"Special Characters" In Canvas
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It has always been possible to enter “Special Characters” in Canvas, but there has never been a “Special Character” button. So how does it work if there is no dedicated button?
What are "Special Characters"?
"Special Characters" is a common term in the United States for any character outside the 26 letters used in US English such as à, é, î, œ, ü, ñ, sometimes ÿ. Canvas is currently used in more than 70 countries and supports over three dozen languages. More than a dozen of those languages use completely different character systems from English (e.g. Thai, Russian, Japanese) and some that additionally read right to left (e.g. Arabic, Hebrew). All those languages and their characters are equally valid characters to type into Canvas.
How do I enter "Special Characters" in the Canvas RCE?
"Special characters" can be entered in all Canvas text fields using default input methods for all users regardless of keyboard layout. For users on a typical QWERTY layout keyboard on a supported OS the simplest methods for each platform are:
WIN + .
CMD + CTRL + SPACEor simply hold the desired letter key until the menu pops up
- Android/iOS: simply hold the desired letter key until the menu pops up
Why doesn't the Canvas RCE have a "Special Characters" button?
In the 80s and 90s, writing in multiple languages on a single computer was a frustrating combination of archaic key codes and operating system level tweaks—a daunting task for young learners, or indeed any language learner! Thankfully, entering "special characters" is now even easier than copy/paste.
In the 1980s personal computers were largely an American phenomenon, and so the earliest PC operating systems were almost completely English-centric. By the 1990s, PC manufacturers learned there are countries besides America, and so the "Special Character" button became a viable way to adapt their existing platforms to users who needed "special characters" only "sometimes". Finally, by the 2000s platform providers had learned to treat all languages as first-class citizens in the operating system, and not make users rely on physically different keyboards.
Why does Canvas RCE have a Math editor?
Mathematical symbols used to be lumped in with "special characters", but creating formulae and entering text are very different things. Additionally, math formulae have other accessibility concerns that further distinguish them from text to ensure screen readers properly read out the formula. Regular text, in any language, does not have these requirements.
While some would certainly describe Math as a "language", in this context it is no more a language than music or love (note: my love language is chocolat).
All Characters Are Special
Canvas has the honor (and responsibility!) of being used around the world and in many languages. We’re thankful that those languages are all treated equally on modern computers, and on the modern web. And as the platform used by so many to teach and learn languages, we want to ensure that typing in any language is the same inside and outside of Canvas.
Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, they work, but to an extent. If students are required to write one single sentence, then it's fine to do it this way. However, just imagine for a moment when students' task is to write a couple of paragraphs, or an essay. The amount of time spent on just trying to insert the accent marks (and believe me Spanish has lots of accentuated words) is just huge, and it would prevent students from focusing on the assignment per se. I've just tried to type in a paragraph, and it was very time consuming, and discouraging.
Again, I personally (and other foreign language instructors and experts agree with me) this option or the copy and paste from an external site are just one more unnecessary barrier for students to learn in an efficient way. We're in the 21 century, and foreign languages instruction is just on the rise. When will Canvas make this simple but essential tool available?
@lcirre, I agree it would be awful to have to copy and paste from an external website! Happily the present day methods are as fast, or in most cases much faster, than using a tool-specific "Special Characters" button.
Do you have a solution for Phonetic Alphabet? Those go beyond accented letters. Again, this is why we were looking for a special chart or panel integration.
@mnicolay, IPA characters are among the "special characters" available using the same methods as the more common accented characters.
Thanks for the reply.
Well, it seems there is some misunderstanding in our communication. I'm trying to say that with your suggested method, after having tried it out myself, I have to say that it doesn't serve the intended purpose as it is very time consuming to insert Spanish accent marks every other word pretty much. Again, I'm advocating for Canvas to include Spanish characters in a more simplified way than this method. Just try it out, and you will see what I mean. Type in something like:
El español se habla no sólo en España sino también en Latinoamérica. ¡Viva!
Once you learn the ALT+ shortcuts in Windows, it is not terribly cumbersome. That having been said, speedy use of these Windows "special characters" requires a 10-key, which many notebooks/laptops don't have. Furthermore, there seems to be no similar option on Chromebooks, which is my specific struggle and frustration. My students have school-issued Chromebooks, and the only way I can find to use their OS to input these characters is by changing their "Language" settings, which is not an option due to the other Spanish resources that become available to them if we do so. For now, I just include a list with all of the "special characters" in every Canvas assignment, and they have to go through the cumbersome process of copying and pasting. Even a Canvas-integrated floating "special characters" keyboard, such as the ones the textbook publishers use in their Canvas integrations, would be a big help.
I agree. My students also work on the publisher's platforms, and every time a student needs to complete an assignment, a little "special characters" keyboard just pops up. Why can't Canvas add it to the Rich Text editor or come up with a way to do it?
