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4 Tools for Checking Your Canvas Course for Errors

Explorer III
28 12 4,224

[UPDATE: See this updated and expanded accessibility checklist: ]

Sometimes I'll forget about one or more of these tools when building a course, so I thought I'd list them here as a reminder for others, too.  Use all of these tools both while you are building your Canvas course and after you build your course.  I've also included some tips at the bottom to reduce the number of errors and technical issues with your Canvas course.


1. Course Link Validator

Especially when you are working on more than one course at a time, you may copy and paste or share things between different courses.  This may cause links or images to break for students if they link back to a different course that you have access to but not the students.  You may re-use an older course which has links that no longer work.  You may accidentally link to a page that you forgot to publish.  The Course Link Validator in Canvas will check for issues like these.  You can access it by going to your course Settings and then 'Validate Links in Content.'  See How do I validate links in a course?  


2. Student View

By default when you create and add things such as pages, quizzes, assignments, and discussions, they are not published.  That means students will not be able to see them, even though you can.  Modules with unpublished items are considered to be in a "Draft State."  See How do I use Draft State in Assignments? 

You may also set requirements and prerequisites or unlock dates for modules or availability dates for assignments that inadvertently block access for students at the wrong time.  Again, you will be able to see and access the modules and assignments just fine, but your students will not.

By going to Settings and then 'Student View,' you can test for these issues by viewing your course as a student.  See How do I view a course using a test student? 

You might see if it is also possible to add fake student accounts to your course to test out your course from a student account more fully.  See How do I add numerous Test Students to my course? 


3. Canvas Mobile App

You've spent hours making your course look beautiful.  Lots of images, tables, videos, and other interactive features.  Hopefully early on in the process, however, you regularly check what your course looks like in the Canvas app for Android or iPhone/iPad.  You may be shocked to see that that table or image you used has made the rest of the page shrink down to microscopic levels.  Those image buttons that lined up so perfectly on your computer are all out of whack or barely visible in the app.  That Flash widget you added to a page may not even be visible in the app, and that video may be so tiny as to be unwatchable. 

Why should you care about how your course looks in the Canvas app?  At UCF, they found that around 80% of students use the Canvas app every week to access their courses. 

See the tips below for some techniques to prevent these types of issues before they happen.


4. Accessibility Checker

The new accessibility checker in Canvas lets you check a page for common accessibility issues such as image alt tags, table headers, and color contrast.  See How do I use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor? and see this page for tips on addressing other accessibility issues, such as video captions, in Canvas: General Accessibility Design Guidelines.

Your school may have UDOIT or Blackboard Ally installed, which can check your entire course for accessibility issues.

As an alternative or supplement to these tools, test out your course with a Screen Reader such as NVDA or Claro Read for Chrome or PC.  Officially supported screen readers for Canvas are listed on this page: Accessibility within Canvas  


