How Canvas’ intuitive interface makes it easy to use

This is the seventh post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the sixth principle.

  1. Efficient and easy to use: Learners need to work in a system that is fluid and requires a minimum number of steps in systems that are intuitive and integrated.  

Efficient and Easy to Use  

During the search for a new LMS, instructors said ‘ease of use’ was a top principle for choosing technology to support student learning. If a platform is intuitive and easy to navigate, students can focus on their course work rather than trying to find their way through multiple steps to access content, submit assignments and interact with other students and their instructor. An LMS can be a boon to provide access to content in remote, face-to-face, and blended instructional contexts, especially for courses seen as content heavy (Squires et al., 2017). It is also vital to meet student expectations for a 21st century education. 

Canvas’ Intuitive Interface   

Multiple Canvas features support students in finding their way around a well-designed Canvas course. These design features assist users in accessing and organizing materials, assignments, and due dates; a few of them are highlighted here.  

On everyone’s Dashboard, a To Do list appears in the right sidebar, showing upcoming assignments and events (students) and items to be graded or dates to be noted (instructors). Those with dual roles of instructor and student may see both types of items in their To Doseach course also has its own To Do list. This electronic list serves up timely reminders, with direct links to all items in the list, helping to keep users on track.  

The Modules index page usually holds all modules and items for a course, controlling the flow of the course. Index pages for each of announcements, assignments, quizzes, discussions, collaborations, and even pages, offer a place where all alike items are listed by due date or date of creation. Each index page allows for creation of new, corresponding items (i.e. – a new discussion creation from the discussions index page)

The Global Navigation Menu is visible, regardless of where you are in a Canvas course, giving access to all ‘account level’ features. Here are just a few of the easy to use features:  

  • In your Account, Notification preferences can be changed with the click of your mouse when you’d like to receive or change how often you receive messages about activity in all your courses, and you can even specify preferences for each course individually.
  • One of the features that adds so much ease of organization for instructors and students alike is the Calendar, a place where events, due dates, office hours, and exams for all of your courses are pulled together for use at a glance, distinguished by course by colour-coding! It even provides a link for syncing with common calendar tools such as Outlook and Google.
  • The Help feature at the bottom of the Menuhas all of your Canvas support options curated in a list, with links that take you to the type of help you prefer, from Live Chat to a phone number to email support.

Finally, Speedgrader is the Canvas online assessment and grading tool that lets instructors compose, input, and then share annotations, feedback, and grades seamlessly with students. It is easy to use, while it can perform many complex functions. It can be accessed from multiple places in the course and can even be used by students as an assignment annotation tool when doing peer assessments. 


Squires, V., Turner, N., Bassendowski,  S. L., Wilson, J., & Bens, S. (2017). Enhance, extend, empower: Understanding faculty use of e-learning technologies. 3rd International Conference on Higher Education Advances, HEAd’17 Universitat Politecnica de Val ` encia, Val ` encia, 2017 `’  

Using Canvas New Analytics to see how students are doing in your course.

Having to teach remotely may have left some of us feeling like we are teaching in a vacuum. Without the usual cues that face-to-face teaching provides, it can be difficult to tell whether students are engaging or participating with their course materials. Even if you feel like you have a good sense of how your students are engaging with the course, New Analytics can help confirm these feelings. 

What is New Analytics? New Analytics is a tool that can track and report student activity within Canvas. Student activity is defined by two data points: Page Views and Participations. The table below shows the difference between the two.

Page Views • Are based on requests to the server (this means that the numbers of page views may be greater than what we traditionally think of as a page view).  • Therefore, page view data can be used as an approximation to student activity and not an absolute metric.   Note: This data is most useful when seeking to understand if activity did occur, and as a means of a comparison across students within a course or when viewing trends from week to week. Participations • Announcements - posts a new comment to an announcement  • Assignments - submits an assignment  • Collaborations - loads a collaboration to view/edit a document  • Conferences - joins a web conference  • Discussions - posts a new comment to a discussion  • Pages - creates a page  • Quizzes – starts or submits a quiz Note: These actions generate analytics for participations
How to access New Analytics.

You can easily access New Analytics through the course Home Page or from the course navigation menu (if you have set it to be visible in the menu).

Accessing New analytics

Using New Analytics

Weekly online activity

You can use New Analytics to view and compare several items such as average course grades, which show if students are keeping up with their assignmentsand average weekly online participation which show if students are engaging with the course material. Using these analytics can help you to identify at- risk students based on their course grades or participation criteria.

