Canvas New Features
Canvas provides updates to the platform every month without disruption to service. Some of them are minor fixes and others provide additional features and functionality to users. As we reach the middle of the first full semester with Canvas we thought we’d highlight for you some of the most recent updates that may make your work in the online learning environment more efficient and effective.
New Feature Details
Navigation Menus will be “Sticky”
In the past, the left-hand navigation items would scroll with the page so that users would have to scroll back up to navigate. With this change, the navigation menu will “stick”, making the menu visible at all times without having to scroll.
SpeedGrader: Ability to Edit Submission Status
The SpeedGrader sidebar now includes an Edit icon that can be used to change submission status for assignments. Status can be edited the same way as was previously only available in the Gradebook. Adjusting a status in SpeedGrader, will, of course, also update the Gradebook.
Some details about Status
- Setting the status to missing will add a “missing” label. This additional signal could be used to help nudge students toward the completion of assignments.
- If a late policy is enabled, setting the status to late displays the “late” label. Additionally, a text field allows the grader to enter a value for the days/hours late.
- Setting the status to “excused” displays the Excused status, and the grade field displays as “EX” and is grayed-out, and will not be counted in the total for that assignment category. (The excused function will not work well if you are using total points and not using the assignment category weighting).
- Setting the status to “None” removes any labels that were previously displayed for the assignment.
Figure A: SpeedGrader Status Edit Menu Examples
The Edit Status icon is not displayed in the following assignment scenarios:
- Previously submitted submissions (only the most recent submission is supported)
- Concluded user enrollments
- Inactive student enrollments
- Assignments that require moderated grading
- Assignments in a closed grading period
Gradebook: Assignment Search
Another updated feature is the addition of a search field in the Gradebook that can search for assignment names. This gives instructors another way to sort and control their workflow. This allows for a search of student names as well in a separate search box.
Improved Navigation for Course Notification Customization
Canvas allows users to customize their notification preferences for their entire account and to create special notifications for specific courses. For example, an instructor might choose to create a more frequent notification schedule for a fully online course than for a course that is only offered face-to-face. In the past, making granular course level changes took going deeper into the course settings. Now course notification preferences can be customized on the main notifications page using a drop-down menu.
Please note: Students are also able to set their own notifications per course. If you are using notifications to students as a strategy for engaging them, make sure to specify how they should set their notifications for your course so they are not missing out on communication from you.
Figure B: Notifications Page screenshot
User Settings: Microsoft Immersive Reader Additional Feature Areas
To help engage students at all levels of learning and with all learning differences, we have long advised the use of the accessibility checker in the Canvas page editor. Our Microsoft 365 account and the Canvas integration now enable a new tool that allows any user to use the Microsoft Immersive Reader to use the Microsoft AI to give students more options for accessible use of content. Students will have this option visible on their screens so they can use it when they need to.
Figure C: New Immersive Reader Button
If you really want to stay up-to-date with Canvas’ new features, become an insider by subscribing to Canvas Releases in the Canvas Community.
Or Feel Free to Watch the Highlight Videos for Each of These Updates
Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Navigation (Sticky Navigation Menu)
Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 SpeedGrader (Submission Status Label Edits)
Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Gradebook (Assignment Search)
Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Notifications (Course Customization)
Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 User Settings (Microsoft Immersive Reader Additional Feature Areas)
Looking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?
Seeking an idea for an online discussion?
What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?
We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.
Tips for the new teacher
Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.
Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paper Effective Classroom Discussions covers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.
Tips for the online teacher
If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:
- What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
- How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
- How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
- Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
- Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?
All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.
Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbers here.
Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations
Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.
In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.
Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Vol. 38). John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, L., Krieger, J. M., and Adam D. Zolkover. (2021). L. Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions. [Video]. InstructureCon. https://www.instructure.com/canvas/resources/instructurecon-2021/change-the-prompt-not-the-tool-developing-effective-discussions#main-content