The Canvas API and its compatibility with open standards like LTI and Common Cartridge work together as the ultimate set of interoperable tinker toys for learning.
The trick is that not all integrations are created equal. Some tools integrate by creating a single sign-on connection and passing users to an outside site, while others create a seamless experience within the Canvas interface. So, before plugging your favourite digital content into Canvas, consider these five questions to help ensure that you and your students have the best possible user experience.
1. How do users get an account?
Account setup will dramatically impact the amount of time your team will commit to making an integration work on an ongoing basis. Find out whether a school representative will need to log in to the vendor’s admin area in order to create users. Or will your IT department have to send nightly user CSV files to the vendor’s system? And does the vendor’s integration do something called provisioning, which creates users on the fly as they log in for the first time from Canvas? A tool that doesn’t require users to log in or that offers provisioning will create the best user experience and the least amount of work for you.
2. How do users access integrated resources?
Answering this question (and related sub-questions) will help you understand how students will interact with external content inside Canvas. Does the content require an access code, a student-specific login, or no login at all? Where will users access content (i.e., within Modules, Pages, Assignments, or from the Course Navigation menu)?
3. How do teachers grade student submissions?
Once your students use the integrated tool to do their amazing work, what happens? Will their work be saved within the external system? And will teachers have to log in to a separate teacher dashboard to grade that work? In the best-case scenario, teachers will have the ability to grade work within Canvas or have the work they graded in the external system pass grades back seamlessly to the Canvas gradebook. A system that leaves student work and grades outside Canvas will create a more disjointed student experience and more work for teachers.
4. Where does the content live?
Knowing where the content lives is important because it impacts your users’ experience and also impacts how much work your team will have to do in order to integrate new and existing content. Many textbook vendors are moving toward a thin Common Cartridge approach (a combination of Common Cartridge and LTI), which allows for clean integration, access control, and easily-updatable resources. So, be sure to answer the following sub-questions.
Will the content be delivered as a Common Cartridge package that will be imported and remain inside Canvas just like you made it yourself?
Will the content be accessed through an LTI tool from the App Center or with some custom configuration that lets you pick and add content to Modules, Pages, Assignments, or create a sidebar navigation item?
Will those added items appear as learning objects within a page? An embedded iFrame of content? A clickable link to an external website?
Will it be thin Common Cartridge? In this scenario, vendors will deliver a Common Cartridge package full of LTI links to the Modules area, and an installed LTI tool will help make those links work inside Canvas.
5. Can I see/try a demo?
Seeing is believing. Because so many vendors integrate in so many different ways, it’s important for you to see how it works in Canvas before you sign on the dotted line to ensure the level of integration meets your expectations.
Answering these questions as you meet with vendors, you can work together to make sure your integrations actually make teaching and learning easier. Be sure to involve the Instructure integrations team, too. They can provide valuable tips to help make integrations successful.
Michelle Lattke, Canvassador