5 top tips for beating the weather with Canvas

"Light Snow Apocalypse \u2013 Falmer Station" by justinpickard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Light Snow Apocalypse \u2013 Falmer Station” by justinpickard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The recent cold weather and news of rail disruption has got the Sussex TEL Team thinking how technology and our online study platform  Canvas in particular can help to minimise the impact of weather on teaching and learning.

Using Canvas and taking tips from distance and flipped-learning practices it is possible to introduce online elements to reduce the time lost as a result of these events when they do occur.

Canvas brings with it a range of new communication tools that can help you to facilitate learning online when you can’t be face-to-face.

Here are five tools and practices which can help to prepare you and your students for the unforeseen.

Canvas Announcements

Unfortunately our rail service doesn’t always help us to get to work on time. While you are trapped on a rail platform, watching the clock tick down before a lecture it’s important to let people know. Canvas provides a new route to get the message out through Canvas Announcements. The Canvas Teacher App makes this process simple. Find the module in question, select ‘Announcements’, then the ‘+’ icon to add an announcement. Give it a title, type your message, send and the process is complete. See TEL’s Canvas Announcements guidance for more details.

Screencasting presentations

While trapped at home in bad weather, why not record a screencast of your lecture and share it with your students? Canvas enables you to record a talk to camera via the Record/Upload Media link in the Canvas Page editor.

Often it is better to support your presentation with slides or other visuals and there are many different tools available to record your screen and voice together. You can record narrations for your slides directly in PowerPoint. Other simple options include Chrome browser extensions such as Loom or Screencastify. For Mac users with the latest Mojave OS, CMD+SHIFT+5 brings up a menu from which you can video capture your screen. You can then embed the resulting .mov file in Canvas.

One step further would be to take a flipped approach. Creating online presentations and making them available in advance can help to free-up time in class to consolidate the learning through more hands-on activities. It also means you have a ready resource for students to access when you can’t be there.

Canvas Conferences / Big Blue Button

If a screencast takes too much away from the immediacy of the classroom, you could take the discussion online. Canvas Conferences (Big Blue Button) is an excellent option for conducting a virtual classroom activity or webinar with your students. We have been using this tool ourselves for our series of TEL webinars with very positive feedback.

This tool provides a scalable option for you to present and talk through slides while taking questions through the Conferences text chat box. This Moderator Guide provides an overview of how Conferences works. You can find further information in the TEL Guide to Canvas Conferences.

Canvas Discussions

Disruption caused by weather can mean it is hard to get everyone together at the same time. In such a case, using a discussion forum can be a good alternative to Conferences. Running a discussion over a period of a day or a week, rather than an hour.

If you haven’t run a discussion forum before, TEL’s Paolo Oprandi has some excellent tips on how to make online discussions work in your teaching. You can find out more  in this TEL Guide to Discussions in Canvas.

Online file management

If all else fails Canvas still provides a place to share slides, handouts and reading with your students.

Also worth a mention, the University of Sussex’s box.com service provides another option for sharing files with your students. You can sync your files to multiple computers both at home and work as well as selecting files and folders to share with others. One neat feature is the option to host your videos on box.com. Upload a video to box.net and you can share it via a link from Canvas or via email. Please see the ITS guidance on box.com for more information.

screenshot of Box app

While it may not be possible to guard against all that the heavens (and local rail services) may throw at us, these tools give us at least the opportunity to be a bit more prepared.

If you would like to discuss any of these options or want more help and information please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Canvas

Content Curation for Learning

‘Students have access to unprecedented amounts of information online and need to move beyond consumption to more critical, organised and productive use of digital materials, tools and platforms.’

That was the opening sentence of our blog post on Learning through finding, choosing, sorting and sharing published in 2015. Since then, the need to develop critical skills has become even more important, so this post will look again at this topic and suggest some current digital tools and strategies to help.

Creating or Curating?

Increasingly students are being encouraged to create digital artefacts as part of their learning, whether that is by blogging, podcasting, creating video etc. which is great for developing digital capability. However, curating content which involves ‘sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme’ (http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/) can be very useful for developing critical thinking alongside digital capabilities.

Part of the curation process is identifying which tools work for your context and which sources are useful. For example, Twitter is useful for finding relevant material and discussions, LinkedIn offers opportunities to get involved in subject-specific communities and RSS readers such as Feedly or Inoreader allow you to keep up with many blogs easily and share content.

When using any of these tools the first step is choosing who to ‘follow’. It is important to critically ‘curate’ people/institutions so that relevant, reliable information is surfaced in a timely and usable format. For example, Twitter lists allow you to organise content from accounts you don’t necessarily ‘follow’ which can help with managing the flow of content.

