Community Contributor

Dont's in Canvas?

An administrator in my K-12 district just asked me a great question -- and I need your help answering it! :smileyplain:

Question: Is there anything that one should NOT do in designing and developing a Canvas course? 

Some Considerations:

  1. The instructor is developing this "in-service learning" course for adults (faculty)
  2. This will be the instructor's first Canvas course (or LMS course of any kind).
  3. The course instructor has (mostly) completed our online instructor training course.
  4. The course will be blended: about 2/3 face-to-face, 1/3 online.
  5. Many of these teachers have no familiarity with Canvas, but others have some. (We've only rolled out Canvas to our 9-12 high school so far).
  6. The instructor hopes to maximize student-to-student online collaboration.


71 Replies
Community Coach
Community Coach

One thing I might suggest relates to Quizzes.  If you are including Quizzes in a course, I would suggest staying away from manually numbering your questions (though some people may have valid reasons for doing so).  The process to manually give each of your questions in a quiz is described in each of the quiz type documents, but here's an example from Multiple Choice questions (How do I create a Multiple Choice quiz question?).  See the section on "Set Name, Type, and Points".  From a student perspective, the questions will be numbered, but not from the instructor's side.  Manually adding your own question number could potentially create issues...especially if you later re-arrange the questions.  The title you gave a question (with a question number) does not change based on the new location within your quiz.

All that being said, I have some good news for you.  Instructure is currently working on a brand new quizzing engine, and question numbers is part of that project.  You can find out more in this video: ​ and in this very helpful discussion thread: Canvas Studio: Modern Quizzing Engine​.

Hope this helps!

Hey,  @Chris_Hofer . I actually DID number the first quiz questions I created!  Then I edited out the numbering for reasons you clearly articulated here. I'll check out the video and other resource links too. Thanks!

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

 @jomontuori ​, although we usually frame this as a "Do," I imagine it would work well as a "Don't":

Don't show all of the navigation links in the course navigation menu!

Again, we present it differently: Use the Modules feature to organize and deliver content to your students, and hide all of the other navigation links! Limit the course navigation to Home, Syllabus (if used), Modules, and Conferences (if used). Remind the teachers that even if navigation items are greyed out, as they will be once they've customized the course navigation, they can click on them to access those areas (this throws a lot of newbies).

That's a good one, stefaniesanders​. I'll be sure to pass that one along to my client. And I agree, "Do's" are my preference as well. Maybe that's why this question left me speechless. Smiley Happy

Having said that, maybe another "Don't" is my pet peeve: Creating a long string of file and URL links as the basis for a module. Or as I saw it referred to (somewhere here in the Canvas universe), using Canvas as a mere file storage and retrieval site.

Oh, good point,  @jomontuori ​! Again, if I were forced to frame it as a "Don't," I'd say...

Don't forget that many, it not most, of your students will be accessing Canvas on their mobile devices.

...the point being that when creating a course, teachers have to remember to "chunk" their content. Thoughtfully-designed modules with small amounts of content--and sub-headings (text headers) within the modules themselves--will go a long way toward avoiding the scroll of death.  @rseilham ​ did a great job demonstrating this in his recent

This video is currently being processed. Please try again in a few minutes.
(view in My Videos)
presentation for CanvasLIVE​.

And with regard to URLs themselves, I guess another "Don't" would be:

Don't just copy and paste an external URL onto a page (ooh, ugly). Type some words that will be the basis of the external link.

Don't just copy and paste an external URL onto a page (ooh, ugly). Type some words that will be the basis of the external link.

This reminded me of another one.  Do not copy/paste links from one course to another.  This is especially true if in course "A" you have link on a page pointing to another page, file, assignment, etc. in the same course and you copy/paste it to course "B".  If/When you copy that link from course "A" to course "B", the link hasn't changed, and students in course "B" would not be able to access it because the Course ID number in the URL is different.  This is why importing content from one course to another is a much better solution.

Yes yes yes, that is such a turn-off! One of the things I make sure to emphasize with students is learning how to use different HTML text editors to make sure they are creating links with text and not just raw HTML. We need to model that behavior for them. Each HTML is a little different, too, so it's worth walking them through the steps of whatever editor they will be using (like the discussion board editor in Canvas, if people are using discussion boards).

Leaving the Chat navigation item available is helpful. The students could use it for back-channel discussions during class.

Community Contributor

These are great! Keep 'em comin'!  I'm going to add one of my own -- you're spurring my thinking!

Don't try to excessively "lock down" materials and assignments.

Many teachers try to hide or otherwise restrict access. The impulse is often well-intentioned. We don't want kids jumping ahead at the expense of missing prerequisite or other required work. But the temptation to overdo it is there! We can

    • Restrict assignment access dates
    • Not publish (or unpublish) materials and assignments
    • Hide menu items from Course Navigation settings
    • Set Prerequisites and Requirements in Module settings

These are useful tools and techniques to focus student work and create an intuitive learning path in our courses. But it can reach a point that creates unintended obstructions to access and frustration for students -- not to mention frustration and precious time wasted by instructors scrambling to open, publish, and adjust dates. I know. I've been there!

Coach Emeritus

Hi  @jomontuori 

I kind of like your "Don't" approach, although like the others here, I tend to look at things from a "Do" perspective. stefaniesanders​ actually invited me to play in here, because I am a real proponent of the KISS principle, especially so in teaching and learning. So I might have a couple don'ts to add here.

  • Don't let the technology be a barrier to learning the curriculum. Technology is just a tool for delivering instruction, and it is often very tempting for those of us who like instructional technology to show off how tricky we can be when we are using it. You always want your students struggling with the key concepts of the curriculum, and not the arcane uses of the tools delivering the curriculum.
  • Don't complicate course navigation.  One the qualities by which I judge any website, and our Canvas instances are nothing more than that, is how easily I can find what I need. There is a maxim of instructional design that (and I change this puppy up every time I say it) states: students need to know what to do, where to find it, how to do it, and where to get help with the first three points.
  • Don't overwhelm! I think one of the assumptions you gave us was that the course was for faculty training. That makes it a technical/professional course being taught by an experienced professional - WATCH OUT! I have taught for higher ed professional/technical programs for 20 years, prior to that I taught health care professional in a hospital setting. Our tendency is to get all "Ooo shiny!". In other words avoid the tendency to start going all: "they need to know this and that, oh yeah they should also know that and this, and these other things, and my oh my this is some groovy stuff, and they'll like this."  I remember in one of my first online courses I added it up and I had almost 40 hours of video in one weekly module in a five credit course! It is so easy to add too much content.  Your faculty don't need to learn everything you have learned in a 40 year career during a 10 hour PD course. Start with the end in mind by creating your clear learning outcomes, then make sure that all learning materials and activities are clearly aligned with those outcomes (they support and contribute to student achievement of the outcomes).
  • Don't get all Texty: No online course should be the full text of War and Peace, yet I have seen way too many Canvas pages where it seems like that is the goal. This kind of goes with the item above. Hmmmmm............. I seem to have gotten fairly texty with this posting:smileysilly: I have been providing faculty PD for quite awhile now, and have found it much more effective to provide a series of online workshops if the concepts/topics are complicated enough they would produce one giant course. We have pared our faculty Canvas training down to ten hours - just what the need to get rocking and rolling. Many of our faculty never need more, because they are experimenters. However, for those who aren't we created a series of short, topic-specif "Advanced Canvas Courses" the can grab later.

That's enough for now, but I'll come back with more later. I like this discussion - it's fun, and our Canvas courses should also be fun!

I hope this helps,


Community Contributor

Thanks, Kelley. I've seen you reference KISS before, and this is a good reminder.

