Working with Canvas: Mobile apps, part 1

If you’ve been following my journal, you know that I’ve been writing about my personal experiences during WSU’s transition to the Canvas LMS from Blackboard. If this is your first one, you may want to look at my other journal entries on blogs.wayne.edu/proftech

This is the first of a two-part series dedicated to the Canvas mobile apps for teachers. In this blog posting, I will discuss the various functions of the mobile apps—basically in the order that I find most important and helpful,  and then I will give a few pointers for those functions. In the second part of the series, I will go more in depth with the functions that are related to grading.

The mobile application

Mobile applications are certainly nothing new to the LMS front—Blackboard has an app for both iOS and Android. But I know, after I installed the Bb app on both my iPad and on my Android phone,   I quickly realized it was not going to help me very much. It did not offer many options for instructors, and—it was my experience that—about half the times I tried to use it, I would be prompted to purchase the app, even though WSU was one of the schools that had been set up so that students and faculty could get the app for free!

Luckily, Canvas recognizes the importance of mobility. Instructure actually created three Canvas apps for mobile. One is for instructors and one is for students—giving easy access to whatever functions we need (because Instructure also has Canvas set up for K-12 schools, the third app is for parents).

Download the app

Obviously, the first thing you’ll need to do is download the app for your mobile device. Go to the Play store (Figure 1) or the App Store (Figure 2) to find the app (for the purposes of this journal and making things easier to see, I am using the apps on tablets: an 8” Android tablet and a 4th Gen. iPad). Though they are labeled clearly, make certain that you download the app with the yellow icon.

Canvas in the Play Store
Fig. 1: Canvas in the Play Store

Fig. 2: Canvas in the App Store

Once you have downloaded the app, you’ll find that it offers many of the same options as its web-based counterpart.

Mobile features

Opening the app, you will come to the Dashboard (Figures 3 & 4)  just like you do in the web-based version. You’ll notice that any customization to courses shows up here just like it does on the web version, and you can easily spot your courses. In addition, you can see quick access to your Inbox and To Do list at the bottom of the screen.

Dashboard in Android
Fig. 3: Dashboard in Android

Dashboard- in OS
Fig. 4: Dashboard- in OS

Once you go into a course, you can see the many offerings needed to manage the course: Announcements, Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, People, Pages, Files and Attendance. Though the appearance is different in the iOS and Android versions, the functionality is the same.

You will notice, however, that the Android version also shows icons marked LTI with various names. LTI means Learning Tools Interoperability; these are the “plug-in” tools that add functionality to Canvas. They have either been installed by our LMS administrator or you have installed them via the System Apps settings in the web interface. If you are using Canvas Teacher for Android, you will be able to access the functions of those LTIs. The iOS version, however, offers a what is essentially a preview pane.

You are able to go into the settings to edit both the name of the course and set what the students’ home screen will be when they enter the course by clicking on the icon that looks like a cog in the upper right corner of the screen in Android (Figure 5) or the upper center of the screen in iOS (figure 6).

Fig. 5: Course Home Page - Android
Fig. 5: Course Home Page – Android

Fig. 6: Course Home Page - iOS
Fig. 6: Course Home Page – iOS

Once in a course, you are able to perform most all of the functions that you that you can from the web client.

Announcements

Announcements can be viewed, edited or created. In the Android app,  clicking on a particular announcement will lead you to another screen where you are given the option to edit (Figure 7). In the iOS versions, tapping on an announcement  on the left side of the screen will allow you to view it on the right side of the screen; you can edit, mark as read or delete an announcement all by clicking on the three dot menu (Figure 8).  Also, by clicking the plus sign (+), you can create a new announcement that will populate your home page and send a message to your students.

Fig. 7: Announcements
Fig. 7: Announcements – Android

Fig. 8: Announcements in iOS
Fig. 8: Announcements – iOS

People

The People area of both of the mobile apps allow you to work with the information of individual students. The most helpful function of this section is the ability to see an overview of a student’s  assignments and quizzes—allowing you to identify if they have everything completed and whether it was submitted on time or not.  In both versions, you simply click on the student to get the information (Figures 9 & 10); in Android, you will go to another page which gives all the student’s info (Figure 9a) and In iOS, this shows up in the pane to the right (Figure 10). Although you cannot create student discussion groups, it is possible to filter by the groups that were created in the web interface to see which students are in each group.

Fig. 9: People-Android
Fig. 9: People-Android

Fig. 9a: People Details-Android
Fig. 9a: People Details-Android

Fig. 10: People Details-iOS
Fig. 10: People Details-iOS

Discussions

Though Discussions is available in Canvas mobile, it does not have the feature set of the web interface. In the apps, you may create, respond to, and edit the general guidelines of the discussion. Creating a discussion can be accomplished easily by tapping the  same plus sign (+) that we see in all sections of  mobile Canvas (Figures 11 & 12). In Android,  editing is accomplished by tapping on the discussion, which will take you to its description; it can then be edited by tapping the pencil icon (Figure 13).  In iOS, tapping on the discussion will show you the description in the right-hand pane; tapping on the three-dot menu icon in the upper right hand corner will allow editing (Figure 14). Though discussions can be created for a class, the mobile apps do not allow the possibility of assigning the discussion to a group or making the discussion a graded assignment; you will have to perform these functions in the web interface.

