Tips for things to NOT do in Canvas


Things to NOT do in Canvas

There is plenty of content on what to do in Canvas -- how to do this and how to do that. But sometimes we Check or Uncheck an option or setting in Canvas, or turn something On or Off, not knowing what it is or what it does -- and then something doesn’t work. In the few years I’ve supported the teachers in my district, I have learned a few things to NOT do.  I want to share this list of things to NOT do accidentally in Canvas, the why, and how to get around it.  These are not in any particular order.

NOTE: Different districts may have different settings and permissions, so some things described here may or may not be available for you.

1. Don’t add a Course Start date and then not enter an End date

Why? Your course won’t end (or conclude) and will remain active, which means Students will be able to continue interacting and submitting to the course. This also means that if a student moves to another school, they’ll remain active in your school’s subaccount and will continue receiving Global Announcements from your school (if your schools are in different sub accounts).

If your district creates courses via a sync with the SIS, it’s likely the courses come automatically with Term dates for when the course will start and end.  You may have the option to change those dates by editing the Course dates -- BUT be careful to:

  1. not add an end date prior to the Term end date or your course will conclude (!!) and students will no longer have access; the course will move to Past Enrollments and you’ll find you can no longer import to your course and other weird things
  2. not leave the End date blank, or your course will not conclude.  Note that, depending on the situation, once the course concludes, you may not be able to “unconclude” the course.

Related Canvas Instructor Guide: How do I change the start and end dates for a course?

2. Don’t add an End date to your Sandbox course

Why? Your course will conclude and you may not be able to use it any more.  In some districts this may mean someone else will have to manually create you another sandbox course.   

In our district we provide our teachers with several Sandbox courses.  What’s the purpose of a Sandbox course?

  • try out Canvas tools and features in a course in which no students are enrolled
  • import course content after the term ends so you have somewhere to continue working on course content until new term courses are created -- you may need a Sandbox for each content/prep you teach
  • import content from Commons and pick and choose what you need
  • use as a space to share and collaborate with other teachers
  • other creative uses

Bonus Tips:  

  • When the content is no longer needed in the Sandbox, simply go to the course Settings and click Reset Course Content to wipe out the course and have a fresh, empty Sandbox (recycle!).  Now you can use the course again for another purpose, or a new course’s content.
  • If you have several Sandboxes and don't need easy access to them all, "unfavorite" them to  hide them from your Dashboard.  They will remain under Courses => All Courses for whenever you want access.

Related Canvas Instructor Guides: 

3. Don’t hide/disable Grades in your course navigation menu 

Why? Mostly because for students navigating the course via a browser, clicking on Grades is how they access feedback and comments, annotations, and rubric results you’ve provided on assessments.

If you are not using Canvas to enter all assignments and grades and don’t want students to get confused by the course grade total, you can “Hide totals in student grades summary” and “Hide grade distribution graphs from students.”   Here is how:  go to your course and click on Settings => from the Course Details tab scroll all the way to the bottom and click the itty bitty teeny tiny text/link “more options” => check the boxes for Hide totals… and Hide grade distribution.

Bonus Tip:  By going to Settings and hiding totals, students lose the ability to “Calculate based only on graded assignments.”  While it can be useful for students to view “What If scores,” some students get confused and think it's their real score, or may show parents their “What If” scores and not their actual scores.

Related Canvas Instructor Guides:

Related Student Canvas Guide:

4. Don’t give Students the role of TA, Grader, etc. in any course -- not even a non-SIS-created course, like manually created courses for clubs, mentoring, etc.


  • It will mess with their accounts for integrated tools like NewsELA, etc.  Giving them a role other than Student in ANY course makes Canvas think they are Staff -- and this may inform other integrated, instructional applications, causing conflicts with their accounts for those tools.
  • You will give them access to other parts of the course (even if links are hidden from Students) that have student info, such as Grades, and People which will display student ID numbers, possibly personal email addresses, and other personal info, which is a FERPA violation.

An option to consider for giving students a place to collaborate is to create Groups -- not just the Groups a teacher can create within a Course, but rather Groups that are independent of a Course. A sub-account (school building) system admin can create Groups in your Sub-account.  You'll also want to consider management and maintenance of independent Groups.