Again, I do strongly believe that the tools provided and/or suggested are insufficient, and do not serve our needs. Only foreign language instructors completely understand this necessity. Nevertheless, do not get me wrong, I want to make clear that in general I love Canvas as my LMS. This is just a much needed improvement I and numerous other foreign language instructors firmly believe should be made sooner than later. Why do we have to make students work longer, when they should be able to type in their answers within Canvas?
Hi @dlyons !
I'm bringing over a conversation from the Canvas for WL fb group. Apparently when Chromebook users are in New Quizzes and press the Alt key to type special characters, it kicks them out of New Quizzes. It's also a big issue when using any sort of Lockdown browser.
Thank you for the open conversation!
I agree with others here who have mentioned that it's an inadequate solution for introductory language classes to direct students to install international keyboards, or attempt to learn the keystrokes for characters when they're trying to take timed online exams.
It's my understanding that Canvas uses a modified TinyMCE editor. If this is the case, it should take very little development effort to install and enable the Character Map plugin for it. You could even make it optional for schools/universities and disabled by default if you are concerned about it providing insufficient coverage for some languages.
I don't understand why there's so much pushback from Instructure to enable something that would provide such great value to many users.
This is a good solution for me because I need to type in both English and Spanish in the same space and need only occasional access to accents and such. I appreciate the functionality of the Special Characters window. However, I don't see how to access it on a Chromebook. I can two-finger tap to bring up the Emoji menu, but I don't see the special characters there. I acknowledge this deficit may be more on the Chromebook side; I use MS Word when I need to type in Spanish because Google Docs does not support the keystroke shortcuts.
This is a nightmare for Chromebook users trying to take quizzes. NIGHTMARE. @bcrook is right--kids get kicked out when they try. Please fix this!
Thanks Amber for your input, I agree with you. This is the reason why at the very beginning of the semester I advise students preferably not to use their Chrome books. This alone puts low income students in a clear disadvantage, as they cannot afford to buy a different device. In fact, many of my entry level students come directly from the high school, where they use a chrome book, so they continue with the same device. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I associate this issue with equity. Sad to say but true, and our LMS is part of the problem, and not of the solution.
In general, I direct students to https://spanish.typeit.org/ where they can type in their sentences inserting accent marks, and then copy and paste them onto Canvas. This is the easiest and shortest way for students to do their homework. However, still it takes so much time to do it this way instead of typing their responses directly onto Canvas, as they do with all other subjects. The fact of having to navigate out of Canvas to accomplish this simple task creates a learning barrier, and many students become frustrated and unfortunately, they decide to drop the class.
So, I keep wondering why is it so difficult to understand that our students should have this "special" tool in the Canvas editor? Just a Canvas-integrated floating "special characters" keyboard, such as the ones the textbook publishers use in their Canvas integrations, would be so helpful.
As an optimistic, I think that "special" tools will be incorporated sooner or later. It's just a matter of time.
To easily allow users to insert non-standard characters into the Canvas rich content editor there is the Special Characters external tool that adds a button to the editor to allow characters to be inserted. The tool is quick and simple to setup, more details are available on: https://www.wyelearning.com/support/characters/
I completely understand the various options for typing accents and special characters on different types of computers but my having the understanding does not solve my problem.
We are a State Online K12 School so I have students in my classes from all over the state, from different districts, and different schools. All of these schools have made individual decisions as to which computer they wanted to adopt. It is not possible to get every student to understand how to set up his or her individual computer to type accents.
We really need the option to type accents ( including ñ) in the text editor AND new quizzes.
I know there are pages and pages of comments on this topic but none deal with this situation. I can´t tell you how much time our language teachers spend dealing with this issue.
I'm going to dissent here - Attempting to solve text input in a new way on one platform is not the right choice. Get your students familiar with the keyboard shortcuts - they're simple and direct for accents and punctuation used across languages other than english. on macOS, for example hitting [option+e] gives ´ and then the option to put a character underneath it. It's simple, fast, and doesn't require another solution to be learned and supported forever.
It'd be great if canvas could accommodate things across and within the platform fully natively though - so characters like 🐸 don't break the gradebook export CSV, for example.
I have to agree with @Mikee on this one.
While I do understand the difficulty and need, I feel the best solution is to give students guides on how to enter these characters in whatever operating system they are using. I say this because this would actually be useful to them in the future if they need these characters in other applications than Canvas. I will say I'm coming more from a higher-ed prospective, so the viewpoint could be different, especially for k-5. It feels like this would actually take a decent amount of developer work, which I feel would be better suited in other areas right now.
Currently the Special Characters plugin isn't available in the RCE in New Quizzes (it's available everywhere else), but once Phase 3 of Instructure's New Quizzes RCE migration is complete it should be. Details of this phased approach by Instructure can be found in the article on New Quizzes RCE migration.
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