Exporting your Canvas course

June 16th, 2011

Instructors may want to keep a copy of their course on their local computer (I know I always do this!). For example, you may change institutions and want to use some of your course materials at your new university. Keeping an course export allows you do take your course with you.

To export a course in Canvas go to the Settings area and look for a button labeled “Export this Course”:

And click again on the next screen…

Next, you will see a progress bar

After a while the process will complete. You do NOT have to stay on the page for the process to work. You can leave the page and come back later. Click the link to download the export package file and save to your local storage device (hard rive, flash drive, whatever)

The downloaded file will have a file extention of *.imscc. This stands for the industry standard IMS Common Cartridge format. It is a type of zip file. You can change the extension from imscc to zip and treat it as any other zip file.

The package is comprised of many, many files depending on how extensive your Canvas course is. The export package is primarily useful is transporting the course to another system, but you can unzip it and look at the contents if you really want to.

Help! Something is Missing!

June 14th, 2011

The UMW IT department and Instructure tech support have migrated all the fall 2010, spring 2011, and summer 2011 (after summer is complete) Blackboard courses onto the new Canvas system for you! Yeah!

But what happens if you log into your old course (now in Canvas) and find something is missing!

Two alternatives:

  1. If you do this before July 28, 2011, Blackboard will still be available to you and you can log into Blackboard and download the missing item.
  2. If you do this after July 28, then Blackboard will not be available.  In that case, here is what you do:

After July 28, to find a missing image or Word document or PowerPoint that somehow did not get transferred into Canvas during the course migration process, ask UMW IT to give you a copy of your old Blackboard course in Blackboard “export” format.

I am missing this image:

Ask UMW IT for your course in “Export” format:

The export will be a zip file. Unzip it!

Look inside the unzipped folder:

You may need to look into several folders, but your image will be here somewhere:

Once you find the missing image, you can upload it into Canvas and place it where it belongs.

What’s so Cool about Canvas?

June 6th, 2011

Students and faculty alike will love the new course management system. Of course, there will be some minor speed bumps getting accustomed to a new system but there are so many great features in Canvas!

For full training schedule and tutorials visit: http://canvas.umwblogs.org

Canvas has a notification system so you can have important messages sent directly to your cell phone!

Canvas notifications can be sent to your Facebook inbox. (Donb’t worry, the notifications do NOT go on your Facebook Wall and are not seen by others… just in your inbox.)

Canvas has a system for tracking college, departmental, or course learning outcomes.

Canvas has a Speedgrader system by which the instructor can view a student submission, makes comments, and enter a grade all on one page. Then, with just one click, the next student submission appears ready to grade! This is an unbelievable time saver! Just wait until you see this!

Canvas has an integrated wiki system that makes it easy for students and faculty to create web pages.

Canvas has an integrated web conferencing system available to students and faculty for large or small group meetings.

Canvas provides integration with Google Docs, Skype, Linked In, Twitter, Diigo, and Facebook.

Students and faculty can include audio and video (direct from webcam) in a discussion posting (and many other places).

Faculty and students have access to a personal file storage space as well as a separate file storage space for each course and even a separate file storage space for each small group.

Blackboard Going Away!

June 6th, 2011

Blackboard is going away. In fact the server will be taken offline on July 28, 2011. On that date, no one at UMW will have access to the Blackboard server. Not even the IT folks will have access – no one will have access on July 28 and thereafter.

The good news is UMW has licensed a new and very exciting courses management system to use beginning fall semester, 2011. The new system is called Canvas (made by a company called Instructure).

For full training schedule and tutorials visit: http://canvas.umwblogs.org

So what does this mean to faculty members?