Indulge me in a minor rant here. Some faculty have argued that students will have to deal with different management "styles" when they work in the "real world."  So we shouldn't feel compelled to design courses that "look pretty" or abide by a set of uniform principles ("Let 'em figure it out," they say. "It's good practice.") Me, I prefer to restrict student "problem solving" to the curriculum at hand. Smiley Wink

Hi  @jomontuori 

Your faculty are both correct (yes students will encounter many types of leaders), and incorrect about the quality of the classrooms. You are on the money - the online classroom must be designed as well as possible to support student achievement of the learning outcomes for the course. If a teacher is concerned about students being able to manage different leadership styles, then that should be a stated outcome, learning materials and activities should be provided to guide students to achieving that outcome, and they should be provided in a well designed and engaging Canvas classroom.

Not at all a fan of "hidden curriculum", and especially so when the reality is that it is used to excuse poor design practices.


Wish I could "Like" a unique bullet point. The one about not overwhelming and the "shiny" factor is a big one in my book!!

SO TRUE about "don't get all texty" ... I don't use discussion boards in Canvas (ugh, I prefer blogs), but I know that if I did, I would instruct students in how to insert images into Discussion Board posts so they will feel confident about that (last time I checked, imgur was a good, easy way to do that), and also to encourage students to follow good, simple practices for citing their images. Here's the practice I ask them to follow in their blog posts... and they use lots of images, because everything is better with images!

onlinecourselady / imageinfo

We have a great Domains project at my school which allows us to host images in an https webspace. It's fantastic! That means I can build javascript widgets full of images to share, and by putting them in https iframe I have made them Canvas-friendly if anybody is interested. My winter break project is a Widget Warehouse with the widgets I'm creating and sharing. Would be glad for feedback; I use these widgets throughout my course materials and students really appreciate them.

Laura's Widget Warehouse: Homepage: Laura's Widget Warehouse

Those images all link to online resources; yes, the images are clickbait, ha ha, in the sense that I hope the images will indeed grab students' attention and inspire them to click and learn more... and also to create their own memes and graphics to share in their own blogs. 🙂

Community Contributor

Do make sure your content is accessible, and don't use copyrighted material.

Coach Emeritus


I just looked at your "Considerations" again and something popped out at me, "The instructor hopes to maximize student-to-student online collaboration." Awesome. I have several PD courses that are entirely structured-discussion based, and consider them my best. Let's see, I need to turn this into a "don't".

Don't make the training course entirely steps-to-use-Canvas-features based. Whew!  That was a mouthful, but my point here is that perhaps the largest challenge in moving from a traditional classroom to an online classroom is transitioning your pedagogy from traditional to online. If your faculty are simply migrating from one LMS to another, then the challenge is transitioning workflow.

Develop collaborative activities in which the participants share how they will use Canvas tools to solve specified problems. or even better sharing the problems they are trying to solve and soliciting potential solutions from their fellow collaborators. In the computing world, there is always more than one path to Nirvana, or more than one way to skin a cat. This hold for online teaching, and as the facilitator you can't even cover all of them, maybe not even recall all of them; but working together, your participants can explore many of them (maybe with some promptings), learn from each other and settle on what might work best for them. Granted, with beginning users, this has to come after some skills have been obtained, but not too much so. For example, if you are covering all the communication tools in Canvas you might want to develop a discussion activity around how to best achieve strong faculty presence using these tools in a Canvas classroom (no right answer, but lots of options for learning all the alternatives), or how to use these tools to improve student/student interaction in a Canvas course.

Okay, I really am going to shut up now.


Community Contributor

Oooh, I like the problem solving discussion. (And my Canvas instruction class does lean heavily toward individual work.)

I think my admin colleague will put that idea to good use. Thanks, Kelley!

Community Champion

Everything below is opinion.  Like everyone else's opinion, it's up to you to figure if it applies to your situation or how grounded in reality it is...

Don't expect students to consume the material in the same order you add it.

Many students follow links from the reminder, meaning they'll end up on an assignment skipping right past your fancy home page.  So have a couple cues to where students can find the resources they need to complete the assignment.  "as discussed in the reading for chapter 3..." kind of things.

Don't expect every student to be perfect, or perfectly on time.

SOO many problems with faculty setting from/until dates on assignments, only to have to remove them because a student (or group) need to work on it early or late.  Better to just set a due date, and take care of penalties manually.  Also some students just won't turn in assignments, and for some reason it seems faculty get hung up on that more than in a face-to-face.  maybe it's the empty spot on the gradebook.

Don't go all magpie syndrome.

Canvas has a ton of great features.  It's a really bad idea to use them the first time you are using Canvas to teach.  Keep it simple, straight forward, and focus on some key features that will help.  You can bring in all the LTIs and plugins and embedded whizbangs once you have the basics, and are willing to walk your students through using the advanced features.

Don't get hung up on how you think Canvas should work.

Lots of faculty want their LMS to work a certain way, and then get frustrated and want their school to throw money at a "fix" when it won't exactly work the way they want.  Instead, figure out the core problem you're trying to solve, and consider alternative ways of solving that problem.  You want a report that informs you when a student finishes the module - why not have a post test instead?  You can't embed that copyrighted content - is there something available for free or CC that covers the same content?

Don't reduce your class to one assessment and one content page a week

Chunk the class.  Try to break up long content pages into something that can be read in a couple minutes, or at least a few separated pages (both to keep it digestible, but also better organized for later review).  Don't add videos longer than 10 minutes.  Try to change up what they're doing (so maybe add a discussion board in between long readings).

Don't try to freeform everything

Being online means that it's good to be organized, and pre-prep everything.  Also consistency helps your students know what they're supposed to be doing and in what order.  If possible, lead off each week/module with a content page that describes exactly what you want them to learn, and what they'll be doing.  Try to have some graphics, maybe some branding, that you can pull through the whole course.  Don't throw up a test or assignment the same week it's due, if you can help it - try to have it up a couple weeks early.

Don't forget an orientation

Provide info to students on how to use Canvas.  If your school has a "How-to" course, provide the link.  Otherwise show them the guides from Instructure, and info on how to ask for tech help.  This is true even when you think all students have already taken courses through Canvas, because you may be using features that weren't used in their prior classes, or theres transfer students.

Community Contributor

These are great,  @abunag ! I especially like "Don't get hung up on how you think Canvas should work." And also,"Don't forget the orientation."  What a great list.

I especially like the one about NOT expecting all students to be on time. A.k.a. LIFE IS COMPLICATED.

One of my very favorite things about Canvas is having a soft deadline and a hard deadline. D2L, our previous LMS, did not offer that option. I call it the Grace period, and based on student feedback, I know they really appreciate it and wish their other instructors used it too:

Advice: Use the Canvas “Grace Period” – Teaching with Canvas

Community Champion

Don't assume everyone is fluent in using Canvas (or any LMS)

Provide a "unit 0" of a quick tutorial about how to use and navigate Canvas. I feel a lot of frustration comes solely because a user doesn't understand the basic functionality of Canvas.

Don't create separate training courses for each topic

Use one landing course and create separate modules for each topic. Over time, the user will become familiar with navigating the training course. Use the syllabus page to list (visual cards or words) the course offerings.

Don't create a bunch of assignments

The intention of most training courses is to share knowledge, experiences, and provide information. Too many assessments will steer focus. Instead, create a discussion for each section and call is ______ Community. This can be a place for users to ask meaningful questions, work and learn collaboratively (like here in the Community), and will decrease (hopefully) users asking the same questions.

Don't forget to have fun!

We all love a healthy dose of fun at training sessions. So don't forget to include some good ol fashion fun! I'm in LOVE with the whatCanvasLIVE​​ is doing with #CanvasTrivia (Special Education Day Edition)  It's fun, engaging, and makes me laugh.

Great suggestions Stephanie, I especially like your first one. One of my mantras in online teaching is to never make assumptions, and always design for the lowest common denominator.


Don't forget to have fun!