Related Admin Canvas Guide:  How do I add groups in a group set in an account?

5. Don’t enable Large Course feature

Why? It will mess up your Speedgrader and you won’t be able to filter by Sections.

Under Settings there is an option:  Large Course, and a checkbox for Launch SpeedGrader Filtered by Student Group.  Only select this if you indeed have a course with an unusually high enrollment AND if you then create Groups that correspond to your Sections.   

When this new feature came out, I mistakenly shared the info with our teachers, who turned on this Setting in their courses. Then we discovered that Speedgrader didn’t work any more. Now, whenever I receive a support ticket saying, "My Speedgrader isn't working," the Large Course setting is one of the things I check (the other is if a filter was set in Grades that may be affecting the Speedgrader).

This feature only became useful to me when we had a course with over 2K students enrolled for a countywide assessment.  We had like 14 sections and each section had between 100 and 200 students.  Speedgrader would crash on us. Canvas Support came to the rescue, advising us to use the Large Course feature.  And it was super easy to create the Groups that corresponded to the sections, as well!

Related Canvas Instructor Guide: How do I enable SpeedGrader to launch filtered by student group?

6. [Classic Quizzes] Don’t import a Quiz from elsewhere more than once

Why? Every time you import a Quiz you are importing the SAME quiz -- not a new copy of a quiz.  And when you edit what you think is the Copy, you essentially overwrite your original Quiz.  Each Quiz has an ID number. The first time you import or copy it, it will have a new ID, but if you re-import or re-copy, it will have the same ID, so it's the same quiz (not a new copy).

So how can you duplicate these quizzes or questions?  Here are some options:

7. Don’t copy and paste links (or images) from one course to another

Why? If you simply copy and paste those links and images to your course (Course B), but the files or links live in Course A, when students click them, you're essentially sending them back to Course A --  a course in which they likely are not enrolled, and therefore do not have access (they will get a Restricted Access warning).

Images or other files (PDFs, .doc, .png, .mp3) that have been uploaded to the original course also must to be uploaded to your current course Files as well. (This could easily lead into a lesson on managing Files in Canvas 😀)

Also, when using the Course Import tool, beware of course links that were created in Course A by copying and pasting the URL of a particular location in the course (instead of using the Course Links tool).   If the Course ID changes in the URL from one course to the other, a link was made incorrectly.

Bonus Tip:  Use the link validation tool regularly to find these issues easily, and address them.

8. Don’t forget to click the checkbox to enable the Adjust events and due dates option when doing a Course Import of a semester- or year-long course

Why? Because then your copied course will have all of last year’s due dates and availability dates.

If you accidentally forget to click the box and suddenly remember, and haven’t done much editing in your new course -- easy peasy -- just go to Settings and click Reset Course Content.  This will wipe out your course and clear all of the content (a brand new slate -- or Canvas, if you will 😉) and you can start the import process again, this time remembering to Adjust dates.

If you made significant updates and edits and can’t reset your course content, use the amazing Edit Assignment Dates feature to bulk update due dates and availability dates for all Assignments.   

Bonus Tip: You also can easily adjust a due date for specific assignments by dragging and dropping on the course Calendar.

Related Canvas Instructor Guides:

Here are a few more tips for good measure:

  • Don’t cross-list sections (move a section of students from one course to another) after the Term has started IF students have submitted to a course.  Why? Their submissions and grades in the original course will get “lost”.
  • Don’t Publish your course until after you have imported your course content from the previous term.  Why? Students will get a TON of notifications about the new content.
  • Don’t import Modules from Commons to your active course. Why? Just trust me, LOL!  Because it can make a tangled mess!   Instead, import from Commons into a Sandbox course, make any edits there, THEN import or share what you need to your real course.


Your Turn:  What other DON'T DO’s do you have to share -- and Why?  And how do you work around them?  Please share your Comments below.

Acknowledgement:  I want to thank some of my fellow Canvas Advocates for helping me round out this great list!  GRACIAS!!


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