What's in a Name? Why Pronouns Matter

Instructure
Instructure
19 29 5,106

“What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

 

What’s in a name? What does it mean? Why is it important? 


A name is a set of words that a person, place or thing is known or addressed by. Names are important. They are one of the first things we get when we are born, and they are something that we generally carry with us till we die.

 

They contain our family history, our past, sometimes our future. They literally label and define who we are to the world. So they are important.

 

Canvas is releasing the Personal Pronouns feature to allow people to choose their own personal pronouns for their names. This is a feature that has been heavily requested in the community for years—something that’s on a list of features we’ve been wanting to get to for a long time but haven’t been able to address because of other priorities that always seemed to win in the constant balance of needs and resources.

 

That time has come to an end for this feature. 

 

As we talk to customers and gather feedback—from the community, through conferences and calls, and in person—we always hear what is important to our educators, the things they need, and what’s on top of their minds. Personal pronouns was a topic we heard about over and over.

 

Initially this surprised me—I love being surprised in my job and this was one of those times. I initially believed personal pronouns was important for the simple reason that some students or educators wanted to more clearly express who they were, what their name was, and how they wanted to be addressed.

 

It was so much more complex than that.

 

Canvas has always had the ability for users to edit their names in their profiles, so they could add a personal pronoun there, but that wasn’t what people were really asking for. This was not directly about changing how their name was displayed. 

 

As I talked to more and more schools and students, I found out that Personal Pronouns was less about being able to add a pronoun to a student’s name and more about creating a space where it was safe to do so. They wanted support from the school in deciding how they would represent themselves.

I was also surprised that traditionally gendered students—ones who did not have a direct need to display a gender as part of their name—were also interested. Some students have the fear of using pronouns incorrectly, or not knowing how to proceed, and they expressed a need to know how to use gender pronouns. Additionally, some expressed relief in knowing how they could use pronouns, especially in the fast-moving and often transient environments of schools and classes, without offending people.

So we decided that now was the time to give our schools the ability to create the type of learning environment their students were asking for.

We feel like we’ve achieved a good balance with the first release of the feature: 

  • It can be enabled or disabled at the account level
  • The administration retains control over the available list of pronouns

 

This first version is based on two pieces of feedback. First, administrators wanted the ability to set the list and make sure to avoid duplicates, misspellings, or other things that would make the list of available pronouns less usable. Second, cis-gendered students would have a list of pronouns they knew were vetted and OK to use at their school.

 

When lists are enabled by administrators, students can choose from the list the personal pronoun that best represents who they are to the world. If students would like another option, they can request it be added to the list so it can be displayed by their name in their profile correctly.

 

Pronouns has been an interesting feature, and we’re proud to continue to deliver features to customers that allow them to build the best educational experience possible for their students. There’s more to do with pronouns in the future: we’d like to tie it to the SIS, and we may add a custom field for students to add another pronoun if their preferred pronoun isn’t in the list, just to name a few. As customers use this first version, we’ll work closely with them and get feedback to evolve the feature.

 

As always, we are deeply appreciative of our customers. We work for you, and our entire lives revolve around delivering the best experience possible. If you have questions about this feature, let me know! 

 

If you have ideas about how to make pronouns better in the future, take a look at the list of existing pronoun-related feature ideas that have already been added in the Ideas space and feel free to add your thoughts, or add a new idea.

 

Best wishes from the Canvas Product Team,

 

Matt

Tags (2)
29 Comments
Surveyor

Thanks very much for this thoughtful post about an important new feature. It's good to have a space to carry forward the discussion and feedback from the Canvas Release Notes (2020-01-18) thread.

As I posted in that thread, the feature needs some more work. The current design requires institutions to create a list of approved pronouns, and users can only choose one. What if someone uses multiple pronouns, or their pronouns aren't listed? Pronouns are personal, and users should be able to enter their own. A fillable field is the most inclusive way to support gender diversity for all.

