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

What’s a Well-Designed Canvas Course Look Like?

Just as students appreciate seeing good examples of work before doing their own, instructors designing courses often feel the same way. As the U of S transitions to Canvas we want to provide you with some such examples through the following two examples. In both cases, student information and data has been removed.

ETAD 402 – Multimedia Design and Production
This course from Professor Marguerite Koole in the College of Education is a blended course in that it’s a mix of asynchronous and synchronous delivery.

ENVS 818 – Introduction to Sustainability
This course from Professor Maureen Reed from the School of Environment and Sustainability. This is an example of an asynchronous course and is also a condensed course, delivered over only two weeks. It makes extensive use of Discussions.

While building your own course in Canvas, or reviewing it once it’s built, you may find this checklist useful. The checklist covers details related to the course navigation and information, content, student assessment, and course accessibility. The checklist will support you in achieving our Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles and other principles of effective instructional design.

Finally, the video below explores a course that is poorly organized. This is not an actual course, but may reflect issues that you’re trying to avoid. This post explains the purpose and how to use modules in your remote courses to avoid these issues. There are also a number of additional resources available on remote teaching and using Canvas at the U of S.

Office Hours, Remotely

When we move to remote teaching, we need to consider how we will continue to provide students with student-instructor interaction. One way of offering this is through office hours. While we used to offer office hours outside of lecture or class time, now we might be able to leverage our scheduled class time to engage with students to discuss problems, specific questions, or examples.  Transmission of content (powerpoints, videos, readings, etc.)  can then be reallocated to asynchronous hours.

Determine if it best suits your course to offer:

  • group discussions,
  • individual consultations
  • drop-in sessions

Be consistent with whichever options you choose. Remind students often via email and course notifications.

Use the flow chart below to help you determine which options work best for your course.

PDF Version Office Hours, Remotely

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Remote Lab Experiences

Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

Lab experiences are often rich, hands-on elements of courses that build on learning outcomes from lectures or achieve a different set of outcomes. There are typically three key buildings blocks to any lab experience.

  1. A problem or task
  2. Active completion of a procedure or process
  3. Documenting the process and results

As we plan to offer our labs remotely, there are a number of important questions to consider.

What do you already have?

  • Are there existing online or blended versions of this course that you can draw upon? 
  • Are there individuals experienced with online instruction in your department or unit who could help smooth this transition?
  • What are the important laboratory skills that learners must have in your discipline when they finish this course before they progress to the next level or stage of learning? 
  • What other things are students expected to know and value in this course (overall)?
  • How do students traditionally collaborate and communicate regarding their lab experiences? 

Moving Forward

  • Where and how could students get ‘caught up’ in the future (as the university returns to face-to-face)? 
  • What advice have you received from accrediting bodies and industry regarding remote labs?
  • Where are the small shifts required to do this remotely?

What/how do I want students to be able to articulate or interpret?Knowledge/Values

  • Can students watch videos of the lab experiences being performed and interpret or collect data that way?
  • Should students ‘skip’ the procedure of the lab experience and simply manipulate the data (from a previous year)?
  • Is there alignment (e.g., timing, outcomes) between the lectures, assignments, and the lab experiences?
  • Do students need to be able to create or design the methods or procedures? Is it possible to do this outside a laboratory setting?

What/how do I want students to be able to do or perform? Skills/Abilities

  • Can students be provided with a problem that they can explore and experiment with at home? Could it be done using household materials?
  • Can students be provided with a procedure to follow at home?
  • Are there materials or equipment that could be provided to students at home?
  • If there are experiments they can do at home, what do you want them to submit? Data? Analysis? Conclusions? Photos? Videos?
  • Are there other ways that students can show you that they can ‘do’ or ‘perform’
  • Are there online simulations that students could participate in in place of the real procedure? 
    • PhET is a common resource for physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology simulations
    • has a collection of virtual labs
    • Need more options? Here is a crowdsourced list of over 200 different online lab ideas sorted by subject area

Other considerations

Another large consideration is whether or students have to do this lab in the course to meet the course learning outcomes. If the outcomes are able to be met without the lab component, then perhaps the lab can be reduced or suspended during remote delivery. If the lab is crucial to the learning outcomes, then what is the plan to get them to meet these skills? Below is a series of prompts to consider.

