Don’t have a Scanner? Submitting Assignments with a Mobile Device

Much of the work we produce in online classes takes the form of discussions, and assignments. Most of this is done online, using a computer (either desktop or laptop), and using applications such as Word, PowerPoint, SPSS, and more. However, there are times were we might have work to complete “off-screen” such as illustrations, graphs, charts, calculations, musical notation, etc. In these cases you might have a document or paper you’ve written on, and need to submit that work. There are a few ways you can use your mobile device to scan and submit these documents.

1. Scan and Submit Using the Canvas Student App

The Canvas student app is the simplest way to submit mobile-scanned documents. The app is available for both iOS and Android. First you will need to download the app, and sign-in (How do I log in to the Student app on my iOS device with a Canvas URL? iOS Android). From there you can access your courses and navigate to the assignment. Follow these guides (iOS Submit an Assignment; Android Submit an Assignment) in order to access the course and get to the point where you need to choose how to upload your file. The option we are interested in here is option 4. Scanner. Note: File Upload will only appear as an option if your instructor has selected that as an Online Entry Option.

  1. Click Submit Assignment
  2. Click File Upload
  3. Click Scanner
  4. Position your camera and take a photo
  5. Use the four circles to select the area you want to save
  6. Continue taking photos until all documents are scanned. Then click Save (#)
  7. Check that all documents have been selected, then click Submit
  8. Wait until the upload is complete
  9. Celebrate

The accompanying images are using iOS, Android devices may look just a little bit different, but the process should be the same.

2. Submit a File Using the Canvas Student App

Both iOS and Android have the ability to scan documents using the camera on your mobile device. Once the document is scanned and stored as a file on your mobile device you can submit the file using Files in the Upload File menu in the Canvas App. To scan a document in iOS, use the Files Application. To scan a document in Android, use Google Drive.

  1. Click Submit Assignment
  2. Click File Upload
  3. Click Files
  4. Choose the file you wish to upload
  5. Check that all documents have been selected, then click Submit
  6. Wait until the upload is complete
  7. Celebrate

The accompanying images are using iOS, Android devices may look just a little bit different, but the process should be the same.

3. Scan and Send to Yourself for Desktop/Laptop Submission

As stated above, both iOS and Android have the ability to scan documents using the camera on your mobile device. Once the document is scanned and stored as a file on your mobile device you can send the file to yourself (by email for example) and then upload your assignment to Canvas using your desktop or laptop as you normally would.

To scan a document in iOS, use the Files Application. To scan a document in Android, use Google Drive.

To email a file from your iOS device, use the share button. To email a file from your Android device, use attach file or insert from Drive.

Administering Written Exams via Canvas

The Canvas Assignments tool can be used for replicating a “take-home” style of exam, or a written exam, in an online or remote course setting. This post will discuss how to decide if this is the right approach for your course, how to set it up in Canvas, and some details for administering it to ensure a smooth launch come exam time.

Things to Consider Before Going This Route

There are a few things to consider before going with this approach:

  1. In effect, this style of exam must be considered “open book”. Understand that students will have access to their notes and course materials (and yes, even access to the internet) during the exam period. You might want to lean into this by asking students to provide references and citations in their responses, like they would have to with a research paper.
  2. This type of exam is quite easy for students to keep a copy of, and potentially could be distributed to students in future classes. Your best bet to ensure exam integrity term-to-term is to either make a unique variation of the exam each term, or write questions that require very complex higher-order thinking and analysis — i.e., questions that knowing them well in advance won’t save a student from putting in the work to create a well-crafted response.
  3. This type of exam works best for written response questions (i.e., short answer, long answer, and essay response types) in which you expect students to provide you with unique answers. It is not a good option for very objective question types (such as multiple choice and true-false questions); the Canvas Quiz tool is a better option for those. Keep in mind that you can always do a 2-part exam if you want to use both approaches.
  4. When setting your test availability window, you are striking a balance between keeping it small to discourage collusion between students, and widening it to allow for more flexibility and accessibility. For a Final Exam, an availability window of between 3 and 24 hours is a common approach used. Also remember that the window you set should align with the exams schedule set for your course by the university, so that your students will not have conflicts with their other courses.
  5. This is a wonderfully low-bandwidth exam option. Other examination methods, such as Canvas Quizzes or testing that uses proctoring software, require constant internet connectivity, and thus can present a real barrier for students with limited access to the internet. Even for students with reliable internet access, exams with constant connectivity are generally a higher-stress situation because of all that can go wrong with an internet connection during the test period. A take-home (or download/upload) written exam is a great way to increase the accessibility of your course, and also limit the stressful nature of web-based examinations.

Setting it up in Canvas

Replicating the “take-home” or written exam approach in an online/remote setting involves uploading an exam file (likely in a Word document format) to your Canvas course as an “Assignment”, setting the parameters for the release date/time and submission deadline, and them communicating with students so that they know what to expect. To complete the exam, students download the Word file, complete their work and save a copy, and then upload their completed exam — all within the access window you define.

