Canvas LMS “Unpublish All” Hack

Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) is visually pretty, but is sorely lacking in core usability functionality. One flaw relates to the difficulty of “unpublishing” assignments after copying a course. Assignments and files can individually be “published” or “unpublished” (available or unavailable for students to see). Assignments can also be nested with modules.

When an instructor copies a course to start a new semester, all items retain their published state. This is often undesirable when, because not all assignments should be immediately available to students at the start of a semester. However, it is often desirable to have module bucket names available for students to see.

Canvas users are not happy.

Canvas foils both goals, as of publication date of this post. (1) There is no built-in way to unpublish all assignments. (2) When a module is published, all items within it are auto-published. But when a module is unpublished, items within it remain published. :facepalm:

Because aint nobody got time for all of the clicks it would take on the website to reach a desired publications state, we turn to our sordid friend, Javascript. Javascript runs in your browser. In theory, yes, javascript can compromise accounts etc, and not everyone is a security expert to be able to discern what bad things my / the code might do, but perhaps you can trust others to review and vouch for the code. The javascript is merely selecting elements on the website (that’s the $('some selector') part), and then simulating “clicks” on elements (.click()), just as if you had done it with your mouse.

The following code can be run from a browser development console. For example, Chrome’s is found by opening the Developer Tools – one way to do that is by right-clicking and choosing “Inspect Element”. Then, paste the script into the console input prompt, and running it by pressing <enter>.

Without further ado,

Publish all modules, and unpublish module subitems

Publish most-all unpublished things (won’t get files)

$('.publish-icon-publish[data-module-type="module"]').click()  

Unpublish assignments, but leave modules published

Click “unpublish” for all non-module publish buttons, using the :not() selector

$('.publish-icon-published:not([data-module-type="module"])').click()

Unpublish all files

Unpublishes all files. Waits 1 second after opening the model before selecting the “unpublish” radio button, and then submits the modal. Then, proceeds to the next attachment. Canvas forum link. Had to make it recursive because otherwise loop functions would try to pop open all modals at once, which wouldn’t be pretty.

var attachments = $('[data-module-type=attachment] button.published').toArray()

var unpublishAttachment = function(e){
    
    new Promise(function(resolve, reject){
        $(e).click()
        setTimeout(function(){
            resolve();
        }, 1000)
    })
    .then( function(){
        return new Promise(function(resolve, reject){
            $('.permissions-dialog-form .icon-unpublish').siblings('input').click() 
            $('.permissions-dialog-form button[type=submit]').click();
            setTimeout(function(){
                resolve();
            }, 1000)
        })
    }).then(function(){
        if (attachments.length > 0){
            unpublishAttachment(attachments.pop())
        }
    })
}

if (attachments.length > 0){
    unpublishAttachment(attachments.pop())
}

Yes, Canvas should implement this functionality, but I’ve had them take three months to fix a show-stopping bug in quiz.next, so I’m not holding my breath for new features anytime soon.

David Eargle is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Leeds School of Business. He earned his Ph.D. degree in Information Systems from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include human-computer interaction and information security. He has coauthored several articles in these areas using neurophysiological and other methodologies in outlets such as the Journal of the Association for Information Systems, the European Journal of Information Systems, the International Conference on Information Systems, and the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences), along with the Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). More about the author →

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