How To Integrate Websites Into Canvas

I wanted to walkthrough one of my favorite Canvas integrations. Originally, I discovered this integration and used it in one of the early professional development courses I led for faculty transitioning (from D2L) to Canvas back in May 2016, which you can view here. My discovery of this integration was driven by the desire to replicate what Adam Croom had done with his PRPubs.us course website in D2L.

Anyways, this is the type of website integration into Canvas I’m referencing:

Mobile Blogging & Scholarship Canvas course shown with a Domain of One's Own website integrated inside the Canvas Course.
View from Canvas of an integrated website.
Canvas app on an android phone displaying the redirect tool+website integration.
View from Canvas App of the same integrated website.

What You Need

1. Website you control – If you have a DIY website through a web hosting company or use website companies like WordPress.com, then you are off to a great start. I use Reclaim Hosting for my website needs as Reclaim specializes in education. (Technically, any website can be used, but the one’s I’ve tried using have been hit or miss. Thus, I believe a website you control is ideal and should work perfectly.)

2. An encryption SSL certificate for your website – Your website will only be displayed within Canvas if the site is encrypted. In other words, your site needs to function using a https:// address (instead of http://). There are many ways to obtain an encryption certificate. I use Let’s Encrypt SSL which is offered for free by several web hosting companies (including Reclaim Hosting). Alternatively, you can use a service like Cloudflare to acquire a SSL certificate for your website.

Please note that many website companies like WordPress.com furnish https:// versions of websites to their users by default. In such case, you don’t need to acquire a SSL certificate for your website as it’s already present. If you’re unsure about whether your site meets this requirement, try visiting your website with https:// at the front of the URL (like so: https://example.com) and see if it loads normally.

3. Canvas Course – Use your institutions page to login to Canvas and create a new course or use an existing one. If you do not currently have access to Canvas, you can acquire a free account by selecting “Build It” on this page.

4. Redirect Tool – In your Canvas course, under “Settings>Apps” is the Redirect Tool (the best app!)—make sure it is available for your course. Refer to the screenshot below, under Step 1, as a guide.

Setup Steps

Step 1 – Navigate to Canvas course settings and find the Redirect Tool in the Apps Tab:

Image showing how to access the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Step 2 – Click “Add App” to add the Redirect Tool:

Image showing how to add the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Step 3 – Configure the Redirect Tool with your Website Name (will appear in Course Navigation), the https:// URL, and check “Show in Course Navigation:”

Image showing my configuration settings of the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Zoomed into my configuration settings for the Redirect Tool:

Zoomed in image showing my configuration settings of the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Step 4 – Refresh the course by clicking “Home” to see the fruits of your labor:

Image showing successful integration of the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Image showing successful integration of the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Step 5 – Enjoy:

Image showing successful integration of the redirect tool in a Canvas course.

Troubleshooting

If you’re experiencing any issues, they are typically caused by one of these two problems:

Problem 1 - Redirect Tool Configuration
Problem 2 - Don't have https:// URL for the Website

Integration Examples

I recently submitted proposals that included this website integration to the #Domains17 conference. As I shared then, I believe the best examples of this integration involve a course blog or research/course website.

Course Blog – The course blog in Canvas is a fantastic use case of the Redirect tool combined with the FeedWordPress plugin to bring all of the students’ posts from their own websites into Canvas. This setup is inline with the POSSE publishing model and can be utilized to bring students’ course reflections into Canvas for easier access and to promote peer-peer scholarship.

Cours Blog inside of a Canvas Course using the Redirect Tool

Research/Course Website – If you have course contents published on websites outside Canvas, you can use this trick to bring those materials into your courses. I’ve used this to bring my Canvas Camp curriculum into Canvas courses, but you could use it for course wikis, Drupal or Omeka research websites, and beyond.

Canvas Camp website displaying a lit campfire inside of a Canvas Course

Anonymous Blogging Inside of Canvas – When I ran the Mobile Blogging and Scholarship Canvas training back in May 2016, I used all of these tool in addition to the AccessPress Anonymous Post plugin to allow instructors to blog directly within Canvas. Here’s some more information of the tools I used to accomplish this course design.

Canvas course with AccessPress Plugin configured to let students blog directly within Canvas.

There are many more use cases beyond what I’ve presented here, but I hope this post gives you the guidance and inspiration to integrate websites directly into Canvas.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Corinne Kutz via Unsplash.

Our Most Important Canvas Training

Last week was the 19th Canvas Camp hosted at the University of Oklahoma. Looking back on its evolution from May 2016 to today, the dozens of courses developed by participating instructors, and the feedback I’ve received, Canvas Camp is an ongoing success.

Background

Canvas Camp is intended to teach instructors how to use Canvas while they are producing their first Canvas course. Most of our time is spent exploring notable features, developing courses, and problem solving how to design courses in Canvas. All levels of expertise are welcome because Canvas Camp is flexible enough to scale and adapt to suit everyone’s needs—there’s always something to learn in our open-ended sessions! That being said, although this training is meant to teach several components of Canvas, there are many more pieces beyond what we introduce.