We all love a healthy dose of fun at training sessions. So don't forget to include some good ol fashion fun! I'm in LOVE with the whatCanvasLIVE is doing with #CanvasTrivia (Special Education Day Edition) It's fun, engaging, and makes me laugh.

You just made my day... Smiley Wink

Smiley Happy

These are absolutely on point, Stephanie!. Great stuff.

Agreed about not assuming fluency! Based on a survey I did of my students, I created some specific Tech Tips for them to use, and it worked out great. From their comments in response to those Tech Tips, I know I need to tell them on Day One: go get the app! configure your notifications! set up your profile! and synch your calendar! 🙂

Tech Tips:

Student Tech Support for Canvas – Teaching with Canvas

Their responses:

More Student Voices from Fall 2016 – Teaching with Canvas


You have touched on a great point about assumptions - instead of assuming, ask and/or measure.  Asking can have some pitfalls, because many humans will over-estimate their understanding, while many more will underestimate. I tend to favor measuring. using your "Tech Tips" model, I would:

  • Provide a tip: For example, how to reply to a Canvas Discussion
  • Provide students an activity to apply the tip: immediately following the tip I would provide a discussion for participation. I typically use this opportunity in my orientation module to have the students briefly introduce themselves, and reply to their classmates (I like killing more than one bird at  a time). These activities can be ungraded, but I prefer to have them graded to better encourage participation. Depending on the nature of a courses cohort, my grading may be in the form of extra credit so that students who already have the skills from prior learning won't have to participate unless they want to. I always use a grading rubric.
  • Evaluate Tip Effectiveness: I again apply my measuring philosophy by evaluating the effectiveness of my tip by analyzing student achievement on the activity. This does not need to be any fancy foomongery statistically accurate analysis that sucks up too much valuable time, I just need to know - did my students get it, who didn't get it, and how well did they get it so that I can adjust the tip if necessary. I like to close the quality improvement loop.

Don't Assume!

Also, thanks for providing the "Student Voices". these are so valuable!


GMTA, ha ha. And same also for faculty professional development, of course!

All my Tech Tips result in some kind of artifact (usually a blog post, maybe something else) which is how I track them overall. One of the fun things I get to do before each new semester starts is to ditch the tips that were boring/unpopular and add new ones. The amount I want my students to learn (if they are interested in doing so) is pretty infinite, so there are always new tips I'm tempted to try, but I make myself weed out the old ones as I add new ones to keep it from getting too crazy in there.

One of the ways I think we might differ is just in our Canvas orientation: I'm a minimalist, not a maximalist. Most of the Tech Tips are related to the students' blogs and other web-based tools I'd like them to try out. I just use Canvas for announcements (and that I do via an embedded blog anyway) and for them to record their Grades (I do no grading).

What's cool about "design" is that even when people have different goals and use different tools, we can share principles, and I'll even put DON'T ASSUME in all caps since it is such an important one. 🙂

Community Contributor

I don't have any don'ts to add but as a newbie... honestly "don'ts" are what I want to know.  WHat are the things that I'll want to do (like numbering questions) but will waste my time?   Yes, I need to figure out the "do's" that go with them, especially about "don't get hung up on how you think Canvas should work" but I'm grabbing these while I learn to navigate Smiley Happy   Thanks for all the ideas!


You are so right about "Don't get hung up on how you think Canvas should work." Very bad juju that one! I have seen too many teachers fall into that trap, and lose productive time they don't have to spare. Focus on what Canvas does do, and how you can transition your work flow and online pedagogy to the Canvas environment. This was the approach we take when we train our faculty, and it works for them.


Thanks, Susan! I love these "don'ts" too. And I think some of these are especially relevant to newbies, such as numbering quiz questions, as you mentioned. Obsessing over assignment available from/to dates and times, or "just in time" publishing/unpublishing are two others. Both can lead to "too clever" settings that create student frustration and less time spent learning. Smiley Sad

You are right on the money Joe! I constantly rail about faculty who have rotator cuff tears and tennis elbow from patting themselves on the back for their clever use of technology, while leaving their students wondering what the heck is going on and how am I supposed to learn! For me, mashups are the worst - instead of having to learn one technology to succeed in a course, they have to learn four, five or more. I have dropped out of several MOOCs because of this - post here, reply there contribute somewhere else for that, and do this someplace else. I often see mashups used to replace good course design/building skills, or just plain laziness - why take the tome to build it in Canvas, when I can just send them somewhere else! Mashups also present certain risks that are seldom fully evaluated: security issues, FERPA privacy violations, general privacy concerns, spamming, identity theft, accessibility issues, and more.

So there is another DON'T: Don't use mashups! Try to keep your students in Canvas.


Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

I just thought of another one,  @jomontuori ​--and it's a don't that transitions into a do!

Don't copy and paste your syllabus into the course home page or syllabus page; copying text from other applications tends to bring with it some funky code. But do use the auto-open for inline preview feature to put your syllabus file (.doc, .docx, or .pdf) as a scrollable artifact right in the page! When you can keep students from having to navigate away from your page to download or print, you have kept them engaged. (For step-by-step instructions, refer to How do I set the auto-open for inline preview for files using the Rich Content Editor?​)

This one always gets oohs and aahs when I demonstrate it. K-12 teachers love it, because it allows them to put 80-90% of the required content on their course home pages in one fell swoop.

I'm oohing and ahhing just reading about it!

Community Contributor

Do you have any tips for cleaning up a copy/pasted syllabus to build it directly on the page rather than using an inline preview. The inline preview looks really nice on the desktop, but the last time I checked you couldn't zoom on mobile which made it difficult to read in that environment. This prompted me to encourage building directly on the page over the inline preview, but I definitely acknowledge the funkiness of code after copy/pasting.

Also, can you confirm for me that screen readers will properly read the contents of a previewed document?

 @scain , I've asked our resident accessibility guru to weigh in on the question of screen readers and inline previews.

Turning to copy-pasted syllabi, I have found that the cleanest, if not the quickest, way to copy and paste a syllabus over to the Rich Content Editor is to copy and paste the syllabus contents, then clear all of its formatting (using the Clear Formatting tool on the RCE ribbon, as described in How do I remove formatting copied from another source in the Rich Content Editor?). One would then have to reformat the syllabus as desired using the native RCE tools. Although it takes time, it would address your concern about being able to zoom in on mobile devices.

...and I got a lightning-fast response from the aforementioned guru Smiley Happy : Yes, screen readers will read documents that are embedded in a page through the use of auto inline preview (but those documents will not play well with screen readers in SpeedGrader/Crocodoc).

Community Contributor

I actually use both strategies. I provide the document version, linked on the syllabus page at the top, so that students can download and have a copy of the syllabus for offline use--I don't set it to auto-open. Then I copy and paste the full text of the syllabus into the Rich Content Editor. When doing this from Word, use the following options when creating your Word doc:

  • h2, h3, h4
  • Bulleted lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Bold, underline, and italic

That's it. Don't adjust font sizes manually--just use the semantic tagging features in Word. Indent and outdent might also copy in--I'd have to check. Using just these style options in Word will give you a clean copy/paste without stray code in the mix. Tables come in okay, but they usually need a little love to clean them up. Complex tables for layout in Word will likely choke on the copy/paste, and they most likely aren't accessible in Word, anyway.

Once it's all in the RCE, I create a table of contents at the top and add anchor tags for the relevant sections (internal anchors don't work in the iOS app, unfortunately). This is nice, because then I can direct students to the exact relevant section of the syllabus if there are any issues or questions. Having the RCE version also makes the syllabus much more useful in mobile. The auto-open function for documents doesn't work in mobile. So, having an exposed, readable, HTML version is a huge help to mobile users.

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

...and although this isn't strictly about do's and don'ts, this seems like a good place to add it: Your ideas of Canvas' best kept secrets