Student activities could include:

Make sense through choosing, sorting and sharing

When you choose particular items to be collected and shared you are making a judgment about their relevance or usefulness in a particular context. Often tutors will want students to explain their reasons for choosing items and most of the tools for capturing online content to save and/or share also allow for adding comments.

Digital note-making tools such as OneNote or social bookmarking tools like Diigo could be used for collecting, sorting and sharing, but other platforms are more focused on content curation, combining collecting, sorting, annotating and sharing functions.

When the original post was published in 2015 the popular tools in this area were Scoop.It, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Flipboard.

There are now more options, and two in particular are worth exploring in more detail.


Padlet can be thought of as a virtual wall where users can post content and comments. Most types of digital content can be added to a Padlet (directly or as a web link) and there are many options for layout, commenting and collaboration. The University of Sussex has a Padlet Backpack licence and you can read more about Padlet on the TEL website.

Here is an example of a Padlet where I have collected some interesting news reports and blog posts around various aspects of immersive technology. In this case I have added the options to add a response in the form of a ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ but other options are available. I could also have chosen to allow comments.

Screenshot of a Padlet - linked to https://uofsussex.padlet.org/tel34/i74x37vrnlsj

Students could each have their own Padlet or collaborate in groups. Padlets can also be embedded in a Page or a Discussion in Canvas for students to share their collections.


Wakelet is a fairly new tool that many people began using to collate tweets when Storify was closed. You can now use it to collect a wide range of digital content such as:

  • a website
  • tweets (selected by searching for a hashtag or user)
  • a YouTube video
  • an image
  • links to content you have already used in Wakelet
  • a PDF
  • some text of your own, including some simple formatting and weblinks.

Here is an example of a Wakelet collection showing these different types of content and below is a Wakelet collection showing similar material to the Padlet above.

Screenshot of one possible display of resources in Wakelet linking to http://wke.lt/w/s/aF8JL
Screenshot of one possible display of resources in Wakelet

With a range display options, all of which can be embedded in Canvas or shared by a link Wakelet is very versatile and visually appealing. Wakelet is developing quickly and there is a new feature which allows multiple contributors to a collection (though this feature is still in Beta so may not be robust yet). There are no built-in commenting features at the moment, so if allowing other students to respond to curated material is important then Padlet might be a better choice.

You can find out more about Wakelet on their website or in their blog post ‘Content Curation: a beginner’s guide’.

How can I get started with content curation activities?

The first thing to consider is what will best fit with the learning outcomes of your particular module. If a curating task would be useful, then which tool(s) you want to use will depend on the activity. For example:

  • If the aim is to identify a list of possible web resources around a topic then students could collect and share bookmarks using Diigo. Here is a Diigo Outliner (list) I made.
  • If more multimedia materials are to be collected then students could use Padlet or Wakelet, either individually or as a group.
  • If responding to, or commenting on, each other’s collections is important then Padlet might be best option.

If you would like to explore further how you and your students could use curation for learning, help using any of the tools mentioned here or how to embed them in a Canvas module, please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Digital scholarship

TEL:US Podcast S02 E02: Online Distance Learning; building communities.

TEL:US Podcast logo.

In this episode of the TEL:US podcast, Kitty Horne and I chat to René Moolenaar about his experiences of teaching one of the universities first online distance learning modules. We talk about the ways in which he builds community, promotes peer interaction and how simple tools available in Canvas help him to do this.

I also introduce two new features of the podcast; Shortcut of the Show and App of the Show. I’m a big fan of little wins that keyboard shortcuts can give. They are not the most exciting thing to talk about, so I’ve added reverb…

Please let us know if you have any feedback about the podcast, likewise if you want to get involved or have a contender for Shortcut of the Show.

Thanks for listening.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash
Posted in Podcast

Improving the student experience of our online study platform: Introducing consistency

Early reports suggest that Canvas, our new online study platform at Sussex, has been well received by students, particularly first years. One of the strengths of Canvas is that students find it easier to stay on top of their studies as a result of notifications keeping them abreast of upcoming events and deadlines.

Interestingly, almost half of students have changed their Canvas dashboard to the List view. The List view displays all current module activities with deadlines displayed in chronological order. The Dashboard loads to display the current date, and previous and future dates can be viewed by scrolling up and down the page. In contrast to our students, most tutors still have their dashboard set to use the Card view, which displays a complete list of the modules for which they have a role and is more appropriate for their use of the system.