How will students do/develop…

  • …Outline problem clearly and Hypothesis development → remote:
  • …Experimental design (methodology) → remote:
  • …Application of theory (observing) → remote:
  • …Data collection → remote:
  • …Data analysis → remote:
  • …Uncertainties of measurements and conclusions → remote:
  • …Laboratory skills (glassware, synthesis, instrumentation) → remote:
  • …Laboratory Safety skills → remote:
  • …Team skills → remote:
  • …Reading disciplinary literature, record-keeping → remote: 
  • …Writing/communicating results and ethics→ remote:

Thank you to Dr. Alexandra Bartole-Scott for her help in developing this list.

Template for lab and course alignment Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

Why You Should Use Modules When Planning Your Course

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

LINK: Module Checklist

Take a look at your course syllabus.

What do you want learners to be able to do by the end of the course?

Review your learning outcomes and consider these questions:

  1. What type of learning activities are needed?
  2. What type of assessment activities are needed?
  3. How will students practice?
  4. How will they receive feedback?
  5. How will they demonstrate their abilities (to get a grade)?

In standard 13-week term, you would likely have one module every 1-2 weeks. Modules replace thinking about a course in units of time, but instead, as units of content or objectives. Modules can be thought of as topics, chapters, units, etc.

An online learning module should aim to include:

  1. Module title
  2. Purpose, outcomes, and to-do list
  3. Activation of prior knowledge and pre-assessment
  4. Learning materials
  5. Active & social learning with practice and feedback
  6. Major assessment
  7. Summary

20-minute video describing these 7 steps in detail

Here is an example of how to plan for weekly modules. Please note that the components of learning materials and active & social learning are not limited to the three subcategories in this template. Feel free to adapt to your disciplinary needs. If your course has a lab, please refer to the second sheet in the Excel template. 

DOWNLOAD: Planning for Modules Excel Template

Building Community, Remotely

In an online remote context, virtual learning communities (VLCs) allow us to plan for:

  • Interaction
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

This video highlights some of the reasons we might want to develop rich VLCs in remote teaching. Below are some strategies framed from instructor competencies.

Some strategies for developing interaction:

Model participation and practice good nettiquette

  • Use Discussion Forums and participate actively
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Motivate and encourage

Create a safe and supportive environment/network 

  • Moderate Discussion forum 
  • Temper the dominant voices in the forum
  • Set the tone by being positive
  • Encourage and motivate students
  • Use introductions, online office hours and e-mail to promote interaction

Incorporate collaborative learning and increased opportunities for students to participate and contribute

  • Post short 10 min lectures
  • Modify course content to to include Active Learning in between lectures
  • When will students contribute and share?

Facilitate meaningful and inclusive interactions 

  • Organize small group sessions or small group study groups.
  • Be willing to put in extra effort to contact students
  • Allow anonymous discussion posts

Some strategies for developing communication:

Build a foundation for participants to introduce themselves

  • Icebreaker
  • Discussion thread

Model prompt, effective and responsive communication

  • Answer emails within a certain timeframe 
  • Set up collaborative FAQs or virtual café where students can share questions and answer them. 
  • Communicate deadlines and expectations clearly (syllabus)
  • Provide prompt feedback on assignments

Evaluate role and monitor amount of instructor contribution to discussions

  • Checklists to make sure students are contributing to conversations.
  • Check-in with ‘under-performers’ to see if there are accessibility concerns. 

Model netiquette

  • Demonstrate respect, patience and responsiveness
  • Don’t ignore questions.
  • Steer conversations in the right direction
  • Keep a positive tone

Some strategies for developing collaboration:

Foster Learner-centeredness

  • Included Group work
  • Incorporate enquiry based and problem based learning
  • Promote reflection and self directedness
    • journalling
    •  blogging

Promote and support peer learning

  • Peer reviews
  • Peer feedback

Encourage, acknowledge, or reinforce student contributions

  • Provide opportunities and choice for students to contribute and share
    • Posters
    • Video, etc.

Empower students to work independently

  • Help groups set norms
  • How to use breakout rooms or their own webex rooms
  • Promote reflective practice 
    • Provide rubrics
    • Encourage journaling


Transforming Your Online Teaching From Crisis to Community

Five Qualities of Transformative VLCs

How to Prepare and Moderate Online Discussions for Online Learning


Farmer, H. M., & Ramsdale, J. (2016). Teaching competencies for the online environment. Canadian Journal of Learning & Technology, 42(3), 1–17.

Smith, T. C. (2005). Fifty-one competencies for online instruction. The Journal of Educators Online 2(2). Retrieved from 

Schwier, R.A. (2001). Catalysts, emphases and elements of virtual learning communities: Implications for research and practice.

Thank you to Nazreen Beaulieu for your support in preparing these resources.