Canvas Camp occurs face-to-face in 2-hour sessions over 4 consecutive days. Demonstrations of Canvas, exploration of features, and discussions of course design all take place during this training, however the main focus is the development and completion of participants’ courses!

Before I jump into the design of this training, be aware that my curriculum for Canvas Camp is openly shared using a Creative Commons license and you are welcome to take, adapt, use, repurpose, etc. all of the materials without permission as long as you abide by the license. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via email—I’m always up for a video chat.

Canvas Camp website annotated Gif of home page

Canvas Camp Design

Canvas Camp was built around five main components:

  1. Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
  2. Engaging faculty in course development
  3. Producing Canvas courses
  4. Reflecting on why the University switched to Canvas
  5. Learning Canvas as part of a community

1. Technical Skills

As with any new tool or software, there are varying degrees of digital literacy and technical expertise of the Canvas Campers. For individuals who possess high technical skills, the Canvas Camp website aims to empower them to progress through the Canvas Camp curriculum at their own pace. For participants who have just started to learn Canvas, the face-to-face sessions provide them with a safe space to ask questions, learn, and experiment on their own or in community with others (including the facilitator).

Canvas Camp is intentionally flexible in design to serve the needs of a wide range of technical expertise.

2. Course Development

Working with instructors over several days offers the opportunity to engage them in course design and discuss the pedagogical implications of their Canvas course decisions. This aspect of instructional design is intertwined with learning the technical skills of Canvas as the camp facilitators explain and discuss the ramifications of decisions made while developing courses. Depending on the feature or design in question these interactions might occur on a one-on-one basis, however there also opportunities to draw on the collective expertise of the instructors present—this often yields rich discussion.

As an example of how course development takes place, a significant shift in organizing course materials has occurred, in part, due to the popularity of Canvas Camp. I see many more instructors organize their course materials chronologically than topically like they did in the previous learning management system (LMS). Granted, both types of organization offer their own benefits and shortcomings. However, now faculty are being more intentional in this design decision. They are engaging with each other and the camp facilitators to pursue what is best for their students. For example, most of the faculty that participate in Canvas Camp opt to use the Modules feature of Canvas to arrange their content by week, unit, chapter, etc. This chronological presentation of material is intended to give their students greater levels of context for the materials they are studying during the semester.

3. Producing A Course

The notable draw to Canvas Camp is the promise to come away with a course, built and finalized. In most cases, we see faculty members complete 75-100% of their course. Sometimes instructors have completed more than one course during this professional development. Regardless, this is heavily marketed to bring people into Canvas Camp.

4. Why Switch To Canvas?

Arguably the most important aspect of Canvas Camp is engaging in discussion with the participants throughout the week. For example, after faculty members have wrestled with Canvas—learned and experienced its strengths and shortcomings—we ask them to tell us why they think the University decided to switch to Canvas. Inevitably, someone always brings up the monetary aspect, but after several minutes of discussion, faculty often suggest the change was made because “Canvas is better for the students,” “easier to use,” and/or “nicer to look at.” All of these reasons are recorded on the whiteboard at the front of the room to highlight positive aspects of Canvas. This reflection is crucial. If you hope to change perspectives about Canvas, give instructors meaningful experiences with the tool and follow up with reflection and discussion. In other words, Canvas Camp also functions a primer (and potentially a model) to tackle larger digital literacy questions related to educational technology and learning management systems.

5. Learning Canvas Together

Training is always more fun together! Canvas Camp benefits from diversity of disciplines, types of teachers, and the people present. The community aspect of this training is integral since participants must turn to one another when they have questions or need recommendations. In particular, this occurs when the facilitators are assisting other attendees. Overall, Canvas Camp is a wonderful learning environment to engage faculty in technological and pedagogical practices of Canvas, but this training shines when it empowers faculty to become both students and teachers to one another.

Reflection

The reason Canvas Camp is our most important training at the University of Oklahoma is not only because it’s our most comprehensive, face-to-face training, but because it’s our most fun.

I know that sounds weird. I realize building courses can be tedious and far from fun. There’s just something special about Canvas Camp that I hope to bring into every other training program I build/facilitate. The comradely of learning Canvas in community paired with the feelings of accomplishment from completing courses is fun. The energetic discussion and informal instructional design that occurred during each session is fun. The creative challenge that coincides with building engaging courses is fun. There’s a lively spirit present with each cohort of instructors at Canvas Camp, and yes you guessed it, that makes it fun!

Beyond the fun of Canvas Camp, this professional development strives to do more than teach software. Canvas Camp aims to shift the culture of the University. Yes, there are many more components to such a process than a single training, but as of January 12th, 143 instructors now have greater confidence to build courses in Canvas (and you have to start somewhere)!

The discussion that happens on the final day of Canvas Camp is crucial for shifting culture. During every Canvas Camp, participants openly express their apprehension and frustrations with switching learning management systems. Giving instructors time to interact with Canvas and see how their courses look and behave in the system affords them the opportunity to naturally grow knowledgeable and comfortable with the change. Highlighting this perspective change during discussion while reflecting on the week of Canvas Camp, emphasizes and reinforces the cultural shift.

There are plenty more aspects of Canvas Camp I could touch on, but this is enough from me for now (feel free to reach out with questions). Instead, here’s a few testimonies from the participants of Canvas Camp:

Testimony

What was the most valuable/useful aspect of this session?

gaining familiarity through doing.

Overall, the camp was terrific. I enjoyed engaging with faculty from other departments.

Very hands on and practical–lots of time to work directly on courses.

The balance of some delivered content, and some ‘free time’ for us to explore Canvas and explore our own content in it. But the free time had the facilitator present to answer questions. That was very helpful.

The most valuable aspect for me was learning the basic mechanics of Canvas. It is overwhelming for anyone trying to self-teach. I also like that the canvas instructors gave specific recommendations for how to optimize course use (ex: enter rubrics directly to use Speed Grader instead of uploading files, etc.)

No doubt: it was the instructor. A truly exceptional educator. He took his time, making sure everyone was able to keep up, yet kept things moving along. Very nice, articulate delivery, good organization.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Carsten Thomsen via Pixabay.

A Learning Management System with a Future?

I recently attended a demonstration of Canvas and wanted to give some of my thoughts on this educational tool. Already, Canvas possesses the baseline features of a Learning Management System (LMS) such as content distribution, grade management, discussion forums, etc., but beyond these fundamental ingredients, there are several parts of Canvas that I found interesting when thinking about education.

Phenomenal Features

Some of my favorite features of Canvas included (1) the option to have students engage in peer grading, (2) giving students the ability to create their own courses within the Canvas system, and (3) being able to produce content and interact with Canvas on mobile devices.

(1) Integrated Peer Grading

In Canvas, peer grading is a streamlined process where instructors can easily assign their students to give feedback to their peers. This feedback process can take place within the bounds of a rubric that is managed by Canvas to seamlessly give and receive feedback on assignments. Instructors can create custom rubrics for assignments or use any that have been standardized by their institution.

In addition to increasing the frequency of feedback on assignments, creating a culture of peer critique and academic interaction is an important step for training the employees and scholars of tomorrow.

(2) Students Create Courses

One of the best ways students gain mastery and transference over content is by educating each other since the challenge of teaching is also the perfect opportunity for learning. Fortunately, Canvas is flexible enough that students can be granted the capability of producing their own courses within the system. Not only would this be valuable practice for pre-service teachers, but this could capitalize on the perspectives of content and learning from our students’ points of view.

For example, imagine a course that is prepared by students as a prerequisite to General Chemistry. In this potential course, students could outline the study materials and explanations that they believed were valuable to their own learning in this course. The act of producing such a course would be an excellent learning exercise for students, and generating more resources for future pupils can aid in their understanding of course materials.

(3) Producing Mobile

I want to build courses using only my phone! Why? Because with that level of flexibility, I can use any device at any location to be productive. As mobile devices are the most prevalent personal computing devices in the world, we shouldn’t be constrained to a computer when interacting with students online. Fortunately, the option to produce and consume content in Canvas from a mobile device is possible via iOS or Android apps. And there is a complete guide on what can be done on mobile devices in Canvas. Imagine being productive using a computing device that was under $50 and breaking down socioeconomic barriers related to technology access and education!

Altogether, these are some of the features that I see being most important for the future of this LMS. Even if these features are underutilized at first, granting these capabilities to users will expand their opportunities for use to engage students.

Everything Else

It was wonderful to see all the external tools that now integrate into Canvas. Due to their excellent API, other companies and communities can integrate their tools into Canvas, adding even more features to this LMS. (Even Minecraft has a Canvas integration!) A byproduct of this openness is the integration of search engines for creative commons materials. For example, pulling open content from Flickr can be done in seconds without leaving the content editing interface of Canvas.

Additionally, it is easy to produce an open course and engage the public in scholarship using this LMS. Being able to showcase the instructional work of teachers and educate individuals beyond the classroom makes me excited for the possibility of this tool at a University.

Finally, beyond all the functionality I saw demonstrated, Canvas sports a clean, modern design. The user interface is nice and I prefer its navigational setup to other LMSs I have used. In fact, it is possible to hide unused components of Canvas from view to minimize confusion when students access a course.

Try Canvas Now!

If you want to try out Canvas for one of your courses, you are able to do so right now! Just sign up for one of their Free-for-Teacher accounts. You won’t have access to your institution’s Student Information System (SIS) within the Canvas system, but you can still use all of the basic features with your students.

I just started exploring Canvas myself and am excited to try some of those features I mentioned—especially interacting with courses using my phone! Up until this moment, I have never been excited for an LMS. But now, I believe this LMS may have a future in my collection of instructional tools.