the tl;dr by canvas lms

The Behind-the-Scenes Episode

May 19, 2021 Canvas Product Team Episode 18
the tl;dr by canvas lms
The Behind-the-Scenes Episode
New Quizzes Update—Susan Sorensen
Release Notes Subscriptions—Erin McMillan
Course Templates—Matt Goodwin
Educator of the Year Awards, Call for Nominations
the tl;dr by canvas lms
The Behind-the-Scenes Episode
May 19, 2021 Episode 18
Canvas Product Team

A special edition podcast discussing New Quizzes Item Banks, what's coming to the Community (and learn how and why you should subscribe to release notes), Course Templates, and Educator of the Year nominations.

Information about the podcast can be found in the Canvas TLDR Blog.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A special edition podcast discussing New Quizzes Item Banks, what's coming to the Community (and learn how and why you should subscribe to release notes), Course Templates, and Educator of the Year nominations.

Information about the podcast can be found in the Canvas TLDR Blog.

Matt Goodwin (00:07)
It's that time again for the Canvas TLDR podcast. I'm Matt Goodwin with product.

Jenn Mitchell (00:11)
I'm Jenn Mitchell with K-12 product marketing.

Ryan Lufkin (00:14)
I'm Ryan Lufkin with higher ed product marketing.

Jenn Mitchell (00:16)
We're here to share the latest and greatest in Canvas.

Ryan Lufkin (00:18)
We're talking about the why in what we build, because pandas can't.

Matt Goodwin (00:24):
Welcome everybody to the May edition of the Canvas TLDR podcast. This month, we've got some exciting stuff as we're kind of wrapping up the school year and talking about next school year and what's going to help everybody. Ryan, what do we have?

Ryan Lufkin (00:40):
Susan Sorensen will be joining us from the product team to give us an update on new quizzes.

Matt Goodwin (00:47):
We've got producer Erin, as we affectionately call her here on the show. She's going to be on the other side of the mic today. Talking about updates in release notes and the release process.

Jenn Mitchell (00:59):
And hey, Matt Goodwin is going to take off his podcaster hat and put on his day job hat as project manager—product owner. And we'll talk about templates.

Ryan Lufkin (01:08):
This is like the behind-the-scenes episode. And then we'll wrap up with some big announcement around the Canvas educator of the year awards.

Matt Goodwin (01:19):

Ryan Lufkin (01:20):
Let's get to it.

Jenn Mitchell (01:24):
Well, it's my pleasure to welcome to the podcast, Susan Sorensen, who is the product manager for quizzes here to tell us some exciting stuff. So, welcome, Susan.

Susan Sorensen (01:34):
Thanks. I'm excited to be here.

Matt Goodwin (01:36):
Well, we're excited to have you here. Quizzes everybody. Yeah. Why don't you tell us what, what you've got going on in quizzes land right now?

Susan Sorensen (01:47):
Well, it's my favorite thing to talk about these days because I've been really diving in and getting accustomed to this new space. And I can tell you that one of the things that I like so much about this is that we have such an amazing community of users that are completely open and welcome about inviting me to have conversations. So I've been talking with administrators instructional designers, teachers, and getting all of their different perspectives as we're moving forward with our feature development work. And that's really exciting.

Ryan Lufkin (02:19):
Yeah, you've done an awesome job of jumping in and really being active and visible. And, and I've actually heard that from a couple of customers directly. So, well done. Keep doing it.

Susan Sorensen (02:30):
Thanks. It's it's because it's actually truly a joy to talk to people about what matters to them. And apparently this really matters.

Matt Goodwin (02:40):
Go figure. In education, people care about quizzing. So along those lines, you've been having a lot of interesting conversations. I know you've also got a couple of features that are about ready to go out into the wild. Why don't you maybe tell us a little bit about what you've heard from interacting with some of these users and how you've been able to apply that towards things that you're working on?

Susan Sorensen (03:05):
Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, again, because I'm new to this space and, and I wanted to talk to customers about like what their experience actually was, we've got new item banks work coming out in June, and it's really exciting to do that, but I needed to take a step back and really get a lay of the landscape. And so with that, I started meeting with customers to just hear more about what they were trying to accomplish with item banks in general. And it's probably like common sense to everyone else living in quizzes world, but being new, it was really useful for me to sit down and hear from them about what they're trying to accomplish and why they're using item banks for that purpose. And I hope—I think that that also adds some framework around what we needed to accomplish and making sure that we're being successful in accomplishing that.

