Community Participant

What is the purpose of designating items as "to-do"?

Experienced online instructors, can you please share your wisdom and knowledge?

I am failing to understand the purpose of designating a page, an assignment, etc., as "Add to student to-do," which appears at the bottom of pages when you edit them. I understand that clicking this box causes the item to pop up for the student in a stream on the right side of the dashboard in Canvas.

This seems to create two competing threads for students to follow to figure out what needs to be done and when: the modules (which are marked as week 1, week 2, course documents, additional resources, etc.) and the to-do list. If I were a student, I might be confused by these competing threads.

As an instructor, I wouldn't want to mark only some things as "to-do" for fear that students may overlook portions of the class because they didn't pop up on the to-do list. On the flip side, if I mark everything "to-do," then what is the point of the designation?

Could anyone provide some insight as to how you've found the to-do list to be useful for students?

Have any instructors found ignoring the to-do designation (not marking anything as "to-do") to cause problems?

Thank you.

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3 Replies
Community Champion

Hi tom.stearns Welcome to the Canvas Community! And a shout-out as a fellow Washingtonian. Smiley Happy

There are others in the community who can give you more history on the To-Do list, and I'll tag another Washingtonian  @kmeeusen ‌ who has even more insight about the To-Do List.

But here's the gist of it, automatically when you create a graded assignment, discussion, or quiz and you add a Due Date, it goes into the Student To-Do list to be automatically displayed as that due date draws near. So you do not have to do anything special to put graded activities on the To-Do list.

And just like you said, there's a type of student who lives by the To-Do list only and will just do the next thing and miss out on essential content within the module. So, a few years ago Instructure added the ability to add pages to the To-Do list so that instructors could reach those To-Do list students and pretty much say, "Hey read this before you do that assignment."

Again like you say, if an instructor added everything to do the To-Do list a student could get overwhelmed with an endless list. I remember at the time a few instructors pointed out how they design their assignments with references (or even links) back to the content pages that students need in order to complete the assignment. I'm a instructional designer and I fiddled with the page on the To-Do list for a minute and then didn't bother to implement that in any courses out of concern that instructors would uncheck the box not knowing what they were doing. Smiley Wink So instead, we build the assignment so that it's clear the content in the module is needed to understand/complete what needs to be done-- either it's mentioned in the instructions or there's a rubric criterion addressing integrating course content.

My personal take on the page added to the To-Do list is that it's great for when there's something that needs to be done outside of the course with specific and lengthy instructions -- like completing a simulation at another website.

Hope you get a lot of good responses to your query,
Cheers - Shar

Community Participant


Thank you, fellow Washingtonian Smiley Happy, for your thorough reply. I appreciate your insights, and I will definitely follow your suggestion to incorporate links to readings and other components of the assignment into the assignment itself that will be graded. That's a great solution and helps me see that the problem isn't actually the to-do list designation; the problem is if students start to feel that everything is strewn all over rather than organized in one place. Your suggestion will take care of that. Thank you again!


Community Contributor

ishar-uw‌ - You gave an excellent reply. I too am an instructional designer and I agree that the "To-Do" option should be for special circumstances such as doing something at an outside resource. One example to add to your simulation example would be an activity at a publisher's website.