OnTask Instructor Guide

OnTask is a learning analytics tool for sending targeted feedback to students to help with their learning in an automated but personalized way. With OnTask, you create custom feedback to send to groups of students meeting specific learning criteria. Students will receive these messages as individual feedback from you. This process makes meaningful communication with students easier to manage, even with large class sizes.
Cost Free
Bandwidth Low demand
Canvas Integration Works in coordination with Canvas
Privacy OnTask is FIPPA compliant and data is stored securely in Canada
Similar UBC-Supported Tools (none)

What can I use it for?

You can use OnTask in Canvas to target groups of students for many types of feedback:

  • Send personalized next steps based on outcomes of learning activities like assessments
  • Give reminders to students who have yet to meet certain course objectives
  • Provide additional resources for especially high-achieving students

How are faculty using OnTask?

Sociology instructor Silvia Bartolic uses OnTask for mass message personalization

Physics instructors Simon Bates and Mateus Fandino use OnTask to keep students on track

Simon Bates and his co-instructor Mateus Fandino used the tool in Physics 117, a large introductory physics course. They decided to send personalized feedback to each student, based on their performance each week. Students loved the personalized feedback and felt it helped them stay on top of the course material. Read More »

What do I need to use OnTask?

An OnTask account

You will need to request an OnTask account from us first, by filling in the Learning Technology Hub Request Form.

A Canvas course

OnTask only works with Canvas courses at UBC.

The UBC VPN

To access OnTask, you must connect through the UBC VPN (Virtual Private Network). If you are not using the UBC VPN already, follow the instructions for setting up myVPN from UBC IT first.

Tips

  • Students do not need accounts to use OnTask and will receive your OnTask messages in their Canvas Inbox. The Inbox is like a personal email tool within Canvas, which also sends email notifications to students’ external email address (unless this default is changed by the student).

How do I use OnTask?

To use OnTask, you will enable it through Canvas, manually transfer over learning analytics data, create messages using that data, and then send the message out to students.

Click any bar below for instructions and tips for getting started with OnTask.

Enable OnTask in Canvas

  1. Once your OnTask account has been set up, log in to your Canvas course and click Settings in the Course Navigation.
  2. Click the Navigation tab.
  3. Find the OnTask menu item, click the options menu (the 3 vertical dots), and choose Enable.
  4. Save your setting changes.
  5. The OnTask menu item will now be available in the Course Navigation for you. (Since the tool is for you, your students will not see this menu item.)

Transfer initial learning analytics data from Canvas to OnTask

To get started giving personalized feedback based on your Canvas course, you'll need to manually transfer learning analytics data from your Canvas gradebook to what's called a workflow in OnTask. Workflows contain the information and steps needed to send your messages, captured in a data table and a set of actions.

Export data from Canvas

  1. Log in to your Canvas course, and click Grades in the Course Navigation.
  2. Click Actions and select Export.
  3. Once the export is complete, a file will be downloaded to your computer. To make sure it can be imported correctly into OnTask, open this file in a spreadsheet software like Excel, and do the following:
    • Check that the first row is a header by ensuring that the row contains titles for each column (e.g., Student, ID, Assignment 1, etc.). Add missing column names and rename any to what you would like them to be called in OnTask.
    • Check that the first column contains student names. If it doesn't, copy and paste the column with student names to the first column.
    • Remove any rows that do not contain student names (e.g., in the example below, rows one and two).
  4. Save the file as a "CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited)" type. In Excel, you can click File, select Save As, and choose CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited).
Initial data example Data after cleanup

Import data into OnTask

  1. Connect to the UBC VPN.
  2. Back in your Canvas course, click OnTask in the Course Navigation.
  3. Click the + New workflow button.
  4. Create a name (e.g., your course name) and description for your workflow, then click Create workflow.
  5. Select the type of data to import by clicking the corresponding button under the "Operation" column (with the file you downloaded from Canvas, select CSV).
  6. Click Choose File or Browse (depending on your browser), select the file to import, and click Next.
  7. You can optionally rename or deselect columns at this stage. When you are done, click Finish.
  8. The imported data will show in a new table. You can edit the data and add new columns or rows on this table, if you have additional information about your students to manually add.
  9. Now that you've created your workflow, you can add more data to it or create messages to students following the steps in the sections below.

Add preferred student name data to OnTask

These optional steps will walk you through adding preferred student names by transferring data from the Faculty Services Centre to OnTask.

Export data from the Faculty Services Centre (FSC)

  1. Log in to the FSC using your UBC CWL.
  2. Click your course section under "Assigned Sections" to find its classlist. Click Download/Print Classlist(s).
  3. Under “Select the format…”, select Table, and click Download.
  4. Once the classlist downloads, open this file in a spreadsheet software like Excel.
  5. Save the file as a "CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited)" type. In Excel, you can click File, select Save As, and choose CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited).

Import data into OnTask

  1. Connect to the UBC VPN.
  2. Log in to your Canvas course and click OnTask in the Course Navigation.
  3. In OnTask, click the workflow you want to add this classlist to. If you don't have a workflow, follow the steps in the section above to create one.
  4. Click the Table drop-down menu, and select Upload or merge data.
  5. Select the type of data to import by clicking the corresponding button under the "Operation" column (with data from the FSC, select CSV).
  6. Click Choose File or Browse (depending on your browser), select the file to import, and click Next.
  7. You can optionally rename or deselect columns at this stage. When you are done, click Next.
  8. Set Student Number as the key column for the existing table and new table. Key columns are important, because they identify what column to use for matching the two sets of data (i.e., your Canvas gradebook and FSC classlist) together.
  9. Select the merge method as "Only rows with keys present in both the existing and new table".
  10. Click Next.
  11. Review your changes and click Finish. You will see a message either confirming the merge or highlighting any issues.

