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Tag: Canvas

Pushing Boundaries in Canvas #1

Occasionally we get questions from instructors wanting to do things that Canvas is ill-equipped to handle. This series celebrates that spirit of innovation and provides the best answers we can come up with to approximate the desired effect.

Quiz Feedback on randomized questions

Creating a practice quiz before a big exam that automatically provides immediate feedback* can be an effective formative assessment that is convenient for both student and instructor. One instructor had a brilliant idea to repurpose last quarter’s exams as practice quizzes. There were just a few complications: there was a mix of essay questions and auto-graded questions, the questions were randomized, and the instructor didn’t want to have to grade any of the questions manually. The desired result was that the student would take the practice exam with randomized questions and then get the answers and explanations in the feedback for each question. Unfortunately, Canvas quizzes don’t provide feedback text for ungraded questions, so students would be unable to compare their essay responses to the exemplars unless the instructor graded each question individually, even if it was simply to assign a 0 out of 0 possible.

Here are some of the solutions we came up with, none of which quite satisfied the instructor, but they may inspire you to try something:

  • Set the quiz to show “one question at a time” without backtracking. The next item will be a text only “question” with the exemplar answer. When the students go back to review the quiz, they can compare their answer to the example. These can be mixed in with auto-graded questions with feedback comments as long the quiz is set to allow students to see their responses and the correct answers. This option requires the questions to be in a set order and not randomized.
  • Keep the quiz randomized and add a number key to each essay question so they can look up the answer and feedback on an answer key that is only accessible once they have submitted the quiz.  This can be done by setting up requirements in the module where the quiz resides. Auto-graded questions can still provide feedback within the quiz results.
  • Separate the practice quiz into two quizzes: one with randomized auto-graded questions and one with essay questions in a set order with an answer key released after it is submitted.

*Those are instructions for New Quizzes. For feedback on Classic Quizzes, see the instructions for individual question types. Here’s a useful resource for deciphering the answer and feedback settings in New Quizzes.

If you have a better solution that meets all of the conditions, we would love to hear it. You can post your answer in the comments or send them to But your situation might not be as complicated, so one of these solutions, or something similar, might work just fine for you. Also, if you think Canvas can work better for instructors and students with a bit of a teak, you are always welcome to suggest something. That’s how Canvas evolves.

And if you can’t get Canvas to do something that you think it should, and you want to brainstorm options, don’t hesitate to contact us. That’s why we’re here.

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Canvas Quirks #1

Is Canvas not behaving like you think it should? Is there an obnoxious feature that you can’t seem to turn off or change the settings for? You may have discovered a Canvas Quirk – a persistent feature of Canvas that gets under our skins or foils some of our best design ideas. We’ll be collecting examples of these and publishing them in this occasional column, along with workarounds or thoughts about how to turn what seem like bugs into features.

Future entries might be more elaborate, but here are three quick ones to get us started:

What’s the quirk?

Instructors can’t use the same Zoom link for meetings happening at alternating times within the week for the same material to accommodate students, like a Tuesday morning session and a Thursday afternoon session. Canvas creates a unique link each time you create a new Zoom meeting and is unable to create recurring sessions using multiple times.

What is Canvas thinking? 

This is a security feature. Creating a unique Zoom link address for each session reduces the possibility of students sharing a recurring link that might be picked up by a Zoombomber. It also reduces the risk of FERPA violations. For this same reason, Canvas does not give you the option to use your personal room ID for recurring sessions.

What’s the workaround? 

See option 2 below. 

What’s the quirk? 

Recurring Zoom meetings crowding the ToDo list and overwhelming students. Instructors are unable to turn off the ToDo list or adjust any ToDo-related settings, unlike the Announcements at the top of the Home Page.

What is Canvas thinking? 

Canvas seems to have 3 operating principles here:

  • The ToDo list will show everything due within the next 7 days
  • The ToDo list would like at least 6 items and will reach further than a week to get them.
  • If there is only one type of event, like a recurring Zoom meeting, it will show all of them – even if that is 20 items.

What’s the workaround? 

