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Upcoming Canvas Refresh Will Give Students More Options and Control

Upcoming Canvas Refresh Will Give Students More Options and Control

Categories: updates-to-canvas

Northwestern IT will introduce significant updates and enhancements to Canvas on June 13. These changes are crucial to Canvas’s ongoing efforts to enhance the user experience and provide customization and flexibility by introducing exciting new features to the platform. Improvements include a more modern discussion interface, better-integrated support for the Canvas Student mobile app, and a powerful new tool that lets you convert documents into other types of content. Here’s a quick summary of what you can expect to see starting June 13:

  • The look and feel of Canvas discussions and announcements will be refreshed and allow users to customize how posts are organized.
  • An alternative file type generator, SensusAccess, will be introduced. The user-friendly tool will be easy to activate by clicking on the new icon next to course files, and will allow users to:
    • Automatically convert documents and pages into various alternate formats, including audio (MP3), e-books (EPUB), digital Braille, and digital large print.
    • Create accessible versions of inaccessible documents, such as image-only PDF files, JPG pictures, and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.
    • Translate documents from one language into another.
  • Users can select manual and automatic settings to sync course content to the Canvas Student mobile app for offline viewing.

Reviewing the detailed information below will help users prepare for the changes and be ready to get the most out of the new Canvas features. 

Discussions/Announcements Redesign

Canvas's Discussions and Announcements areas will have updated functionality and a new layout. With the enhanced discussions and announcements design enabled, users can switch between (1) viewing threaded replies separately via a bump-out window or (2) in the traditional inline flow.

(1) Thread view with bump-out windowCanvas threaded discussions

(2) Traditional inline viewCanvas Discussions traditional view

In addition to the ability to switch views, the following new features will be enabled:

  • Sort and Filter Options: Sorting options such as "Newest to Oldest" and "Oldest to Newest" and filtering choices, including "All," "Unread," and "Read," allow users to quickly and efficiently manage discussions.
  • Enhanced Search: The revamped search functionality makes finding specific discussions and topics easier than ever by highlighting text that matches the search query.
  • @ Mentions: Directly mention classmates and faculty members in discussions using the "@" symbol.
  • Anonymous Discussions and Reporting: Instructors can now allow anonymous replies on ungraded discussion posts. Additionally, most discussions will have a feature that allows users to report discussion comments that are inappropriate, offensive, and abusive. These reports will go to the course instructor(s) for further review.

SensusAccess Integration

As another step forward in increasing the overall accessibility of Northwestern Canvas, we are enabling the SensusAccess tool on all course sites. With SensusAccess, users can convert text and image-based files into more accessible formats. It can also transform text and image-based files into different outputs, including audio, Braille, or e-text formats. The tool will not make a document fully accessible, but it can create a readable, tagged document for images and image-based PDFs.

When enabled in Northwestern Canvas, the SensusAccess icon will appear at the top of all Canvas pages and next to course files.

SensusAccess in CanvasSensusAccess page

Clicking on the icon will bring up the menu of available alternative formats. Once the conversion process is complete (typically around 10 minutes), the file will be emailed to the address listed as primary in Canvas.

For more on this tool, visit the SensusAccess page on the AccessibleNU website.

Mobile Offline Support

Having a good internet connection is not always a sure thing. Canvas now offers mobile offline support for the Canvas Student app to help students access course content when a solid Wi-Fi connection is not available. With offline support, you can download certain parts of courses and access them through the Canvas Student app if they are enabled on the course site. Those sections include:

  • Assignments (list, details, no submission option)
  • Grades (list, details, no active submit/resubmit option)
  • Pages
  • People
  • Files
  • Syllabus
  • Quizzes (quiz list, quiz details, no option to take a quiz)
  • Modules

Not supported:

  • Collaborations
  • YouTube or other external links

When enabled, the default setting is to automatically synchronize course content periodically. There is an option to manually trigger the sync, which will be visible on the dashboard when enabled. Please note that the offline viewing of content is intended to be essentially "read-only," so users can view course content but not participate. Please be sure to refer to an active version of the course site via the app or a browser for the most up-to-date version of the course content.

Anyone needing assistance with these updates can contact