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Community Contributor

We're new to Canvas and I'd love some pointers from more experienced users!

Hi everyone!

I'm the ICT Administrator of a K12 school in New Zealand and we're making the move to Canvas in 2016. We will be the first primary (K12) school in the country to adopt Canvas so we want to get things right!

We're not a big school - under 200 students - with around 25 teachers and admin staff who will use Canvas. We've been using Google Apps for several years, and are moving away from a previous LMS that was good in its heyday but is now not modern enough, and very simplistic compared to Canvas. Our students from Year 6-8 (Grade 6-8) bring their own laptops every day, and younger students use computers regularly from Year 3 (Grade 3). We are using the new user interface too.

As the ICT Admin I've spent many hours learning Canvas and am pretty comfortable with it. I've set up all the courses and enrolled students and staff in them so staff have a realistic environment to begin experimenting with. They are free to experiment this term and the Canvas team we have formed consisting of myself and half a dozen staff from various areas of the school are basically in charge of supporting the members of their teams of teachers from various specialties/year groups in learning Canvas. This is because the time all the staff have together for a full session is extremely limited, and as different teams have different requirements for Canvas they'll be able to learn together. I'm a bit skeptical of this approach because it's much like Chinese Whispers, and will depend on the skill and understanding of the Canvas team members, which probably isn't advanced enough to be teaching other staff with confidence.

What I'm after from the community is any suggestions on what the important areas are that we need to hit hard and with confidence when the Canvas team is teaching others how to use Canvas. Ideally they would be the sorts of ideas where we spend 30% of the available time to teach 70% of the system, or a similar ratio. Our old LMS didn't have functions such as modules or assignments, so those are on the list, but as I'm not a teacher I can't really foresee what our teachers might see as relevant.

Any answer is a good answer! If it's completely unrelated but still relevant I'd love to hear it! Thanks in advance Smiley Happy

41 Replies
Community Champion

We just introduced Canvas to our community after several years at another LMS.  We're finding the best thing for us to do is to show a fully built course, including modules, pages, assignments, discussions and quizzes.  We also add the instructors to this course as a student so they can see what their students would see, and have a chance to try out posting, submitting, and viewing.

Don't worry too much about edge cases - try to figure out how your instructors are going to use it.  If they're going to add their own students, then spend time there.  If none are going to bother with discussion boards, don't go into detail with that.  We also had a lot of success with designated "Canvas drop-in" hours every week - where our Canvas experts (in our case, our instructional design team) are available to answer any questions and work through any issues.  It helps the instructors feel that it's more than just a new toy that they're going to learn and then never use.  Also make a clear line of where your instructors and students can go when they have an issue.  We have a one-stop shop ("Help Desk") that can then direct the questions either to IT or instructional designers, depending on the issue.

I'd also suggest small workshops where you demo Canvas - but really are there to show off what they want to see.  Maybe focus on each grade, or each subject matter, whatever is a clear separation.  It means more trainings for you, but it gets the instructors up to speed quickly, and provides a setting that they're interacting instead of just listening to a lecture.

Community Coach
Community Coach

I think the advice Anthony gave was pretty spot on, but I'd like to add that having some just-in-time resources available is also super helpful.

Sometimes when you cover things in person people aren't ready for the information or don't fully process it. They then go home and can't remember what exactly was said or discussed. Yet, if you have some online resources available for faculty to refer back to it can really cut down on confusion. For the resources, it doesn't have to be a lot that you do yourselves, just providing links to the Canvas Guides (which are amazing) can be super useful.

Community Contributor

 @kona ​ thanks for this. I've been busy creating a course which all staff are enrolled in that I've also posted to Commons, called "Getting Started with Canvas." I've put a bunch of how-tos in it with full screenshots of our branding and bits and pieces from the Canvas Guides. It should hopefully come into play as new staff come and go as well.

Community Contributor

Thanks so much for this Anthony, it's good to hear from someone in the same circumstances.

In addition to the fully built course, did you produce any of your own documentation for your staff? I've made an information type course with how-to modules for various things that all staff are enrolled in so they can reference this if they need to. It's available on Commons called called "Getting Started with Canvas."

I like the idea of a drop-in period - I'll raise this with our team. Sometimes more work initially is better than the same amount of work spread out over time.


What Anthony said about making sure people (students, faculty, and training staff) know where to go for help is paramount. No amount of training will prevent 100% of issues. Teach faculty and students how to use the Canvas Guides​ as well. Canvas has some of the best documentation of any software platform I've ever seen.

It's good that you're familiar with Canvas Commons. I would make sure your faculty are comfortable with it as well. They can save a lot of time by starting with content from Commons and they can leverage resources you create, such as Student Orientation modules, that they may not be comfortable with or have time to create themselves.