Once at-risk students have been identified, you can intervene and send targeted messages to their Canvas Inbox. By sending a personal message to your students, you are showing them that you care and are available to help them with any issues they are experiencing. If you prefer, you can also send emails. For instructions to generate a list of student emails using New Analytics, watch this video.

New Analytics also generates reports on missing, late, or excused assignments, class roster, and course activity that can be easily viewed and download.

Looking at Particular Students

If you want to know how a particular student is doing in your course, you can access New Analytics for individual students or the Course Access Report for that student. The access report will show you:

  • The content the user has viewed.
  • The number of times the user viewed the content. A view is counted each time a user navigates to the URL where the content resides or downloads an attachment.
  • The number of times the user participated (if applicable, such as posting to a discussion or submitting an assignment).
  • The last time the user viewed the content.

You can also access a student’s Interaction Report where you can:

  • view the last time you interacted with the student
  • see the current grade for that student
  • see if there are any submitted but ungraded assignments for the student
  • quickly access the Conversations page to send a message to the student by clicking the message icon.

Course statistics give a glimpse into which assignments, discussions and quizzes are engaging students and what might be improved in the future, knowing this helps you to better engage your students.

Good to Know:

  • Page views and participation metrics include an aggregate across all devices (i.e., desktop, mobile).
  • Data is refreshed in New Analytics every 24 hours – so check the time the data was last updated in the course, as content may be outdated compared to recent course activity and student submissions.
  • Only active and completed student enrollments are included in data for New Analytics. Deleted or inactive user enrollment will not generate data.

If you find yourself wondering whether students are looking at your course, engaging with the content or keeping on top of the coursework, a glimpse into the New Analytics and Course Statistics is a good place to start. If you find that students are not engaging or are falling behind – reach out to them. It could make the difference between them completing the course or not.


How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

This is the sixth post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the fifth principle.

5. Designed for student control and ownership of learning: Learners create and control spaces for learning, understanding and retaining ownership, and purposefully choosing how and when they share.

Student Control and Ownership of Learning

Practices that facilitate student choice can have a positive impact on their participation and motivation, and thus, academic performance. Students with choices can engage in higher-level learning for many reasons; feeling more engaged, intrinsically motivated, and joyful in their learning can lead to deeper learning, better processing and more effective long-range memory storage. Choice supports the enhancement of creativity, leading to other positive habits like self-initiated revision and editing (Jensen & McConchie, 2020).

Students doing different work allows for richer and more diverse discussions and in-turn, the learning environment can become less competitive, more collaborative and supportive of higher order knowledge creation and application. (Smyth et al., 2011). When students have choice in their learning, enhancing their sense of autonomy, power and control, social and emotional learning can also increase, elements which are significant in adult learning. Student choice around assessment also lends to more independent decision-making. All of this contributes to few problems around academic integrity as well.

How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

Canvas has multiple ways students can design opportunities to develop and demonstrate their knowledge and skills, fostering their independence as learners.

The Rich Content Editor, available in most areas in Canvas, provides space for students to choose to create and respond:

  • in text, audio or video created inside Canvas,
  • attach files, links to external URLs and/or
  • embed YouTube videos or upload their own videos

Canvas also allows for student empowerment as content creators, through

  • editable pages set-up by the instructor
  • student created discussion boards, collaborative documents, pages, files, and announcements within student groups, accessed through group home pages, and
  • if instructors permit, self-sign-up in groups, as well as creation of announcements, discussions, and collaborations within the wider course environment.

Additionally, student-controlled spaces give opportunity for students to support their own learning and that of their peers through collaborative knowledge creation and peer review on assignments and in discussions. For more on the benefits of using peer review, see the blog Utilizing Peer Feedback in Canvas.

With the What-If Grades feature, students can view their grades and input scores to see how grades may be affected, and then make decisions around submitting or resubmitting assignments.

The Folio link for USask users, accessed on the Account menu, links to an ePortfolio site and provides a space for students and faculty to create a profile, upload a CV or resume, feature top skills and best work (uploaded from Canvas or other sources) and connect with others. This feature affords a convenient way to create, store, and update a portfolio over time, giving students access and control of their work across classes, as they advance through studies.

