InstructureCon 2017

Between the 25 - 27 July 2017, three members of the Canvas Project Team (Hannah Cooper, Gareth Kirk and Paul Towers) attended and presented at InstructureCon 2017. Their presentation was on 'Using Canvas to Change the University', a recording of which can be found below:

The Canvas Project Team created a short video to include in their presentation (below), following a series of positive meetings with several early adopter staff and students about their experience of Canvas. Hopefully their enthusiasm inspired others as much as it inspired us.

They will be using this space to document their findings from the conference.

Day 1 Summary

We don’t fail, we just find different ways of not getting it right.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

by Paul Towers

... like wearing flip flops and shorts in a muddy field while getting wet - but more on that later.

First day of the conference was filled with exploring, networking and inspiring presentations from Instructure elite. The first session was aimed at us, the international peeps who have travelled thousands of miles to be in this beautiful setting. Mitch Macfarlane outlined how collaborations can really inspire innovations - one of InstructureCon’s key messages.

Then it was time to have an explore in the beautiful Colorado sunshine. I spoke to wonderful staff about the use of Canvas Community, visited the Canvas mobile stand to discuss the new teacher app (which was also released today), met with amazing educational designers from Texas, San Francisco, Arizona and of course our own wonderful colleagues from Birmingham University, Hull University and Hertfordshire University.

Before we went in to the first Keynote of the conference (headed by Josh Coates) we jumped into a pedalo to explore the lake (thankfully no one fell in).

Arriving at the Keynote meant seeing the full scale of this conference. The place was packed! Once we grabbed our seats, on comes Special Agent Anderson to talk us through the important training missions we must conduct while at the 3 day event (if you haven’t guessed, the Conference had a James Bond spy theme).

Next up was an amazing entrance from Mitch Macfarlane. Gliding through the air from the ceiling like some sort of ‘Mission Impossible’ style operation - this is no ordinary Educational conference. Mitch gave an inspiring presentation that included stories of hard work and determination to help others. One story was of Eddie Aikau, the very first life guard stationed at Honolulu. Eddie was a surfer who would risk his life to rescue others, saving over 500 people in his short career. Eddie would pull people out of the waves, that many people would dare to go. He became legend and the phase ‘Eddie Would Go’ is known across the world.

After that Josh Coates the CEO of Instructure appeared (he casually walked on stage) gave a humorous presentation about goals and the path to success. He outlined that people need a ‘reference point’ to achieve the goals they wanted to succeed in, but the journey is never in a straight line. It’s filled with twist, turns and back tracks. He then interview Jewel (a musician who was big in America). She told her story of how she was homeless and shop lifting at a very young age, but managed to use mindfulness techniques to leave that life and become very successful. The interview was very much like a TedTalk with inspirational messages and quotes, as I said this is no ordinary educational conference.

Once the keynote was finished we went to get dinner in a field, while the heavens open. Which was a little odd and cold considering I was wearing shorts and flip flops (which still haven’t dried). But with the inspirational messages still ringing in my ears this wasn’t a mistake, it was something I just didn’t get right. Tomorrow night will be different.

We need to challenge the "norm" and not be afraid to make mistakes.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

by Gareth Kirk

Despite the jet lag (leading to 4 hours of interrupted sleep) the first day at the conference was like no other I have ever been to. On past experiences, many "vendor conferences" end up in institutions complaining to software providers about what has gone wrong in the last year and how they should improve. InstructureCon is not like that…it is about sharing the best practice, networking and all learning from each other. Instructure see themselves as learning from their users to drive forward rather than dictating how learning and teaching should happen.

The day started with an "International meet" which is where all institutions from outside the US met. The main focus of the session was about networking with other institutions and Instructure staff. There were presentations from Mitch Macfarlane (COO) and Mindy Hintze (Director of Product Engagement), amongst others. The key message coming from these were that innovation is only possible through collaboration and taking risks.

Josh Coates Keynote

The keynote later that day was like no other! First Mitch comes in on wires to start the keynote off! The main keynote was delivered by Josh Coates (CEO) with key messages such as "Something is seriously wrong with the education system when the most common adult nightmare is that you're still in school" and "Everything happens for a reason sometimes that reason is you're stupid and make bad choices". In other words we need to challenge the "norm" and not be afraid to make mistakes.

I almost forgot, there is also lots of free SWAG (Spy Whatchamacallits And Gizmos).