Consequences of Blackboard Going Away

  • Faculty should download, save, and/or print any materials in Blackboard before July 28, 2011. There will be NO ACCESS to Blackboard on July 28, 2011 and thereafter.
  • Faculty should be especially careful to document any student grades for summer 2011 as the server will not be available to look up and answer questions from students about their grades.
  • Starfish is not currently supported in Canvas. (Starfish may be used as a stand alone product.)
  • SafeAssign is not supported in Canvas.
  • iTunes U access method will change.
  • Eho360 is not supported in Canvas.
  • Blackboard courses can be converted for use in Canvas but most users find it easier to re-create the class rather than convert.

Embedding widget code in Canvas

June 3rd, 2011

Sometimes the user would like to paste in some code in a discussion or a wiki page that embeds an interactive element. Canvas (rightly) restricts code pasted into text entry boxes. But these interactive elements can still be used.

Canvas does allow the use of the html IFRAME element.

In this example, I want to show the National Academies Press widget for one of their books. (See the NAP page with code here.)

First, I need to go to the National Academies Press website and get the embed code. Since Canvas will not allow me to paste it directly, I used a text editor and saved the embed code in a text file (named iframestest.html in this example). I then uploaded that text file into my public Dropbox folder.

I need the url (Internet address) for this file.

Now, I need to enter the iframe information in Canvas. The IFRAME element needs to start with <iframe src=” then the url, width and height and ends with >. The closing </iframe> tag is also needed. Syntax is important so notice all the quotation marks and angle symbols! The example widget was small so a width = 200 pixels and a height of 300 pixels worked. You might notice that I changed the http:// to https://. Other widgets would be different sizes.

<iframe src="https://dl.dropbox.com/u/419723/code/iframetest.html"
width="200" height="300"></iframe>

This screen shot shows the iframe element entered in Canvas. For this to work, you must enter the iframe code in the html entry mode rather than the WYSIWYG mode.

This is what the iframe looks like in the WYSIWYG mode of the editor.

Blackboard – Canvas (non-trivial) Differences

June 2nd, 2011

Blackboard (version 8 ) and Canvas are similar in function but different in method of execution. Many actions happen pretty much the same way in both systems. The list presented here are just those differences that would be unexpected or unusual.

Blackboard (version 8 )
Canvas (as of June 1, 2011)
Instructor can make a course active (available to students) in the Control Panel. This setting can be toggled on or off at any time. Instructor can make a course active (available to students) by visiting the Course Setup Checklist. Once published the course CANNOT be made unavailable again. See related tutorial.
Neither instructors not students had access to a tree-like directory structure of folders and files. Canvas provides a tree-like directory structure (for individuals, for groups, for courses). The course level directory structure is readable by students (unless instructor specifically locks a file or folder).
In Blackboard the instructor could add herself to a group and fully participate in group activities. In Canvas the instructor has access to every group sub-site but does not function as a group member. The instructor is NOT able to upload files into the group file space.
Announcements are announcement. Discussions are discussions. Canvas allows the instructor to designate any announcement also as a discussion. Announcements can be discussions.
Blackboard allowed the instructor to keep an archival copy or export of her own course. Canvas now permits the instructor to “export” the course. Go to Settings and look on the right side for a button labeled “Export this course”.
Assignments in Blackboard usually referred to a graded activity for which the instructor expected the student to submit a file. Canvas does have an assignment similar to Blackboard assignments. However, the term Assignments is also used as a tool name, that is, an area for listing any graded activity with a due date like a graded discussion or a quiz.
Blackboard allowed the instructor to manually create extra grade book columns. Canvas does NOT permit manually added grade book columns. A work around is to create an assignment with submission type = “no submission”.
Blackboard allowed the user to search discussions by keyword. Canvas does NOT have a keyword search facility for discussions.
Blackboard allowed the instructor to re-title menu items on the left side navigation bar. Canvas does NOT allow renaming navigational menu items. They can be reordered or hidden, but not re-named.
The instructor could add a decorative banner image to the top of the course home page. Canvas does NOT allow adding a course home page banner image. It does allow the instructor to create a “Front Page” which can contain images and stylized text.
Instructors could add images and/or html to questions AND question answers/distractors in Blackboard. As of June 1, 2011, Canvas does NOT allow images or html in question answers/distractors. Question answers (the a, b, c of multiple choice questions) can contain only plain text.
Blackboard allowed instructors to copy a quiz question and make it the basis for a new (slightly revised) question. Canvas does NOT facilitate copying a question to make it a basis for a new question.
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If anyone notices an inaccuracy, please contact online@umw.edu.