New Analytics displays grade averages, online activity by week and participation in communication tools, allowing students to view their individual progress and use the up-to-date information to assess their progress and improve or shift their activities.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Anderson, M. (2016). Learning to choose, choosing to learn. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jensen, E., & McConchie, L. (2020). Brain-based teaching: Teaching the way students really learn. 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Smyth, K., Bruce, S., Fortheringham, J., & Mainka, C. (2011). Benchmark for the use of technology in modules. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Napier University.

Posting Feedback and Grades in Canvas

Once students start completing quizzes and assignments in your course, you may start wondering how students access this feedback. You may also be wondering if you need to do anything to release the feedback. You may also wondering, to be frank, about a lot of things.

Grade Posting Policy for an Individual Assignment

By default, feedback, comments, and grades in Canvas are automatically shared with students as soon as they are generated. This means that as soon as you grade an individual student’s submission, these details will become visible to them. Students may even receive an email notification about this, depending on their notification settings. If you want to keep all of this hidden until you have finished grading all of the students, you will need to manually hide it. This can be a bit complicated to do as you can’t hide grades in SpeedGrader until grades exist. Your best way to hide grades for an individual assignment is to go to Grades, navigate to the assignment column, click on the three dots beside the name, and click Grade Posting Policy. Here you will be able to switch to Manually post the grades. Once you complete grading, come back here and post the grades.

Grade Posting Policy for the Course

If you know that you will always want to keep feedback, comments, and grades hidden until you manually release them, you can change the default course Grade Posting Policy. Here’s a guide to that: How do I select a grade posting policy for a course in the Gradebook?

Grade Posting Policy for a Quiz

These same grade posting policies apply for quizzes. If you leave do not change the grade posting policy to manually, students will be able to immediately see their score after submitting the quiz. This is the case even if you have chosen to not “Let Students See Their Quiz Responses” in the quiz settings (see this post for more details). You likely have a personal preference for one way or the other.

One important caution is that if your quiz contains any manually graded questions, students will see a total quiz score that is allocating a zero for all of the manually graded questions until they have been graded. This may frighten your students! In these cases, it’d be better to keep the quiz grades hidden until all of the questions have been graded.

Student Access to their Grades

Once grades are posted (either automatically or manually), they become visible to students when they navigate to the assignment or quiz. They also become visible with Grades. When students go to Grades, their view looks similar to the image below. An individual student will only see their own grades. If you have Assignment Groups set up, students will see the weighting [1] and their score so far on that group [2]. To see their feedback and comments on each assignment or quiz, they click on the name.

Student Access to the Grade Distribution

By default, students have access to box-and-whisker plots of the class’s grade distribution on assignments. If you prefer to keep this hidden, here’s a guide: How do I hide grade distribution scoring details from students?

Student Access to their Total Course Grade

Another default setting is for students to have access to their Total course grade in Grades. This can be helpful for students to track how they are doing and allows them to use the What-If Grades function to predict their grade and set goals for assignment grades. Luckily, this is only available to students in you have set up weighted Assignment Groups because if you had not, the Total score could be meaningless. If you would prefer to keep the Total hidden, here’s a guide: How do I hide totals in my students’ grade summaries?

For help with these options and settings, please access Canvas Help within the global navigation menu on the left-hand side of Canvas. If you are experiencing technical issues, the first line of support is Canvas Help and then

The Canvas Inbox (is better than you think)

Did you know that messages in Canvas are also called Conversations? And that when you send a message you are actually starting a conversation thread which is stored within Canvas? Since all messages (or conversations) are stored within Canvas you never have to worry about missing or losing any messages.  

The Canvas Inbox is an internal messaging system that allows you to send messages to: 

  • specific courses 
  • specific groups
  • sections in a course 
  • all students in a course,
  • groups of students in a course, and if you click the Send an individual message to each recipient checkbox, then each person in this group will not be able to see who has been included in the message 
  • individual students in a course  
  • people in your courses with specific roles (such as TA’s or instructors) 

When you have a message in your Canvas inbox, a notification will be sent to your regular USask NSID email ( to alert you. Notifications can push out to email, or text message depending upon your selection. 

You can reply to Canvas notifications fromyour USask Outlook email as long as your outgoing email address is your but if you have an email alias (e.g., you must add it to Canvas so that it recognizes both emails and allows you to respond to notifications from your USask Outlook email.   

The video, Replying to Canvas notifications from your email inbox  shows you how to set up your email alias in Canvas.  

