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InstructureCon 2016 Round 1: Personal Favorites

Instructure, the company behind Canvas Learning Management System, holds a yearly conference called InstructureCon. The primary focus of the conference is use of Canvas by educators.  It is an educator driven conference with two days of breakout sessions and multiple keynotes every day.  Instructure is a super transparent company and has gone as far as posting sessions from the conference online so that all users can benefit from the learning.


They have released 19 sessions in the first wave on YouTube.  I’ve watched all the videos and created a playlist of those that I think are most beneficial to educators in K - 12 environments that you can access by clicking here. You may not have time to watch all the videos, so I’d like to give some of my takeaways in attempt to tantalize you to watch the sessions that are relevant to you. The first video in the playlist "Canvas in Elementary School? Yes, You Can!"created by Courtney Cohron I wrote about in my last blog post.


Design Matters! Transforming K-12 Curriculum from Paper to Digital Delivery

Julie Wray Howard County Public School System




This sessions speaks to the openness of the Canvas user community. It is amazing to see how user teams are willing to design functionality from scratch and then share them with others free.  It speaks to the open source nature of Canvas LMS itself.  It is not about the money, it is about creating a great experience for learning.


Julie’s team has designed a host of great work. This starts with a CCS code and Templates that they are sharing via github at the following link. The code includes drop down tabs and a host of great features to improve the Canvas user experience. To be honest, I have no idea how to insert this into my district’s instance of Canvas, so I’m going to have to reach out to our district admin. If you watch the video, you’ll get to see the great things it can do.


The team then shared out a link to a treasure chest of educators resources for Canvas. Go to this link and see for yourself. It includes:
  • 15 different formats for highly engaging interactive learning  experiences within Canvas
  • Sample Course Shells for both staff communities, PD, and student facing experiences
  • A huge HTML catalogue for any level user to add a variety of different formating to their course
  • A variety of district professional development modules


Their district uses Canvas for all levels of interactions.  Trying to pair down all the different places users go to find information so that they can all be filtered through a single access point, which is Canvas. This includes:
  • Curriculum Communities for professional development pathways.
  • School Communities where staff can find documents and communications.
  • Student Communities where students can create a communication zone for student activities and events. These are created by students in Canvas for students to access via Canvas.
  • Master Curriculum Courses for content teachers to find common documents and resources for the content they are teaching.


It is very powerful to see the district leverage Canvas as the place where everyone goes to learn and connect.


Staying Alive with Canvas!

Created by Kelly Clewell, & Larry Labue Allen ISD


You’ll find a link to the presentation slideshow here. This presentation focuses on a district that is in year 3 of Canvas implementation. It is framed by the question, “How can we maintain the momentum and excitement for using Canvas within our district?” A very legitimate question. Now that they’ve moved away from teaching how to use Canvas, how do they push and support educators. Kelly presented the district’s 5 major focus principles.
  • Include Everyone: The district started year one with representation from every department at every school having a Canvas course page. In year 3, all staff across the district are on Canvas.
  • Learning Focused: There are learning opportunities for all staff and students. The presentation has great examples of innovative Canvas use across all content areas. The districts runs a yearly Canvas Conference where staff share out with each other. Also, they have a Twitter chat that I actually stumbled upon and participated in! #AllenCanvas It was a great time.
  • Have Fun: The district Canvas team has fun with communications and makes Canvas an inviting community experience with the way the communicate, support, and encourage participation. It’s not the normal PD experience.
  • Evaluate: The district collects data and uses it to drive their work. Data is collected from Canvas usage, but also feedback surveys from staff and parents. It’s not about the team's opinions on how to move forward. The data drives the goals.
  • Never Quit: The key word here is support. It is about coaching with a positive intent. Not punitive. It’s not about why aren’t you using Canvas more?! It’s about how can I help you find a ways to use Canvas in your course. It is focused on user goals rather than system goals. They are timely in their responses to create a positive relationship between the user and Canvas. And always, celebrate success!



Just looking at these principles, they are not simply about implementing Canvas.  These principles are about great learner experiences. Aren’t they the type of goals you want for your classroom, for your student’s experience in your classroom? The Allen Model is not simply to maintain the momentum for Canvas.  

The Allen Model is how we can maintain the momentum for all learning in our classrooms and schools.


As a district that is entering our third year with Canvas, everyone in my building is all over the place with it. Kelly pointed out that when they were first starting out they had individuals who were resistant about moving to Canvas.  She was quick to point out that in order to get them to try it out, it wasn’t with requirements from on high. The support team gave these individuals 0ne-on-one attention. The intention was to make it a positive experience where Canvas could be framed as a tool to more efficiently do something they already did/or wanted to do. It wasn’t about a stick or a carrot. It was about making their own ideas better and making the first experience a positive one.