Making your Canvas Course Available to Students

June 2nd, 2011

In Blackboard, instructors had the ability to make their course available to students by going to the Control Panel >> Settings >> Course Availability and selecting the Make Course Available = Yes radio button.

NOTE: In Blackboard, this selection could be made at any time throughout the semester, so that a instructor could take the course off-line temporarily to make some changes while students were not in the course.

Instructors can make a course available in Canvas by clicking the Publish button. The Publish button appears when the instructor goes to the Course Setup Checklist and clicks the link to Publish Course.

NOTE: This is a one-time setting. Once published the course cannot be un-published. This is a major difference between Canvas and Blackboard.

If your Course Setup Checklist is not visible, you can bring it back by going to the course Home and clicking on the Course Setup Checklist button.

Blackboard to Canvas Migrations – Modules Area

June 1st, 2011

So what does a Blackboard course look like after it has been auto-migrated from Blackboard? Is it usable as is? Can it be re-worked with small effort and then used as a basis for a future Canvas course?

CAUTION: You are strongly advised to re-develop your
course materials in Canvas starting with a blank course shell rather than attempting to re-work a migrated course. This is especially true if you made non-trivial use of Blackboard with the migrated course.

If your previous Blackboard course made only token use of the Blackboard tool set for a limited purpose, say to distribute files for example, then it might make sense to re-work a past semester Blackboard course and copy that into a blank Canvas course shell to use in a later semester.

This page shows you what to expect in the Canvas “Modules” area.

The example course shown here migrated exceptionally well.  However, notice that the modules are out of order. Modules can be re-ordered easily by simply dragging from one pace and dropping in another. The only tip here is that to grab a module, one must hover over that line and grab the move icon that appears to the left of the line.

Note: In the case that a line in one module really belongs in another, that line can be dragged from one module and dropped into another in a similar manner. Also notice the pencil icon. Click that to edit the module name or the item name inside a module.

In this example you will notice that the due dates are all from fall 2010. Each activity will need to have the dates changed. Click directly on the item itself to edit the edit (rather than just the name of the item).

Blackboard to Canvas Migrations – Files Area

June 1st, 2011

So what does a Blackboard course look like after it has been auto-migrated from Blackboard? Is it usable as is? Can it be re-worked with small effort and then used as a basis for a future Canvas course?

CAUTION: You are strongly advised to re-develop your
course materials in Canvas starting with a blank course shell rather than attempting to re-work a migrated course. This is especially true if you made non-trivial use of Blackboard with the migrated course.

If your previous Blackboard course made only token use of the Blackboard tool set for a limited purpose, say to distribute files for example, then it might make sense to re-work a past semester Blackboard course and copy that into a blank Canvas course shell to use in a later semester.

This page shows you what to expect in the Canvas “Files” area.

Blackboard did not give instructors or students access to the underlying folder structure – but Canvas does (which is a good thing). So, when a course that contains lots of files is migrated to Blackboard, many folders are created in Canvas to hold these files. The folders have serialized, non-meaninigful names like “res00043” and “res00179”.

This is confusing to both you and your students. Remember, students can see the course “Files” area and look inside folders (unless the instructor specifically locks them).  So  you may want to consider creating just a few folders with meaningful names and move all the files into these new folders. Then you can delete the old folders with the serialized names.

This screen shot shows an actual course migrated from Blackboard to Canvas. Notice it has 91 folders (only some show). The example shows three new folders created, “Lecture Notes”, “Powerpoints”, and “Quiz Solutions”.  A file is shown being dragged from folder res000145 into folder “Quiz Solutions”.

Canvas Course using Most Tools – Student View

June 1st, 2011

This discussion is for faculty designing a course in Canvas, but shows the student view. To learn about how to deploy the various tools, please visit the main UMW Canvas support site at http://canvas.umwblogs.org.

Moving efficiently and effectively from Blackboard to Canvas requires a change in mindset. Canvas is different and works differently than Blackboard. It would be counterproductive  to try to replicate the Blackboard experience inside Canvas.

So the first order of business is to understand the relationship among Canvas Assignments, Pages, Modules, Syllabus, and Calendar.

When the student logs into your course on the first day, they will need some direction. So, you will probably want to set up your course to display the “Front Page“. The Front Page is a web page that the instructor can edit to include text, pictures, and even video. For directions on how to do this, please see First Day Course Design. In this example training course, the home page has been set to be the Front Page:


For many courses (using most of the Canvas tools), the main organizational element will be the Modules tool. This is particularly true if your course is logically ordered into units and students proceed sequentially from one unit to another.

In this example training course, there is one short module, Mary Washington, organized into two areas, “The Person” and “The University”. In this view the user can see a list of items in the module. The icons to the left of each line show a page icon for an internal web page, a world for a web link, an A+ for an assignment, a circle Q for a quiz, and a conversation bubble for discussions. Those items with due dates have the date displayed on the right along with any associated point value.

Note: There are five graded activities listed here; one assignment, two graded discussions, and two quizzes.

The five graded activities shown above can be created (by the instructor) while editing the module or by visiting the assignment area (for creating assignments), the discussion area (for creating discussions), and the quiz area (for creating quizzes).

Important: The instructor can create a graded activity directly while in the process of creating a module. If so, the activity is automatically listed in the module being created. It is also possible to create items such as quizzes, assignments, and graded discussions in those areas. If so, the graded activity will be listed in the appropriate area but not in a Module. These items can be added to the module later.

Here is a view of the Assignments area. In this example course, all the graded activities were created while in the Modules area. The graded activities are placed in the Assignments area automatically by Canvas. Please note that there are five items here: one “assignment”, two graded discussions, and two quizzes. In Canvas, an assignment can be any graded activity. This is somewhat of a departure from the Blackboard assignment which usually involved a file submission.

Here is an alternate view of the Assignments area:

Parts of the Syllabus page in Canvas are also automatically populated. The Syllabus tool has two areas, top and bottom. The top part can be edited by the instructor and any text, images, or videos can appear in this top portion. Many instructors will want to copy and paste their normal syllabus information into this area. Other instructors may wish to upload a syllabus document as a Wrod file and just provide a link to that document in this area.

In either case, the bottom portion of the Syllabus tool is NOT editable by the instructor. The bottom portion of the Syllabus page is automatically populated with items with grades and due dates.

The Front Page is only one (special purpose) page that can be created in the Pages area. This example course has two additional pages, Directions for Module One and Directions for Module Two. These pages are also listed in the Mary Washington module.

The instructor can create any number of pages. All pages (except for the Front Page) can be set so that students can edit them. So they are wiki-type pages. Some instructors may want to save lecture notes here. Another possibility would be to create blank pages and let students fill those pages in with notes that they take.

Another page that is automatically populated by Canvas is the Calendar tool. Note: The calendar is associated with a person. If the person has access to many courses, all dates from all courses will show by default. To narrow the perspective to just one course, the user should un-check all boxes except for the course of interest. In this example all boxes are un-checked save for the Training_Course_100 course.

In summary, there are many ways to organize and design the student experience inn a Canvas course utilizing most of the tools. This page suggests concentrating organizing the course using the Modules tool. While creating the modules, the instructor will also be creating assignments and quizzes, and discussions, and other activities. In most cases, these activities will be automatically placed in the Assignments tool, the Syllabus tool, the Pages tool, and the Calendar tool.

For face-to-face courses not needing to use all the Canvas toolset, please see: