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Canvas Tips

NOTE: This is a personal web site, and it is not asociated with any other entity or specific project.

NOTE:  CLICK HERE for Tips for Students.

Canvas 11/4/2013 Beta Release:

Looks like grding by Question for quizzes is back!

Get used to the Canvas Release schedule.  Full Production Releases happen every three week with a beta in between.

Please make sure you read and understand the release notes so there are no surprises or frustrations.

Canvas changes very repidly and follows the principles of rapid Agile developemnt  This is an extremely good thing, but it can be confusing to many.  It is important that you keep abreast of the changes to both understand them as well as to maintain the high quality experience level while delviering a course.  Each set of release notes has a discussion forum.  You may want to subscribe in order to receive email notifications of the resulting discussions.  It is an open user discussion.  Participate if you wish.  The release notes are located here:


Being the tpye of software that it is, Canvas is constantly changing.  In line with this, Instructure is riddled with a myriad of feature requests as well as bug fixes.  A few of the ones reported on this end are:

  • Displaying pdf / docx files within Canvas using SCRIBD:  this works perfectly on all systems, and all browsers.  SCRIBD is not a Canvas product.  It is used by 60 million users globally.  See the discussion here: 
  • For Pages:  If you have some nice naming scheme for Pages on the system...when looking at your list of Pages, they display in sort order..  However, in the pages tab on the mobile apps (not browsers), Pages sort by date created.  You decide if you want to enable Pages so they can be viewed within a mobile app. This shouldbe fixed in Version 2.0 of the mobile apps.  The new release is awesone!
  • The new discussion format in Canvas is awesome, and powerful.  However, there is a current bug when dragging a discussion to the Pinned Area.  If there was an image in the post, the image is gone.  It has been reported and scheduled to be fixed.
  • See the rubrics section of this site. There is a bit you need to understand.
  • Canvas calls it the Rich Text Editor - it is limited.  You will be frustrated at first, but it does work pretty well once you get used to it. The following takes a longer period of adjustment: working with tables, working with item / numbered lists, and working with a more complex use of images.  With experience, you will find tht it is a prestty good tool.  For more complex lectures with images, tables and more, using a Word Processor and a pdf file is best. See the discussion here.
  • Only 1 file can be uploaded in a discussions.  There is usually not a need to upload multiple files, but if there is, multiple posts would need tobe made.  However, if the instructor needs to upload multiple files for some reason to a discussion, then the files should be uploaded to Canvas first.  Then in the discussion text editor, like to the files that are needed, and the student can view / download them.  Multiple files can be submitted for assignments during the submission process.  If a file or more are added after the first sumission, Canvas keeps a record for you to see the various submissions.  You should be aware of the correct files you should use for grading.

The first thing that you may want to do (and have your students do is set up their profie.  To do this, you click on your name or settings in the upper right hand corner of the screen.  It is there that you can add a Bio, a picture, your profile, registered services, and more.  You can also set up the way you are notified of certain events.  The notifications are something you will have to get used to.  But for sure, you will want to be notified of Discussion Posts, Assignment Submissions, and Communications (mail).  Students may want to be notified when a grade is posted. When everyone has their Bio established (and photos) it makes for a more personal touch to your course.  In addition, the BIO Discussion of the course can be changed.  One example would be to have students provide an update in audio / video form.  Keep these to two minutes or less.

Course Settings:  There are not that many settings, but if you click on settings (bottom left) you can make some changes.  Some changes you cannot make.  If you click on "more options", there are several settings you may want to change:  Your courses are set to allow file uploads.  This should be left as is.  In addition, your courses are set to allow students to Edit / Delete Discussion Posts.  Since the 3/9 release, the discussion areas maintain an audit trail of changes.  In addition, for discussions you can stop posting as of a specified date.  You can also allow students to create their own discussions.  You probably do not want this for most courses. With this disabled, students can still create discussions in their Groups (which you do want).

