The instructional designers at Ecampus held a Research & Development Day recently to explore the topic of user experience (UX) design as it applies to Ecampus courses. As part of that day, fellow instructional designer, Dorothy Loftin and I explored how Canvas functions when used on Mobile Devices. Below are some findings from our testing.

Generally, we found that iPads work great as long as a student accesses the course through a browser. It was using the Canvas App (necessary on a smart phone) that presented changes and challenges in functionality. The good news is that many of these can be addressed with a few additions in course design. These additions should not significantly alter the experience for students who are using desktop and laptop computers. Today, I will present one of those strategies.

The most significant impact we experienced in using the Canvas App is navigation, how a student gets to content, activities and assessments. It can take quite a few clicks or taps to get to a specific page in Canvas using the mobile app, or to get from one page to another, and the navigation can vary depending on the device used. This may negatively impact the student user experience, distract, and generally increase cognitive load.

Navigation Strategy

One strategy to improve navigation is to provide alternate links for students to jump to commonly needed items in your course. Turns out, this can also benefit students who are on desktops or laptops.

The Home Page that I often use is immediately available for users on all devices. I have added links and buttons so students can jump directly to important sections of the course from here. This turns the Home Page into more of a landing page with quick links.

Page View in Desktop Browser Page View on iPhone
Desktop browser screen grab iPhone Screen Grab

The buttons take a student to the Module Page for a particular week. Module Pages, on the App, present students with links to all content and activities for that week. I limited the buttons to 3-across to make clicking them on a phone easier. As you probably notice, the App translates buttons into links. So, simply providing a list of text links would also work on multiple devices.

This Strategy to improve navigation can be used on any page where you want a student to be able to move quickly to new material, reducing frustration and cognitive load by making the navigational journey more immediate.

How to do it yourself resources:

By Christopher Lindberg

Do you ever wonder where your students go once they log into an online course? John Whitmer (Blackboard analytics, blog link) and Kevin Reeve (instructor and director of Teaching and Learning Technologies at Utah State University, Canvas Analytics video link) did some hard work to seek answers to this question. Kevin presented his team’s preliminary results at Online Learning Consortium conference in Nov. 2016. Some of the findings were obvious, some not so.

My question is: what can we do with this information? How can we use this learning analytics to guide our course design practices as online instructors and online instructional designers?

Here is a summary of Kevin’s report and my ideas of course design based on learning analytics of students’ course visiting behavior patterns:

Student course visit behavior Observations from Canvas learning analytics: Course Design Ideas:
Students’ first visits to online courses may be exploratory.

activitiesannouncementdqtodoviewcalendar

Use announcements to connect with students before course start and during course session; Create navigation tutorial video to guide students; Design course homepage, Start Here module, and syllabus for easy navigation and communicate important information with clear instructions.
Some students visit “Grades” early on to view the weighting of grades and other details Have an accurate grade book available from day 1
Some students visit assignments first Put link to learning module, or related learning materials, learning outcomes, instructions etc. in each assignment.
Many visits to course do not start with homepage Design your course homepage to be attractive and put information that students care to read there; Direct student attention to course homepage if you intend to put important information on homepage, otherwise do not overly rely on homepage.
To do list is driving students entry points once course starts. Enter due dates for graded assignments so the assignments will appear on the calendar and to do list.
Syllabus is being missed by some students during the first few visits Make syllabus prominently visible and accessible.

In the same time, put important information from syllabus in multiple places such as course home page, Start Here module, and first assignment directions, in case students visit assignments directly.

If you have ideas for Canvas course design based on the above observations or your own observations of online students course visit behavior patterns, feel free to share with us

Happy Holidays!