Susan Sorensen (03:54):
So item banks have been around for a while. They were question banks previously in classic quizzes. And it provided a great opportunity to talk to people who are using both of those. And so I met with about 28 people to talk about how they're using item banks and also about just contextual interviews to sit in and watch how they're actually using them. And the things that I've learned were that there are really kind of four primary purposes for item banks with academic integrity, which is on everyone's mind, of course, that has—especially in these days where everything is so much more remote and we want to make sure, and I think we've mentioned this in the past that Instructure really takes an approach to academic integrity, that we're going to give faculty the tools to be able to make awesome quizzes, awesome assessment engines—enough variety that they know that they can assess on an individual student.

Susan Sorensen (04:54):
So academic integrity reusability, which is, you know, the thing that I came in knowing, even though I didn't have any background that you want to save time, that this is a world where people are so constrained on time above everything else. Personally, my mother was also a teacher. She was in K-12 and I remember her sitting at the kitchen table nightly to like 10:30 at night. So my heart really goes out to all of these faculty members that are, are really in this crunch time having to spend so much more effort. And if we can make it easier to reuse an item bank so that they don't have to create them each class and that's going to be a great win for them too.

Matt Goodwin (05:33):
Constructing just a single question, making sure that you're assessing the exact right thing from the students is difficult. Like that's a hard thing, let alone an entire quiz. And if you have to do that from scratch every single time, you want to quiz somebody and do that year over year and maybe even share that beyond just your classroom like that, that's a big deal.

Susan Sorensen (05:58):
And I was really amazed by how creative modern teachers are to make assessments interesting to their students and really engage them in like more real-world scenarios. And it's just really like vibrant compared to when I was around.

Matt Goodwin (06:15):
You're about to date all of us right now.

Susan Sorensen (06:19):
We'll just say that. And then one of the other ways that teachers are actually using item banks, which is really exciting also from the student perspective is that many teachers are viewing this as an opportunity for students to have a unique quiz each time that they can be assessed against still being able to assess them at about the same body of subject with versatility in, in the randomization of questions. And so with that, they're allowing the students to take quizzes or exams more than once. And that, that allows the student to build their knowledge and develop competency in that area because it's another way of learning. It's another tool set, even the assessing is a way of learning.

Susan Sorensen (07:05):
Um and then one of the main areas that I learned from this that we're going to be focusing on is that the collaboration aspect. So again with this new remote world that we're living in it's great to have this opportunity to collaborate with peers and there might be somebody else in your teaching group. Who's more of an expert on XYZ than you are, or to share the burden of creating these banks so that you have versatility when you do it in the teaching team or a group like that, that it's really useful sometimes in, in higher ed, they have TAs coming in and helping add the question banks also. And so that really gave me a focus in terms of what we need to accomplish and not just, you know, develop feature X or feature Y.

Matt Goodwin (07:47):
Yeah. I think data shows that quizzes are the number one most shared item in, in Canvas Commons you know, from all of the different learning objects, quizzes, the most shared. So that's cool.

Jenn Mitchell (07:59):
Because it takes a ton of time to create a really amazing quiz.

Ryan Lufkin (08:07):
So you want to share it when you can.

Susan Sorensen (08:07):

Matt Goodwin (08:07):
Uh based on that feedback that you gathered and, and you know, that collaboration that you did with our users what's coming out in June, you mentioned, mentioned something is coming out in the, in this space in June.

Susan Sorensen (08:19):
Oh yeah, absolutely. Let me be specific. So I'm viewing this as a way to manage collaboration and dissemination specifically, that means that item banks will no longer be directly tied only to an individual user. So right now in new quizzes, if I create an item bank, that's my item bank, and I can share it with another person if I want to, but that just doesn't correspond with how people are really working by and large. And that it's really a hassle to have to manually collaborate with other people by exporting something out or adding their names one by one to a particular item bank.

