Archives for June 2018

GaTech Roster Tool

In Fall 2017, Georgia Tech officially started using Canvas for academic courses. One of the first customizations the Digital Learning Team (DLT) built is the GaTech Roster tool. Faculty use this tool to view students’ BuzzCard photos (which helps instructional teams learn their students’ names), export lists of student data, search and filter students by section, and more.  
The DLT quickly built version one of the GaTech Roster tool in Canvas for our first group of users, and it’s been utilized throughout the past two semesters. The tool worked well, but there were some performance issues – particularly in large classes. We also received great feedback from Georgia Tech instructors and TAs about the tool. 
Our team is happy to announce that version two of the tool is now in production and available to all Georgia Tech courses in Canvas. The improvements include: 
  1. Performance improvements: You should notice your courses loading much faster now. Extremely large courses will still experience a slight lag, but your roster will begin appearing as the data becomes available (rather than waiting to display any data until all of it has loaded). 
  1. Confidential student indicators: If any of your students have requested confidential status, they will be indicated as such in your roster. This indicator will also provide a link to Georgia Tech’s policy on student confidentiality. 
  1. Section filters: Faculty can now filter students by section (both in “Table” and “Photo Grid” views). This should greatly improve utility for large, cross-listed courses. 
  1. Printable photo grid: The photo grid can now be printed without splitting a student’s photo across page breaks. 
  1. New pagination options: New pagination options make it possible to view all students on one screen or split into groups of students per screen. 
Please continue to provide feedback to our team via Your suggestions will enable us to continue improving your Canvas experience.  
Finally, a huge thank you to Emily Reese and Stuart Freeman, application developers in C21U. They’ve worked tirelessly to bring this tool to Georgia Tech instructors, and we hope that you find it useful.

A Georgia Tech Instructor Grades Canvas 

This summer I moved my course to Canvas and the jury is in – I can work with it!  I approached Canvas with the same skepticism with which I’ve approached many other learning management systems (LMS) in the past.  Part of the challenge that I have had with the design of various LMSs is that they are quite often not suited to the type of work that we do in humanities, specifically writing and communication classes.  I have to say that Canvas excels as a management tool, providing both instructor and student with an opportunity to manage class and individual activities as the course develops throughout the semester.

Here are some specific features that I like about Canvas:

      1. The Course Summary: on the Syllabus tool of your course site, Canvas automatically populates a summary of the course as you develop it.  For example, as I set up a new module or new assignment, students can see these activities at a glance.  I find this feature particularly useful as a reminder to me (and my students) as to what’s been posted, and more importantly, when it’s due (The Calendar tool is also a great way to see due dates). 
      2. The Attendance tool:  In 2015, Canvas listened to users who wanted the tool redesigned so that students could have access to their attendance records. I teach in a program at Georgia Tech that has an attendance policy, but the management of that policy has always been cumbersome and the dissemination of that information to students has always been problematic.  While not perfect (currently there are some new features that are on Canvas’s product radar for this tool), the attendance tool is certainly heading in the right direction.
      3. The People tool:  Again, when using Canvas as a management system, I like that I can see students’ activity in the course.  While not meant to be an indicator of student engagement with the course, I do like that I have a way of checking in with students based on their activity in Canvas.
      4. 24/7 help:  With Canvas, help is always available.  I appreciate that Georgia Tech has ensured that our community has access to technical support whenever we need it (click here find out more about online support options). And the best part? I haven’t had to use it yet.    Canvas is intuitive and easy to learn. As a former software trainer, I’ve never felt the need to go to formal training sessions in my pursuit of learning new software, so part of the litmus test for good software has always been how easy it is to learn.  I find Canvas to be very straight forward to navigate and learn.

Overall, I give Canvas a B+ as it displays great potential to improve!  The development environment is responsive: Canvas Studio encourages their users to tell them what they need. Once the idea is posted, other users vote on the idea, leading Canvas quite often to develop that feature for their users if there is sufficient interest (read more here about the  feature development process).


Dr. Halcyon Lawrence is a Marion L. Brittain Post-doctoral Fellow in the Writing and Communication Program at Georgia Tech and teaches courses in Technical Communication.  Halcyon has over twenty years of industry experience in technical writing, usability testing, and end-user training. Her research focuses on the design of speech technologies for underrepresented and marginalized communities. In the fall, Halcyon will be a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Technical Communication at Towson University in Maryland.