Pack Light for Performance

Created by Nichole Lemmon Springfield Public Schools - K12




This was another great session that focused on how to move forward at the district and classroom level with Canvas implementation. But just like other sessions I’ve seen, what’s good for Canvas implementation is good for all instructional implementation.

Nichole points out that the best implementation model is one that responds quickly. This means that it doesn’t focus on solutions first.  It is not about implementing great tools. What makes a tool great is that it fits a need. Their implementation model is one that focuses on needs vs. solutions. This is what makes them fast. They are adaptable because they adapt to needs and don’t get stuck on a single solution. Yesterday’s solution may not meet today’s needs. I love this philosophy.


There are lots of great takeaways from their presentation and how they build courses within Canvas.  But one that I am looking forward to implementing within my course is something called an Online Locker.  This is where they house digital resources for students including their online textbooks.  I hope to create an Online Locker for my Physics Course where students can go to find a host of resources. Too often, I am curating individuals links to a single video in Khan Academy or a web page on a tutorial site. This may save the student some time, but it robs them of having do some navigation and learning more about the resources. I hope to create a locker with a collection of the different online resources that would prove beneficial. Not every student wants to watch an online video. Some may rather read an article about a topic or play with a simulation. Giving these resources a single home where students can go to will help them understand what resources help them best.  It’ll help them realize how they learn best.


In addition to educators presenting at InstructureCon, staff at Canvas also present.  Their presentations are some of my favorite because they give sneak peaks about things to come or powerful tools in Canvas I never knew were there.



Gradebook Futures: Kill All the Clicks!





Canvas has an integrated gradebook and this session featured some great updates to the gradebook that are currently in beta and will be fully integrated soon. The main highlights to the online gradebook include:
  • A Crosshairs feature that allows the user to better pinpoint what cell is being focused on in terms of student and assignment.
  • Collapsible Columns which will allow teachers to streamline the gradebook for viewing purposes.
  • The ability to tag assignments as late or missing easily and also customize the coloring for these tags.
  • The ability to search for specific assignments in the gradebook.
  • Bulk grade adjustments for specific assignments including applying automatic penalties for late assignments.
  • An improved comment feature which allows a teacher to easily input comments for individual students in single assignment without leaving the page.

SpeedGrader will also have some improvements including:
  • Streamlined annotation tools in both appearance and functionality.
  • A  "to do list" which includes all grading tasks across classes.


Mobile State of the Union






The mobile experience in Canvas is an essential one for many students who don’t have access to a laptop or those in districts where 1:1 may be with a tablet device. This is a really interesting session which reframes how Canvas will approach how they build apps. The apps will now be role-centric or role-based.  These apps fall into the following three roles: Student, Parent, and Teacher. In building the apps, they focus on the needs of the user within the mobile environment.


The student app or Canvas App, is in constant update state.  Like I stated, for many learners this is their primary form of accessing Canvas. So, the developers are continuously improving the user experience and functionality.


The Parent App for Canvas is brand new. It was designed around the needs of parents. The two main questions they need answers to are “ How is my student doing?” and “What’s due when?” The design of the app was built to let parents access this information easily without having to deal with useless information. The app has a courses section which allows them to scroll through their children that use Canvas. On each student page, the app shows their current grade in the class. The week section allows the parent to view current and upcoming assignments with their due dates. The app also has an alerts section that allows the parent to set up conditional alerts based on student grades and set future reminder alerts based on assignment due dates.


The Teacher App is in development right now. The goal of this is not to reproduce the web experience of Canvas but to do some tasks that teachers would like to be able to do on the fly such as:
  • Edit assignment details such as name, publish/unpublish, and change due date.
  • Quickly look at submissions to see who has completed the work and how they class is scoring on the assignment.
  • Access inbox to read, create, and send messages.
  • Create and post announcements.
  • Quickly jump to a single student to view his/her scores in detail


I really look forward to the teacher app. It will definitely be a time saver and allow me to respond to student needs and data without being tied to my desktop computer.


Community Conference Session



The Canvas Community is a place that any educator implementing Canvas could get lost in.  This session provides a great overview of the current state of the Community and what is down the road. There is so much in the community from the Canvas Guides to User Groups with a common focus to a place to propose features for Canvas and a place to vote on proposed ideas. Did I mention you can earn badges? After this session, I went on a few missions and earned 3 new badges. I also changed my avatar to one inspired by “Aladdin Sane”.





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