There are many advantages to replying to Canvas messages through the Canvas inbox such as: 

  • it is one way to maintain privacy as everything is contained within Canvas and you do not need to use personal or other emails 
  • important conversations are kept within Canvas and are easy to find
  • you can easily select who you want to send messages to 
  • you can easily track communications with students
  • any comments that students make on their assignment submissions are copied to your inbox and any comments you make on student assignment submissions are copied into their inbox, so there is no need to go looking for comments/ feedback. You can filter your messages by type and find these comments under Submission Comments. 


If you would like to receive a copy of the messages (or conversations) you send in Canvas you simply have to configure your general notifications so that you are notified right away whenever you start a conversation. You can also choose to receive a copy of any announcements you create in your course. 

The illustration below shows you the changes you need to make to your general notification preferences. To access the general notification preferences, click on the account link in the global navigation menu and then notifications. 

Notifications Menu

Everyone also has the ability to customize their Notification preferences for individual Canvas courses. These are known as course level notifications. Changes at the course level give you the opportunity to choose: 

  • which courses you want to receive notifications from,
  • which notifications you want to receive,  
  • how often you want to receive them and  
  • where you want to receive these notifications.

To change course level notification preferences simply go to the course home page and select View Course Notifications from the sidebar. 

The illustration below shows you what the course level notifications page looks like.  

Course notification preferencesNote – Whether or not students are alerted of Canvas messages in their USask Outlook email will depend on how they have set up their own notification preferences, they may only see their Canvas messages once they are logged in to Canvas. However by default, Canvas notification preferences are set so that they are notified right away whenever an announcement has been made in your course or when they have been sent a Canvas message. Whilst you cannot control how students set up their notifications, rest assured that any messages you send through Canvas will be there when they log in.

Exploring the Many Ways of Using Canvas Classic Quizzes

Quizzes are an extremely flexible tool that can be used to support many stages of learning. For example, quizzes can be used to pre-assess (prior to learning), provide practice and feedback (during learning), or as post-assessment (after learning). Experimenting with these various methods can assist you in finding ways of making your course more supportive of our USask Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles (e.g., “Designed for Reflection and Growth”). Here are some approaches to using quizzes that you may want to consider:

Using the same quiz at a different stage in learning

  • Using a quiz prior to learning and after learning can help make learning visible to students. Allow multiple attempts on a quiz and add it to your module in more than one place (e.g., at the start and end).
  • If you would prefer to not allow multiple attempts, but still want to use the same quiz more than once, you can use the Copy To feature to create a second copy
    • Quizzes cannot be duplicated by you can use Copy To and copy it back into the same course

Using quizzes to promote mastery

  • You could promote mastery on certain concepts by allowing students to have multiple or unlimited attempts on a quiz. This is especially useful for learning if students receive different questions on each attempt. This can be done by creating a larger bank of questions on the same learning outcomes
    • You could even require students to receive a certain score before unlocking the rest of the module, but you should use this strategy judiciously and be prepared to provide learning support to students that are not able to meet the threshold score

Using a quiz or survey as a module requirement

  • Quizzes or surveys can be a powerful method to activate prior knowledge or stimulate metacognitive thinking. For example, you could ask specific questions about the topic, or more general ones, such as “what do you already know about this topic?” and “what do you still need to learn about this topic?”
  • If some of these questions are not able to be auto-graded, we have found using a survey is better than a quiz. If it is a quiz, the grades for all manually graded questions will show as zero to the students. If it is a survey, students won’t see a “grade”
    • if you want students to get feedback after submitting, you can still build autogenerated feedback into the survey

Using quizzes for high-stakes exams

For help with these options and settings access Canvas Help within the global navigation menu on the left-hand side of Canvas. To discuss the best approach to using these settings in your course, email

Students Finished Writing my Canvas Classic Quiz: Now What?

Once your quiz or test availability period ends, there are a number of tasks that you might want to complete, such as reviewing how the entire class performed, reviewing an individual student’s quiz, and manually grade questions. This post and video will outline these different tasks and how you can accomplish them when using Canvas Classic Quizzes.

