Update: Using Canvas to Navigate Student Absences
Computer, Pens, Notebook

Update: Using Canvas to Navigate Student Absences

By Christine Hood, OTL Instructional Designer

Updated January 2022 by Terri Johnson, Senior Faculty Developer

DU’s requirement that critical course materials be hosted on Canvas brings with it an exciting opportunity to decrease stress for both you and your students. The use of Canvas helps facilitate increased access to materials for all students, but also is particularly helpful in combatting the effects of unplanned absences. 

While students may seek permission for planned absences from your course for major life events or religious holidays as normal, the ongoing global pandemic raises the likelihood of longer-term, mandatory absences due to illness or exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

Although DU has many policies outlining classroom behavior and excused absences for COVID, how you navigate student absences pertaining to your course content is unique to you and your students, your expertise, and your pedagogical approach. In some extenuating circumstances such as those impacting immunocompromised students, some may qualify for formal student accommodations from the Disability Services Program (DSP) Please ensure that students needing accommodation contact DSP first.

Here are some options for getting absent students caught up with course content. 

Share Accessible Recordings with All Students

You could record the whole class, or just the lecture portion; it’s up to you! Giving all students access is helpful whether they are absent or not.  

Instructors noted that students who attended every course (synchronously or in-person) are still accessing the recorded lecture materials (CU, 2021). The benefits of recorded lectures include the ability for students to engage with recordings for clarification and assessement preparations as well as additional note-taking. What’s more, with the ability to add closed-captions or create a transcript, recording lectures also makes the content more inclusive.  

A recorded lecture also creates opportunities for differentiated instruction. It can be difficult for students to stay completely focused for the entire lecture, so being able to re-watch or re-listen to the content when students can allocate more focus is especially beneficial.  

Recordings further benefit students who are not native English speakers (Mckie, 2019). They can engage with the material with captions, pause when something did not translate, or even slow the speed down! A great Universal Design for Learning (UDL) tip is to enable live Zoom closed captioning for your students. For Zoom sessions uploaded to Kaltura, editing closed captions is user friendly and easy. This provides accessibility to students regardless of modality. 

To record the class, you could use the webcam on your computer, or the classroom computer. To get you started, you can fill out the Classroom Meet & Greet form to have Digital Media Services come help with your tech. If you need to borrow a camera or sound recording equipment, Digital Media Services can lend you what you need. 

At the University of Denver, we protect the intellectual property of all our faculty, including recorded videos. To this end, students may not reproduce or distribute any of the recorded content. Students who violate this policy will be reported to The Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities and may be subject to both legal disciplinary action. The OTL has a full syllabus statement on intellectual property. However, students with approved recording accommodations from Disability Services Program may record classroom lectures as long as they have a signed Audio Recording Memorandum of Understanding

Share Assignments, Discussions, and Course Materials in Canvas

To plan proactively for absences, offer your assignments, discussions, and course materials such as lecture notes and presentations on Canvas, even if there is an in-person component. You may want to ask other students in the course to collect and share notes. If artifacts were created in class (for example, a group brainstorming board) consider taking photos and sharing on Canvas.

These options can help keep students accountable for content missed during an absence. It also allows for different forms of engagement for all of your students. Educational technology like FlipGrid and Perusall provide options for different types of interaction with students whether they are in-person or online.

Plan for Exams and Accommodations

To plan proactively for absences, you can offer exams on Canvas, even if you have students take it in-person at the prescheduled time. Transitioning the exam to the online Canvas format can take many different forms.  

You can moderate exams on Canvas to change due dates, add extra time, and add extra attempts per student. Canvas quizzes also have the option for different question styles, such as multiple-choice, fill in the blank, true-false, fill-in-multiple-blanks, multiple answers, drop-down, matching, numerical, formulas, or even a file upload. Canvas can also enable question shuffling and draw from question groups to help safeguard against sharing answers.  

If the exam is an essay or a project turned in as a PDF or Word Document, you can have students submit via Canvas. You will then be able to provide feedback through SpeedGrader.

An additional exam type might be a presentation; if that is the case, then a professor can create a Zoom link on Canvas and have that person either present synchronously, or record their portion, depending on their absence.

If you are hesitant to transition the exam online, consider exploring Respondus Lockdown Browser or Respondus Monitor to help limit potential academic dishonesty situations. Respondus Monitor does have some important drawbacks and limitations, though, so please make sure you review the OTL’s blog on the inclusive use of proctoring technology

If you need help setting up any of these alternative options for participation and accountability, please reach out to the OTL either by setting up 1:1 time with an OTL Instructional Designer or contacting us at otl@du.edu. Additional resources can be found in the Educational Technology Knowledge Base. We are here to support you over the entire lifecycle of your course!