Susan Sorensen (08:59):
So this adjustment will mean that you can share an item bank with a course or many courses. And then those people who are editing that course will inherit the same permission that the item bank was shared at for the particular item bank. So that means that if you share an item bank with a course as edit, then anyone who can edit the course can also edit the item bank, or if you don't want them to be updating and changing, you could change that to view. And then they'd be able to use your item bank in the course. And they'd be able to make changes to a question from the question bank that you pull into your quiz, but not make any updates or changes to that source information of the item bank home.

Matt Goodwin (09:43):
This is huge.

Ryan Lufkin (09:48):
You can't see the video, but Susan's visibly excited about this.

Susan Sorensen (09:51):
So my understanding was that there was initially a concept in new quizzes that at item bank really lived in conjunction with a particular quiz and that it added in some randomization for that. And that's the reason why they just made item bank sharing with a particular individual as the home, and then ability to share it out to individuals as needed. And what that meant is that your access point to an item bank currently is that you sign into Canvas, you go to your course, you find the quiz that you want, you open your quiz, you access the item banks. And with this new understanding that we have around dissemination of item banks, that you might be at a district, for example, and the district needs to share out some standardization around a particular way of assessing something that they create the quiz.

Susan Sorensen (10:43):
And they share that down to a bunch of different courses with that new framework in mind, it really caused us to want to reorient the access point to item banks as well, so that you can now get in and change any of the item banks really quickly by going in either at the account level for yourself as an admin, or you could access it from a course directly and get all of your item banks. So we've been doing a lot of work around searching and filtering and sorting item banks in addition to this new ability for an item bank to be directly associated to, and living its life with the course or with the account level.

Matt Goodwin (11:22):
That's awesome. And so you mentioned again, that goes into effect in June. How, if I'm sitting at one of these institutions that wants to start playing around with this, how do I do that?

Susan Sorensen (11:34):
Yeah, so it should be available at least in, in beta, in June. We're, we're going to try to hustle and see if I can get it out to people as soon as possible and in production in June, but if that's not possible, then it'll at least be in beta. And what you'd be able to do is open up your Canvas account and you can go down to the admin section and you'll see item bank as an option there. Or you can open up as a faculty member, of course, that you're working on. And then you'll see item banks as an option running down that particular course left navigation.

Susan Sorensen (12:08):
And it's actually very similar to the way that question banks are currently listed. So if anyone's using classic quizzes and they are familiar with that location, it's in the same place. We're doing our best to use familiar navigation when it makes sense. And if we're designing something entirely new and a different concept that doesn't already exist and making that you know, good obviously as well, but a little bit revolutionary since it's the first time, it's an interaction that has happened before.

Ryan Lufkin (12:36):
Well, it's awesome. This is kind of a, some nice progress on quizzes with probably a lot more to come, but I, the timing of this is going to be awesome for people for back to school.

Susan Sorensen (12:46):
Absolutely. Yeah. This will give them a chance to get in and play with it well, before the school year starts and a lot of them are already thinking and needing to plan their classes. So hopefully it will be great timing.

Matt Goodwin (12:57):
Yeah. The timing's excellent. Well, thanks again. I know our, our listeners are going to be excited. Quizzes is always a hot topic and something that everybody looks forward to hearing updates around. So we appreciate you coming on and taking the time and educating us. Appreciate it.

Susan Sorensen (13:16):
Yeah. Thanks for the invite.

Jenn Mitchell (13:21):
So we have a very special guest today. You might know her as producer Erin, but we have Erin McMillan, who is our in charge of our Release communications for the community. Welcome, Erin.

Erin McMillan (13:31):
Hello everyone.

Ryan Lufkin (13:33):
She's real! She has a voice!

Erin McMillan (13:33):
It's actually, it's really fun to be, be talking in real life.

Matt Goodwin (13:43):
It's fun. Yeah. It's fun for us too. This is awesome. And we brought you on for a reason, right? On a tell us what that reason is. We've recently been working on something to hopefully improve the communications around.

Erin McMillan (13:57):
Yeah. In the last few months, we have been talking a lot in the community about informing everybody on how they can get the information that they want from the release notes, without us pushing everything out. There's a lot of products. Now, we don't want to assume that anybody wants to get any specific info from us about all of the products. So we've been working really hard in the community to make it more user-friendly for one, and then also make releases easier to understand by product. So we've been changing up those pages and making them easier to comprehend. Canvas of course, is still the hardest because there's a lot going on, but there will be some changes there in the future that will also hopefully help simplify everything.