Reviewing the class’s responses

  • As an instructor, one reason to use quizzes is in order to identify areas where students are doing well and where they need further support. The most efficient way to view question-by-question results in Canvas is to navigate to the quiz via Assignments or Quizzes. Click on the quiz and then choose Quiz Statistics in the upper right
    • You can either view the details on this page or download a report

Reviewing an individual student’s quiz

  • You may want to review a certain student’s quiz or even have a meeting with them to go over their responses. You do this by navigating to the quiz and choosing SpeedGrader

Fixing an error in the answer key

  • When reviewing the student results you may realize that there was an error in the answer key for one or more of the questions. If the error was in a multiple choice, true/false, or multiple answers question, this is an easy fix
  • To apply this easy fix, edit the quiz and navigate to the Questions tab. When you find the question with the error, you simply edit the correct answer and Canvas will pop up some regrade options
    • For more details, visit this Canvas Guide
    • Do not use the “+New Question Group” and “Link to a Question Bank” option if you want the ability to automatically regrade
  • If the question isn’t one of these three types (Multiple Choice, True/False, or Multiple Answers), you will have to manually regrade the question in SpeedGrader

Manually grading quiz responses

  • If you have quiz questions that can’t be graded automatically. You complete this grading within SpeedGrader.
  • If you have not used question randomization, you can even turn on Grade-by-question in to allow you to grade each question for all students to improve efficiency and effectiveness
  • If you used the File Upload quiz question type, you will need to download the file to review outside of Canvas. Currently, SpeedGrader does not support viewing these submissions within the browser
    • If you want to be able to grade the file submissions inside of Canvas’s SpeedGrader, you will create an Assignment with the File Upload Submission Type instead of a quiz

Showing students the correct answers and built-in feedback

  • You may want students to be able to see the correct answers at some point. This is a quiz setting that you can turn on and off at any point. Access this setting within the Edit menu for the quiz. This setting can be changed at any time
  • If you have built automated feedback into the questions, this correct answers toggle will also make the feedback visible

Reviewing which students have completed the quiz and messaging those that haven’t

  • You may want to send a reminder to those that haven’t completed the quiz. There is a quick way to do this in Canvas. You navigate to the Quiz and click on the three dots beside next to Edit (in the upper right of the page). Choose “Message Students Who…”

For help with these options and settings, please access Canvas Help within the global navigation menu on the left-hand side of Canvas. If you are experiencing technical issues, the first line of support is Canvas Help and then

How Canvas supports learning through Reflection and Growth

This is the fourth post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the third principle.

3. Designed for Reflection and Growth: Learning is refined and extended through prompted and supported opportunities to focus on understanding and next steps. 

Reflection and Growth

Reflection is integral to the learning process. Giving students the opportunity to reflect allows them to consider how what they have learned fits in with what they already know. This active process helps students construct meaning and retain knowledge. Students grow as learners when instructors describe and share learning criteria and performance indicators with them.

How Canvas supports learning through Reflection and Growth

A rubric is an assessment tool used for communicating expectations of quality and can help students understand how they can get better at what they are learning. In Canvas, rubrics can be associated with assignments, discussions and quizzes and can be used to assess online assignment submissions in SpeedGrader. Outcomes created in Canvas can be added to rubrics and also used to track mastery in a course. When students have rubrics to work with they can easily reflect on their work and identify their strengths and weaknesses and specific areas for improvement.

Quizzes in Canvas assess student’s learning and allow them to grow as learners, particularly when the quizzes are designed to give immediate feedback and can be attempted multiple times. When quizzes are attempted multiple times questions can be shuffled if a question bank is used to create the quiz questions, and the answers can be shuffled within questions so that students get a different quiz to try.

Canvas assignment settings can be adjusted to allow students to resubmit their assignments multiple times, allowing them to work through instructor comments and peer reviews ensuring that their work reflects their growth and understanding of the subject.


Understanding Timer, Availability, and Accommodation Settings for Canvas Classic Quizzes

As we continue our move to Canvas after a decade with Blackboard, there are some new settings to highlight and understand with setting up Classic Quizzes in Canvas. This post aims to clarify these settings to allow for the smoothest experience for you and your students.

Time Limit

  • The time limit is the amount of time students have to complete the quiz from when they first open it. If they navigate away from the page, restart their computer, etc. the timer continues to run. Once the timer runs out, the quiz auto-submits unless the Available Until time occurs first

Available Until Time

  • The Available Until time is when the quiz ends and is no longer available. The quiz auto-submits at this time even if there is time left on the student’s timer
    • For example, if a quiz is available until 12:00 and has a time limit of 60 minutes, if a student were to begin the quiz 11:30, it will auto-submit at 12:00 even though the student still has 30 minutes left on the timer
    • This operates differently than the timer on Blackboard’s Test tool
    • It is imperative that you inform your students that the quiz will auto-submit at the Available Until time, no matter when they begin the quiz
      • Canvas will also warn the student if they begin the quiz with less time remaining until the Available Until time than the full allowed Time Limit

Available From Time

  • The Available From time is when students can first open the quiz. If the quiz is Published, students will be able to see that the quiz exists prior to this time, but it will be locked to them if they try to access it

Publishing the Quiz

  • As mentioned above, if a quiz is Published, students will be able to see that the quiz exists prior to this time, but it will be locked to them if they try to access it
  • Publishing is necessary in order to set up accommodations for students, such as time-and-a-half
  • Published quizzes appear by default within the Quizzes and Assignments menu items. They also appear in Modules, if you have added it to a module

Providing Students with Extra Time or Attempts

  • If you want or need to provide with students with quiz accommodations, such as time-and-a-half, you will first need to publish your quiz. Once published, you can access Moderate This Quiz
    • Within Moderate This Quiz, you can click on the edit pencil next to each student’s name to provide extra time or extra attempts
      • Note that this entry is for extra time and not the total time. For example, if you quiz is 60 minutes and you want the student to get 90 minutes, you enter 30 minutes
    • VERY IMPORTANT: The Available Until time will override this added extra time. If you are only providing students with an exam writing window that matches the Time Limit, you will need to change the Available Until for the accommodated students. This is done by adding exceptions to the Assign field on the Edit page for the quiz
    • The Moderate This Quiz settings only apply for this specific quiz. They need to be set up each student each time you offer a quiz

For help with these options and settings access Canvas Help within the global menu on the left-hand side of Canvas. To discuss the best approach to using these settings in your course, email

Active and social learning in Canvas

This is the third post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the second principle.

2. Active and Social: Learning is a process of meaning making, constructed through learning with others, and as part of an intentional, deliberate system within a course and across experiences.

Active and Social learning enhances student engagement and promotes comprehension and memory. These types of learning are important elements in a learner-centered approach to knowledge. In order for learning to be considered active, a student must be processing, discovering and applying information, not just passively listening or reading. Offering students the opportunity to actively participate in their learning in a social learning space has been shown to enhance student engagement and promote both comprehension and memory.  

Active and Social Learning in Canvas 

Canvas has several features that can be used to facilitate active and social learning. This may be more important in a remote setting as it can help mitigate feelings of isolation in students and promote the connectivity and social aspect that face-to-face classes intrinsically offer.  

Canvas has a discussions feature that can be used to promote active and social learning. Discussions can be focused or threaded and can be used to analyze or solve problems and offer opinions. It is an asynchronous communication tool allowing posts to be read or replied to at any time within the discussion availability window. 

Groups and group sets can be set up in Canvas to allow students to work collaboratively and build learning communities. When students are part of a group they have their own workspace where they can work on group assignments, share filescreate pages and start their own discussions; in this way you can encourage social learning.   

Student collaborations allow students to work together on the same document. Only students in each group can see collaborations for their group but instructors can view them all. The University of Saskatchewan supports Microsoft Office 365 as its collaborative tool. This means that Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint can be used for collaboration. 


How does Canvas make learning accessible?

This is the second post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the first principle.

  1. Accessible: Learning must be found easily at any time, and all learners and teachers have equitable access, regardless of culture, language, ability, etc. 

Accessible education gives everyone equal access to content and ensures that all learners have equitable access to course content regardless of their culture, language, age gender, preferred learning style or ability. Accessible courses remove barriers that may exist for some students and reduce the instructor’s need to make individual student accommodations.  

Accessible education has advantages for both students and instructors.   

Advantages for instructors Advantages for students
A course that is designed to be accessible for many students reduces the likelihood of instructors having to arrange individual or specialized accommodations for students  Students can determine when, where and how to access course information
An accessible course can improve student learning and show clearer evidence of that learning  Students can spend more time focusing on course content
An accessible course can improve student engagement and may have a positive effect on course evaluations More inclusive of students with different abilities and backgrounds

How does Canvas make learning accessible? 

Canvas has an Accessibility Checker that ensures any content created within the Rich Content Editor follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines  (WCAG 2.1). The Accessibility Checker ensures that text is easy to read, that tables include captions and header rows, and that images include alternative text describing their content. All of these features give students with disabilities equitable access to course content.   

Assessments are important to evaluate student learning and Canvas has several features that can accommodate student needs and personalize their learning experience. Mastery Paths  allow Instructors to customize student’s learning experiences based on their performance. Instructors can give students extra time to complete a quiz or allow them to try it multiple times. Instructors also have the option to customize assignment due dates for individual students.  

Canvas Mobile Apps are available for both Android and iOS devices and are designed to allow students and instructors to access their courses at anytime from anywhere they have Internet access. The Canvas student app allows students to do many things on the go, such as submit assignments and participate in discussions. The Canvas teacher app allows instructors the flexibility to grade assignments and communicate with students from their mobile devices. 


Read more about Canvas accessibility. 



What are Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles and why are they important?

Technology and education go together like strawberries and cream, or peanut butter and jelly, and in this time of remote instruction, teaching and learning are both enabled by and reliant on technology.  

In order for us to be successful in an online teaching and learning environment, there are eight principles that USask instructors should consider important when using technologies for teaching and learning.  The eight principles, shown in the graphic below are research supported characteristics of effective digital learning spaces that prepare students for work and life, and are aligned to the University of Saskatchewan’s Learning Charter.

Following this post will be posts delving into what each principle means and why it matters, so stay tuned.

Pie Chart of the 8 Learning Technology Ecosystem

Grading Discussions in Canvas

You’ve set up and run your first graded discussion in Canvas – and the volume of posts seems a bit daunting. Now it’s time to assess the individual student contributions against the defined criteria, and get results out to them before the next discussion goes up.

Here are some tips for grading discussions, using tools in Canvas to assist with the task.

  • Discussions and Settings Gear ButtonsCanvas automatically marks posts as ‘read’ when you scroll down the page (changing the green dot left of the post to white). This function might interfere with keeping track of what you’ve read, and be a time waster if you have to backtrack through posts automatically marked as read that you didn’t actually read. You can choose to ‘Manually mark posts as read’ by navigating to the Discussions Index page and clicking on the gear pictured here.
  • On the discussion page you wish to grade, choose SpeedGrader in Options (grey box, three dots) which will sort individual student posts into one column, from that discussion only. If you want to pop back to the discussion to see a student’s replies in context, a link to view the full discussion is at the top of the summary. The video Canvas Speedgrader gives a brief overview of navigating through this tool.
  • If you created groups for a discussion, you can also access their discussion through their group’s home page menu, and proceed to SpeedGrader via Options (grey box, three dots)
  • Comments on the posts can be made in text, audio or video, all composed within SpeedGrader. Video comments might be especially appropriate if the students’ posts and replies were video responses. Once you have the knack of doing video comments, you may find them quicker to compose than typed text. Also, video comments are just one more way for you to ‘be present’ for students in remote delivery.
  • If you invested time in building a good rubric for discussions, the reward comes not just in alignment with learning outcomes and student understanding of requirements, but also in minimizing grading bias. In addition, the ranking you choose for each criterion should reduce the number of comments needed to communicate to students what they did well and where they can improve.

Using Your Rubric in SpeedGrader:

Speedgrader and Rubric Example

  • View the rubric in Speedgrader alongside an individual student’s posts and use it to calculate the grade by clicking on the rankings, shown above at [1]. The Canvas guide for using rubrics in SpeedGrader walks you through the process.
  • Override rating numbers by entering a number manually in the Points (Pts) box [2]. If you find yourself overriding the rating number consistently, think about adjusting the ratings to a number range for the next discussion, or adding a rating level or two, to your criteria.
  • You can enter text comments for any criterion in the rubric by clicking on the comment icon. [3] Additional comments (text, audio or video) are entered below the rubric.
  • Rubrics in Canvas can be used for multiple discussions; however, if you want to make modifications to a rubric each time, you need to make a copy and edit that copy while setting up a new discussion.

7 Tips for Using Group Work, Remotely

Group work can be highly effective in the remote teaching context.  It is more important than ever to use strategies that require interaction among students.  In groups, they can check their understanding with peers and develop a sense of belonging that helps engage and motivate.

Tip 1:  Be clear on purpose and process.  Make it crystal clear to everyone what the learning goals or outcomes are for group work.  Provide students with clear descriptions and criteria that will be used to determine grades.

Tip 2:  Set up the groups for students.  You may need to survey students or ask them to submit information by email or discussion boards to allow for intentional grouping.  You could set the groups based on a preferred meeting time or preferred delivery date of the group project; diverse perspectives or experiences; self-assessed strengths for group projects; shared topic interests; or preferred type of project deliverable.  We recommend 5 members, plus or minus 2.  See more tips for group composition here.

