Checking your Canvas Course for Errors

Posted by & filed under Canvas.

[UPDATE: An updated and broader resource is at How to Fix and Prevent Accessibility Issues in Your Canvas Course]

We’ve learned in the Canvas pilot that sometimes students will notice issues with a Canvas course that weren’t visible to us when we built the course.  Links or images may be broken, for example, or an assignment may not be visible, or a page may be unreadable on mobile devices.

Canvas has some built-in tools you can use to check for these kinds of issues or errors and fix them before your course is open to students.  I recommend checking your Canvas course with the 4 tools listed below while you are building your course.  I also have some tips at the bottom for preventing some of these issues and errors from even popping up in the first place.

1. Course Link Validator

Especially when you are working on more than one course at a time, you might choose to copy and paste or share things between different courses.  This may cause links or images to break for students if they link back to a different course that you have access to but not the students.  Perhaps you imported an older course which has links that no longer work.  You might have accidentally linked to a page that you forgot to publish.  The Course Link Validator in Canvas will check for issues like these.  You can access it by going to your course Settings and then ‘Validate Links in Content.’  See How do I validate links in a course?

2. Student View

By default when you create and add things such as pages, quizzes, assignments, and discussions, they are not published.  That means students will not be able to see them, even though you can.  Modules with unpublished items are considered to be in a “Draft State.”  See How do I use Draft State in Assignments?

You may also set requirements and prerequisites or unlock dates for modules or availability dates for assignments that inadvertently block access for students at the wrong time.  Again, you will be able to see and access the modules and assignments just fine, but your students will not.

By going to your course Settings and then ‘Student View,’ you can test for these issues by viewing your course as a student.  See How do I view a course using a test student?

3. Canvas Mobile App

You’ve spent hours making your course look beautiful.  Lots of images, tables, videos, and other interactive features.  Hopefully early on in the process, however, you regularly check what your course looks like in the Canvas app for Android or iPhone/iPad.  You may be shocked to see that that table or image you used has made the rest of the page shrink down to unreadable levels.  Those image buttons that lined up so perfectly on your computer are all out of whack or barely visible in the app.  That Flash widget you added to a page does not even work on mobile devices, and that video may be so tiny as to be unwatchable.

Why should you care about how your course looks in the Canvas app?  At UCF, they found that around 80% of students use the Canvas app every week to access their courses.

So, install the Canvas app on your phone and check out your courses with it!  And see the tips below for some techniques to prevent these types of issues before they happen.

4. Accessibility Checker

The new accessibility checker in Canvas lets you check a page for common accessibility issues such as image alt tags, table headers, and color contrast.  See How do I use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor? and see this page for tips on addressing other accessibility issues, such as video captions, in Canvas: General Accessibility Design Guidelines.

Soon, Valencia College should have the Blackboard Ally tool installed, too, which can check your entire course for accessibility issues.

As an alternative or supplement to these tools, test out your course with a Screen Reader such as NVDA or Claro Read for Chrome or PC.  Officially supported screen readers for Canvas are listed on this page: Accessibility within Canvas

Reducing the Number of Errors before They Happen

  1. Modules – Use the modules page as the primary place where you build and organize your course.  Think of it as the table of contents, or outline or to-do list, for your course.  If you have a reading or assignment or quiz or discussion for a particular week or unit, add it to the module for that week or unit.  Don’t only link to your activities and resources within a page.  This way, everything associated with that week or unit will be more visible to you and your students.  You can see in a glance if something is not available or unpublished that shouldn’t be, or if a requirement was not set, and so forth.  See How do I add a module?  and How do I add assignment types, pages, and files as module items?
  2. Don’t Copy & Paste – from Blackboard or other sites into Canvas.  If you copy and paste something into Canvas, the text will copy over just fine (although it may mess up the text styles and fonts), but images will not copy over like they would when copying and pasting into a Word document.  Images have to be downloaded from the other site (right click on the image and choose ‘save image as’), and then you can upload and insert the image into Canvas.  Or an even better option is to export your course from Blackboard and import it into Canvas instead of copying and pasting, so that images and files and the like are copied over properly.
  3. Images – When inserting an image, always remember to set the alt text with a description of what is in the image, for screen readers.  If you want to embed a very large image, consider reducing its size using an image editor such as Pixlr first. See: How do I embed images from Canvas into the Rich Content Editor?
  4. Tables – When inserting a table, always set a header row and/or column in the table properties, for accessibility purposes and screen readers.  I would recommend never setting the width or height of the table to a fixed value.  Every time you drag to resize a table, it sets the table to a fixed width and doesn’t look good on mobile devices.  As an alternative, either keep the table width property empty, or set it to a percentage value like 100%.  I would recommend reducing the number of columns also if you use tables at all.  More than four columns become very small on a mobile device.  See this article for information about the different table properties you can set: How do I insert a table using the Rich Content Editor?  Go to ‘row properties’ to set a row as a header row.
  5. Text Color – If you ever change the color of text, also change the style to bold or a header, for accessibility purposes. See: How do I style text content in the Rich Content Editor?   If you change the text color and/or the background color of a table, check that the color contrast is sufficient using this Color Contrast Checker from WebAIM.
  6. Videos – When inserting videos, make sure there are captions (and ideally a transcript), and also check that in the Canvas app, the video plays full-screen, or at least that it is not so tiny as to be unwatchable.  You can use the ‘public resources’ tool, if available, to embed youtube or other videos. See: Embedding Content Using the Public Resources LTI   Otherwise if you paste in a Youtube link or use the chain link icon, see the ‘alt text for inline preview’ information also on this page: How do I link to a YouTube video in the Rich Content Editor?
  7. Flash – Just, don’t do it. Check that any widgets or interactive things you embed in your course do not use Flash.  Flash often will not work by default in most browsers and devices, and even Adobe, who makes Flash, is discontinuing it completely.  H5P is one alternative free tool for adding some interactivity to your course.  In the worst case, you can use a screencast tool such as Screencast-o-Matic or Screencastify, to record a video of the flash animation and share it via Youtube or the Kaltura (“My Media”) video server.

(This was originally posted on the Canvas Community site.  Feel free to share your own resources there, too!)

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