Fig. 11: Discussions-Android
Fig. 11: Discussions-Android

Fig. 12: Discussions-iOS
Fig. 12: Discussions-iOS

Fig. 13: Discussion Description & Editing-Android
Fig. 13: Discussion Description & Editing-Android

Fig. 14: Discussion Description & Editing-iOS
Fig. 14: Discussion Description & Editing-iOS

Pages

Pages, in Canvas, are places where we can communicate information to the students. It is likely that these are parts of modules where you are giving instruction to the student and possibly preparing them for an assignment or quiz. Both mobile apps let you create, edit or delete pages (Figures 15 & 16). As per normal, new pages are created by tapping the plus sign. In Android, you can edit by tapping on the page name; you will be able to delete after going into the Edit function (pencil icon), scrolling to the bottom of the page, and clicking Delete Page. In iOS, once a page is selected, you can simply click the Menu (three-dots) button. One thing to point out is that much of the same formatting can be used when creating a page as you would within the web interface. The apps contain a limited version of the rich text editor that you would find on the web (Figures 17 & 18). For some reason, the iOS app does not allow underlining but, other than that, all the options are the same.

Fig. 15: Pages-Android
Fig. 15: Pages-Android

Fig. 16: Pages-iOS
Fig. 16: Pages-iOS

Figure 17: Pages Editor-Android
Figure 17: Pages Editor-Android

Figure 18: Pages Editor-iOS
Figure 18: Pages Editor-iOS

Attendance

Our move to Canvas has provided us with a function that was never offered in Blackboard: Attendance. The mobile app makes it simple to mark attendance quickly from your smart device while in the classroom. Both apps function identically (Figures 19 and 20). Once you click on attendance, you are presented with a list of the students. If you have my memory for names and faces, you will find this especially helpful if they have uploaded a photo to their profile.  If all your class is there, you can easily use one tap at the bottom of the screen to record everyone present. If you need to mark people absent or late, there are icons for each individual on the right side of your screen which toggle between no record, present, absent and tardy.

Fig. 19: Attendance-Android
Fig. 19: Attendance-Android

Fig. 20: Attendance-iOS
Fig. 20: Attendance-iOS

Files

If you realize you need files on your mobile device available to your class, you can use the Files function in the mobile app. This allows you to browse through the folders that are created for each course to control its files (Figures 21 & 22). Tapping on the plus sign allows you to add a file in whichever folder you would like. You can also change the description of a file or delete files that you’ve already uploaded by tapping on the name of the files.  If you have browsed around your file structure on a PC or Mac, you’ll have no problems with this. 

Fig. 21: Files-Android
Fig. 21: Files-Android

Fig. 22: Files-iOS
Fig. 22: Files-iOS

Inbox and To Do

Finally, there are two functions that work globally across all your courses, your Inbox and your To Do list. These function the same in both Android and iOS.  However, iOS has an upper hand in the accessibility of these functions—the buttons to access them are persistent throughout every other function. In Android, you must be at the Dashboard to access them.

The Inbox functions similarly to the inbox in Wayne Connect (and other email clients). As you open your Inbox, you will see copies of all your messages or filter by courses (Figures 23 & 24). After selecting messages, you have the standard group of options: reply, delete, forward, archive, etc. Using the tried and true plus sign lets you compose a new message. As you do this, you are prompted to choose the class to whom you would like the message to be sent before you are given options of who in the class you want to receive the message (all students, teachers, individuals or groups).

Fig. 23: Inbox-Android
Fig. 23: Inbox-Android

Fig. 24: Inbox-iOS
Fig. 24: Inbox-iOS

Unlike other list functions you may use, the To Do list in Canvas is populated for you—letting you know when you have items that need grading. It takes all of your assignments or quizzes and indicates if and how many need grading (Figures 25 & 26). Tapping on the item takes you immediately into the Speed Grader function (I’ll describe that a bit more in Part 2 of this entry), so that you can quickly check things off of your course tasks.

Fig 25: To Do-Android
Fig 25: To Do-Android

Fig 26: To Do-iOS
Fig 26: To Do-iOS

I hope that this has offered enough information to interest you in utilizing the Canvas mobile apps. Both options will immensely help you keep up with your work on the go. If you are active, this allows you to do the work without carrying around a laptop. The apps are very similar and neither is really superior to the other: the iOS one may take a tap or two less to get to functions, but the Android one allows you to access your LTIs. Take some time to explore them—you will be glad you did!