Academic Technology - Florida State College at Jacksonville

Academic Technology

The Power of SaaS: Canvas Release Cycle Explained!

EdTech, LMS, Faculty ContentRobyn Reese

If you are an avid follower of Canvas news (and who isn’t??), you may have heard the term SaaS (pronounced “sass”) thrown around to describe the system. What does SaaS mean?

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is a development method that is widely used for all kinds of software that can be accessed online only (as opposed to applications that live on your computer’s hard drive, like Microsoft Office or Apple Pages). When a system is online only, it allows developers to make almost-constant changes to it that can be deployed quickly and easily. Often the system’s users may not even notice the updates because the system does not need to be taken down in order to be changed. A great example of SaaS in action is the Google Doodle, the colorful graphic that often appears on Google’s homepage to commemorate a special event. Google is able to deploy the Doodle when they want to without affecting the functionality of Google’s search engine at all—the end user only experiences delight when they get to play a new game or see a cool graphic!

How Canvas “Does” SaaS

Because Canvas is SaaS, its development team can make changes to the base code of the system at any time. But, to keep things simple, they deploy code and new features on a regular schedule, using two types of release cycles: deploys and releases.

Deploys

Deploys are small batches of code that are designed to fix existing flaws in Canvas, such as security issues or accessibility problems. Deploys happen every two weeks at some point during the day on Wednesday. Under normal circumstances, Canvas users notice no change to the system when this is happening (one happened the day before I wrote this and it was unremarkable). If a user does notice a change during a Deploy though, they should submit a ticket at FSCJ’s Technical Help Desk. More information about Deploys can be found here.

Releases

Releases are usually larger changes to the base code of Canvas that either provide totally new features, or provide updates to current features. Releases happen once a month on the third Saturday. This SHOULD be a happy day for the Canvas end user who gets an enhanced experience with cool new stuff, but if it is not, please submit a ticket to FSCJ’s Technical Help Desk.

Canvas provides information (called “Release Notes”) about the next planned release on the fourth Monday of every month. So, for example, on July 27, 2019 we received information about the August release, which will be deployed to our Canvas environment on August 17, 2019. It is good to know that Canvas does not provide much information about future planned releases beyond the next release cycle. So, it is tough to know exactly what lies ahead for Canvas without pulling out your tarot cards. You can, however, get a very top-level view of their development priorities for the next year here.

How will SaaS be “Managed” at FSCJ?

The release and deployment cycle is a lot of information to keep up with on a monthly basis, especially for those members of our faculty and staff who also have to manage the ebb and flow of the academic calendar for multiple courses! At the end of the day, most users just want to be able to use the system without having to do a bunch of research (and with minimal interruption). With this in mind, the Educational Technology Team will be sending out information via email each week, and will highlight different feature releases that are imminent or in the works as they arise. So, paying attention to this weekly newsletter can help you to stay aware of changes to the system before they impact your way of work.

Canvas’s parent company, Instructure, is hyper-focused on maintaining a good customer experience and they are very proud of the fact that Canvas has managed to keep its systems online and available for 99.99% of the time for the last two years. This means that over the course of a calendar year, Canvas was only inaccessible for a cumulative 52 minutes (that’s one minute a week)! That said, if you ever experience any issues with Canvas that you think may be system related, you can visit status.instructure.com for uptime information about all of the Instructure systems, including Canvas, Studio, and Conferences. Please also report any issues that you may experience by submitting a ticket to the Information Technology Help Desk so that the EdTech team can also investigate possible bugs.