Tip 3:  Make expectations explicit for students.   Resources on netiquette will help in terms of appropriate behaviour and ways of interacting.  Set some process goals up for students at the outset.  For example, state that you expect students to get to know each other, to include all members of the group in the decisions and work, to benefit from the peer connection and collaboration, to agree on meeting times in advance, to distribute work evenly, to meet the due dates, and so on.  Each group might be able to add your list in a team contract based on their discussion about how they want to work together (an excellent early activity).

Tip 4:  Support group processes.  Indicate the kinds of feedback and support you can and will provide if groups ask.  Give students a clear path for asking for help when they get stuck in terms of group dynamics or uneven contribution.  Let students know when they should involve you and what they can expect you to do.  If there are steps you want them to take before they reach out to you, outline these for them clearly.  Asking students to do a mid-project team assessment and, if needed, require a reset plan.  See more on supporting groups here.

Tip 5:  Require progress updates.  Project management is challenging.  When groups stick to their timelines, it prevents conflict and uneven contribution.  Set some interim targets for groups to help students develop the skills and meet the learning goals.   Ask for submissions like a team contract, meeting agendas and minutes, mid-project meeting with you, or 1-page progress reports.  

Tip 6:  Keep the tech simple; keep it to a few tools.  Require students to use tools for meeting and collaborating that are university-supported.  For meetings, students can get support for using WebEx.  Did you know each student has their own WebEx room?  Did you know students can record their meetings?  For collaborating on documents, students can get support for using OneDrive . If you want to check in with groups in meetings or through their documents, this is better for you as well.

Tip 7:  Get students interacting with the criteria you will use for grading, early.  Provide students with rubrics so that they know what you want—do this on the first day. Checklists for contents of reports or other deliverables can also help. Consider having groups exchange project deliverables in draft form and have them use the rubric/checklist to give each other feedback prior to the final due date.  For more on assessment of group work, see another link (several have been provided in this post) from the Eberly Centre at Carnegie Melon University “Solve a Teaching Problem” site.

Canvas Commons Opens New Ways to Share Materials With Colleagues, and Beyond

As part of our move to the Canvas LMS, the U of S gains the use of the Canvas Commons. The Canvas website describe it as:

Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. A digital library full of educational content, Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course.

As an instructor who is a Canvas user at USask, you will be able to find materials in, and share materials to the Canvas Commons. In addition, there are institution-wide documents, such as a U of S Canvas template available in the Canvas Commons.

Using Materials From Canvas Commons

You can access the Commons from within any of your Canvas courses, allowing you to add materials that others have shared from the U of S or other institutions. To learn how to search for and preview a resources in Canvas Commons, see the guide How do I use Commons?

You can search Canvas to find resources that may be useful for your course. You may find an entire course that might have some resources you would like to use, or you there may be individual modules, assignments, or other smaller parts of a course that you’ll find useful. 

Sharing Materials in Canvas Commons

In addition to using materials created by others, you can share materials from your courses to the Commons. You may share any educational materials that you create in their entirety, are adaptations of openly licensed materials, or you have explicit permission to share in Canvas Commons. You may not share any copyrighted materials unless you are the sole copyright owner of the materials. This includes images, slides, photocopies of journal articles or pages in a book, or other such materials that may have been created by a commercial publisher, student, or others who have not given you permission to share the material in Canvas Commons.

You and your colleagues can share resources developed within your unit or are openly licensed within Canvas. This may be easiest within a Group. For information on how to set up and use a Group in Canvas Commons, please see Can I share content I create in Canvas with just a small group of colleagues?

To add a module, assignment, or quiz from one of your own courses in Canvas to Canvas Commons see this guide from Canvas – “How do I share a resource to Commons?” 

To add individual files, such as an image or document from one of your own courses see – “How do I share a document, image, video, or audio file to Commons?” 

Using the Commons With Students

If students in your course are creating new materials such as posters, or are adapting existing open educational resources, those materials can be shared to the commons, with the permission of students. If shared with the USask in Canvas Commons, the students would have access to those materials as long as they are students at USask. If you share it with the wider Canvas Commons community, students can access the materials beyond their time as students at USask by creating a free Canvas Teacher account.

Getting Help

If you have questions about using Canvas Commons please email If you would like to request a Group be set up to share resources with your colleagues, please submit it as a General IT Request.