The following instructions and links from the Canvas Instructor Guide will walk you through this process:

  1. First, upload the exam file to your course. Depending on the settings of your course, students may have access to view the content of the “Course Files” folder. For this reason, you should also make sure to restrict the file access (either so that it is “Only available to students with the link”, or you can “Schedule student availability” and restrict it to the test access time). This way, students won’t see the exam file before you want them to see it.
  2. Next, create an Assignment Group, and title it accordingly (this is recommended since often exams will be weighted separately from other elements of the course — e.g., the Final Exam alone might be worth 25% of the course grade).
  3. Within that Assignment Group, create your Assignment, but for now, DO NOT publish it (i.e., hit the “Save” button but not the “Save and Publish” button). This ensures that students won’t see anything you don’t want them to see yet.
  4. Edit the Assignment details to suit your needs. Pay particular attention to the following items:
    1. In the Rich Content Editor, add some instructions to students so that they know what to do to complete their take-home exam. You also want to insert a link to the downloadable exam file (e.g., Word document) into the Rich Content Editor.
    2. Set the number of points you are grading the exam out of.
    3. Make sure you have paired the Assignment to the Assignment Group you made earlier, so that it will be weighted properly in your Gradebook.
    4. Set the “Submission Type” to “Online” and only to “File Uploads”; you can further limit this by selecting “Restrict Upload File Types” to just allow Word documents, for example (i.e., doc, docx). More details here.
    5. Under the “Assign” field, specify the “Due” date with the final deadline, and the “Available from” and “Until” fields with the window of availability in which the Assignment (i.e., exam) will be visible to students. In this case, it makes sense for the “Due” and “Until” fields to contain the same date and time (i.e., the submission deadline). For example, you might set the exam to be Available from: Dec. 1, 9:00AM, Until: Dec. 1, 9:00PM, Due: Dec. 1, 9:00PM. This would give your students a 12-hour window in which to download their exam, complete it, and upload it for grading, after which the exam would disappear from their Canvas course (although they should still have a copy saved locally). More details here.
    6. When you are ready, click to “Save and Publish” your Assignment (i.e., exam). Students will not see anything until the availability date/time that you set. To confirm, you can always toggle to the Student View of your course.

Setting Exemptions for Particular Students

There are numerous reasons why a student might need to have additional time to complete their exam, or might need to access it on a different day/time than the rest of your class. When you edit an Assignment in Canvas, use the “Assign to” feature to alter the “Due” date, and or the “Available from” and “Until” dates, just for a particular student. See the following link for details on how to do this: How do I assign an assignment to an individual student?

Optionally, if a student is writing on a different day and you wish to give them a different version of the exam than what the rest of the class wrote, you will need to create a whole new, separate Assignment; upload your alternate version of the exam, and then assign it only to that student.


Photo by Jeswin Thomas from Pexels

Peer Review in Canvas: Tool Quirks & Workarounds

In working with instructors more closely this term on implementing peer review in their new Canvas courses, we are starting to get a better sense of what issues and errors are most likely to crop up, and how to manage those. At the same time, we are learning about the quirks of the Peer Review tool in Canvas (what it works well for, and what it does not) and some situations in which going another direction might be preferable. This post will cover what we’ve learned recently, and share some tips and resources for designing peer review activities in Canvas (either with or without using the dedicated “Peer Review” tool).

Background Info

Our colleagues at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning have recently shared a couple of very helpful blog posts that I recommend you check out:

    • Leveraging Peer Feedback in an Online Environment: this post offers a broad overview of the benefits of peer review, as well as the pedagogical and logistical (i.e., classroom management) questions you should ask yourself early on, if you are thinking about using peer review in your course.
    • Utilizing Peer Feedback in Canvas: this post offers guidance on creating activities that use the Canvas Peer Review feature, as well as a helpful video that will walk you thorough the setup and distribution of Peer Review tasks to students.

As always, I also recommend you familiarize yourself with the relevant links from within the Canvas Instructor Guide, or at least know how to find them if/when you get stuck. In this case, the following pages will help, depending on if you are using the Peer Review tool as attached to an Assignment or a Discussion:

For Assignments:

For Discussions:

Important: Guidance for Students on using Canvas’ Peer Review Tool

The following links from within the Canvas Student Guide can be shared with your students to help your students navigate using the Peer Review tool in Canvas (I’d recommend posting them right within the description of your Peer Review activity) . Again, the directions differ a bit, depending on if you are using the Peer Review tool as attached to an Assignment or a Discussion:

For Assignments:

For Discussions:

Quirks of the Peer Review Tool in Canvas (and some reasons why another tool might be better)

There are a few odd things that pop up with using the Peer Review tool in Canvas that you should watch out for, and in some cases, might make it necessary for you to use a workaround, or use another tool altogether. Note the following:

    1. Peer reviews using the Canvas tool is a one-to-one experience. A student receives some work to review, and sends back their comments/feedback directly to the student who did that work (either with their names attached, or with a double-blind Anonymous setting). While this setup can be desirable, there are also other situations in which you want the peer review activity to be a more open, collegial, flexible, and interactive experience. In this way, students can benefit from seeing a wider array of student work and peer feedback, and also learn from each other how to give better feedback. Another tool (i.e., the Discussion board) would work better for that type of activity, particularly if the instructor wants a bit more freedom to jump into the Discussion and provide guidance along the way.
    2. When applied to Group Assignments, the peer review will only be assigned to individuals. As such, it doesn’t work for Group Assignments if you want 1 group to collectively or collaboratively review the work of another group.
    3. Peer reviews cannot be graded in any direct way. There is no direct way to grade the quality of a peer review or feedback that a student has provided, and any peer-given grade is not tallied into the Gradebook. You’d have to manually input something into the Canvas Gradebook for each peer review if you wanted to do either of these things.
    4. Peer reviews on late submissions must be manually assigned by the instructor. This is a bit of a pain, and one to plan for if you use the “Automatically Assign Peer Reviews” option when you are setting up the activity. Any student work submitted after the deadline won’t get assigned, so you’ll have to do it yourself. This also can mean (especially if you are only asking each student to do 1 review) that some students don’t get any peer reviews assigned to them! So it can be quite confusing for students, if the instructor doesn’t provide an explanation.
    5. There is a system delay for automatically assigned peer reviews. Eager students might complain that their assigned peer reviews aren’t showing up; tell them to expect to wait up to an hour.
    6. Peer reviews must be manually assigned for On Paper and No Submission assignment types. Something to watch out for if you are using an Assignment that was handed in in-class, or perhaps for Assignments based on oral or webinar presentations with no accompanying file or text submission.
    7. The External Tool submission type does not support peer review assignments. You’ll need a different tool or a workaround if using this submission type.
    8. The Canvas DocViewer does not support anonymous comments. It cannot be used for annotated feedback on assignments with anonymous peer reviews. You need to be OK with students showing their names to use this feature.
    9. Setting peer review due dates or To Do tasks in your students’ Canvas calendars is a bit finnicky. Unlike with a regular Assignment or Discussion (whose due date will appear in the students’ calendars), having calendar reminders show up with peer review tasks takes a bit more work. Best practices and a suggested workaround are outlined in this Peer Review Tips document from Canvas. As always, make sure your are communicating with your class and outline all important dates in your Syllabus.

