Canvas can be a great tool to support teaching and learning in face-to-face environments. Used appropriately, Canvas can help manage your class by delivering course-related activities and resources in a streamlined fashion. Unfortunately, there are a few too many occurrences of learning management system misuse spanning from unstructured document repositories to less-than-desirable course design that leave students confused and anxious. Below are 5 tips for faculty that will foster a successful Canvas experience:
1 - Customize Your Canvas Notifications
Notifications in Canvas is a Global feature. It will adjust frequency of notifications received for ALL of your courses. Notifications are categorized by Course Activities, Discussions, Conversations, Scheduling, Groups, Alerts, and Conferences. Ask questions for each item. For example, do you want to know when a new discussion post or reply is available immediately, or do you check on a daily basis anyway? Would a daily reminder be helpful nonetheless?
Customize your notifications preferences in a manner that best suits your needs. Go through your Notifications Preferences and set each one to push to your contact methods either immediately, daily, weekly, or no notification.
Check if additional methods of communication are needed. Consider how connected you want to be with your notifications. If you are a heavy mobile user, adding your cell phone for TXT notifications is a great way to stay connected. Additional “Ways to Contact” can be added from your Profile Settings page.
2 - Update the Syllabus Page
The Syllabus page provides you with a tool to organize all of your graded activities and events into one place. Any time you create an assignment, activity, or calendar item with a due date in Canvas, it will automatically populate in the Syllabus tool. It also provides an easy way for your students to locate the Syllabus!
Post your Course Syllabus to the Syllabus tool as a file. Try converting your file to PDF format first, but Word doc format is completely acceptable.
Add Available and Due dates to your assignments and other graded activities. Adding these dates will help organize the list of graded activities and events auto-populated in the Syllabus tool.
3 - Add Graded Activities
If you have graded activities such as assignments, quizzes, group work, etc., use Canvas as a way to manage your Gradebook and student submission of work completed. Using these tools help manage the flow of information, grades, and feedback to students. Canvas provides Assignment, Discussion, and Quizzing tools for graded activities.
Create an assignment page for each graded activity. In Canvas, any tool that is set to be graded will be listed under the Assignments tool, including Quizzes and Discussions.
Set up your graded activities to mimic the grading policy on your Syllabus. If you weight your grades, be sure to group your assignments and set the weights (percentages) for each category.
Organize your assignments by due date. If you group your assignments, order your assignments in each group. This will control the order of the columns in the Gradebook.
Add detailed instructions to your assignment activities. This will allow students to retrieve assignment information on the go and will reduce student inquiries.
Set assignment dates. Using this feature will keep students informed and on task.
4 - Make Your Course Easy to Navigate
Canvas offers different ways to structure course-related activities, organize information, and deliver content. Canvas classifies the materials and activities you add to your course into types. For example, clicking on "Assignments" will show you every assignment in your course, no matter where it fits in your course sequence. Clicking on "Files" lets you look at all the files that have been uploaded into your course site, irrespective of which page they are designed to appear on.
Organize your course into modules. Add content, files, links, assignments, and activities to the module in sequence of how students should be accessing course activities.
Organize your files into folders with easy-to-identify naming conventions. For example, if you have lecture PowerPoints, create a folder named “Lecture PowerPoints” and name your PowerPoints intuitively, such as “01 – Introduction to Canvas Part 1” or “02 – Introduction to Canvas Part 2”. If you need to update a file, keep the same name, especially if that file is used elsewhere. If you upload a file with the same name, it will overwrite the existing file and will update it throughout the course so you do not have to re-link.
Hide navigation links that you are not using from students (and reorganize them!). As an instructor, you will still see these links in your course navigation! Hidden navigation items can be unhidden at any time. The links you choose to keep in your menu should be determined by the tools your need for your course site.
Set Your Homepage. There are several options to set as your homepage: Course Activity Stream, Customized Page, Course Modules, Assignments List, and Syllabus. We recommend customizing your own page and providing students with information on How to Get Started and How Canvas Will Be Used in Your Class (such as where to find content, files, assignments, etc. and how each of these will be used during the course lifespan).
5 – Decide How You Want to Communicate with Students
Canvas offers a variety of methods to communicate with students. You can use the Inbox, Announcements, or Discussion tools to communicate.
Choose which tools you want to use to communicate with students. Be consistent with how you use the tools to help temper student expectations.
Inform your students the best method of communication. Do you want them to message you through Canvas or Email?
Tell your students communication turn-around times. How frequently will you be checking electronic communications. What is the anticipated response time?
By following these tips, you can spend more time focusing on meaningful learning experiences than answering student questions that are not content related.
As an Instructional Designer at Macomb Community College, I design, develop and facilitate online and on-ground workshops including online faculty certification and Canvas certification. I also support faculty in repurposing courses from an on-ground to an online learning environment, recommend course improvement ideas, and support faculty in using technology to facilitate learning. I obtained an Ed.S. and M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and a B.A. in Education from the University of Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan.