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I was asked to share this little code-snippet I developed to improve the threaded discussions on Canvas (thanks Chris Hofer). You may have noticed that Canvas' current threaded discussions aren't actually very threaded. But, that's ok, because Canvas also makes it surprisingly easy to fix the situation with some simple edits to the global CSS.


Let's dive right in and give you some code to play with. I'll show you two different models, and you can play from there.

Approach One

If you add the following, you should get a proper visual 'threaded' cue (see below):


.replies {
 padding-left: 7px;
 border-left: solid #f2f2f2 16px;

.discussion-read-state-btn {
  top: 32px;

div.entry-content {
  padding-left:0px !important;


Topic_ PEL Discussion-1.png

Approach Two

I personally prefer this next example in many ways. In the example above, I like that the read/unread radial indicator toggle is centered visually on the grey bars. That is not the case in the following example (although I suspect with some further tinkering with the css you could make this work).


.replies {
 padding-left: 0px;
 border-left: solid #f2f2f2 16px;

.discussion-read-state-btn {
    top: 32px;

div.entry-content {
  padding-left:0px !important;


Topic_ PEL Discussion-2.png


These were created pretty quickly this morning, but they're pretty easy to play around with (you can change the colors, width, padding, etc.). Note that lines 10-12 are important, however, and that without them your threads will quickly get too indented as Canvas injects a padding of 30 pixels into each successive layer of response.


If you create any fun variations please share, I'd love to see what you're using at your institution -- especially if you find any good improvements. Cheers.

I'll be honest. Our distance education courses are on rolling enrollment so while I've understood the concept of differentiated assignments, I've never given them much thought because there is no real use for differentiated assignments when on rolling/open enrollment. Or so I thought.

In addition to rolling enrollment, our courses also use pre-requisites in the modules to help students pace themselves and prevent them from turning in all of their assignments on the last day (and thus overwhelming the Professor and TA with grading). Pre-requisities include discussion forums, quizzes (if applicable), exams, and other applicable assignments. For example, in our Hebrew Exegesis course, a student has to do all of the work for the first 4 modules (i.e. 4 weeks) before unlocking the next 4 modules of work to complete.

So what are we to do when somebody wants to audit one of our courses? Rolling enrollment doesn't so much present an obstacle, but the pre-requisites do.  We don't want auditors to be able to post in discussion forums. Our auditors are light on the access they have via permissions. So what are my options?

1. I could create a custom role, but that doesn't help anything because permissions are still not granular enough.

2. I could EXcuse each of the assignments for the auditor.  In Hebrew Exegesis, this would amount to excluding 34 assignments for EACH auditor and for future auditors. That's a lot of work I don't want to have to do!

3. Enter differentiated assignments.  I created a section within the Hebrew Exegesis course called "Auditor."  I then went into each of those assignments and assigned them to the non-auditor section.  Voila! The students still have pre-requisites, but the auditor can now access all modules without having to submit faux-assignments, interact in forums, etc.  AND, for future auditors, I simply enroll them in the "auditor" section of the course.


I always thought of differentiated assignments from a "positive" angle of being able to give different students (or groups of students) a different assignment based on their knowledge, ability, etc. However, this approach takes more of a "negative" angle of excluding students from certain (or all) assignments.


I thought I would share my light bulb moment with the community and hope others (or future others) can potentially benefit from it.

Canvas can be a great tool to support teaching and learning in face-to-face environments. Used appropriately, Canvas can help manage your class by delivering course-related activities and resources in a streamlined fashion. Unfortunately, there are a few too many occurrences of learning management system misuse spanning from unstructured document repositories to less-than-desirable course design that leave students confused and anxious. Below are 5 tips for faculty that will foster a successful Canvas experience:


1 - Customize Your Canvas Notifications

Notifications in Canvas is a Global feature. It will adjust frequency of notifications received for ALL of your courses. Notifications are categorized by Course Activities, Discussions, Conversations, Scheduling, Groups, Alerts, and Conferences. Ask questions for each item. For example, do you want to know when a new discussion post or reply is available immediately, or do you check on a daily basis anyway? Would a daily reminder be helpful nonetheless?

