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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


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 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

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

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 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.

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

Community Champion

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

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