Note: the main course discussions are set to Threaded.  The smaller discussions (Questions, Water Cooler, etc.) are set to Unthreaded (Canvas Default).  Unthreaded only allows for a 2-nested thread, while Threaded allows for as many as needed. Also, Unread discussions are marked with a blue dot.  To change to read, well you have to read it, or just scroll past it.  This is something that will also take an adjustment period.  There is no such thing as "New Post" and "Subject".  To keep the threads from going out of control, one must be cogniznizant of to where they are actually replying.  The initial post of the Instructor should be the one replied to when responding directly to the question posed. You can set Discussions to Mandate that students do their first post before they see any replies of others. Over time, it appears that students (and instructors) will prefer Unthreaded posts (the default).

Navigation / Other in Canvas

Navigation in Canvas may take some period of adjustment.  Canvas is Function-based while many courses are Module based (usually by week).  Therefore, if you are in modules, and you click on a discussion, the "breadcrumbs" at the top of the screen brings you back to Discussions (a Function).  It does not take you back to the Modules page.  After some experience, users will migrate to the many Function items, however, at first, folks will get to where they need to go from the modules page.

Notice the menu items at the left of the screen.  Some items are turned on while some are turned off.  Aside from others, Files, and Pages are turned off.  Unless for specialized situations, there is no need for students to see Files.  As of this writing, Pages are also turned off.  The items that are turned off are visible to the instructor on the mobile apps, but not to students. 
Until a bug is fixed in pages (having to so with sorting), it is recommended that you leave these off (if you want). One reason where you might want files visible - you have some files that students may need to do an assignment - like a photshop template, or a program (programming class). If your course was converted from Angel, I absolutely DO NOT recommend you show Files (you will see why).

NOTE:  This is important:  When in modules, one can create a new Assignment, Page, Discussion, or Quiz.  It is great.  These items also go to their respetive place in their particular function.  However, if you are in Modules and Delete a Page, Discussion, Assignment, or Quiz, this item is ONLY deleted from the module  The Page, Discussion, Assignments, and Quizzes are still in their Functional area.  Be aware of what you are actually trying to do when you delete these items from modules. You can end up with a mess if you do not fully understand what is being said here.

Submitted Files:  If you use the Speed Grader (highly suggested), it really doesn't matter what type of file a student submits (rtf, doc, docx, odt, pdf, etc).  You can mark up these items in the Speed Grader using the associated mark-up tools.  However, in order for the student to view these comments, they have to view the graded file in Canvas.  Still this is better than downloading / uploading files for grading. Note:  an online submission assignment is NOT required to use the speed grader.

Some Cool Items

Video / Audio:  In every single editing function in Canvas, the ability to add audio / video is quite easy. It makes the experience more personal. Even when you grade, you can send comments that are audio / video.  Make use of audio / video - it goes a long way.  Keep them to under 2 minutes. Of the many uses of audio / video, course Welcomes and Module Overviews are ideal.  You can just do an audio if you wish.

HTML files are removed from all MSMIIT courses.  This enables to instructor to edit / create their own content.  Using the Rich Content Editor will tke some time to get used to, but it can do almost anything you will need for a course.  Focus on getting used to it.  Some say it is "crap" but it is not. It just takes some time. (but not that much).

Creating content:  Using Word or some other Word Processr makes adding content a snap to Canvas.  Link to these files works quite well for displaying the content.  Displaying PDF files is a little bit better.  Create your content in a Word Processor, then create a pdf file.  Link to the pdf file, but upload both files where you would use the word processor file for editing (from which you will create a pdf file to display).  DO NOT print to a pdf file when creating them as all hyperlinks in the document will not work.  Use Save As to create these pdf files on Windows. IT DOES NOT WORK on Word for MAC! The hyperlinks DO NOT work!  Use OpenOffice, open your Word Doc, and export it to a PDF.  It works fine (sometimes).

NOTE:  there may be some specific reasons why you want to just use a Doc/docx file in Canvas. Why?  many folks have assignment templates for students to use for a course.  In this case, you would want students to have access to these files for completing their assignments.

Linking to External URL's:  Linking to external web sites works great.  Just be aware of sites that use flash.  Flash works well in Canvas, but it does not display on the Apple mobile devices. No, not too bad for apple users.  If you want to allow for the any device, any browser concept, refrain from using flash sites, or the Apple mobile devices cannot display them.
 Many folks like using Jing for screen capture.  Again, Jing works fine,but it creates flash files.  Right, not good to display on Apple mobile devices. The world is migrating from flash to html5, and soon, this will probably not be an issue.