Community Team
Community Team

Thanks for the comment, Ian! As you can see from Matt's post, this is a part of the discussion that occurred.  

This first version is based on two pieces of feedback. First, administrators wanted the ability to set the list and make sure to avoid duplicates, misspellings, or other things that would make the list of available pronouns less usable. Second, cis-gendered students would have a list of pronouns they knew were vetted and OK to use at their school.

When lists are enabled by administrators, students can choose from the list the personal pronoun that best represents who they are to the world. If students would like another option, they can request it be added to the list so it can be displayed by their name in their profile correctly.

You see that he said 'first version'.  It doesn't mean there is an immediate second, but it also means that this isn't necessarily the final iteration. Please do remember that we also have to design for students kindergarten through university, so sometimes open fields aren't always the first best path!

Excited to see this conversation persist!

Surveyor

Hi Renee,

Thanks, I understood the post and read it carefully before writing my response.

Here in British Columbia we have implemented SOGI (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) curriculum in K-12. As early as kindergarten, our students are learning about gender and how labels can be harmful. I work in the Faculty of Education at my University and can tell you a second revision of this feature would model inclusiveness to our Teacher Candidates. An open field is the best path for us, and I will continue to advocate for it. It's important to UBC and I know we're not the only institution talking about how this feature should be improved.

Community Coach
Community Coach

I appreciate the move by Canvas in the direction of supporting gender-neutral pronouns; however, I am very concerned that it is tied to user ability to edit their names in Canvas. We restricted this permission in Canvas within our second term of using it back in 2012. We are not the only school that does so, and it is done for very good reason - users can be quite unreasonable in their choices, even teachers, and we saw some rather poor examples.

While I do not want to permit users to change their names, I do want users to be able to identify with pronouns of their choice.

Is there any chance that these two features will be un-bundled as this change evolves?

Kelley

Community Team
Community Team
Community Coach
Community Coach

Woo hoo!

I am off to provide my support.

Community Advocate
Community Advocate

I'm really happy to see this feature added to Canvas! Thanks for writing this up, Deactivated user‌ 🙂

Explorer III

We'd like to be able to track and asses the usage of this feature now that we've turned it on.  Is "pronoun" going to be added as an included field in the provisioning reports, or the users tables from the Canvas Data Portal?

Explorer III

Hi kelley.meeusen@cptc.edu‌ -- since we create users from our SIS based on "official" names, we don't let users change their names in Canvas.  That is, under Admin > Settings > Account Settings, we have the "Users can edit their name" unchecked.

However, when I tested with my non-admin account, where I can't change my name, I can still select a pronoun.

Am I missing something?

Mike

Instructure
Instructure

Great feedback Ian,  

This is a use case that is often discussed. In initial research for the first version of this feature,  many schools were concerned about students misusing the feature either intentionally, or accidentally and actually causing more damage than providing support. 

Intentional misuse was one concern, another  valid concern is user error.  The end result of that would be a degraded and sometimes confusing user experience as spelling errors, typos,  intention mis-spellings and other issues all piled up in the canvas database and how names are displayed across the system.

We are looking into several ways both solve the need, and allow schools to either allow, or prevent open entry based on their needs,  and as we update this feature Id love to get feedback on our proposed solution. 

Thanks for the feedback . it's really useful to hear how these features are being used and where we can improve them.   I look forward to hearing more as we evolve this feature over time to best match your needs. 

Matt

Learner II

@MichaelZimmmerman   We had the same experience when we tested in  the Test instance yesterday.   We don't allow name changes but could select the pronouns.  We were testing using our Admin role however (in case that matters).

Surveyor

This is great! 

Something that really ties in with this is the idea https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/15788-show-display-name-in-people-tab  - I really think both of these are needed.

Community Member

I'm at Palo Alto University, and I'm one of the folks who posted some recent suggestions on that pronouns thread and invited Atomic Jolt in to help us out with some design ideas. Thank you Atomic Jolt!

We're looking forward to further iterations in this feature, but the design and functionality in this first release are wonderful, in my opinion. I'm very very happy with this first iteration of the pronouns feature! Thank you Instructure!!!

And Matt, thank you so much for this post! A lot of forces push and pull on the design and development teams, and you've perfectly expressed the processes involved in the intricate acts of art, physics, judo, and aikido that you and the Product Team bring to bear on those forces. You also did a great job expressing the larger scene in which this particular feature lives, so further kudos on this post in that regard, too.

I'm proud of the Canvas community, too! We're a cantankerous bunch, but we always offer suggestions in the best interests of our students and faculty, and I love the suggestions for further development of this pronoun feature that have already come in from the community.

Great to be a part of the community!

Surveyor

We'd love to enable this feature for our faculty and students, but the inability to include this data in an SIS CSV upload is really preventing us from turning the option on.  We need to maintain consistency across all of our university systems, so we want students to populate the data in one place (the SIS), and then have it flow to other integrated systems, just like names do.  Any update on when we might see this included as a column in the users.csv file?

Explorer III

Good question, chriscas‌.  We have a project looking at how to implement this in our SIS system, as well, and it would really help to be able to tie everything together and ensure consistency.

Explorer II

This is a welcomed feature but as chriscas‌ mentioned for his campus, we also are not enabling while we explore how to maintain consistency with our SIS system.  Our Registrar Office prefers the SIS to be the master record.  Without support for an integration with the SIS, we don't see how we can maintain consistency.  

Are there any plans on the horizon to provide this in the user.csv?

Instructure
Instructure

Yes,  it's something we plan on adding to the pronouns feature.   Are you expecting to have the pronoun as part of the CSV export from your SIS and then handled as part of your normal CSV import process?

Instructure
Instructure

this is something we plan on doing in the future with this feature.  Great feedback, thank you.

Surveyor

Hi Deactivated user‌,

That's exactly how we'd envision it to work for our campus.

-Chris

Explorer III

Yes, that's kind of how we would envision implementing it, too.

Explorer II

Adding it in the csv export should meet our needs.

Community Member

Yes, we would want this information coming in the CSV (or API) for the user creation. Names (including "preferred first name") is handled from our SIS. The ability for a user to change their name within Canvas is disabled for us.

We would need the pronouns to work the same way. Until then, we will not enable this functionality.

Explorer II

I understand that there are some institutions that are waiting to implement the new pronouns features because they are waiting until it is possible for SIS data to be transferred (whether it be via CSV or API) into Canvas.

When this is possible, has there been thought about denying a Canvas user from manually changing it?

Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi dbrace@lccc.edu 

Opinion, just my opinion! They are called "Personal Pronouns" for a reason - they are the person's personal choice. Let them change them if they wish. Let them change them as often as their socks if that is what they want.

Kelley

Explorer II

kelley.meeusen@cptc.edu, I agree that users should be able to change their pronouns but it should be changed in the desired location and for some institutions that is in their SIS and not Canvas.

Community Team
Community Team

Just out of curiosity does anyone know how the concept of personal pronouns is being handled by the major SIS providers?  Do they mostly already have a data field for capturing this information?  Is the nature of SIS software such that it is easy for institutions to add such a field easily?

Surveyor

Hi scottd@instructure.com‌,


We use Banner 9.x here, and the pronoun field is (according to our IT department and Registrar's Office) available for users to populate.

-Chris

Community Team
Community Team

Thanks Chris.  That is good to know.  For background the college system I worked for used a home grown insanely old registration system so I have very little useful background with SIS.

Community Member

I understand that misuse is a concern, but shouldn't the administrators of the instance decide which one is more important.  I am a professor that uses multiple sets of pronouns, and it is extremely invalidating that Instructure is saying my pronouns don't deserve to be included in the "first version".

--Adam