ITS T&L, DUX, DISC teams partner to redesign crucial Canvas app

A collage of two screengrabs - one shows the old Canvas Course Manager app and the other shows the redesigned one. The U-M Canvas logo is in the upper right corner.
(Screengrabs from Pushyami Gundala, ITS Teaching & Learning. Graphic by Rachael Wojciechowski, ITS Communications)

The Canvas Learning Management System has been a vital educational tool at the University of Michigan since its initial rollout in 2014. Since that time, faculty members’ and course administrators’ technology needs have changed significantly as they interact with the Canvas system. ITS created the Canvas Course Manager (CCM) in 2016 to help U-M instructors, designers, TAs, and administrators perform some Canvas course management tasks quickly and easily. It was also built using Java’s legacy components and workflows which no longer meet the needs of faculty and administrators. Enter the new and improved CCM application, released in April 2022.

ITS Teaching & Learning (T&L) took the challenge of improving the user experience while also bringing the CCM app up to current technology standards. From March 2021 to April 2022, they took an iterative approach to build the new app in collaboration with the ITS Digital User Experience (DUX) and ITS Data Innovation, Systems, and Cloud Services (DISC) teams. 

The new Canvas Course Manager is an add-on application in Canvas launched using the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, a 1EdTech standard for rich integration between platforms like Canvas and learning tools based on industry-best security protocols like OAuth2 and JSON Web Token. The CCM app from 2016 was built using legacy Java8 technology, and Cosign, an IAM service that is being deprecated. Today, CCM is built using NodeJS Stack which is a Javascript runtime engine. The app was written in Javascript because it’s the number one programming language learned across the globe and is highly adopted at other universities. The problems the new CCM solves are not unique to U-M. By creating the app as open source software, universities from around the world can collaborate together on future solutions. 

The CCM project team consulted with the ITS Accessibility team at the beginning of the project and at each project milestone. Their technical expertise and our knowledge of how to produce accessible applications meant that the end result is a complex web application that is equitable and that all of our community can use, including users with disabilities.

Gonzalo Silverio, ITS Digital Accessibility Analyst Lead, Information and Technology Services

The redesigned CCM app is fully accessible and meets ITS user experience (UX) standards. The app’s UX wireframes, a simplified outline of the app, went through a usability review with project stakeholders before and after it was built. The ITS DUX and Accessibility teams worked closely with the development team throughout the project, providing ad hoc solutions for challenges. The app also went through rigorous security testing from ITS Information and Infrastructure Assurance (IIA) to meet web security standards

Using the latest LTI 1.3 improves security, provides a better user experience, and adds new features to help teachers and admins manage course sites.

Melinda Kraft, Canvas Admin and Business Analyst Lead, Information and Technology Services

Another major improvement from the redesign of the CCM app is that it combines two tools into one: a standalone tool that caters to the ITS Service Center and an LTI tool for faculty and course administrators. All features from these two tools have been moved to the new CCM app in Canvas. This captures features that were not previously available in Canvas, including an improved self-service tool to merge course sections, an improved “Add Non-UM User” workflow, and the ability to add U-M users to sections using a .CSV with uniqnames instead of UMIDs. 

The project team worked together to learn from and overcome challenges such as learning how to build a tool entirely in Javascript. The team was quick to adapt to working on the CCM redesign in the midst of a global pandemic and was able to launch the new CCM app to a positive response.

I learned a ton while working on Canvas Course Manager — both because our team had the freedom to experiment with new (to us) technologies like NodeJS, Express, and TypeScript while building an application from the ground up, and because we had opportunities to collaborate closely with other ITS teams with expertise in user experience, accessibility, and security.

Sam Sciolla, Application Developer Senior, Information and Technology Services

If you have any questions about the Canvas Course Manager, please reach out to the ITS Service Center

Learn more about Canvas. 

Project Team:

  • Pushyami Gundala, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Janel Ilar, ITS DUX
  • Matthew Jones, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Melinda Kraft, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Zhen Qian, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Chris Rowland, ITS DISC
  • Samuel Sciolla, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Gonzalo Silverio, ITS DUX
  • Lance E. Sloan, ITS Teaching & Learning
  • Brandon Werner, ITS DUX