  1. If you started by setting up your Zoom meetings, adding other items with due dates in that week, such as discussions, assignments, and quizzes, should trigger the first two principles, reducing your list to less overwhelming 6 items or however many items are due that week. You can even add pages to your ToDo list if you want to remind students to do readings by a certain date. 
  2. However, if a recurring Zoom meeting is the only thing you are assigning to students on Canvas, you can create a single meeting and then use the generated link as your recurring meeting. You can publish a link to it prominently on your home page along with your Zoom session schedule or on a special Zoom session page with additional login, help, and troubleshooting information. The Zoom link does not expire after the official date of the meeting. If you still want individual meetings on your ToDo list, you can also add calendar events every week and include the Zoom link in the event description. You might think to simplify this workaround by using your personal meeting link for all course meetings, but this could create potential FERPA violations or Zoombombing if students from different sections or previous classes figured out the link remained constant, so it isn’t recommended.

What’s the quirk?

There is a practical limit to how long answers to matching questions can be in Canvas Quizzes. Long answers will simply run off the screen so that only part of the answer is visible, and a smaller part for a smaller screen. The answers don’t wrap.

What is Canvas thinking? 

Text wrapping the answers would be confusing because the answers can’t be formatted with bullets to separate multiple line answers. The answers are highlighted as the student scrolls through them, but even that might be confusing.

What’s the workaround? 

The right side of a matching question won’t wrap, but the left side will, so always put your (longer) description or example on the left and the (shorter) matching term on the right when creating matching questions. In this case, the answers on the left would fit nicely in the dropdown answer menu. This will even work if you have multiple examples of the same term or concept and you want students to use some of the same answers for multiple prompts or questions.

If you want a bit more flexibility when creating quiz questions, I also like the multiple dropdown question. It can do more than just short answers.

I hope you found these useful. If you have discovered a Canvas Quirk or have a better workaround than the ones suggested here, please send them to and let us know if we can give you credit.

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New quarter, new stickers!

2017 eLearning Help Desk stickers displayed on a table. The sticker is a red hexagon with three cartoon superheros, accompanied by the text 'Help Desk Heroes'

You know it’s almost the beginning of the fall quarter when a new batch of eLearning Help Desk stickers arrives, fresh from the printers. Our Help Desk program is just one of the many ways we’re helping to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and support at the CTT.

If you want your very own 2017 edition sticker, stop by one of the eLearning Help Desk locations next week or drop by the Center for Transformative Teaching offices on the second floor of Gray Wolf Hall.

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How many EvCC courses use Canvas?

I’m asked on a fairly regular basis how many courses at EvCC use the campus learning management system, Canvas, in some capacity. There are many reasons for this question–ranging from general curiosity to specific ideas the questioner may have about, say, the most effective methods for communicating with students–but until fairly recently I couldn’t provide a very reliable answer. That’s partly due to the fact that we automatically create an empty Canvas course (what we sometimes call a “shell”) for every course at the college, meaning we can’t automatically assume the existence of a course in Canvas indicates active use by the faculty member teaching that course. The difficulty in pinning down exactly how many courses use Canvas is also due, in part, to the many other purposes for which faculty, staff, and students use Canvas: clubs and student organizations; departmental or program-based groups; faculty and staff programs; and so on.

Unsatisfied with only being able to say that “many” or “the majority” of courses at the college use Canvas in some way, I set out last fall to develop a more reliable measure of Canvas use and its change, if any, over the past few years. I’m happy to say the results are in. By combining course information from our student management system with data from the Canvas API, we can quickly identify the subset of Canvas shells that correspond to courses students take for credit at the college. Then, within that subset, we look only at those courses that have been published and that have at least 3 students enrolled. (I won’t bore you with the details of why that is necessary, but in general it helps filter out a variety of unusual cases that might otherwise provide a false sense of the rate of Canvas use.)

This yields a reasonably good approximation of actual Canvas use for credit-bearing courses at EvCC:

As this chart shows, 83% of courses at the college used Canvas in the spring of 2017, up from about 68% when we first moved to Canvas in 2013.

Obviously, this doesn’t tell us anything at all about how Canvas is being used, or why, or whether it benefits students or faculty. There are other data that could help us begin to investigate all of those more nuanced and complex questions–and I hope to write about some of that here in the future–but these numbers alone doesn’t tell any of those stories. Still, it’s interesting to observe the adoption of this particular platform on our campus over time.

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The Ins and Outs of Canvas Groups

Canvas allows instructors to create student groups, a feature that does much more than dividing up a class into smaller sections for projects. Groups in Canvas actually become a smaller, internal version of the course with many tools designed to let students collaborate on projects and assignments.