Other Options: Peer Review without using Canvas’ Peer Review Tool

If anything in the previous information made you think “hmm, this Canvas Peer Review tool isn’t going to work for me,” the good news is that there are plenty of other ways to make peer review activities work in your course without it. Some examples:

    • Groups. Set up Groups for your students (2-5 students) in which they will be sharing work with each other. These groups can change over the term, or be used consistently to build more of a supportive team community or studio/critique atmosphere.
    • Discussions: Ask students to share their work (perhaps in a draft stage) via the Discussions, and comment on each other’s person’s submission to provide feedback. Especially when combined with Groups, this is quite manageable for students. A rubric or some other form of structure (e.g., a checklist) can be provided to guide the feedback a bit more.
    • Assignments. Ask students to use the Commenting feature in Word to annotate someone elses’ work and offer feedback. Or, give them a rubric / feedback form to fill out for the purposes of peer review (e.g., to complete following a classmate’s webinar presentation).
    • (Classic) Quizzes. These can be used to create a Survey that has students submit their feedback and/or peer review in a very targeted, structured way (e.g., Likert scale questions), or for more open-ended responses. A survey in this manner could also be built using your USask Survey Monkey account (although this would take a bit more work to track and/or grade the results). A survey is also not a terribly easy way to share feedback with the students who are being reviewed, but it could be manageable if you had a smaller class, or it was split into groups.

These tools might also be combined (e.g., using Groups with Discussions is a great way to have students give feedback to each other towards improving draft assignments). Generally, these tools in Canvas are malleable enough to make an approach that works well for your particular peer review plans, and still be easy for students to navigate.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

The Case of the Missing Journal

One of the glaring omissions from the Canvas LMS toolkit is the Learning Journal. This tool often provided a personal space for student reflection where instructors could see evidence of learning from each student’s perspective. In Blackboard Learn there was a dedicated tool called Journals that allowed for these entries to be collected, shared and graded in a variety of configurations. We found that in situations where a discussion was not necessarily appropriate a reflective journal entry provided the evidence of learning that instructors needed to know their course design was having the desired effect.

In Canvas there is no Journal tool specific to this task and as we at the Distance Education Unit (DEU) work with instructors to migrate courses from one LMS to the other we’re beginning to find ways to recreate this activity using the available tools in Canvas. Here are a couple options to recreate a journal activity in Canvas.

The Group of One

fig. 1 – Click to enlarge

In this scenario you’ll create a group set for each student by splitting students into groups with only 1 assigned student (fig. 1). These groups effectively become a quiet space for each student to journal from within. From here you have several options depending on how you wish to grade the journal activities.

The “Group of One” option allows students to utilize the Group Discussion tool which will effectively become their Journal. The advantage to this setup is that all the journal entries can be collected in one neat space. You can pop in and see each student’s progress anytime throughout the term whether you are marking on an ongoing basis or plan to mark everything at the end of term.

fig.2 Click to enlarge

You may choose to pre-build all the Journal Entry Prompts as Discussion Topics ahead of time and add them to the Group Discussions (fig. 2) or you can simply provide the Journal prompts within the body of your weekly modules and have students use the same headings within their Journal (Group Discussion forum).

Grading Journal Entries can be done individually (grade every entry) or you can choose to mark just the final entry taking into consideration the whole term. Enable Grading within the editable options for every Discussion if you wish to grade them all, or enable grading for only the last Discussion if you wish to grade them as a whole.

Journals as Assignments

The second option is to simply create Journal entries as an assignment without separating students into groups of one. Again, depending on how you want to mark these Journal entries will determine how you set the assignments up.

Mark them all

If you wish to mark every entry then you’re probably best off to create an assignment for every module or even every journal prompt within a module if you want to mark them that finitely. Each assignment can get it’s own place in Grades and allow you to mark them each individually with feedback. Students will open a new assignment for each entry and will submit to each one individually.

fig. 3 Click to enlarge

That said, if you have several journal prompts within a weekly module you may choose to create one assignment for each module and allow for unlimited attempts (fig. 3), thus allowing students to return to their journal assignment each time they are prompted to do so in the module and resubmit more text to the assignment. When you go to mark these journals in SpeedGrader you’ll see a list of submissions to view in the top right corner of the screen (fig. 4). Each of these submissions can be seen separately by clicking on each submission date and time .

fig. 4

Mark them all as one

You may want to simply mark the semester’s worth of journal entries as one assignment giving students an overall mark for their entire journal. In this case, creating one assignment, again with unlimited attempts (fig. 2), allows students to continue to submit their journals responses from one place and creates just one assignment to grade in SpeedGrader.

Mark the Best

Another approach we often employ with journals is to give students a mark for their best reflective entries. You can do this in a couple different ways.

fig. 5 – Click to enlarge

First, you can create an Assignment Group (not to be confused with group assignments) called Journals (fig. 5). Add all journal assignments to that group by dragging and dropping them or selecting that assignment group when you create the assignments. You can now edit the group by clicking thebutton on the right of the assignment group banner. Then have Canvas ignore the lowest scores of the grouped assignments (fig. 6).

fig. 6 Click to enlarge

So, if you had 10 Journal Prompts throughout a course and wanted Canvas to ignore the lowest 2 scores it could do that. You can ensure certain  assignments in the group aren’t considered in this equation by selecting them under the “Never Drop” options setting.

The second option is allowing students to self select their best or worst journal entries. They can simply notify you to ignore certain entries through an inbox message or other tool and you can ignore those posts. If you set up the Assignment group in the same way as described above then these will be scored as incomplete and dropped from the final grade automatically.

Image CC0 via Pexels

7 Tips for Setting up Group Projects in Canvas

Are you looking to set up a Group project in your Canvas course? Canvas Groups offers a “small version of a course” and can be used as a collaborative tool where students can work together on projects, such as Assignments, or to split a large class up for smaller, more digestible Discussions. Using Groups to assign projects to students can also help you give shared feedback and grades back to Group members more efficiently.

The Groups tool in Canvas is quite flexible, so this post will offer tips for using Groups in the most commonly applicable ways I have seen. There are some best practices, and also links for further help.

For an overview of Canvas Groups, see the following video:

Canvas how-to links:

Tip 1: Make your “Group Set” first.

In Canvas, a Group Set is what you will use when you want to divide your class up into multiple Groups (with each student being a member of just one Group). Once students are distributed, the Group Set can then be used in your course for a specific purpose (such as a Discussion or an Assignment).

From within your course, select People on the Course Menu. From here, you can see all enrolled students (under the “Everyone” tab) and also see the existing Group Sets. On the image below, you can see that my test course has two Group Sets with their own tabs (one for Discussions, and one for a Poster Project).

To set up a new Group Set, click on the +Group Set button. You will get a popup to allow you to make the settings you need from there (e.g., Group Set name, Group size, enrolment type).

As instructor, when you set up a new Group Set you can:

    1. Make the Groups and then allow the students to join a Group of their choosing;
    2. Make the Groups and have Canvas split the students up randomly; or
    3. Make the Groups and then manually sort students into each Group by their name.

Anyway you go, you should set up the Groups within a Group Set first!

Then, you’ll need to instruct students clearly on what to do next. See Tip 5 (below) for some suggested instructions for students.

Tip 2: Name your “Group Set” very specifically.

Note that students might be placed in to Groups in several of their courses (not just yours), and all of those various Groups are collected together in the “Groups” link on the student’s Global Navigation Menu.

If you use a very generic Group Set Name, such as “Final Project” or “Project Team”, a student looking through the list of their Groups might have no way of telling which Group goes with which course. This could get very messy and confusing!

To avoid this, just add your course code to the start of your “Group Set Name”, and a brief descriptor of the Group purpose, and then Canvas will generate the Groups and add numbers (1, 2, 3) to each one from there. For example:

    • Group Set Name: “CRSE XXX Discussion Group”
    • Canvas generates the following Groups:
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 1,
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 2,
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 3, etc.

Note that you can edit and re-name individual Groups after making your Group Set (i.e., you don’t have to stick with what names Canvas auto-generates). If you do more specific naming to differentiate Groups further, it can assist students with self-enrolment and help them to find Groups relevant to their interests or needs (e.g., to sort students by their project topics, majors, or program streams). For example:

    • Edit and rename your Groups:
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 1 (Psychology majors),
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 2 (Sociology majors),
      • CRSE XXX Discussion Group 3 (English majors), etc.

Tip 3: Make sure you assign your project to the correct “Group Set”.

If you’ve made your Group Set (and the Groups within), there is still an additional step required to pair that Group Set to a specific project (i.e., to an Assignment or a Discussion; the setup is similar in either case).

To do this, follow the directions at either of the following links to Edit the relevant Assignment or Discussion. Make sure that under the Group Assignment or Group Discussion option that you are selecting the correct Group Set:

Tip 4: Watch out for the “Assignment Group”, as it is something else entirely!

Here’s something tricky! When you Edit the settings for an Assignment or a Discussion, you’ll see an option called “Assignment Group”; note that this does not actually relate to Group Sets or Groups as used for student collaboration.

“Assignment Group” instead refers to the clustering of graded components of your course in order to alter the weighing of those clusters. For example, you might want to weight Assignments at 15% of the course grade, Discussions at 10%, a Research Paper at 20%, etc. The selected “Assignment Group” tells Canvas which weighting cluster to sort a graded project into.

See the following links for more information:

Tip 5: Give clear instructions to students on how they access their Groups.

Once you’ve set things up, it’s important to give clear directions to students. Otherwise, they might be confused on what to do next. One of the following options (A or B) should apply, so here are some directions you could share with your students. You could add these directions right into the description for the relevant project (e.g., Assignment or Discussion).

A: For Instructor-made Groups, with Manual (Instructor) Enrollment:

To complete this project, your instructor has enrolled you in a Group. For more information on accessing your Group, see the following link: How do I view my Canvas groups as a student?

For general help with communicating and collaborating with your Group, see the following link: Student Guide: People and Groups

**Note: You DO NOT need to create your own Group for this project (i.e., under the “People” area of the course, DO NOT click the “+Group” button).

B: For Instructor-made Groups, with Student (Self) Enrollment:

To complete this project, your instructor has set up Groups for you to join. You can join any 1 Group that still has room for additional members. For more information on joining a Group, see the following link: How do I join a group as a student?

For general help with communicating and collaborating with your Group, see the following link: Student Guide: People and Groups

**Note: You DO NOT need to create your own Group for this project (i.e., under the “People” area of the course, DO NOT click the “+Group” button).

Tip 6: Student-created Groups cannot be assigned to graded Group projects.

For specific graded projects (Assignments/Discussions), I advise you to discourage students from clicking the “+Group” button to create their own Groups, as it can get quite messy and confusing if students scramble and generate a bunch of extraneous Groups (hence the **Note I added into the directions for students above). It is also not possible to assign student-created Groups to any of your course projects (e.g., graded Assignments or Discussions), which means you lose a lot of the grading features that allow you to mark Group projects more efficiently.