Tips

  • By default, OnTask will use the student names from the data you imported from Canvas, so these steps are recommended but not required. However, adding the FSC data allows you to use students' preferred names, which makes your messages more personal.
  • You can export data from other sources and import it into any existing workflow. There are several ways to merge data into OnTask, and you can see a description of each merge option by selecting it during the import process outlined here.

Update learning analytics data in OnTask

Once you've set up a workflow by transferring initial learning analytics data from Canvas, you can add further data to it. For example, you can add outcomes after students have completed more assignments or assessments in Canvas or include a participation record from a lecture session.

  1. Download or create a table with your additional data, and save it as a "CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited)" file. In Excel, you can click File, select Save As, and choose CSV UTF-8 (Comma delimited).
    • To export data from the Canvas gradebook, follow the "Export data from Canvas" steps in the transferring initial learning analytics data section above.
  2. Connect to the UBC VPN.
  3. Log in to your Canvas course and click OnTask in the Course Navigation.
  4. In OnTask, click the workflow you want to add this data to.
  5. Click the Table drop-down menu, and select Upload or merge data.
  6. Select the type of data to import by clicking the corresponding button under the "Operation" column (with data downloaded from the Canvas, select CSV).
  7. Click Choose File or Browse (depending on your browser), select the file to import, and click Next.
  8. You can optionally rename or deselect columns at this stage. When you are done, click Next.
  9. Select the key column for the existing table and new table. Key columns are important, because they identify what column to use for matching the two sets of data together (with data downloaded from Canvas, select "Student Number").
  10. Select the merge method. You can see a description of each merge option by selecting it, or view OnTask's merge method documentation.
  11. Click Next.
  12. Review your changes and click Finish. You will see a message either confirming the merge or highlighting any issues.

Create messages for students in OnTask

Once you have created a workflow, you are ready to draft messages for your students. Messages in OnTask are templates written with regular text and variables, with variables acting as general placeholders that are substituted with specific details for each student when the message is sent (e.g., to start a message with the student's name or to reference their test score in the body text). You will start drafting by creating what OnTask calls an action.

Draft message

  1. Connect to the UBC VPN.
  2. Log in to your Canvas course and click OnTask in the Course Navigation.
  3. In OnTask, click the workflow you want to add messages to. If you don't have a workflow, follow the steps in the section above to create one.
  4. Click the + Action button.
    • If you don't see this button, click the Actions menu item at the top.
  5. Give the action a meaningful name and description, and select Personalized Canvas Email as the action type.
  6. Click Create action.
  7. In the Text tab that appears, draft your message.
  8. To include a variable, click Insert Column Value and choose the variable (these will be the names of your table columns) from the drop-down menu. The variable will be included in double curly brackets in your message (e.g., {{ Name }}).
  9. Click Preview to view the message as students will see it. You can move through specific students in your classlist to check your variables.
  10. Once you are satisfied with the message, click Close, which will save your message and create a new action for it.

Add conditionally-displayed text

With OnTask, you can display blocks of content in a message using custom conditions. These conditions might be based on outcomes of learning activities like assessments. For example, you could send a message after a test with advanced tutorial links to high-scoring students, while low-scoring students receive a reminder of office hours or textbook references.

  1. When you are creating or editing an action, click the Text Condition tab.
  2. Click the + Condition button, and type the name and description of the condition you would like to set.
  3. In the first drop-down menu, select the variable the condition will use—that is, what specific information about each student you want to check to decide if the text should be displayed.
  4. In the second and third fields, set the parameters for displaying the text. For example, choosing students who scored more than 50% on a test.
  5. You may add more conditions using the + Add rule button and the "Not" (to exclude a condition), "And" (to meet multiple conditions), and "Or" (to meet one of a set of conditions) options.
  6. When you are done, click Create condition.
  7. Click the Text tab, and insert your condition by clicking Insert condition in text, and choosing the condition.
  8. Two pieces of bracketed code will appear in your text. Type the message you'd like conditionally displayed to students who meet the condition in between, e.g., {% if your condition name %} text you want shown here {% endif %}.
  9. Click Preview to view the message as students will see it. You can move through specific students in your classlist to check your conditions.
  10. Once you are satisfied with the message, click Close, which will also save your message.

Send messages to students with OnTask

  1. Connect to the UBC VPN.
  2. Log in to your Canvas course and click OnTask in the Course Navigation.
  3. In OnTask, click the workflow you want to add messages to.
  4. To the left of the action containing the message you want to send, click the send icon. If you don't have any actions, follow the steps in the section above to create one.
  5. Select ID as the "Column with the Canvas ID". Be sure to choose ID, since it is the only option that works for sending messages at UBC.
  6. Type the email subject students will see, and click Next. You should see a confirmation page that says "Action scheduled for execution," which means your message has been sent.
  7. All students should receive the message in their Canvas Inbox.

Tips

  • You can optionally confirm your message has sent by logging in to your Canvas course and clicking Inbox from the Global Navigation (the menu in navy blue). From the drop-down menu in the top left corner of your Inbox, select Sent to view sent messages.

Where can I get more support with OnTask?

Technical support

If you have trouble with OnTask:

For supporting your students:

Learn more


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