Reducing the Number of Errors before They Happen

  1. Modules - Use the modules page as the primary place where you build and organize your course.  Think of it as the table of contents, or outline or to-do list, for your course.  If you have a reading or assignment or quiz or discussion for a particular week or unit, add it to the module for that week or unit.  Don't only link to your activities and resources within a page.  This way, everything associated with that week or unit will be more visible to you and your students.  You can see in a glance if something is not available or unpublished that shouldn't be, or if a requirement was not set, and so forth.  See How do I add a module?  and How do I add assignment types, pages, and files as module items? You can still make a nice looking homepage and module introduction pages for your course, especially if you do not like the visual appeal of the modules page.  See How do I change the Course Home Page? and How do I set a Front Page in a course? Adding text headers to modules can also improve the visual appeal and readability of a module: How do I add a text header as a module item? 
  2. Images - When inserting an image, always remember to set the alt text with a description of what is in the image, for screen readers.  If you want to embed a very large image, consider reducing its size using an image editor such as Pixlr first. See: How do I embed images from Canvas into the Rich Content Editor? 
  3. Tables - When inserting a table, always set a header row and/or column in the table properties, for accessibility purposes and screen readers.  I would recommend never setting the width or height of the table to a fixed value.  If you dragged to resize a table, then it set it to a fixed width.  This will end up looking very bad in the Canvas app.  As an alternative, either keep the width property empty, or set it to a percentage value like 100% or 80%.  I would recommend reducing the number of columns, also, if you use tables at all.  More than four columns become very small on a mobile device.  See this article for information about the different table properties you can set: How do I insert a table using the Rich Content Editor?  Go to 'row properties' to set a row as a header row.
  4. Text Color - If you ever change the color of text, also change the style to bold or a header, for accessibility purposes. See: Not authorized to view the specified document 12855   If you change the text color and/or the background color of a table, check that the color contrast is sufficient using this Color Contrast Checker from WebAIM.
  5. Videos - When inserting videos, make sure there are captions (and ideally a transcript), and also check that in the Canvas app, the video plays full-screen, or at least that it is not so tiny as to be unwatchable.  You can use the 'public resources' tool, if available, to embed youtube or other videos. See: Embedding Content Using the Public Resources LTI   Otherwise if you paste in a Youtube link or use the chain link icon, see the 'alt text for inline preview' information also on this page: How do I link to a YouTube video in the Rich Content Editor? 
  6. Flash - Just, don't do it. Check that any widgets or interactive things you embed in your course do not use Flash.  Flash often will not work by default in most browsers and devices, and even Adobe, who makes Flash, is discontinuing it completelyH5P is one alternative free tool for adding some interactivity to your course.  In the worst case, you can use a screencast tool such as Screencast-o-Matic or Screencastify, to record a video of the flash animation and share it via Youtube or another video server.
Community Team
Community Team

Thanks for posting this handy compilation, Nice Work! A complementary resource that blew my mind is msgarcia‌'s . Now that I know how to use Device Mode in Developer Tools, I use it all the time.

And some schools allow designers to work with an actual fake student in addition to the Test Student (Student View); that's another helpful way to kick the tires on course design.

Community Member‌ this is great! Pinging‌ and‌ for this one. 


This is quite brilliant!!! I appreciate all the suggestions and links provided here! 

Community Member‌, thank you for sharing this. I love it! Always great to have a list like this.

Community Coach
Community Coach


This makes for a very nice one-pager I can hand my faculty!

And I greatly, immensely, immeasurably, abundantly, incalculably, supremely (okay, I'll stop here with the superlatives) appreciate your comments about using the module structure!



Explorer III

Thanks, I don't know if I should have made it a document instead of a blog post, so that others could edit/add to it.

I know some folks where I'm at want to enable the 'fake student' option to go beyond the regular student view that stefaniesanders mentioned, but I haven't had any experience with that, and I can't find documentation about that.  I found this by Stefanie, I'll add a link to it: How do I add numerous Test Students to my course? 

Adventurer II‌ -- great one-pager. Can I share with my faculty?

I have 3 or 4 test student accounts that I use regularly. A colleague reportedly uses Bilbo Baggins as a test student. A faculty calling roll kept calling out Bilbo's name and finally asked if any other student knew Bilbo. Someone finally enlightened the faculty as to the identity of Bilbo. The faculty was embarrassed at being clueless to such an important pop culture icon. The colleague promptly removed the test student from the course when the story came to light. Students reportedly greatly enjoyed the whole thing.

Community Member

Ha ha, I love that story! 🙂

Explorer III

Of course, feel free too.  I need to see if I can get access to some test students.  That would have helped me a few months ago when I was trying out a peer review assignment, which you cannot test in the regular student view.

Adventurer II

At our institution we are able to create guest accounts that we can add to Canvas. I just create a few accounts using gmail or yahoo. As long as I go into the email accounts periodically to keep them active, they work well to be added to the canvas roster.

Explorer III

I updated it to mention the new Accessibility Checker in Canvas, as well as some other minor changes.

Learner II

We have recently added  to our servers to check for accessibility. It works great.