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Community Participant

How can I design courses in a several time zones?

Our school uses Canvas for both online and face-to face courses. Since the school has campuses in several states as well as online courses, the time zone for courses can vary between the Pacific, Mountain and Arizona time zones. To make it more confusing, Arizona time does not use Daylight Savings Time (since people here don't want any more sun), so part of the year Arizona Time is the same as Mountain Time and part of the year it is the same as Pacific Time.

For each course, I have set the time zone for the course to the appropriate local time or Pacific Time for online courses.I would assume this means that this is the time that course activities would use.

The annoying thing is that Canvas ignores the course time zone when I am designing a course and instead uses my local time zone. So if I don't pay careful attention to every activity or assignment that has a date, the time entered in the course can be off by an hour or more.

What I have been doing is changing the time zone in my profile when I am designing or modifying course content to match the time zone of that course. Then at least I end up with the right date for the activity in the course design. However, since I am working on courses in several time zones at the same time, it is really easy to set an assignment to the wrong day or time.

Is there any way to force Canvas to use the time zone in the course settings when working on course design? If you set a course time zone in the course settings, it makes sense to me that when the designer adds an activity the course time zone would be used rather than the designer's personal time zone. But Canvas instead uses the designers time zone.

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4 Replies
Community Advocate
Community Advocate


We don't design for different time zones for our online courses. It's an interesting idea but sounds like it can be troublesome. Usually the default time zone is for our main campus Miami/ET and we state so on the syllabus.

How to set a time zone for user account/student:

This adjusts the local time so the assignment due dates/times automatically display in the local time for that user.

Community Participant

Our online courses are all in California time and students located in different parts of the world take that into consideration. That is not the problem.

My complaint is that Canvas assigns my local time zone to activities when I am designing course content, rather than the time zone of the course in Settings. This makes no sense to me. When a course designer is working on a course, the date of activities should be the time zone of the course, not the designer. That is the point of specifying a time zone for the course.

It is made even more complicated by the fact that our school has physical campuses in 3 time zones. We use Canvas for handouts and assignments at these physical campuses. Students assume that the time will be for the time zone of the campus at which they are attending the class. So I have to constantly adjust my profile time zone when I am working on course design for 3 different time zones.

This might be an oversight in the intended functionality. You might want to file a case and ask if this is the intended behavior. If not it could be a bug that can be addressed in a future release. 

Community Contributor

This is a consequence of allowing users to override things. Settings in Canvas move from general to specific: server/institution -> course ->user. Course timezones can override the system default, and users' can override the course.

For most users, in most cases, this is the desired behavior: if you are a student in London, you want to know what time the assignment is due, today, in BST, not what time it's due in Miami. This is just the way users expect times to work, and not just in Canvas: if you send a meeting invite you send it for Noon in Pheonix, and the recipient sees it as 9:00am (or 10:00am...) EST. You enter dates in your local time; Canvas, or Outlook, or iCal converts them to some other time that's useful for some other person.

This does break down for a small subset of users in a small subset of cases, but it's difficult to think how it might be made to work for everyone. We could say "dates are always edited in course time," but we all have different roles in different courses, and for every person who cheered, there would be others complaining that times appeared differently in courses they are teaching than in administrative courses they're in as "students." 

I have a similar issue keeping track of courses on both sides of the Atlantic, but I'm aware that it's working the way most of my faculty and students want--course time is what it is, and they don't have to worry about it because they see the local times wherever they are--and I'm the odd one out juggling courses in multiple time zones and doing math in my head.

The bigger issue for us, most of the time, it that in the app time is location-aware, but in the web interface it has to be manually-adjusted.

We made a decision, though, that all online courses have GMT course time, which helps.