As an instructor, you can assign students manually, or allow Canvas to generate the group membership. You are allowed to view all the activity within a group, so you can monitor the progress and interact with the group easily. You can even assign group leaders and move students into different subgroups. If your students are turning in a group project, only one assignment needs to be submitted. The SpeedGrader will submit the grade and share all the comments/feedback with all the group members automatically.

The features for students make group projects more accessible. The students can store and share files within the Group, start and continue discussions, send messages, and create collaborations. It’s a great built-in tool with shared communication tools.

More information about Groups is available in the official Canvas Documentation.

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Video and audio feedback in Canvas

Grading assignments can consume a lot of time and energy, and if your experiences are similar to mine, there are occasions where you feel like you are typing the same comments over and over again.  Providing feedback in video or audio form can breathe new life into your grading process.  Your tone of voice, inflections, and emphasis can add a richness to the feedback that isn’t easily duplicated in text alone.  This approach can be refreshing for both you and your students, and it provides an opportunity to engage differently and add another dimension to your presence in the class.  This is especially true in online and hybrid classes.

Canvas streamlines the feedback process in the SpeedGrader, whether you choose text, an attached file, audio, or video.  All the options are described in this Canvas document on providing feedback.  Recording an audio or video file happens right in Canvas.  You don’t have to use external software to create and save the file.  It’s a seamless and approachable process, so long as you have the necessary hardware (a microphone and webcam).

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Canvas Tip: Sending Messages via the Gradebook

If you tend to use the SpeedGrader in Canvas (like I do), you might be overlooking some great features that are available in the Gradebook.  Clicking the Grades link transports you to a page with useful tools.  Here’s a quick review of what the Gradebook lets you do:

  1. Review the assignment details
  2. Set a default grade
  3. Curve grades
  4. Mute an assignment
  5. Jump to the SpeedGrader
  6. Send messages to different groups of students

The last item in the list is especially convenient when you want to reach out to students based on their assignment performance.  Using the “Message Students Who” feature allows you to contact all students who haven’t submitted an assignment yet, have ungraded assignments, scored less than or more than a specific grade (of your designation).

These features are available for assignments, quizzes, and discussion board participation.  It’s a worthwhile set of tools, and a convenient channel of communication!

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Incorporating a personal video into Canvas

The Spring quarter is just around the corner (if calendars and dates have edges and corners), which is the perfect time to think about and incorporate new features into your classes.

A brief video introduction can enhance your class and foster feelings of connectedness for your students, whether you teach web enhanced, hybrid, or online courses.  The effort required on your part is minimal, and the return on investment is impressive.

Access the Video Introduction Handout with step-by-step instructions and listen to the podcast on the topic.  An Uploading a Video transcript of the podcast is also available.  More Teaching and Tools podcasts are available on our Soundcloud channel with additional episodes in production!

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Turn back time…in Canvas

The tagline for the CTT’s blog is “Exploring innovations in teaching and learning,” so I’ve been a bit reluctant to post anything about Canvas, a system that–whatever its virtues–isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind when I think about teaching innovation. I tend to see genuine innovation as something that involves changes in outlook, understanding, or methods, not simply using software to accomplish a task.

Every now and then, though, I stumble across some feature of an online platform or an application that makes me sit up and say, “I can’t believe I didn’t know about that!” That’s what happened to me yesterday when I learned about the “undelete” feature in Canvas, a mostly undocumented method for seeing the 25 most recent changes you’ve made to a Canvas course–and then restoring content from any of them.

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Timing announcements to coincide with periods of highest course activity

Black and white photograph of Two large megaphone or public announcement speakers
Megaphone by Bruno Buontempo licensed under Creative Commons.

There’s been solid evidence for decades that frequent faculty-student interactions can have a powerful, beneficial effect on student persistence. Studies have consistently found that the frequency and clarity of communication between students and faculty can predict student success better, in some cases, than characteristics like socioeconomic status or prior educational attainment. (If you’re looking for a good summary of some of this research, this paper by scholars at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research offers a nice overview in its introductory section.)

One small but important implication of these findings is that frequent communication–especially if it is topical and related in some way to the intellectual matters of a course–is an excellent way to promote student persistence. This follows common sense as well, since it’s not surprising that when students see their instructor takes the time to send messages, post announcements, or contribute to online course discussions they’re more likely to feel that instructor is invested in their success. Small actions can have a big impact. Something as simple as a weekly announcement previewing what’s coming in the week ahead or providing some context for a new topic or assignment may be all that’s needed.

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