Improving Accessibility in your Canvas Courses

 Articles for Faculty, General Information  Comments Off on Improving Accessibility in your Canvas Courses
Jun 122014

Transitioning from ANGEL to Canvas has vastly improved the accessibility of our online courses because the platform is developed on open web standards that allow assistive tools like text readers. One of the reasons why ACIR recommended Canvas was because the  National Federation of the Blind certified Canvas in 2010 (click to see announcement) .

In order for these accessibility features to work, faculty and instructional designers must ensure that content developed or uploaded into Canvas use these standards. This Canvas Guide article on Improving Accessibility in your Courses can help.

Special care must be taken in uploading content that was scanned from the original source.  Essentially the challenge is that copiers typically scan documents to an image file. This means that when you open the file you are actually viewing a picture of the scanned document. Electronic readers cannot read image files. Copiers with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capability are better because they can actually capture the text during the scanning process so these documents are readable after upload to Canvas.

Some PDF image files can be converted with Adobe Pro and other tools before uploading to Canvas. This video shows a demonstration of readers we have on Avila common shared computers and gives a couple of methods for converting PDF image files.

Disability Services has a copy of Adobe Pro and can help faculty with conversions of content. Instructional Design services in Carondelet can also help.  Contact Sharon Depperschmidt or Mark Eaton for more information.


Tips & Tricks on Creating Video Presentations

 Articles for Faculty, Articles for Students, General Information  Comments Off on Tips & Tricks on Creating Video Presentations
Jun 052014

Whether you are faculty or a student, you may eventually need to create a video presentation in Canvas for an assignment at Avila University. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this using some basic techniques.

Creating or Uploading Videos in Canvas

WebcamFirst you need a webcam either built into your laptop or one that you purchase separately and connect to your computer through a USB connection. If you have more than one webcam connected to your computer, take care to identify which webcam you are using when recording the video directly into Canvas. Most webcams have built in microphones but you may need to add a separate mic depending on how far away you place the webcam for the presentation. Again, you need to make sure Canvas or the recording software knows which mic you are using. Create a few test videos to make sure your setup works.

You can either record a video directly into Canvas or upload a video you created using a video editor like Windows Live Movie Maker (a simple editor you can download from Microsoft for free). While it is easier to record directly in Canvas, you risk losing your work if your Internet connection is disrupted half way through the assignment, but for quick video assignments, recording online is easier.

All rich text editors in Canvas whether in assignments, discussion forums, wiki pages, or announcements allow video recording using this step-by-step procedure (follow this link to access the video comments post in the Canvas guide).  Here is a video demonstration of the process.

Now that we have an idea of how to actually record a video (or upload one), let’s take a look at effective low-budget ways of presenting. In all these techniques you will want to make sure your webcam or video camera is far enough back that it captures the presenter and visual aids. The further back you place the webcam, the more care you will need to take with lighting. Experiment with ordinary household lamps until you have what you want (see the diagram at the end of this post for setting up lighting).


Using a Flip Chart

One of the easiest methods is to use a flip chart but many shy away from this technique because they feel uncomfortable writing or drawing in front of a camera. Check out this video on how you can prepare your flip chart before recording the presentation that will make you look like a pro. It is low-tech but very effective.

Using a Large-Screen Monitor

With a second computer, you can display your slides on a large screen monitor but there are challenges:

  • The webcam and monitor angle must be adjusted to remove glare.
  • The brightness and contrast on the monitor needs to be adjusted so that slides are easily seen.
  • The theme of the presentation tool should provide a dark background with contrast between it and the text.
  • Use lots of images and very little text.

In this video I did a quick setup in my office with an external webcam on a laptop and a large-screen monitor on a desktop. I placed the webcam and monitor to remove glare. I looked for a Prezi template that was viewable. I combed my hair and did this with one shot and just a little editing in Windows Live Movie Maker.

Using a Whiteboard

If you can overcome the glare that is typical in whiteboards, you will find this to be an easy setup and effective presentation technique. First watch this video on the actual presentation this person gives. Then watch the next video on the instructional approach.

Now watch this video where the presenter explains the approach. What makes this work is to create the content on the whiteboard before recording the video. Then simply highlight key aspects of the visual during the presentation. Nicely done.

Using  a Blank Wall and some Editing

In this example I recorded the video off-line (not live in Canvas) so I could add captions later as visual aids for my presentation.  Captions are added using a free video editor like Windows Live Movie Maker.  This example was recorded with a webcam set back far enough to capture the presenter and a blank wall. I am far enough away from the wall to not cast a shadow. Here I used no additional lighting but this is always a challenge. If time permits I will use fill-in lighting. I did the recording directly in an editor and then added captions before publishing the video presentation.

It is important to note that editors create “project” files which are only viewed in an editor. Instructors will not be able to view the presentation if this is the file you submit. So be sure to “publish” or “export” the presentation to a video file format like mp4 before submitting the assignment.

Using Lighting

For most of your assignments, normal lighting is sufficient. Professionals use studio lights which have a dramatic impact on the video quality but most of your assignments can be satisfied with normal lighting. You can make some improvements by using ordinary house lamps if you are not satisfied with the ambient light available. This image shows how to place three lamps to help improve your video assignments (click the thumbnail on the left to enlarge the image).

