit the Mobile release notes (not all features will apply to mobile apps, and some functionality may be implemented at a later date)

What is the Canvas release schedule?

The release date indicates the date the features will be available in the production environment, unless otherwise noted. Updates are available on the third Saturday of every month. 

On the following Monday, all customer-affecting code for the following month will be available in the beta environment. Customers are welcome to experiment in the beta environment at this time, but the environment is still subject to change. Release notes announcing all specified changes will not be published until one week later.

For more information about the Canvas release process, please see the Canvas release schedule.

Does Canvas use versions?

Unlike traditional software, Canvas updates on a regular cadence identified by its release date, not a version number. 

How can I try out new features?

Changes described in the release apply to Canvas as accessed through a desktop browser.

All features are available for testing in the beta environment unless otherwise indicated directly in the release notes. Some features may not yet be supported in the beta environment.

Please note that beta environments are refreshed weekly on Saturdays. Any changes made in the beta environment will refresh with the latest data in the production environment. For more information, please see What is the Canvas beta environment?

After the production deploy, all features will also be available in the Test environment. For more information, please see What is the Canvas test environment? 

What are feature options?

Some features are available in Canvas as feature options, which may either be enabled by a Canvas admin in Account Settings or by a Canvas Customer Success Manager as indicated in the release notes. 

Feature options are features that may change the workflow for common activities in Canvas during an institution's current term and allows Canvas admins to enable the feature based on their preferred timeline. However, after a specified period of time, feature options may become standard features in Canvas. Feature options that will become enforced for all institutions will be indicated in the release notes with adequate advance notice. 

How can I enable a feature option?

Feature options can be managed by an institution’s Canvas admin. Feature options can either be turned on for all users or allowed at the sub-account and course levels. Allowed features at the course level can be managed by instructors within each individual course.

Some feature options enable beta features, which may be associated with user groups in the Canvas community.

For details about how to enable feature options, please see How do I manage new features for an account? and How do I manage new features for a course?

What is a beta feature?

The term Beta means the feature is available for use in the production environment but is still being tested for usability and accessibility behavior. However, occasionally features may only be available for testing in the beta environment.

Enabling a beta feature may create unintended behavior within a Canvas account. 

 

  • Note: In the near future, terminology will be adjusted to help better define the intention of a beta release and minimize confusion between the state and the environment.

 

Beta features are initially included and announced in the release notes. Not all institutions may be comfortable exploring beta features, so an institution may not choose to participate until the feature has been generally announced for all users. Most beta features are incorporated into Canvas as a feature option or an account setting.

 

What is a beta user group?

Some beta features may use customer feedback to provide additional development to the feature. Once all refinements have been made to the feature, our product teams will determine when it should be made generally available to all users.

 

These types of beta features employ the use of a Community beta user group, which houses all user documentation, release notes, known bugs, and other resources specific that feature. It also provides beta users a location to ask questions, find answers, and share feedback about the feature.

 

Participating in a beta feature associated with a user group may come with user advisories. For instance, some features may not be backward compatible, depending on the functionality. Additionally, updates to the feature can be deployed outside the regular Canvas release schedule.

 

Once the feature is no longer in a beta state and is ready for the production environment, the user group will be discontinued, and all specific resources for that feature will be transitioned into the existing resources for all Canvas users.

 

View all the beta user groups associated with Canvas beta features.

 

How do I leave feedback about something in the release notes?

Comments are welcome in the release notes for discussing announced feature functionality. For all other inquiries, such as bug reports or feature enhancements, feedback is better directed according to the Canvas Community Feedback Guidelines. Additionally, release notes comments are subject to release notes comment policies.

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Comments

erinhallmark‌  Hi Erin,  I noticed that there were no Beta Release notes with the 8/27 deployment and figured at first that had to do with not wanting to make changes just before many of us started a new semester.  Only today did I discover that:

 Beta Release Notes are "discontinued as of 2018-08-04"

Two comments: First, this strikes me as a major change in operational strategy, instituted with very little fanfare.  I don't question that Instructure may have had solid reasons for making the change (though I'd guess many of us would be curious to hear them).  I am uneasy about the super-low-key approach, that makes it seem like you're trying to duck customer reaction.  (Can't imagine that anyone was so naïve as to believe that you could ultimately avoid that though.  That in itself is worrying.)

Second:  The FAQ says "When a notable change is made to the beta environment after the Canvas release notes have been published, the notes will be updated with any notable changes. Changes are specified in the release change log at the end of each release notes document."  Evaluating these changes and familiarizing ourselves with them has been part of our process from the beginning.  How are we going to be alerted when these notes are updated, as we previously were when there was a new Beta release.

You've always been very open with this community, so these concerns are offered along with appreciation of your past directness and clarity.

Thanks.
 

Hi, Peter,

You're right in that it's a major change in operational strategy, and we did our best to let everyone know about the changes! I'd encourage you to check out our blog post posted in early July: Simplifying the Release Notes Process: Upcoming Release Notes Changes.

In summary, Canvas customers have adapted beta notes more prominently than production notes, so the release notes made some modifications. Release notes are still the same but now they're combined into one document and you get all the updates (including fixed bugs) for two full weeks. The majority of our features in the beta notes always went to production anyway, so now we're just cutting out the extra step of having to follow two separate documents (beta and production). Customer reaction has been extremely positive, and we'll continue to make iterative adjustments as necessary.

To be alerted of changes, we encourage you to follow the release notes directly. When notes are updated, you'll receive a notification, either in the Canvas Community Inbox or via your email (depending on your preferences). On our side, we are trying not to update any code in the beta environment after the release notes have been published, but in the times when our engineers to update something, we'd like to let you know about it.

Hopefully those answers resolve your concerns a bit. Feel free to add to the comments in the blog post above if you have additional thoughts about these changes!

Thanks,

Erin 

Thanks erinhallmark  Prior to reading your comment, I did a little more investigating myself, and based on that and your helpful note, I think I now understand and am on-board with the change.  I'll assume, unless corrected, that there will continue to be a fairly fixed relationship between the dates given for "Canvas Documentation Published" (most recent example, August 25)  and "Canvas Beta Environment Deploy" (most recent example: August 27).

The email summary I received overnight last night - subject: "Canvas Release Notes (2018-09-15)" - was very helpful, but I'm not sure why it wasn't sent earlier - or perhaps it was, and I missed it.

While I've got your attention, a completely unrelated comment.  I understand the appeal of keeping documentation highly modularized.  Sometimes I would appreciate modules that were a little more complete and inclusive.  For example, I'd like to be able to give a person one link to learn about the new grade book rather than thirty-one.  Of course I don't ever do that, but there are 31 documentation modules that cover the new grade book - and that's just for instructors.  It's overwhelming just to read through the titles.

I really appreciate your availability and willingness to respond to bothersome nquiries like this.

Hi, Peter,

Yes, if you are following the Canvas release calendar or any document that explains the dates, all the dates have been updated to reflect when new code is deployed to the beta environment, when release notes are published, and when the production release takes place.

The Canvas Release Notes email is usually sent on Monday afternoon (Utah time), but because of a holiday in the United States, the email was sent on Tuesday. Only a few times a year do we have Monday holidays that conflict with the schedule, so the delay is infrequent.

As for the documentation, the primary type of documentation in the guides is how-to documentation. We know that there is a need for more overview-type documentation, which is included in the Canvas Basics guide, but we have much to improve there. Eventually we will provide more overview documents to provide more clarification on how a feature works as a whole with all user roles. In the meantime, you can give users a link to the first lesson in a chapter, as it contains an overview of all features and provides links to more feature-specific details if needed. For instance, the gradebook chapter has a lesson called How do I use the New Gradebook, which should be sufficient.

Thanks for your feedback! We're excited to continue to work on these projects so we can continue to improve the guides for you.

Erin

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