You seem pretty savvy with the Canvas Community and that's great as well. I wouldn't shortchange the benefit of teaching and encouraging your faculty to be comfortable using the Canvas Community. The wealth of knowledge contained here (in writing and in the talents of the members) is really astounding. It is also one of the most positive internet forums I have ever been a part of. Consider creating a "secret group" for your institution here in the community where faculty and technical support staff can communicate (Contact your CSM for details on how to get that going). Sometimes the best resource isn't technical support, but rather another faculty member. Anything you can do to facilitate that peer to peer communication will pay off big. If you don't want to go the "secret group" route, encourage the use of discussions in the "Getting Started" course you're creating or another course that all faculty are enrolled in.

I feel like you were looking more for specific aspects of the LMS to cover and I have not really answered that question because in my experience there are other things you can focus on in your unique position of just starting out with Canvas and being a rather small institution that will have a greater impact. That being said, when it comes to specific parts of Canvas to cover in training, anything pertaining to grades is a very important thing to have everyone understand as fully as possible from the start. Nothing causes more grief than issues related to grades.

Good luck and congrats on being ground breakers!

Community Contributor

Cheers awilliams​, that's great advice. I agree completely with your thoughts on the Canvas Guides. It's making my job a ton easier than it would have been.

I hope to push Commons to the staff more and more as time goes on. I've looked at a lot of the material on there already and the most significant issue is that most of it is American. That means a bunch of common words are spelt differently, and the US and NZ curriculums are quite different. To help ease the staff into the platform I'm in the process of creating a bunch of pages and modules that can serve as templates so we can keep things roughly uniform throughout the school. The smaller school roll makes this more achievable hopefully.

I'll definitely explore the option of creating a discussion area. I had looked into utilizing Google+ as a way to cut down on emails and to make communication more interactive. I don't think it worked as well because with the staff count being comparatively small, everyone just talks to each other.

Lastly, thanks for mentioning grades as a potential issue! This will definitely go on that list.

Community Champion

Hi  @itadmin 

I'm part of the central team supporting Canvas at a large University. We tend to focus on the staff who will using Canvas as teachers. The individual academic departments tend to do their own thing when it comes to familiarising their studets although we do provide a small amount of guidance material for students.

We regularly run training sessions for teachers. We have a series of five sessions - the first one is a general intro that covers navigation around the system and a brief overview of the tools. Then we have four sessions that are specific to different areas of Canvas: content tools (pages, modules etc); communication (discussions, inbox etc); assignments (group assignments, Speedgrader, Turnitn etc); assessments (quizzes, surveys, grading, statistics etc). Everyone is encouraged to attend the first session and then they can attend any of the others, in any order, if that area is of interest to them. Each session consists of a demo (about 30 - 45 minutes) and then a workshop where the users have two hours to experiment with the different tools and ask questions. For the later sessions (quizzes in particular) users often come along with specific ideas of an activity they want to run with their students and they can try out those ideas during the workshop before going away to implement a live version of the activity.

We also have some online guidance pages - one set for teachers and one for students. These are in the form of public-access Canvas courses so anyone can view them without needing to log in. You can see these pages here:

Some of the content, especially in the staff guidance pages, is specific to our own setup but the pages about using quizzes, assessments etc might give you ideas on creating support materials for your own users.

Community Contributor

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the suggestions. The way you've broken down those five training sessions into the subject areas seems like something we could definitely adopt here. I'll pass those onto our team. Even if we don't replicate a training programme as regular as you do, at least we have an idea of how to go about structuring them.

Thanks also for the links to your staff resources. The way you've simplified the definitions and meanings behind the various functions in Canvas is going to be a big help to us as we develop our documentation along with the Commons course I've created for staff.

Community Coach
Community Coach

I am one of the admins for our instance of Canvas at the Technical College where I work.  We have been providing monthly training sessions for faculty on how to use Canvas.  During those training sessions, they get to experience what it's like to take a course in Canvas, and they also get their own "sandbox" courses where they are the "Teacher", and they have to create some content in there as part of their assignments for the training course.  Once they are done with the month-long training, they can use the "sandbox" course for whatever they way...playing around with the different course tools, creating content, etc.

This past Summer, I built two resources within Canvas for our faculty.  The first resource contains all kinds of different things like what to at the start/end of the semester, information specific to our recent conversion from another LMS to Canvas, info about this Community site, forms to fill out, LTI apps, Canvas mobile apps, etc.  It's kind of like a "one-stop-shop" for all things Canvas.  The second resource I created was a bit more "geeky".  It's got lots of code snippets that instructors can grab and insert into their own Canvas courses (even with very little to no programming experience).

Finally, we recently launched a private group for just our faculty and adjuncts right here in the Canvas Community.  To date, we have almost 60 members in the group.  I had briefly showed our private group space to some of our faculty at the start of this semester (when I was giving them a hands-on tour of the Canvas Community), and they thought that our private group space wouldn't be as overwhelming as jumping right in to the Canvas Community pages as a whole.  So, we have a private space where our faculty and adjuncts can come to ask questions, start discussions, comment, blog, etc.  My hope is that our faculty and adjuncts will visit our private group often and utilize the tools available.  And, for me and my co-workers, it's great because we can also get reports of the kinds of activity we are getting within the group.

Hope this helps!!!