Don't underestimate the power of mindfulness and personal responsibility.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

by Hannah Cooper

Day 1 at InstructureCon started with a session on how to get the most out of the conference, which essentially boiled down to stay healthy and network. For those of you who don't know, this year’s InstructureCon is located in Keystone which is over 9,000ft above sea level, so it is very important to drink lots of water, wear sunscreen and rest when you can. However, while you can do all of these, there are some things out of your control … like getting bitten by some angry insects when you are highly allergic to them. Yes, it happened and I had a lovely visit from the medic. Luckily, I generally see the funny side of these things so some antihistamines, antiseptic numbing spray and a bandage later, I was back on my way.

Today was a pre-conference day with a focus on networking and as international attendees (this is the first time I've been classed as international – how exciting!) we had our very own pre-conference session. We were joined by people from all over the world including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Europe, just to name a few. We were also joined by colleagues slightly closer to home including the University of Birmingham, University of Hertfordshire and University of Hull.

The international pre-conference session was kicked off by Heather Kane (Managing Director, International Markets) who was Instructure's eighth employee. She spoke of how the company has grown and gave us an insight into what it's like to work at Instructure, including how the teams work together – describing her colleagues as being like her siblings (I understand that!). We were then introduced to Mitch Macfarlane (Chief Operating Officer) who did a lovely presentation about the 'World’s Greatest Inventions' and how influential they have been. Just in case you're curious, the printing press (1430) made the top spot. We were also introduced to Mindy Hintz (Director, Product Engagement) who told us a bit about her journey, Rich Hanson (Senior Director, International Customer Success) who reminded us who our Customer Success Managers were and Paul Hao (Director, International Product Management) who showed us the Canvas development lifecycle.

One thing that came out quite clearly from the session is that the 'international market' have different needs to the USA and that Instructure not only understand that but are actively trying to meet those needs.

With the pre-conference sessions complete, it was time for the opening keynote by Josh Coates (Chief Executive Officer). I can tell you now that I have never experienced a keynote like it and it's given me an insight into how the next two days are going to go!

I have attended several education conferences and I have genuinely seen people fall asleep during the keynote, but I have never attended a conference where the COO enters the stage on a zip wire. Yes, you read that correctly. Mitch Macfarlane made his second appearance of the day to introduce Josh Coates's keynote … on a zip wire. Before Josh came on stage, Mitch gave an inspiring presentation about helping others and the knock-on effect that can have on people's lives.

The keynote was all about goals and how you achieve them, including the mistakes that are made along the way. I don't know if it's because Josh put a humorous spin on his presentation, but he managed to highlight all of the positives that come out of making mistakes and encouraged people to make them in order to learn from them – basically, we all make bad decisions sometimes but it's how we move forward after making them.

Prepared for Monsoon Season

After his presentation, Josh invited Jewel onto the stage for a Q&A. I'll be honest, I'd never heard of Jewel, but now I don't think I'll forget her – not because of her music (still don't know any of her songs) but because of her journey. She talked about how mindfulness and taking personal responsibility for herself and her life, changed her life. She went from being homeless and shoplifting to who she is today by reminding herself that "you shouldn't expect anything off anyone, you're responsible for your choices and direction". It's a wonderful reminder that with determination and the right attitude, anyone can achieve anything they want.

Day 2 Summary

Don’t be afraid to choose, don’t be afraid to create and don’t be afraid to lead, Mr Bond!

Wednesday 26 July 2017

By Paul Towers

After the first decent night’s sleep since arriving in America (jet lag and a bit of excitement) I was ready and waiting for today’s pack agenda.

The morning started with a man in full scuba gear (he’d been battling sharks with lasers on their heads in the pond!!!). He introduced the first keynote of the day. A truly inspirational presentation from Sheena S. Lyengar – The Art of Choice. My colleagues will articulate the presentation far better than myself, but for me it outlined that fate, chance and choice are all a part of our journey, but it’s choice that defines our direction and can drastically effect the other two. She added a powerful quote from Henri Poincaré:

"Invention consists in avoiding the constructing of useless combinations and in constructing the useful combinations, which are in infinite minority. To invent is to discern, to choose" – Henri Poincaré

Which comes down to, "to choose is to invent", which I think is something we do consistently in education.

Sheena ended the keynote by saying, "don’t be afraid to choose, don’t be afraid to create and don’t be afraid to lead", which is message that I’m certainly going to try to incorporate more in my day to day life.

After the keynote it was time to go into the break out session. My first of the morning was to see ‘Building Culture: Adjunct Faculty Success and Connection’ by Olivet Nazarene University. After having Canvas for only one year they incorporated a robust and effective training life cycle, that includes a 6 week how to teach online course, mentoring, monitoring assessment and review process. It was compulsory for all staff and I found some of their techniques really interesting. There were certainly areas that our own university could adopt and deliver. I contacted the presenters and we agreed to Skype or meet up virtually after the conference.

The second of my morning sessions was ‘Canvas Conferences Goes Mobile’ presented by the Product Manager of BigBlueButton. It was really interesting to see some of the key features that conferences and BigBlueButton have to offer. As we at the university have the free tier version we can have up to 100 people in one conference and anywhere up to 21 webcams.

Additional features that are coming soon:

  • You can automatically create polls if the content looks like a poll question in your presentation
  • Multi-user whiteboard
  • Shared notes
  • Desktop sharing with no need for a JAVA plug in
  • User Interface refresh

Features that will be added by the end of 2017/start of 2018 are:

  • Mobile client by the end of this year/start of 2018
  • Polling on the mobile client
  • There will be no two-way video on mobile for the first release, however, through phases they will start to build that experience

Then it was time for lunch. Thankfully the rain held off as the lunch area is in a giant tent in the middle of a field. The views are still stunning.

The midday keynote was headed up by Mitch Benson who had a T-Shirt Cannon, which was rather powerful and a little dangerous (I was a little unsure if my insurance would cover me being hit by a t-shirt at 80mph). Mitch gave an update on some of the advancement they have made over the last 12 months with Canvas. He then laid out some of the areas and features that are on the road map for the next 12 months. Some of the features that are coming or have arrived are:

  • Blueprint courses: a great way to template a course and share that structure content with other courses
  • Student dashboard (to be released): students get the chance to use the To Do list as a dashboard rather than using the tiles
  • Doc viewer: this has changed from the 3rd party application to Canvas’s own doc viewer and it’s only going to get better
  • Teacher App: launched today at the conference, teachers can add and edit some elements of their modules and courses
  • Gradebook enhancements (to be released): background and front end refresh will help academics work through gradebook more effectively
  • Quizzes (to be released): huge amounts of work have gone into quizzes such as mobile versions and a new UI. I’m heading to a session tomorrow to find out more

Some very impressive features are coming. It wasn’t over once Mitch was finished. Jason Sparks – Senior Product Manager entered the stage and showed the brand-new Gauge. A new system that would help with assessments/testing taken on Canvas. I was really interested in this and I was very surprised in its capability. It could really change the way we deliver and report on exams/tests in the university. I’m hoping to investigate more in the coming days to find out how it could really help the university.

It was now time to take in the sites, grab a coffee and relax a little before our own session started at 5pm. We were in a tough group of presenters and due to cancelations, we were up against a session that explored the new Quizzes functionality and the new Course Blueprint functionality. But we had a good audience and people started entering the ’10-mile room’ where we are presenting.

The presentation went amazingly well and we got some wonderful feedback and comments at the end. I spoke to two colleagues from different universities as they were at similar stages to ourselves. We agreed we would stay in contact and share with them more details of our incredible journey.

Now that are presentation was out of the way we could relax…. breath…. and enjoy the ‘Casino Royale’ night down at Mountain House. Situated in front of some amazing scenery we enjoyed the international tapas tents dotted around and tried some of Martini’s….. shaken not stirred. We enjoyed the company of fellow Canvas users from across the world, including some wonderful colleagues from Birmingham, Hull and Hertfordshire Universities. It was an amazing night to end an amazing day…. after a fairly amazing presentation from ourselves (if I do say so myself). I think we should all be proud of our achievements within the project and the hard work we’ve all put in.

Thanks for reading – I’m heading back to get another Martini… I’ve always wanted to be James Bond!

To get the most from choice, be choosey about choosing.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

By Hannah Cooper

After waking up at 4am (thank you jet lag), I was slightly tired but ready for day 2 – presentation day. I was pretty hungry by the time breakfast came around, so I headed off to Decatur Field to refuel. What better way to start the day than meeting new people at communal tables in a big tent in the middle of a field with delicious food and the most beautiful views of the mountains.

