Making sure students stay informed

At Temple, our LMS (learning management system) is Canvas; it’s pretty good–and certainly better than some I’ve been forced to use in the past (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle… ugh). It’s proven robust enough to facilitate most of the things I want to do with my courses, especially during lockdown, but there’s one element that still gives me pause… announcements.

Specifically, I am always concerned that students may miss important announcements.

This is because Canvas’ notification settings are… arcane, to use a polite word. For one thing, you can’t set notifications for individual courses; it’s either “on” or “off” for everything you use Canvas for.

Canvas notifications settings screen

I’ve fiddled and futzed with these controls occasionally over a period of years, and I can’t say that I’ve ever truly been satisfied with any permutation–mainly because of that one limitation that I already mentioned (i.e., there is no course-level control).

And I’m sure that the vast majority of students, who are typically averse to getting email broadly and generally, don’t turn on notifications; in fact, many students don’t even know that Canvas has notifications (indeed, it can even send SMS notifications).

So what is a professor to do when there’s something important that students need to know about? My approach: use both. It’s an imperfect solution, but (1) some students do regularly check their email accounts, and (2) most students seem to religiously check the Canvas “to-do list,” and new announcements do pop up there.

Generally speaking what I will do is to first craft my announcement in the Canvas rich text editor, adding links, etc., and then posting it, which will give me a “permalink” URL.

Screen shot of URL assigned by Canvas
Permalink URL for the announcement generated by Canvas. Does anyone else find it odd that Canvas utilizes its discussion forum functionality in a slightly modified format for announcements?

I’ll then immediately click back into the editor and copy the body of the announcement, since I find that this preserves any formatting that I have included, and will paste it into a new email (we use the Google suite of products at Temple), but I add a couple of lines at the top of the message and add a simple extra “header” like so:

[X-posted to Canvas]

I’ll then grab that permalink, add it to the email, and send it out.

It’s not a perfect system, to be sure–in fact, it would be really nice if Canvas would let instructors override students’ email preferences to send these things out–but at the very least, I end up feeling better that I’ve covered my bases as best I can to keep students in the loop.

Do any of you have other techniques that you favor?