Light Floor Plan

What’s the right thing to do?

Which method you use depends on how much time you have, the purpose of the assignment, and your skills. Most short presentation assignments in your course can be satisfied with live recording in Canvas using simple low-tech visual aids like a flip chart. If you have more time to experiment and want to expand your technical skills consider recording off-line, editing, and submitting published videos. If you want the quality to be professional, add backdrops and lighting.

Okay, so you want your videos to be professional but you don’t have the equipment professionals use. You would be surprised at how much quality you can add with devices you may already own. Let’s close this post with one last video example on using an iPhone to create stunning videos.

Participating in a Canvas Conference

 General Information  Comments Off on Participating in a Canvas Conference
Mar 242014

Here is another post on Canvas conferences that you might find helpful. In this post we’ll talk about how to join a conference and how to make sure your webcam/mic are operational.

You join a conference by going to the Canvas course Conferences section, shown on the left side of the screen, and clicking the Join button on the right side of the screen next to the listed conference.

(Click the image to enlarge)

Canvas will launch a new tab and load BigBlueButton. Canvas will then ask for permission to access your camera and microphone. You must click Allow in order to use your camera and microphone. Some browsers may block the pop-up screen that shows the Allow request and Audio Settings. If you get no response you will need to allow the browser to show pop-up windows. You may be prompted to temporarily allow pop-ups. If so, accept temporary pop-ups and you may have to start the join process again.

(Click the image to enlarge)

Once you have successfully given Canvas permission to use your camera and microphone, you will have the Audio Settings screen to test your microphone and speakers. Do this first before activating your video.

Start by clicking the Test or Change Microphone button to display the microphone selection screen. Make sure your microphone is selected in the pull-down list box and the speak to see if you can view the audio strength indicator. You may get feedback if you are using open speakers so using ear buds may help in this part of the test. Click close once you have established a working microphone.

(Click the image to enlarge)

Here again, if you do not get a response, check to your browser for any additional permissions messages like this one.

(Click the image to enlarge)

After you have join the conference with audio, you next need to share your camera.  Look for the webcam icon in the upper left corner of the screen.

(Click the image to enlarge)

Click the icon to display the Webcam Settings screen which will allow you to check your camera and change settings before sharing with participants in the conference.

(Click the image to enlarge)

That is all there is to joining the conference with audio and video. One other feature you may like is changing the layout of the conference. You can quickly change the layout from the default to other arrangements for meetings, webinars, video chat, and so on.

(Click the image to enlarge)

The above should get you started.

You can also find a host of other topics on conferencing with this search link.




Submitting Course Evaluations with your Mobile Device

 Articles for Students, General Information  Comments Off on Submitting Course Evaluations with your Mobile Device
Feb 192014
Some schools at Avila University are moving toward online course evaluations that are available as a link through a Canvas course. You can complete these with an Internet browser on any computing device. Using a Canvas app makes it easier if you wish to complete the survey on a mobile device.
Regardless of the device you are using, or that you are taking the survey within the Canvas course, you can have confidence that your submissions are anonymous. This is because the survey is actually hosted on a separate server so when you click the link through your Canvas course or Canvas app you actually navigate to another website that does not collect any information other than the survey responses.
You can access your Canvas course and survey on any computing device that uses a modern Internet browser (such as the iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, WebOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone). Canvas also offers free apps for some devices such as Canvas by Instructure for iOS6+ and Androids, and Canvas for iOS for iOS 5 devices.  Just visit the app store for your device to download the app.
Use the URL to setup the app and use your normal Avila login credentials (username and password).  For more information on using a Canvas app go to which is the Canvas Mobile Phone Student Guide.
Check with your instructor or school to find out how and when they will send you the link for the course evaluation. Participating in the course evaluation is incredibly important in helping us improve the quality of instruction and materials. All course surveys are reviewed by the respective Dean and Provost. We look for trends that inform our decisions about curriculum changes, instruction, and technology.
Contact your school if you have questions about participating in course evaluations online.

Updating your Current Course with a Previous Course

 General Information  Comments Off on Updating your Current Course with a Previous Course
Feb 062014

Course are created automatically from Jenzabar a few weeks before an academic term. An IT process runs that also loads the students who are enrolled in the course. But the course is not yet ready to publish and awaits the instructor to add content before students may access it.

This allows the instructor to build the course content according to his/her syllabus as well as customizing the course if needed. In most cases instructors will want to import a previous version of the course. Our staff can help with the import but it is actually easier for instructors to import their own content then it is for the instructional resources team. This is because the instructor owns the previous course and it is immediately available for his/her own use. The exception is when there is content that needs to be imported from some other system like ANGEL or from a publisher.


How to Copy a Canvas Course

The Canvas import process allows the instructor to import all the previous course’s content or select specific content items. Canvas will also attempt to update the due date of the assignments if you have the original dates of the previous course. This canvas guide explains the course content copy process. Contact instructional resources if you have any issues.

Don’t forget to publish your course once you have imported the content and completed final adjustments.


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