A breakfast burrito later, it was time for the first keynote of the day by Sheena S. Iyengar on 'The Art of Choosing'. What an amazing and inspirational keynote it was! I'd definitely recommend that everyone watch the recording once it becomes available. Sheena talked about how fate, chance and choice are all part of life but that choice is the only tool within our control. You might be 'born that way' or be 'in the right place at the right time' but ultimately who you are, where you are and where you want to be is down to making a decision – a choice. This really touched home because quite often I think I've just been lucky in life, when in actual fact I am who I am and where I am because of the choices I've made. I know it shouldn't have to take a keynote to remind me of that but I feel a lot of us forget that sometimes and it's important not to.

Sheena also talked about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and how in education we shouldn't look at students by their gender or grades but by their mindset.

Finally, she talked about the importance of setting goals, reviewing those goals and sharing them with a trusted other. She presented a study which showed that coworkers are great for emotional support but that 'dormant ties', e.g. those not within your immediate network, are better at providing advise. We all left the keynote tasked with writing a daily progress journal and every 6 months thinking about, planning and sharing where we want to be in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years from that date. I'll try, Sheena!

After the keynote, I'll be honest, I headed in the wrong direction and got a little lost (the conference center is huge, so I'm letting myself off). On the bright side, it meant that I ended up at the P.A.L.S tent. I had a great discussion with the lovely people from Badgr before heading off to my (now) first session of the day.

Kona Jones Recommendations

'No Need to Blame Canvas' by Kona Jones, Director of Online Learning at Richland Community College who have had Canvas since 2012. Kona shared some of the issues that their students and staff have faced and how they overcame them. I could relate to a lot of them and felt comforted that 1. we are not alone and 2. we are dealing with them. Something I thought was great was the "10 minute rule" that she has tried to instill in the students and staff, which is to give themselves at least 10 minutes to figure out what it is they are trying to do (using the Canvas Guides if necessary) before contacting Canvas Support. She also shared some really useful tips and tricks which she is kindly going to share on the Canvas Community after the conference.

The afternoon began with the second keynote of the day by Mitch Benson (Vice President of Product Management). He talked about the importance of Canvas users' in the development of Canvas and how they decide the majority of their roadmap based on feedback from the Canvas Community – I love Instructure's approach. He then gave a recap of what they have delivered in the last year, compared to what they said they would deliver. The keynote ended with Mitch revealing what they have planned for the next 12 months, which includes blueprint courses, a student dashboard, teacher mobile app, gradebook enhancements and data enhancements. All very exciting!

Next up was a special announcement by Jason Sparks (Senior Product Manager) who launched Gauge, Instructure's new assessment management system. At first glance, it looks very impressively. I saw Paul's eyes light up a little during the demonstration, so I'm pretty sure this is something he will investigate further.

My next session was 'Student Engagement and Community Building Through Online Academic Advising' by Rebekah Grow, Online Program Coordinator at University of Utah College of Social & Behavioral Science. Rebekah started the session by outlining the problem they were facing, "how can advisors help students on online, face-to-face and blended courses?". She then went on to provide the solution, "meet the students where they are at" (physically, academically, emotionally), which they did using a combination of software, including Canvas, Cranium Café and Qualtrics. They created a Canvas course which housed support information, gave students the ability to book online walk-in sessions and provided a space for students to communicate with each other. She spoke of how mentoring, community building and discussions between students started without any push – all they did was provide the platform. Towards the end of the session there was an interesting discussion about the purpose of the course vs. the University website, which in summary concluded that the website is to get students to the institution and the course is to retain them. Last year we introduced 'myWLV' (Student Portal) which provides students with access to University systems and information, but it doesn't provide them with a space to communicate. Food for thought. You can find out more at

Before I knew it, it was time for our presentation! We headed up to the 'Ten Mile' room to set up and anxiously await our crowd. We were up against some tough competition so I was extremely grateful when people turned up.

Throughout the whole presentation I was filled with adrenaline, nerves and excitement. I love public speaking but I tend to find that no matter whether I've rehearsed what I'm going to say a hundred times or not at all, after I've finished, I can't remember what I said. This time was no different! Although I can't speak from myself, I can tell you that my colleagues did an amazing job and made me very proud. After the presentation we were approached by other institutions, companies and Instructure colleagues. However, I want to give a special mention to Ritch, who was there to help us set up our presentation. He told me that he was going to leave after he knew everything was up and running but enjoyed our presentation so much that he stayed until the end. Thank you, Ritch, you made my day!

You'd think after such a jam-packed day that all I'd want to do is sleep (which is partly true) but instead we headed back to the condo to get ready for the black tie 'Casino Royale' event. It was a great evening of international food, networking and martinis – shaken, not stirred – but also so strong they could probably fuel a car, so needless to say my first sip was my last sip.