Instead, this student-controlled option is best suited for when students want to independently create study groups, collaborate informally (rather than on assigned projects), or if they want to host their own discussions.

Optionally, you can disable this feature to have a more instructor-controlled environment in your course; see the last Tip 7!

Tip 7: You can disable student-created Groups.

The default option in a new Canvas course will allow for students to create their own Groups, but if you want to turn this option off in your course, you can do that (and potentially avoid some of the possible confusion I mentioned previously). The steps to do this are:

    1. In Course Navigation, click the Settings link.
    2. Click the Course Details tab.
    3. Click the more options link (at the very bottom of the page).
    4. De-select the Let students organize their own groups checkbox.
    5. Click Update Course Details to save your changes.

See the following link for more information:


Note: Any student names shown in these images are fictional.

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Creating a Custom Course Template: A Canvas Commons Case Study

Program administrators often desire a feeling of commonality and a cohesiveness of the learning experience across the various courses of their program. However, when each course might be designed, developed, and taught by a different instructor, this can be tricky to achieve. This post will offer an example of how Canvas Commons can be used for building shared elements across the different courses of a program, and how even entire online courses might be built in a similar manner through this tool.

Note: Make sure you are logged into to check out all that Canvas Commons has to offer!

At a Glance: Specific Program Needs

In Fall of 2020, a new fully-online Health Professions Education (HPE) program was launched by the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education. It consists of the Masters of Education (M.Ed) in HPE, and two related graduate certificate programs (the Certificate in Quality Teaching In HPE and the Certificate in Improving Teaching and Learning in HPE). In these related program streams, the M.Ed and certificate students learn alongside each other, and a student may begin studies in either of the certificate programs and then later ladder into the full M.Ed. degree.

A big part of the vision for the various courses (13 in total) of the HPE program, according to the members of the interdisciplinary steering committee, was a “common look and feel” (something that Instructional Designers hear a lot!). In addition, a major assessment strategy of using longitudinal ePortfolios, meant to demonstrate student achievement in an established set of competencies, was identified at the program proposal stage.

The College of Education reached out to the Distance Education Unit (DEU) early in their program planning for help designing both program-specific elements and  also individual courses that would help them deliver on these goals. As an Instructional Designer working on this program, this meant designing a solution for the following program needs:

  • Regardless of which course they begin their program with, students should experience similar on-boarding, and see the same orientation materials to help them understand not just the individual course-level requirements, but also the program-level requirements.
  • At the course level, students starting in either the M.Ed or the Certificate programs will have a common experience regardless of their program stream.
  • The longitudinal ePortfolio needed to have consistent requirements across all of the courses, to ensure students were collecting their work (projects and learner reflections) in a similar way with each subsequent course, so that students would exit their programs with a cohesive and well-organized ePortfolio, aligned to program competencies.
  • A common layout and arrangement of the online course materials would help students navigate each new course quickly, so that they aren’t stuck with learning a unique course layout for every course.
  • Shared visual elements, such as banners, headers, and images should be used, as they will contribute to a consistent, polished, and professional-looking aesthetic experience.

Designing a Program-Level Course Template

One part of the solution to the above program needs lay in the creation of a program-specific Canvas course template. This takes the approach used with the generic USask Canvas Course Template — providing the initial “framework and just-in-time instructions to guide you through your basic course structure” — and takes it to the next level, by customizing it specifically for a particular program.

The template was built first in a Canvas “development shell” (a working space with no students). It included the following features:

  • A common landing page, with program-specific images and branding.
  • Several pages of program-specific information (e.g., a page describing ePortfolio requirements that students in all courses will need to see).
  • Spaces for instructors to customize the template by adding their own course info and welcome messages.
  • Empty (but structured) “module shells” for instructors to start building their actual course content.
  • Optional elements that instructors can choose to use, or to adapt to fit their needs, if they want to (e.g., a rubric for assessing Discussions).

When the template was ready and approved by various program-level stakeholders, I was then able to take the course template and “Share to Commons“; The following link offers more guidance on that step:

Once it was made available in Canvas Commons, anybody from USask who goes into Canvas Commons and searches for “HPE template” (or something similar) will find the template there. I could also link instructors directly to the template in Canvas Commons. Now, any future instructors or course developers working in this program can “Import” the template into their own course, and are ready to hit the ground running by adding their own customizations and course content. They have the choice of importing the entire course template, or just pieces of it, to suit their needs.

Going forward, the template can be updated as needed (e.g., to reflect program changes) and the new version updated in Canvas Commons. (However, note that those same updates still need to be made in individual courses;  i.e., updates are not pushed through to courses that copied the template).

Need Help Developing a Course Template?

If your program or college is wanting to develop your own custom Canvas course template, the Instructional Designers at the Distance Education Unit (DEU) can help! This is a great step to take early in the design/development of a new program, or during the current transition period while your entire program/college is working to move into the new LMS (Canvas). Message to set up a consultation and get some guidance and help!


Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

Gaining insights from student feedback

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s working in your online class and what barriers students are quietly navigating without feedback. A common practice in post secondary institutions is to collect student evaluations at the end of the term to better understand what students thought of the course design and your teaching strategies. At the Distance Education Unit (DEU) we encourage instructors to create spaces for students to provide feedback throughout the term allowing you to make small changes on the fly and enhancing the student learning experience while it still counts.

In this blog post we’ll provide you with a number of ways you might encourage student feedback and what to do with the suggestions once you have them.

Ongoing Opportunities

Feedback should be something that is encouraged throughout the term,  but without building the spaces for students to provide it, you may find yourself in a cone of silence. So where should you be building spaces for students to speak their minds?

