Do any of these sound like you?
- I recently switched to the Canvas LMS from Sakai, Moodle, or another platform
- I need to use more of Canvas’s features to support their course in new ways (e.g., moving to online learning)
- I’m not sure where to start learning about Canvas
This article is for you!
How to organize Canvas courses
There are endless ways to configure a Canvas course, some better than others. Research and experience show that in general, courses should be arranged in chronological modules that contain all the materials and activities for a particular day, week, or topic. The Canvas Modules tool makes this easy. Here’s a simple module setup:
Pick your working style
There are three ways you can approach building your course content:
- Create all your pages, quizzes, discussions, and assignments first, then add them to Modules.
- Start in Modules and create placeholders (see “Add item to module”) for all your content, then go back and flesh it out later.
- Import some content and tweak it as you go.
Most people starting a course from scratch use method #2. This lets you work on the high-level organization without having to think through all the fine details
Use Pages within your Modules
While it’s tempting to just drop links to PDFs, videos, and other resources directly into Modules, it’s much better to create Pages to hold those items. Pages let you add some context and instructions to the readings, and using Pages also keeps your Module List from getting too long and overwhelming.
Create Assignments to collect student work
Canvas doesn’t have separate “dropbox” for student work. Just create an Assignment, write out the instructions (which can include links to supporting documents and web sites), and add details about how to submit. Then add the assignment to your module in the correct location.
All assignments appear as a column in the Gradebook unless you tell Canvas not to include the assignment in the grade calculation.
Students can submit assignments online in a variety of formats, including video. You can also make assignments for items that will be turned in on paper, or that won’t have a submission at all (e.g., an in-class presentation or a participation grade). One unique assignment type is the “student annotation,” which lets students write on an electronic document. This is great for labeling diagrams or simulating paper forms they would encounter in person!
Use Rubrics to convey expectations
Rubrics can be added to assignments and discussions (and, technically, quizzes, but that feature doesn’t work very well). These let you grade papers and presentations with a few clicks. Detailed comments can be added for each student!
Use SpeedGrader to make grading easier
SpeedGrader truly does make grading faster! You see the student’s submission on the left, and your grading rubric on the right. You can add comments in several ways:
- annotating directly on the submitted document
- commenting on rows of the rubric
- writing overall comments about the assignment as a whole
- using speech-to-text to write comments
- use the comment library to save common comments and add them to a student’s submission with one click
- create media recordings as comments – great for increasing a sense of faculty-student engagement
Use Quizzes for a variety of purposes
In Canvas, all computer-based question-and-answer activities are called Quizzes. You can use them in several ways:
- Your usual high-stakes written exams. Some exam security options are built-in; others may be added by your university that lock down students’ browsers during exams.
- Low-stakes knowledge-check quizzes. You can let students retake them and keep the highest, most recent, or average score.
- Surveys that collect data but don’t have right/wrong answers (though for serious data collection, an actual survey tool would likely be better).
Question types include the usual multiple choice (with one or multiple answers), essay, file upload, and matching types. The “new quizzes,” which will become standard in 2022, also include hotspot questions where students answer by clicking on an image. You can also draw questions at random from a question bank.
You can automatically give detailed feedback on questions, which is especially great for the formative, low-stakes quizzes. This lets you explain why certain answers are wrong and turns the “quiz” into another learning opportunity.
Canvas Instructor Guide
I’m pretty picky about written instructions, and I think the instructions Canvas has created for their tools are great! Here’s my pick for the most useful sections of the guide: