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Posted by in Annotate PRO News

A Biased Comparison: Canvas Comment Libraries and Annotate PRO

We deeply appreciate Canvas – for the competition they bring to the LMS space, for their wonderful APIs, the community they’ve created and their generous partnership program.

Canvas has always cared about learning and clients vs. (for instance) suing competitors over who invented the word “learning”.

But a little friendly competition is a good thing. When we heard Canvas was readying “Comment Libraries” for SpeedGrader, to be released in June 2021, we were of course deeply interested. We’ve invested a lot of time making Annotate PRO (AP) the leading platform for creating, sharing and using libraries of expert feedback to improve learner engagement and grading efficiency in Canvas, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Gmail, Outlook – almost anywhere you can type. We have individual users and institutional clients around the world who use  AP with Canvas and will, of course, continue to evaluate their options to achieve their goals.

It is inevitable that the LMS platforms will get better in this important space. The first request to Canvas for “reusable comments”  was way back in 2012 – partly inspired by teachers leaving Angel, a 2000s-era LMS that had a similar feature.

Google Classroom added a rudimentary reusable library feature to Google Docs maybe 2 years ago. We still have thousands of Google Classroom teachers using Annotate PRO and tend to think of basic features from bigger platforms as training wheels for AP.

As educators and software designers we’d hoped Canvas would integrate a basic comment library idea simply, but elegantly, across the teaching experience.

Probably sharing wouldn’t be included, at least at first, although tying comment libraries to blueprint courses would be an obvious step.

Our initial thoughts on Canvas’ “Comment Library” feature?

Kind of underwhelming. Canvas comment libraries:

  • Only work in SpeedGrader overall comments. Not margin comments on documents (which is what users really want).
  • Can’t be used anywhere else in Canvas – not in discussion responses or even rubric feedback. Rubrics have their own, isolated, reusable comment feature that only works in “free-form” rubric mode.
  • Can’t be shared with colleagues.
  • Can’t be organized into specific libraries or groups of comments within a library.
  • Can’t be searched.
  • Don’t surface any analytics.
  • Can’t be imported or exported.

The new Canvas feature may be super useful for those few things you’re going to say to students in overall comments. We’re assuming it works with Canvas’ SpeedGrader iOS app…which is a big deal for those who love that solution.

But this implementation of comment libraries won’t help with adding margin comments to documents calling out the rules of MLA or deep feedback on the use of evidence. The feature won’t help speed up responses to discussion posts (outside of SpeedGrader). Schools can’t help model great feedback by sharing libraries of expert feedback across programs or school districts. Educators can’t choose from pre-written libraries of expert content like our College Edition, Legal Writing Edition, School Resources Edition or Motivation Station Edition libraries (with more on the way).

Annotate PRO has superpowers in Canvas SpeedGrader that Canvas will probably never match. AP can (optionally – you have to have a premium or institutional license and opt in to the feature) save ALL the feedback you create in SpeedGrader and map it to the course, assignment and student. We just had an early high school client teach AP English to graduating seniors and their teachers were able to see all the feedback they created when those students were freshman.

We’re confident we can continue to add significant value over and above Canvas’ new feature. We hope many educators try the feature and then want more…and that Canvas iterates based on customer feedback.

Since a powerful version of AP is free to individual educators – offering far more functionality than Canvas’ new capability – there’s no downside to exploring our version of a solve for the problems Canvas comment libraries are trying to solve. Individuals can choose to license advanced features and content. Institutions can use AP to share libraries of expert feedback and dig deep into the mysteries of feedback and student learning.

We’ve put together a comparison table and also a screenshot of the new Canvas feature below. We’ve included instructions on how you can try it yourself in the Canvas beta environment (your institution may have the feature turned OFF in the beta…but probably not). Enjoy!

Notice the little comment icon just above the “Add a comment” overall comments text entry area. In the screenshot at right it has a ‘2’ next to it – indicating 2 comments available in the comment library.

Clicking it opens up a panel that displays a list of  available comments. It’s easy to add new ones. It doesn’t seem possible to sort the comments though.

To try the feature yourself try putting ‘beta’ in your normal Canvas URL:

Log in with your usual credentials. You should see a version of your normal Canvas experience – courses etc. Remember this is just a sandbox – students can’t access it and the data is cleared out regularly.

Canvas Comment Libraries