Ryan Lufkin (14:44):
We'll include a link in the show notes, but tell us a little bit more about how to go in and select what they want to hear about.

Erin McMillan (14:49):
If you haven't been in the community lately, we do have a short link that I use all the time. A lot of the links I set up are selfishly done by me for your benefit. You're welcome. So the page that has all of our releases on it is And right now we have 10 products linked on here. A lot of them obviously came through our recent acquisitions, but they're all alphabetized. So you can find the one that you would like—most everybody is probably just going to click on Canvas, but there are other ones in there. So we have separate release notes for mobile, for instance, I think some people forget that that mobile will have their own release cadence because the web has to put out features and put out APIs and whatnot for mobile to actually absorb that.

Erin McMillan (15:41):
So mobile has its own release notes on purpose, and then we have Catalog, Commons, MasteryConnect, Portfolium.... So basically any product that you're interested in learning about, you can open those pages. All of the pages are set up the same, except for Canvas. That's a little bit different, but there is a landing page for each of the releases. For Canvas specifically, you'll have to choose which area you want to look at. So there's a Canvas release notes, and we have screencasts, we have deploy notes... But if you open any of those pages in the upper right corner, it kind of looks like three dots. Some people call it the snowman icon, whatever you want. But it's really the settings icon, but there's a subscribe link in there. And all you have to do is click that subscribe link.

Erin McMillan (16:28):
I'm not going to go into how subscriptions work. That's a whole other thing I can talk about in a minute—how you can learn more about that. But when you're subscribed to something in the community, you will get emails about what is new in those areas. You can also subscribe to just individual posts if you want. So if I didn't want to subscribe to the entire page, I could open a release notes document and I could subscribe to that the same way, just clicking those three dots, that icon, and subscribe to that individual document. So if there are any updates to that document, then I'll be notified. So really, this new platform gives us a wide range of options on offering notifications. Our previous platform was not quite as user-friendly that way, but we've actually been told by our current platform provider that they're working on notifications as well, and trying to make them more granular than we have right now.

Erin McMillan (17:31):
So our, our dream for, for this platform is being able to subscribe to notes separately from comments right now, if you subscribe, you're going to get the notes, but you're also going to get every comment. So I'm just throwing that in there, 'cause we get that a lot. People wish they could be separated. So do we—we hear you on that right there! You know, we also work in software. This platform is provided by another software provider. So we go through the same things in terms of, we would really love this feature and they tell us the same things of, "Hey, maybe, maybe not," on a roadmap, you know? So we play that same game.

Erin McMillan (18:07):
I can tell you more about these subscriptions actually. This kind of ties in to the community itself. Since I said, we've been doing a lot of revamping on how to find things in the community, on the home page,, we have a banner and that banner right now has featured content in the middle that talks about live sessions that the community team is doing. And if you click on that, you can find this blog post that we put out way back in January, actually. And we have had a lot of sessions that talk about how to use the community.

Erin McMillan (18:44):
So one of those topics has to do with release notes, how to use them, where to find all the information and they're all, they're all recorded. So you can come in here and learn. So that's why I mentioned subscriptions as a whole—a whole different beast. And we did a recording on that specifically on April 14th. We are going to be doing another one on June 9th where we're going to be talking about some of the changes that are coming to the community. They don't affect release notes specifically, but it's just that whole community component on what is changing.

Erin McMillan (19:17):
So we are living platform as well. And it's kind of exciting. Anytime I talk about release notes, I also plug the whole community as a whole, since that's where they live. And I don't want to just say, Hey, this is not changed. And then have something completely change or have the way that we, you get to release notes, be different. So that's why I just like those quick URLs and they can get you—no matter how we change the navigation, which, spoiler alert, we are changing the navigation, but it is for the better, it's going to be easier to find things in the community when we're done. So I'll just plug that one—go, go and join the community changes upcoming session on June 9th and learn more about those changes in there.

Ryan Lufkin (19:55):
Awesome. So lots of changes coming, but we're trying to make it as seamless as possible to get our customers more information about the changes before they happen, after they happen, during the process...?