Take Action

  • Customize your notifications preferences in a manner that best suits your needs. Go through your Notifications Preferences and set each one to push to your contact methods either immediately, daily, weekly, or no notification.
  • Check if additional methods of communication are needed. Consider how connected you want to be with your notifications. If you are a heavy mobile user, adding your cell phone for TXT notifications is a great way to stay connected. Additional “Ways to Contact” can be added from your Profile Settings page.

2 - Update the Syllabus Page

The Syllabus page provides you with a tool to organize all of your graded activities and events into one place. Any time you create an assignment, activity, or calendar item with a due date in Canvas, it will automatically populate in the Syllabus tool. It also provides an easy way for your students to locate the Syllabus!

Take Action

  • Post your Course Syllabus to the Syllabus tool as a file. Try converting your file to PDF format first, but Word doc format is completely acceptable.
  • Add Available and Due dates to your assignments and other graded activities. Adding these dates will help organize the list of graded activities and events auto-populated in the Syllabus tool.

3 - Add Graded Activities

If you have graded activities such as assignments, quizzes, group work, etc., use Canvas as a way to manage your Gradebook and student submission of work completed. Using these tools help manage the flow of information, grades, and feedback to students. Canvas provides Assignment, Discussion, and Quizzing tools for graded activities.

Take Action

  • Create an assignment page for each graded activity. In Canvas, any tool that is set to be graded will be listed under the Assignments tool, including Quizzes and Discussions.
  • Set up your graded activities to mimic the grading policy on your Syllabus. If you weight your grades, be sure to group your assignments and set the weights (percentages) for each category.
  • Organize your assignments by due date. If you group your assignments, order your assignments in each group. This will control the order of the columns in the Gradebook.
  • Add detailed instructions to your assignment  activities. This will allow students to retrieve assignment information on the go and will reduce student inquiries.
  • Set assignment dates. Using this feature will keep students informed and on task.

4 - Make Your Course Easy to Navigate

Canvas offers different ways to structure course-related activities, organize information, and deliver content. Canvas classifies the materials and activities you add to your course into types. For example, clicking on "Assignments" will show you every assignment in your course, no matter where it fits in your course sequence. Clicking on "Files" lets you look at all the files that have been uploaded into your course site, irrespective of which page they are designed to appear on.



Take Action

  • Organize your course into modules. Add content, files, links, assignments, and activities to the module in sequence of how students should be accessing course activities.
  • Organize your files into folders with easy-to-identify naming conventions. For example, if you have lecture PowerPoints, create a folder named “Lecture PowerPoints” and name your PowerPoints intuitively, such as “01 – Introduction to Canvas Part 1” or “02 – Introduction to Canvas Part 2”. If you need to update a file, keep the same name, especially if that file is used elsewhere. If you upload a file with the same name, it will overwrite the existing file and will update it throughout the course so you do not have to re-link.
  • Hide navigation links that you are not using from students (and reorganize them!). As an instructor, you will still see these links in your course navigation! Hidden navigation items can be unhidden at any time. The links you choose to keep in your menu should be determined by the tools your need for your course site.
  • Set Your Homepage. There are several options to set as your homepage: Course Activity Stream, Customized Page, Course Modules, Assignments List, and Syllabus. We recommend customizing your own page and providing students with information on How to Get Started and How Canvas Will Be Used in Your Class (such as where to find content, files, assignments, etc. and how each of these will be used during the course lifespan).

5 – Decide How You Want to Communicate with Students

Canvas offers a variety of methods to communicate with students. You can use the Inbox, Announcements, or Discussion tools to communicate.

Take Action

  • Choose which tools you want to use to communicate with students. Be consistent with how you use the tools to help temper student expectations.
  • Inform your students the best method of communication. Do you want them to message you through Canvas or Email?
  • Tell your students communication turn-around times. How frequently will you be checking electronic communications. What is the anticipated response time?

By following these tips, you can spend more time focusing on meaningful learning experiences than answering student questions that are not content related.

Your Turn!

Have a tip to share? Comment below!

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