Screenshot of List View on Dashboard
List view on Dashboard

Anecdotally, students have found the most challenging part of Canvas to be the inconsistency between modules. Many tutors have created a home page and have a reduced module navigation menu showing only the links that they are  using in their teaching, whilst other tutors have kept the default Units page for their front page and have left the module navigation menu in case students find it useful.


In order to increase consistency between modules, Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) have been asked by some School Directors of Teaching and Learning and Department Heads to create Canvas templates for their school so students get a similar experience in each of their Canvas modules and it is easier for them to find relevant information and learning materials.

PC, tablet and phone showing templates
Templates on a range of devices

Our Canvas templates focus on good principles and practices based around three key areas:

  • Digital pedagogy. The templates are structured to support module curricula, and for tutors to incorporate topic-based activities and resources which advance the extent to which the students meet the module’s learning objectives.
  • Student experience. The templates are easy to navigate and adhere to the principle that less is often more. They keep the navigation elements to minimum, have a hierarchy of information which makes it easy to find things and have consistency within their design, structure and signposting.
  • Inclusivity. The templates are fully accessible and ensure access to materials is possible from different devices and different software including screen readers.

There are currently templates for the the Business School, the School of Engineering and Informatics, the School of English, School of Global Studies, the School Life Sciences, and the Social Work department – some of these just include a home page whilst others provide all the pages you would need for a complete module. Other schools, departments and areas of the University are also planning to introduce templates. You can see these on the Canvas School Templates page of the TEL website.

Some  areas of the University have not gone down this route and for modules which have not got a set template, TEL have created three templates (so far!) that tutors can choose from to match their teaching style. You can see these on the TEL website.

The ‘intuitive’ template is the simplest and most brightly coloured and provides placeholder headings which inform the tutor what content to put where. You will be expected to drop text and files into the appropriate places.

The ‘weekly’ template allows the easiest navigation between week pages. It expects tutors to have set up their Talis Aspire reading lists by dividing the readings by week and provides folders for the tutors to organise their own files by week.

The ‘flipped learning’ template has been pre-populated with dates in the first three weeks of the Spring semester and for each week includes Units with preparatory materials including learning materials and “readiness” quiz questions, and reflective materials including a journal activity and a revisit to the “readiness” quiz questions to see if the students’ positions have change. The template has a timed release of materials.

All the templates are fully responsive and accessible and are designed to allow students  an easy and consistent experience when using Canvas. They all work best when starting with an empty site  but they all can be used when there is existing content.

How can I start using a template?

There are instructions on how you can import and use them in your modules on the TEL Canvas pages and if you want help using any of the existing templates or creating your own, please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Canvas

Adding Requirements & Prerequisites in your Canvas modules.


Tutors can develop their use of the Units area in a Canvas module by making use of the Requirements and Prerequisites tools. These tools allow you to further guide your students through your module, directing them through the resources and requiring them to complete certain elements.

What are Requirements?

Requirements are a series of actions that you require your students to carry out before they ‘Complete’ that section of content. This is set up in the Units area of your site.

Depending on the type of activity or resource you have added to your Unit you can require students to:

  • View an item
  • Mark an item as ‘done’
  • Contribute to a page or discussion
  • Submit an assignment or quiz
  • Score a certain mark or above in an assignment or quiz

Your requirements for each Unit can include one or more of the above requirements. As well as allowing you to guide your students through your module content, these requirements will also help students to manage their studies and track their progress throughout a module.

Screenshot of Requirements in Canvas Units

Requirements in Canvas Units

  • Step 1: Go to Units and click the three vertical dots icon to the right of your Unit.
  • Step 2: Click the Edit option in the menu that appears.
  • Step 3: Click +Add requirement and define your requirements (see How do I add requirements to a module? for more explanation of the different requirement options). Adding activities, such as Quizzes, will add more requirements options. Repeat this step to add multiple requirements.
  • Step 4: Click Update unit.

What are Prerequisites?

Prerequisites take this a step further by stopping students from viewing a Unit until they have completed the requirements of the previous Unit. This allows you to lock content until certain actions have been completed. This could help to encourage students to engage with activities and content, highlighting activities that are particularly important or will feed into students’ studies later on in the module or are required for in-class activities.

Sreenshot of Prerequisites in Canvas Units

Prerequisites in Canvas Units

  • Step 1: Go to Units and click +Unit (or click the three vertical dots icon next to an existing Unit).
  • Step 2: Give your new Unit a name and then click +Add prerequisite.
  • Step 3: In the dropdown menu that appears, select one of your other Units (it is only possible to set prerequisite Units that come before a specific Unit).
  • Step 4: Click Add unit (or Update unit if you are editing an existing Unit).

Why use these tools?

Adding requirements and prerequisites to the Units within your Canvas module sites has benefits to both you and your students. It allows you to encourage students to engage with required activities, stopping them from progressing until they have done so, whilst also enabling students to manage their studies by tracking their progress and easily picking up where they have left off. Setting up your requirements and prerequisites for each week before the start of term could also save you time later on as you will not have to publish content weekly, instead it is students’ progress that releases weekly content.

For further information about how to set up requirements and prerequisites in your modules take a look at these FAQs:

If you have any questions about using these tools in your teaching or any other features of Canvas that you would like to explore contact tel@sussex.ac.uk.

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Posted in Canvas, Learning Design

Custard, empathy and the challenges of teaching: new case studies

The TEL team recently interviewed staff at the University of Sussex from Education, Economics and Law. They spoke to us about how they have been using technology to innovate their teaching practices.

The topics they spoke to use about ranged from using technology to observe group-work during workshops; engaging students in practical skills during large-group teaching and creating a dialogue with students during lectures.

Observing experiments with Padlet

Joan Williams, Teaching Fellow in Education from the University of Sussex discussed her approach to using Padlet. During a class for trainee science teachers, Joan required her students to work in groups to undertake experiments. In order to monitor their work and provide feedback, a student from each group took photos and wrote short reflections of their results and progress using a mobile app called Padlet.

Padlet is an app for creating virtual bulletin boards which makes it easy for students to share notes and digital content. This software is licensed by the University of Sussex and premium accounts are available to all members of staff and students on request from TEL. The Padlet Backpack for staff and students article from our blog provides a useful introduction to Padlet and examples of different use cases for anyone who’s considering using it in their teaching.

Problem-solving with the Document Camera

Dr C. Rashaad Shabab (Teaching Fellow in Economics) has been using the Document Camera in lecture theatres on a module with over 700 students as a way to engage and involve students in the process of solving algebraic models. Rashaad recognised that empathy with his students was a key factor in motivating them to engage with algebra.

The Document Camera enables teachers to capture and present a live camera feed onto the projector screen and is available in teaching spaces across campus. If you’re considering using this in your teaching, we suggest checking the Room Facilities page to see the range of audio-visual equipment available in our teaching spaces. The Document Camera (or equivalent) is labelled under the ‘visualiser’ column.

Interactive lectures with Poll Everywhere

Dr Amir Paz-Fuchs (Senior Lecturer in Law) has been using Poll Everywhere on the Employment Law module as a way to facilitate interactive teaching, and to create a dialogue with students during class time in large group lectures.

Poll Everywhere is a student response system which provides an efficient way for teaching staff to pose questions (multiple choice, open ended questions and clickable images, among others), collect responses and share back to class. The software is licensed by the University of Sussex and available to all members of staff (on request from TEL) and in all teaching spaces across campus.

Where can I find out more about teaching innovation at Sussex?

The Technology Enhanced Learning team regularly collect short interviews and case studies from members of staff who have been using technology to innovate in their teaching. You can view our growing collection from the Case Studies section of our website. We also organise ‘Show and TEL’ once each term. A networking event where staff are invited to share practice and learn about the use of technology in teaching across different schools.

If you have examples of your own that you would like to contribute, or would like to discuss ideas or seek support to help you successfully integrate technology effectively into your teaching practice then get in touch with your school learning technologist or contact tel@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Active learning, Case Study, Learning Technologies

Preparing for the assessment period and Spring teaching term? Staff development opportunities from TEL

decorative image of person using computer, smartphone and highlighting notes

To celebrate the new year, we are pleased to announce the launch of a new programme of workshops and webinars taking place over January.

What is this and who is it for?

Technology Enhanced Learning provide advice, training and guidance to staff at the University of Sussex in the effective use of technology to enhance teaching, learning, assessment and the student experience. Throughout the year, we provide continued professional development (CPD) opportunities which are free to attend and open to all staff at the university.

Our training sessions are designed and delivered by our team of learning technologists to help staff meet the ambitions and goals of the university. To coincide with the assessment period and start of term, our programme for January has a focus on using the tools to mark assessments online, preparing your Canvas module sites and using the presentation equipment in teaching spaces.

Details of the programme, including fuller descriptions, dates and booking information are available on the Workshops and events page of the Technology Enhanced Learning website.

Here are some of the highlights and recommendations from our programme.

Extend your use of technology in your teaching practice

  • Integrating the best of the web into your Canvas site – find and embed high quality, interactive tools into your online site.
  • Canvas Quizzes – Quizzes can be great for concept checking, revision and assessment.

