I was fortunate to be able to attend the Canvas LMS conference for the second time this year. This year, it was once again held in Keystone, Colorado. The entire town pretty much gets taken up by both higher education and K-12 people who want to learn more about Canvas, Arc, and other educational technology tools.
My in-laws also wanted to get the grandkids all together in one place in a town that was 30 minutes away from Keystone, from where the Canvas conference was being held. So for a few days before and after the Canvas conference, I was able to spend a little time with family and enjoy the mountain air (and with some sled dogs).
In this post, I’ll share what is new with Canvas and link over to resources where you can find out more. In future posts, I’ll share more about sessions I attended that were less about Canvas, specifically, and more about educational technology in general.
Instructure goes all out for their conferences. This photo is me next to a lake in Keystone, with an inflatable Instructure mascot (a panda) in the background. I learned this year that for the first couple of years of their existance, a stuffed panda played the role of their receptionist, until they had enough cash flow to hire an actual person.
Usually, Instructure (the company that makes Canvas) saves their best updates for their biggest event of the year:
They have consolidated all the big announcements from InstCon in once place. I will highlight ones that I think will be most exciting to our specific faculty community, below.
The new feature that I am the most excited about exists on the students’ end of things, not ours as professors.
Instructure is excellent at studying how all of us use Canvas. One of their unsurprising findings related to how students use Canvas is that they primarily look at the calendar and the to-do list – and spend less of their time in Canvas within individual courses (unless one of those calendar items or to-do list items directs them back into an individual course).
Now, an entirely redesigned option for the first thing a student sees upon logging on to Canvas (on a computer, or on a mobile device) is a dashboard with all of their to-dos consolidated into one place.
While the course cards look attractive, they aren’t really very functional. Where students’ eyes go is to the list of what needs doing on the right, or they move over to the calendar to see when things are due.
We will need to decide at Vanguard if we want the default view for all students to be this redesigned todo-oriented dashboard (list view), or if we want to leave the default as it is with course cards and have the newly designed dashboard as one of the options that students can select on their own.
One of the big advantages of the newly designed dashboard is that students can easily see assignments that have recently been graded. This makes it easier for students to view the feedback we give them. There’s a little, grey box indicating that an item has been graded. When students click it, they’ll be taken to speedgrader where they can view the feedback that’s been provided.
There’s also a new opportunity alerts menu that shows students assignments that haven’t been submitted yet, or that are late. Students can add their own todos to their to-do list. We can also add to-dos to items that used to not show up on students’ upcoming lists, such as pages and discussion boards.
The to-dos also show up on students’ calendars, including the custom tasks that they add on their own (e.g. pick up new shoes, study for test, call grandma).
Within a course, todos that have been added by instructors show up in the syllabus listing of dates, as well as within “any item added to a module that contains a to-do date.”
To-dos can be added to objects like pages and ungraded discussions (which previously on Canvas was not possible, before this redesigned student dashboard).
This change in Canvas is designed to better help students manage all the various priorities they have in their learning process. They will see all the due dates for both graded items (quizzes, papers, and other assignments), as well as items that used to be easy to miss (like pages and ungraded discussion boards).
They will also be able to customize it to work for them – with to-dos like picking up new shoes.
Section-specific Announcements and Discussions
Many of us have been waiting for this one for a while. We can now create announcements for specific sections of our courses, instead of having to send announcements to all sections we are teaching in a given course.
The same thing is true with discussions. Imagine wanting to have your 9:00 am class have an online discussion in Canvas that didn’t include your 11:00 am class. Most of us would want two different discussions to take place in that instance. And now we can have just that.
Those of you who use SpeedGrader – are likely also using a tool called DocViewer to make annotations (comments/highlights/etc.) on your students’ papers.
“DocViewer comments have been updated to improve comment usability and management. Comments remain on the same page as the annotation. If there are too many comments to display, comments near the top or bottom of the page are automatically hidden, and comments become scrollable within the page. An indicator shows how many comments are hidden on the page.”
While there was a lot to be excited about regarding Canvas at this year’s InstCon, there were a couple of either disappointments, or delays.
I was disappointed to learn that while their new quizzing engine is currently available, many still say it isn’t ready for “prime time” yet.
The Quizzes.Next community is the place to find out their timeline for implementation. Right now, there isn’t what is called “feature parity,” meaning that things we can currently do within the existing Canvas quizzes can’t always be done in Quizzes.Next.
Eventually, the quizzes as we know them today in Canvas will go away – and all of the platform will move to exclusively use the tools within Quizzes.Next. However, as of me writing this, no dates for this transition have been provided and I suspect we are a ways off at this point.
Arc Video Quizzing Live Preview
I have become a huge fan of Arc, which is an easy way to get video inside of Canvas and then to make it an engaging experience for your students. However, other video platforms offer the ability to embed quizzes within videos.
Instructure announced that quizzing within the Arc video platform is coming sometime in the next year. So, for now, we’ll need to focus on the existing features within Arc (which is still totally worth you checking out, if you haven’t, already).
Staying Up to Date
If you want to stay up to date on changes coming to Canvas and be in community with others in higher education who are using it, consider:
You can set up how often and how you want to receive updates and choose who to connect with in their community. I’m currently a member of the following groups and spaces and am finding great value in the connections and information:
- Instructional designers
- Canvas mobile users group (I learned a lot about improvements in the Canvas mobile apps at the conference and look forward to digesting even more in the coming weeks)
- New grade book users group (there’s also a new grade book in Canvas that I’m watching closely, just as I am Quizzes.Next)
- Higher Education
- Arc users group
- CanvasLIVE (where they offer ongoing training at various levels on Canvas)
- InstructureCon 2018 (there will soon be videos available here, so we can catch up on what we missed and learn from the breakout sessions and keynotes)
- InstructureCon 2017
I hope to see some of you on the Canvas community soon.