Erin McMillan (20:06):
Canvas is the product right now that has the most lead time. We write release notes on behalf of the product teams. And so we work with their schedules and what the releases are. So each of the releases are going to be slightly different.

Ryan Lufkin (20:19):
Well, thanks, Erin. Appreciate you joining us today.

Ryan Lufkin (20:21):
Hey, you're welcome.

Matt Goodwin (20:23):
And our next guest, who also happens to be a host of the podcast is here to tell us about his day job. The thing he does most of the time which is product management, right? Matt, welcome, to this show you're already on.

Matt Goodwin (20:35):
Thanks for having me.

Ryan Lufkin (20:41):
You're so excited to be here. I love it.

Matt Goodwin (20:43):
Um yeah, well that's entirely true. My day job is product, and one of the teams that I work with has recently released course templates. So I think it's fitting that we talk about that since it's coming out this month.

Ryan Lufkin (20:58):
That's excellent.

Jenn Mitchell (20:59):
I've heard a lot of good buzz about this. So tell us just a high level. What, what is coming out for course templates?

Matt Goodwin (21:07):
Yeah. So you know, I'll talk about the why first around course templates. A lot of times we go out and we talk to people in the schools, right? Whether they're admins or teachers or students. And probably the most common feedback we get from students is how can can you make my teachers use Canvas—number one, can you make them use Canvas? And number two is, can you make them use it in similar ways? Because remember, you know, starting in like middle school on up, you have not just one class a day, you've got multiple classes per day. Each of those teachers use Canvas and more often than not, they use them in, in kind of a different way.

Ryan Lufkin (21:55):
I've done some presentations on student user experience and what—how do we design to be consistent across departments and across those different courses and things at the higher ed level.

Matt Goodwin (22:05):
Yeah. And you know, the, the thing that students have going in their favor is they've grown up in this technology generation where an LMS is just standard. And technology is standard for you know, their existence in their education. And so they, they're pretty good. They adapt, you know, they can go from one class to the next and figure it out, especially if teachers are giving specific instructions on how to interact with their course and that sort of thing. But how much easier could it be if there were some tools in place that kind of helped people start in the same place and in a good place because, you know, courses do start in in the same place, but they're usually completely blank with extra navigational elements inside the course that aren't necessarily needed. This is a way to help an institution or an account department district, whatever, focus in on that best starting point for them.

Matt Goodwin (23:06):
So of course template really is just a course copy when it comes down to it. It would be you know—say for instance, a specific middle school saying this is the course template that we want to use for all of the teachers maybe with outlined module structure. So, you know, if they base it off of weeks that sort of thing, here's some content to start with that talks about you know, maybe digital citizenship or other things that are pertinent and relevant generally speaking and not, not very course specific. Most teachers are not instructional designers and, you know, their primary job is not focused on building a beautiful page or you know, homepage for the course or a module structure inside of the LMS. They're really good at teaching and that's where we want them to focus.

Matt Goodwin (23:59):
So if we can get instructional designers or somebody an institution to say, this is a great starting point with good structure that you can more easily add to within your course, then that's what we're going for. So that's how course templates are, is at the account level or the sub account level. You can designate a template course to be used for all new courses that that are created, whether it's generated by the SIS or whether somebody manually clicks on that add course button, it will derive that new course from that template.

Ryan Lufkin (24:35):
And I know we've had some questions because I know you wrote a recent community post about it. But I know we've had some some questions around what's the difference between templates and Blueprint Courses?

Matt Goodwin (24:48):
Well, a lot of people have been, I don't want to say misusing Blueprint Courses, but it's like watering your garden with a fire hose. You know, it wasn't built for for like course rollover from semester to semester or a starting place. And I'm talking about Blueprint Courses. It was meant for kind of more centralized control of active courses. So this is for you know, those, those courses that are maybe maybe not instructor-led, but maybe they're facilitator-led, right? Maybe it's not a subject matter expert in the classroom. They are somebody that is there to help the students through the course from structured content that's provided by somebody else and can be adjusted on the fly. So with the Blueprint cCurse, you know, if somebody says, Oh, you know, this quiz is wrong, or this content piece needs to be updated with with current events or more relevant you know, more, more relevant content, they can do that centrally and push that out to all of the associated courses. So it, it is for that active course of course template is a starting point. It's kind of a set it and forget it. And once that copy is done, and that starting point has been given that course is on its own. So it'll, it'll grow and develop organically organically from whatever the individual teacher or instructor does at the course level.

Jenn Mitchell (26:22):
So now that we're wrapping up the school year, I know a lot of administrators are already have their eyes on the fall, right. Trying to decide what learning will look like in the fall and how to use those tools. So I know course templates—consistency has always been a theme, right? That we're learning how important that is not only to have the same LMS across the district, but, but to have consistency within Canvas. So as they're looking to fall, is, this available to them now?

Matt Goodwin (26:46):
Yeah, it's going out in production this month. We pushed it out to beta last month. And you know, people should start investigating whether or not this is going to solve any problems for them with the fall semester coming up prior to them, you know, rolling out new courses with their SIS. Because again, it's only when you create that new course shell that this is applicable. So if you've already done that for your fall semester, a course template is not going to help you. Most institutions are just in the process of figuring out what that fall rollout was going to look like. So now it'd be a good time to look into that, but all you need to do is go onto the account and designate a template that you want to be used throughout the entire account.

Matt Goodwin (27:35):
And again, this is by sub account. So a sub account will inherit the upstream accounts, default course template where they can designate their own. And this becomes important if, you know, a sub account is a school building within a district or something like that, or department n higher education. And you might want that template to be somewhat different than what they're using upstream. So this is available now—go out, play with it and see if it's going to provide some benefit.

Ryan Lufkin (28:07):

Matt Goodwin (28:08):
Um one thing I will mention that I forgot to mention in in creating that template course, you need to create a new course. And in the settings of that course, there is a check box similar to Blueprint Course that you need, need to designate that course as a template course. And what that means is it can not have any enrollments and it will restrict enrollments moving forward, because you don't want, you know, an active course to be your template course.

Ryan Lufkin (28:36):
Awesome. Well, and we'll drop a link to your most recent community posts clarifying the difference between Course Templates and Blueprint Courses as well. And then I know the community team is working on turning that into a more formalized doc as well; we'll make sure that that's available to everybody.

Matt Goodwin (28:52):
Awesome. Well, thanks for having me.

Ryan Lufkin (28:59):
Thanks for being here as a guest!

Matt Goodwin (28:59):
Not that I had a choice; I was going to be here anyway.

Ryan Lufkin (28:59):
A pleasant role change. Thanks, Matt.

Jenn Mitchell (29:04):
So this might be my favorite segment of the podcast this day, because it's not about us. It's about you. We are announcing the educator of the year 2021 nomination is now open.

Ryan Lufkin (29:18):
Excellent. Yeah. That, so that'll be open through either August 31st of 2021, or until we hit 500 nominations. So go out and nominate your peers who are doing amazing things with Canvas, amazing things in education. We'll drop a link in the show notes, so you can actually link out to the submission pages. But yeah, it's an exciting time. I love this time of year.

Matt Goodwin (29:44):
Where are those submission pages in case people are not where they can click that link?

Ryan Lufkin (29:49):
You can also find it in the study hall. There's a blog on the study hall on It has a link to both the K-12 submission page and the higher ed submission page. And I think they're posted in the community as well. And then, yeah, we'll drop a link in the show notes.

Matt Goodwin (30:08):
Awesome. Go nominate.

Matt Goodwin (30:12):
That was a full show.

Ryan Lufkin (30:14):
It was a good one. I feel like everybody's getting ready to go on vacation. This will be a good a good earful before they leave for, for summer break.

Matt Goodwin (30:24):
Yeah, that'll be nice. Everybody can relax, breathe deep, and then we'll do it all again in the fall.

Jenn Mitchell (30:32):
Thanks for joining us, everybody.

Thank you for joining us on the Canvas TL;DR podcast. If you'd like to take a look at what's happening in our next release, please visit We'll see you next month. Bye!

New Quizzes Update—Susan Sorensen
Release Notes Subscriptions—Erin McMillan
Course Templates—Matt Goodwin
Educator of the Year Awards, Call for Nominations