Student Questions Lounge

Providing a Student Questions Lounge within the Discussion Forums of your online course can often provide students with relief from their frustrations and feedback for improvements. Simply build a forum where students can post their questions or confusions and allow their peers to provide the answers. You too can jump in with responses and replies, but you’ll often find that the eager beavers in your class are more than happy to be sharing their understanding regularly. Be sure to check in on the lounge regularly to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Muddiest Point

Another great way to use the Discussion Forums is to create a Muddiest Point post for each week. Here, students are welcome to post what they felt was the muddiest or least clear point of the weekly module. In Canvas, other students are able to “like” muddy points that they agree with which allows you to see those points that most students had trouble with.

How do I allow students to like replies in a discussion? (Canvas)

Survey’s and Polls

Although the SLEQ can provide you with feedback about the Student Learning Experience both at mid-term and at the end of the semester, it’s tends to not provide a lot of feedback for specific online course design elements or strategies. Therefore, we at DEU have employed a variety of other tools to get some insight about the instructional design of online courses.

Start-Stop-Continue Poll.

An idea that came from Ryan Banow at GMCTL in a blog post he wrote in 2014 suggested collecting anonymous feedback on what things he should start doing, what he should stop doing, and what he should continue doing in his teaching. This survey was sent out in the first three weeks of the term and allowed him to, at the very least, know he was on track. There are a number of tools you could use to complete this with including the USask Survey Monkey account by sending a link via Announcements in Canvas, creating a Survey in Canvas and set the option to collect replies anonymously, or you could use the mobile Canvas Polls App.

Mid-Term Survey or Poll

Mid-term is a great time to put out the feelers with a quick, but slightly more in depth survey to check-in and see what students are enjoying about the class and where they are frustrated. This way, you can make improvements that will impact your students learning for the remainder of the semester.

Using feedback to improve the learning experience

Once your feedback is in you can begin to unpack it. Remember, all feedback is good feedback, but it’s not always presented with the appropriate level of tact so develop a thick skin and look for the relevant concerns within the less than flattering comments.

Try and put the feedback into some sort of categories. Look for common themes. Specific topics that were especially confusing, gaps that need to be filled, technical writing that needs to be more clear, instructions that might not line up with expectations. If you’re struggling to address some of the feedback sometimes it helps to get another set of eyes on it. Have a colleague take a look and see if they can spot the issue or you can always shoot us an email at for a friendly review and chat.

Feature Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay CC0

7 Things You Should Know About Canvas Commons

This topic does not appear in the EDUCAUSE series, but we think the format is useful so have applied it here… see more from the 7 Things You Should Know about series for other Ed Tech related themes and tools at EDUCAUSE.


Jamie Andarson is teaching an online introductory course next term using Canvas. They have prepared most of their syllabus, selected articles and other readings, and have most of the assignments outlined but not detailed. They are still looking to fill some gaps in their course, so they reach out to their education specialist to go over their course plan. Ezra Eban, the educationalist, suggests they search Canvas Commons to see if there are any Open Educational Resources – freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching – that would work for the course.

Jamie and Ezra find some rich content that fits nicely with the third week’s theme, an assignment that is actually very close to the one Jamie had in mind, but unfortunately no quizzes that would work for this course. Using the import from Commons feature, they copy the content into their course and place it within the week three module. Next, they imported the assignment and began editing it. They added details that were specific to the University of Saskatchewan, and also added a rubric for grading and feedback purposes. Finally, together they created some quizzes intended for practice for students prior to the midterms and final exam.

Ezra mentioned to Jamie that with Canvas Commons you can also submit your course materials for others to use. They consider the license on the original assignment, choose a new Creative Commons license for the updated assignment and share it back to Canvas Commons. They also look through the quizzes and decide on another Creative Commons license, and share it to Commons for the rest of their department to use.

What is it?

Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. A digital library full of educational content, Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course. The resources available include: courses, modules, assignments, quizzes, discussions, pages, documents, video, audio, images, templates, and open textbooks. Content is also searchable based on the intended level of the learner, from K12 through post-secondary.

Who’s Doing It?

Any instructor who has access to Canvas has access to Commons. Instructors who are interested in Open Educational Resources (OER) use Commons to find, use, remix, and share OER. In addition to materials used specifically for classes, units at the University of Saskatchewan such as the Distance Education Unit, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, and Academic Technologies, use Canvas Commons to share general resources such as the USASK Default Course Template. Departments that have course materials to share across sections might also consider Commons as a way to share those materials.

How Does it Work?

Canvas Commons is a repository of content, so just about anything that is a content item in Canvas can be shared to commons (see list above). Upon doing so, the author chooses who they would like to share their content with (only me, all USASK, or selected consortium). The author can list their material as fully copyrighted or add any of the 6 Creative Commons licenses to the work, or even list it as Public Domain. Sharing to Commons creates a copy of the content for others to create their own copies, leaving the original and the Commons versions intact.

Why is it Significant?

Currently, Canvas is now the market leader in North America in terms of institution count at 31%. This means that as more and more instructors and course authors consider Canvas, the more materials that will become available there. Working within Canvas at a local context also makes it simple to share and find resources that work as designed in Canvas. Any programs, departments, or institutions that have common course components can easily share those resources across courses.

What are the Downsides?

Firstly, Canvas Commons is only available to Canvas users, so if an author would like to access materials in Commons they can’t do that without Canvas. In addition to that, if an author wants to share their content widely (beyond Canvas) they are unable to do so with Commons. One common experience with finding any educational content (OER or not) is that it can be very time consuming and does not always produce results. Commons is no different that way. Finally, even if an instructor finds something they would like to use, rarely does it fit exactly with their course, so there is always some extra work to do.

Where is it Going?

Currently, Commons resources are shareable with “only me” for times when instructors want a centralized place to store content used often across multiple courses. They can also be shared across the University of Saskatchewan, appearing only in search results of our local campus community. Finally, they can be shared openly to anyone who has a Canvas account. An exciting upcoming feature will be sharing content across a consortium. A consortium could be a cluster of universities that would like to share content across institutions, but not to the whole Canvas user community.

What are the Implications for Teaching and Learning?

Finding content to use, and sharing content is an excellent starting place for using Commons, but Commons also presents an opportunity to support OER-enabled pedagogy, a “set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.” (Wiley, D. 2017). Students can create and co-create resources or course content in Canvas. For example, instructors can allow students to edit course pages, and students can always create pages in groups. Openly accessible and licensed content further enables these types of activities. For example, students could create resources designed to improve the materials for future students not only in this course, but in courses around the world.

Check Out Canvas Commons

Log into Canvas and click Commons on the bottom of the global navigation menu.

“Is licensing really the most important question for OER?” by opensourceway is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

USask’s New ePortfolio Tool: Portfolium

What’s an ePortfolio?

An electronic portfolio/ePortfolio is a collection of student work that is useful for showing both the product and the process of learning – while the product demonstrates accountability to learning objectives and showcases the students’ developing skills, the process creates an ongoing workspace for self-reflective learning. As such, an ePortfolio can be a powerful tool for assessment as learning and also assessment of learning.

A portfolio shouldn’t be simply an archive of student work; instead, the real value is found in portfolios as living, dynamic presentations of learning, developing competencies, and intellectual and professional growth. Portfolios can be used at the course level — often as a replacement for a summative final exam — or might be used across a degree program to ensure that students are meeting important high-level competencies and curricular outcomes. Especially when integrated across a student’s entire degree program, an ePortfolio allows them to exit with a thoughtfully-compiled collection of their best work, a timeline of their growth and development as a learner, and a showcase of who they are as a professional and scholar in their field.

If you’re totally new to ePortfolio assessment, the ePortfolios for Educators mini-course by Sam Taylor is a great place to start.

Introducing Portfolium

Along with the switch to a new LMS (Canvas), the University of Saskatchewan has also recently launched a new ePortfolio tool, called Portfolium. Like Canvas, Portfolium is owned by Instructure, so users should find a number of handy integrations between Canvas and Portfolium that let these tools play nicely together.

Students will have access to their Portfolium account for as long as they want, even after completing their program! For this reason, they might also find it useful as a tool for after graduation, while job hunting and meeting with potential employers. Highlighting the utility of an ePortfolio as a key part of one’s “digital fingerprint,” and as a professional skills showcase — something that students might send along with resumes, or even share on a tablet during job fairs and interviews — can go a long way towards motivating students to build a polished and well-organized ePortfolio.

See the following video for a quick introduction to Portfolium.

A Quick (and Adaptable) Student Guide to Portfolium

The following is intended as a quick guide that would walk students through the steps of accessing, building, and sharing their Portfolium account. Feel free to use these instructions in your own course, and consider how you might adapt these steps for specific requirements that you might want to incorporate. For example, perhaps you want students to align their projects to a particular set of competencies (in Portfolium, use the “Skills” labels). Or, perhaps you want students to structure their Learner Reflections in a certain way. There are lots of ways to tailor ePortfolios to a specific course and/or to a program of study, while also leaving room for a high degree of student autonomy and customization. Consider discussing the needs of your course and/or program with an Instructional Designer to determine the best uses for ePortfolios in general, or Portfolium specifically.

The following link is also helpful to new users getting underway with Portfolium (there are answers to lots of “How do I…?” questions found here):

Step 1: Access Your Portfolium Profile (a.k.a. Folio)

While logged into Canvas (, in the Global Navigation (left-hand side menu in the web version), click on “Account” and then “Folio”. From there, click to “Login”, and use your USask email address ( and password to proceed. Note that this will take you out of Canvas, and into Portfolium. The following images show these same steps.

Step 2: Customize Your Profile and Update Your Profile Settings

Once in Portfolium, you will likely find the navigation to be very similar to some popular social media sites, such as LinkedIn or Facebook. You have lots of customization options to make your ePortfolio your own. You have complete control over the privacy and visibility settings of your profile, as well as individual projects that you add to your portfolio. You also have the option of adding other users as “Connections”, if you like.

For more help, see:  Portfolium Network – Profile and Settings 

Step 3: Add Projects to Your Portfolium Profile

Upload some work you wish to showcase and it will be added to your Portfolium profile under the tab labelled “Portfolio”. Lots of file types are supported, so you can show your work in the form of Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, MP3, Powerpoints, links to videos, external web links, and more. A project can also be made up of multiple files paired together. You can also import work that you have already submitted through Canvas (e.g., something that you handed in for grading through a Canvas course Assignment). See the following for more assistance:

As you add new projects to your Portfolium, you can organize your profile by using the Skills labels. Another layer of organization can be added by organizing projects into Courses. This will help anybody who is looking at your profile (e.g., your classmates or an instructor) find your work for each course quickly. See the following links for more assistance:

Step 4: Attach Learner Reflections to Your Work

Each artifact added to the portfolio should include a learner reflection of some kind (sometimes called an annotation). Learner reflections are meant to document the process of learning and of creating the project you are showcasing, and serve as a space in which students can share a frank and open self-examination of their own development and maturation as a scholar and professional. In your learner reflection, you might discuss things like:

  • What did I set out to do when making this project?
  • What was easy about this project for me? What was hard?
  • How did my approach change as I worked on this project?
  • How did I incorporate feedback (from peers or instructors) that I got along the way?
  • What would I do differently next time? What would I do the same?

Learner reflections can either be attached to projects in Portfolium as additional files (e.g., .doc or .pdf), or could be typed into the “Description” part of a project.

Step 5: Share Your Portfolium Profile

If your Portfolium profile is being used as part of a graded course requirement, follow the directions from your instructor on how to share your profile. Your instructor might ask you to submit your Portfolium URL via:

  • Email to the instructor
  • Canvas Assignment
  • Canvas course Discussion board, allowing for peer feedback and comments

Remember that each student has full control over their own privacy settings, so you may need to make adjustments to share your profile or projects with certain people. You can adjust privacy settings on their whole profile, or just on individual projects. If you choose to make your profile such that only your Connections can see it, you still have the option of generating a secret link to share with classmates, instructors, employers, or anybody else you send it to.

See the following links for more assistance:

A Note Regarding Canvas and Portfolium Integrations

Not all possible integrations between Canvas and Portfolium are currently enabled at USask, pending some assessment of technical concerns, as well as consultation regarding the needs of our campus community (e.g., Portfolium Grade Exchange LTI, outcomes assessment, badging, usage analytics and reporting are all features that are not currently enabled). Stay tuned for potential updates on the interoperability of the two sister platforms, Canvas and Portfolium. If there is a specific ePortfolio functionality that you need for your course/program, please get in touch with an Instructional Designer at the Distance Education Unit ( to discuss your options.


Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

The New LMS is here! The New LMS is here!


Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License. CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s official! USask is moving away from the Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) to Canvas by Instructure! But what’s the hubbub? Why did the University choose to make this change to the Learning Technology ecosystem? In the 10 years since Blackboard was first launched at USask, university teaching and learning has evolved, and so too has the learning technology marketplace. Institutional research, institutional priorities in learning and teaching, and feedback from faculty, instructors and students indicated that Blackboard was not meeting our needs. The decision to begin a review process was also prompted by our current contract with Blackboard being up for renewal. The version of Blackboard we are currently using was almost at the end of its life cycle, and replacement was necessary. You can visit the Learning Management System Renewal project pages for more details on how and why the LMS review took place at USask on your own time, but for now, let’s take a look at some of the major upgrades this LMS has to offer under the hood!

5 Reasons to be Excited for Canvas

When reviewing the LMS RFP’s the review committee used the 8 principles, research supported characteristics of effective digital learning spaces that prepare students for work and life that are aligned with Our Learning Charter, to help determine the best fit for our learning technology ecosystem. Below are several principles where Canvas excelled and the features that support that excellence.

1. Designed for Accessibility

Accessibility Checker – Insuring equitable access to online course materials has not always been an easy task. Knowing all the standards for accessible web design is not an option for most faculty. With Canvas Accessibility Checker building compliant content within the pages of your course is all part of the process. The Accessibility Checker will not only identify elements within your page that do not follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), but will allow you to fix the issue within the same Accessibility Checker window. This just-in-time tool ensures all your students are gaining equitable access to course materials with just a few clicks. See the Accessibility Checker in action in this video from the Distance Education Unit at Santa Rosa Junior College.

As a bonus here’s a link to a great little blog post outlining how to use the tools in the Text Editor to create great accessible content within Canvas.

2. Designed for reflection and growth

MasteryPaths – MasteryPaths allows you to customize learning experiences for students based on performance. You can enable MasteryPaths to automatically assign coursework based on the score achieved for a previous assignment. This provides multiple opportunities to show and achieve mastery in a course.

DocViewer – Canvas DocViewer is a tool that allows annotations on online assignment submissions in Canvas. You can use DocViewer to view files and assignments in SpeedGrader. You can view when students view annotated feedback in the assignment details section of the sidebar.

Video and Audio Recording – The ability for you and your students to record video and audio within Canvas as a form of Feedback, Response, Reflection, or Journaling makes it simple to increase the human presence within an online course.

3. Designed for students who are remixing and/or creating

Ideally, the role of a student within an online course is greater than a passive observer of content you’ve provided. Active and engaged learning activities require students to have some tools available that let them curate and share, remix and create. Aside from the video and audio tools already mentioned above, Canvas has several tools available to get students adding content to your course making them an active participant in the online learning community.

Groups – Many of the available creation tools for students can be found in Groups. Here students have the ability to create discussions, upload and share files, start an Office 365 Collaboration, create a conference, and create Pages. Pages allows students to create and collaborate on simple webpages within their groups to build content in a variety of ways.

ePortfolios – Simple ePortfolios are also available in Canvas and allow students to take control of their learning by organizing and reflecting on their progress.

4. Designed to enable connection

Enabled connection in a course has several meanings. First it’s about being able to connect to the course materials in a variety of ways and being able to connect what you’re doing in one course with what’s happening in another.

Features like groups and ePortfolios can all happen in a more global environment than an individual course itself. This allows students to create groups outside a particular class and connect with peers in their program or in cross disciplinary activities. The LMS is a hub that helps students and educators connect to the experiences, concepts, people, and ideas that they need.

5. Active and social

The active and social learning tools in Canvas provide a hub for learning constructed with others. It is an intentional, deliberate system that easily supports learners in connecting to others, and making sense of learning for themselves, within and beyond class groupings. Many of these tools have already been featured above, but here’s a few more.

Chat – The Chat tool can be used for real-time conversation with course users. Any user in the course can participate in a chat conversation. All content in a course chat can be viewed by anyone in the course.

Mobile Apps – The Canvas Mobile Apps’ functionality is impressive. Unlike the squished full size browser on your phone that we’re used to, Canvas has created responsive apps for both students and teachers allowing course participants to increase their access on the go. Available on both Android and iOS. Below are some links to the feature sheets of these apps and you can download them at Google’s Play stores as well as Apple’s App Store.

Teacher App features

Student App features

What tools are not available on the Canvas by Instructure mobile app?

  • Conferences
  • Collaborations
  • Outcomes

What features have limited or no support on the Canvas by Instructure mobile app?

  • Peer review assignments
  • View assignment annotations
  • Certain quiz question types (Essay, Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer, Fill in the Blank, or True/False questions are supported)
  • Certain quiz settings (one-question-at-a-time quizzes, quizzes with passcode restrictions, or quizzes with IP address restrictions)
  • What-if Grades (Android only)