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API - Best Indicators of Online Participation

Using the Canvas API, what are the best, most reliable indicators of student participation in a course?

I developed a user script to identify students who have NOT participated in the course for a given period of time. "Non-participation" is defined as no quiz submissions, no assignment (file) submissions, no discussion posts/replies. Page views do not count as participation in my criteria, so that rules out using the Zero Activity Report provided by Canvas. Attendance is not taken as these courses are entirely only with optional sync sessions.

My initial approach was to use participations (api/v1/courses/[course id]/analytics/users/[user id]/activity) to check each student's participations and list the names of those students with no participations. I discovered that participations did not produce reliable data, as this discussion confirms: Participation API - anyone else seeing errors? The API call returns fewer participations than actually occurred. For a given user, there may be two or three participations in the JSON data, while the same user's Analytics pages shows many more.

Is the best approach to get quiz submissionsassignment submissions and discussion posts and replies for each student or is there a simpler way to distinguish between participating and non-participating students using the criteria I listed above?



*My script is based on the excellent Access Reports script developed by James Jones, see Obtaining and using Access Report data for an entire course 

7 Replies

We use Canvas Data to generate a last activity date for Canvas.  The submissions tables have all of the data related to assignment submissions.  We eliminate any roll call submissions (since that's the instructor taking attendance) and use submitted_at as the last activity date.  With 30K students, we cannot use the api to try to mine for that data...there are just too many and it would take too long.  

Hi Joni,

Submissions do seem to be a much more reliable indicator of student participation (as I've defined it).

I can look for a course with quizzes and test this, but do you know if quiz submissions are included? I am guessing they are, but want to be certain.

Thanks for your reply.

Hi Daniel,

yes quizzes are included in submissions table as is anything in the grade book.  Inactive students and deleted students remain in submissions as well.  Check out my presentation from instructurecon 2018, if you have questions I’m happy to help.  Smiley Happy


Thanks, Joni.

You've already been very helpful, but I will check out your presentation.

All the best,


Hi Joni,

Our College has recently had a visit from the Title IV auditors. They wanted us to make some changes with our last date of activity process for our Online courses. I have discovered that the submission table provides the best and most accurate data...especially for the instructors pairing content with a publisher. However, we have an automated process that inactivates a student in a course once they withdraw and once they are inactive you can no longer access the submission table through the Analytics button. The Dept. of Ed. wants our College to report the last activity date, even for a withdrawal. Do you know how I could make that info available to the instructors for the inactive students?

Currently, I active the student and screen print the table for instructors with publisher paired content. That seems to be the only reliable date for publisher paired content and it seems to provide the most accurate activity dates.

Any help you or anyone else could provide would be great. We have a follow-up audit in 4 years and I would like to have a better process in place.


Ann Strickland

We got audited by the Florida dept of Ed for attendance a few years ago so I get it.  I’m out of the office for the next few weeks but we can set up a time to talk then if you send me a private message.  I’m happy to show you what I’ve done and how I’m using canvas data.  Also I presented at instructurecon 2018 on this if you want to watch the recording.  Smiley Happy

Thanks, Joni. I will watch your presentation and connect with you in late January (after we get clear of our semester kick-off Smiley Happy) Thanks!