Recommended for new or returning members of staff

  • Canvas Fundamentals – an introduction to the University’s new online study platform. This session provides attendees with an overview of the new platform and an opportunity to start working on existing course content.
  • Technology in Teaching Spaces – a practical, hands-on session to introduce you to the technology in seminar rooms and lecture theatres across campus.
  • Marking with Turnitin – learn how to use the various features of Turnitin for producing marks, feedback and checking similarity with text-based assessments.

Introducing TEL webinars: bite-sized online learning for staff

This year we are introducing webinars to complement our offering of face-to-face workshops. Webinars are designed to provide a more flexible, bite-sized and accessible offering for those who cannot attend scheduled times or commit to longer sessions.

Sessions are delivered online and include a short presentation followed by a discussion. If you book for a webinar you can participate live or catch up with a recording after the session. Each session lasts roughly 30 minutes and will be delivered during lunchtime. Themes for January include Canvas peer assessment, Canvas groups, Poll Everywhere and the Canvas app.

What’s next?

We are in the process of organising a new programme to run throughout teaching term 2 with a focus on accessibility, emerging technologies and innovative assessment. This programme is set to be announced close to the start of February. Please subscribe to our blog (menu on the right-hand side) to receive email updates.

If you (or your department) would like more bespoke training on any aspects of technology enhanced learning which are not covered by our programme then please get in touch with tel@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Events

What’s New in Canvas? (December 2018)

The new Canvas release for December has just been rolled out across the University, this will bring a few helpful changes to Canvas that will enhance your day to day experience. Two of the biggest changes are the ability to reorder the Card View and an update to the Media Recorder which will make it easier to use, please find information on both these changes below: 

Card View Module Ordering

On the Card View Dashboard, module cards can now be rearranged into any order, this means you can organise your display

To do this your dashboard must first be set to Card View.

Once you are in your dashboard there are two ways to move module cards. The first option is to select the vertical ellipses on the card you’d like to move.  

Image of a module card with the more options button being highlighted

A module card with the ‘more options’ icon indicated.

This will bring up the options menu, from here select the Move option, this will then give you the option to move the card Top, Ahead, Behind or Bottom of its current order.

An arrow highlights that the Move option can be found in the top right of the move menu

The ‘move’ menu for a module card.

The second option to change the order is to manually click and drag a card to a new position then drop it into the new position

An image showing the drag and drop functionality

Moving a card with drag and drop.

HTML5 Media Recorder

HTML5 is now used instead of Flash for recording within the Rich Content Editor in Firefox and Chrome browsers, this means recording media content directly into Canvas will be quicker and seamless. This recorder can be used anywhere the Rich Content Editor is enabled (Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, Pages, Quizzes, or Syllabus).

Please note that Internet Explorer and Safari browsers do not support this functionality.

To use the new Media recorder within the Rich Content Editor locate and click the Record/Upload Media button

Screenshot of Rich Content Editor showing the record media icon.

The record media icon can be found on the Rich Content Editor toolbar

This will open up the Record/upload media comment menu, (please note at this point you may be asked by your browser to allow access to your computer’s microphone and camera, you must allow this access in order to use the Media Recorder).

There are three main options to be aware of within the Media Recorder:

An image showing the Record/upload media menu highlighting the three key buttons, the Mic, the Start recording and Webcam button

The Record/upload media menu with the Mic, Start recording and Webcam buttons.

  1. Clicking the Mic option will allow you to choose which of your computers microphones you’d like to use.
  2. The red button labelled ‘Start recording’ will begin a 3 second countdown when pressed, after which the Media Recorder will start to record, pressing the same button whilst recording will finish the recording.
  3. The Webcam option will allow you to choose which of your computers microphones you’d like to use. It’s also possible to choose to have no webcam enabled in which case the Media Recorder will only record audio from your microphone, this is useful if you want to make a purely audio recording.

Once you recording is finished you’ll be presented with the below screen: 

Image showing the Record/Upload media menu after media has been recorded, highlighting where key areas can be found.

Record/Upload media menu after media has been recorded.

  1. You’ll find a preview of your recording here, click the play icon to watch through the preview recording.
  2. You can give your recording a name in order to identify it later.
  3. Clicking the save button will save and insert the recording into the Rich Content Editor.
  4. Clicking the Start over button will delete your recording and let you start a new media recording.

Please note you can also upload captions onto media recordings, please see the Canvas help page for more information https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-13043-4152719744

To see a full list of all changes made in the update please see the Canvas Release notes here: https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-15947-canvas-release-notes-2018-12-08

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Posted in Canvas

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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