What’s New in Canvas? – October 2016

by Jackie Wickham Smith

Both Instructure (Canvas’ parent company) and Northwestern Information Technology are always making changes and improvements to Canvas – sometimes it can be hard to keep up! Keep reading to learn about some of the biggest and best new things in Canvas.

Northwestern’s Learning App Store

Northwestern Information Technology has launched the Learning App Store, an easy way to add learning apps developed at Northwestern to your Canvas course site. Currently, four apps are available in the Learning App Store: Nebula, Discussion Analytics, YellowDig Viz, and UDOIT, with more on the way!


Since Nebula was first launched, it’s become much more user-friendly for online courses: no need to change your discussion setup and add Nebula groups! Nebula now runs parallel to the existing Canvas discussion board and allows students and faculty to visualize the discussion as it’s happening. Nebula’s developers note that its use typically results in shorter, more frequent posts as well as students replying to each other more often than replying to the discussion prompt.

Discussion Analytics

Launched last year, the discussion analytics app is especially useful for online courses. It allows faculty to get a high-level view of discussion participation in a course with per-user statistics (post count, word count, and reading level) as well as course-level natural language processing data (keywords, locations, and organizations mentioned).

All four apps in the Northwestern app store are free and easy for any faculty to add to any course! If you’d like to chat about the best way to incorporate these apps into your course, please contact Instructional Technologist Jackie Wickham.

Exclude Assignments from Final Grade

Have you ever wanted to provide feedback to your students, but not have the assignment count towards the final grade? Now you can easily check one box in the Assignment Settings – “Do not count this assignment towards the final grade.” This will allow you to assign points and feedback to the student, but the assignment won’t be included in final grade calculations. Alerts will appear for the student on the assignment page to let them know.

PDF Annotations for Assignments

Canvas’ mobile app now includes the ability for students to annotate PDFs and submit them as assignments. Students can add text or free write on a PDF provided by the instructor and submit it as an assignment.

How to annotate PDFs on iOS

How to annotate PDFs on Android

Stay tuned to our blog and Northwestern’s Digital Learning website for more updates on Canvas, and contact an instructional technologist if you have questions about incorporating these updates into your course!

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