Link to collaborative OneNote 

Start Here…Pick Two

Let’s boil this down. What’s most important for us to rethink as we use our precious hours to redesign our courses for remote learning? Work with a colleague, friend, or student to talk through your answers after you fill this out. Still stumped? Contact

PDF Version: Start Here – Break it Down – Pick Two

First, let’s take a breath and focus on the big picture.

What are two GUIDING PRINCIPLES that you want to keep in mind as you redesign and teach during this time?



Next, let’s settle on some technologies or processes that feel comfortable to us.

What are two TOOLS that you might use to support your teaching during this time?



Let’s think about what course content is most important for students to cover.

What are two CONTENT CHUNKS that you want students to know and understand by the end of this course?



Let’s look beyond content and think about skills our course hopes to develop in students.

What are two SKILLS OR DISPOSITIONS that you want students to have or demonstrate by the end of this course?



We are not in this alone. Let’s include our students as partners in this challenge.

What are two ways that STUDENTS CAN PARTICIPATE in helping you to redesign elements of this course?



Let’s find the teaching moments, and help students understand how our field is affected by and contributes to discourse around this global pandemic.

What are two ways that you can link your coursework to current events related to COVID19?



Because panic and misinformation are common and because we all need to help to flatten the curve around COVID19, let’s talk about public health in all of our courses.

What are two things you want to stress to your students about keeping themselves and others HEALTHY during this pandemic?




This work was adapted from which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Tips From Veterans of Remote / Online Teaching

As you prepare to create and teach courses remotely this spring and summer terms, we asked some U of S instructors experienced with this type of teaching to share some quick words of wisdom based on what they learned from their own experiences. Below are their tips related to design, teaching, and assessment for remote / online. Thank you to Jorden Cummings (Psychology), Allison Fairbairn (Music), Hayley Hesseln (Agriculture and Bio Resources), and Karla Panchuk (Geology) for sharing your experiences teaching remote / online courses.


  • Keep it as simple as possible. Online learning difficult for many students for diverse reasons, and we cannot assume our students have access to all things technology or that they are fully comfortable using technology.
  • Make it as easy as possible for students to find what they need within the course. Karla Panchuk shared this screen shot with us to demonstrate an easy to use sidebar menu in Blackboard.


  • Pre-record what you need to, but there are numerous existing resources you may find useful (e.g. YouTube videos)
  • Provide students with weekly checklists that highlight key items they need to look at
  • Post slides with voice-over. Post the notes page as well.
  • Use discussion groups to facilitate students connecting
  • Ask students to introduce themselves and say something that nobody knows about them
  • Ask students questions during the slide presentation/recording
    • Post those questions in a discussion forum to promote dialogue
    • Ask students to post a comment and reply to comments to encourage participation
    • Use the discussion forum with guided questions for readings
  • If you use outside services, avoid ones that require your students to create an account
  • Limit the number of tools that you and / or students will need to learn to use. Never assume that your students will all be tech-savvy


  • Have clear rubrics and post them so students can see how you will assess their work ahead of time
  • If feasible, provide a peer review component that  allows students to receive additional feedback on their work
  • If students need to print materials off to fill out and then submit, they need to be allowed to take photos of these to submit since a scanner might not be available
  • Setting up the grading centre to do anything, but the basics is time consuming. Just download your grades and calculate offline
  • Hayley Hesseln also makes use of reflections on learning as assessments

Ways To Limit Concerns About Non-permitted Collaboration

Are you worried about non-permitted collaboration?

It’s true, students can seek each other out for help, examples, interpretations, translations, feedback, and peer teaching when unsupervised. In fact, we often encourage students to do so as part of the learning process.  Blatant “copying” is a real problem because then the submitted work does not represent what that individual student knows or can do “without the support of resources or colleagues.”  Most students want assessment to be fair and are likely to appreciate your effort to have everyone play by the same rules.

Below are two options you may want to consider for addressing concerns about students collaborating.

Option 1:   Limit collusion by design.

  • Make collusion more difficult.  Develop more than one version of the exam recognizing you will need to deal with some administrative implications.  The variation of exams will make it more cumbersome for students to work together.
  • Make collusion less applicable.  Design the questions on the exam to require unique answers relevant to the student.  Ask questions that cannot be answered the same way by several students.
  • Articulate a process to verify students’ answers. For an example approach see, Learn how to use an oral exam (5-10 minutes per student).
  • Request students submit a signed document attesting to their honesty.  A recent post includes a sample (at bottom of post) that may cause students to think more carefully about their actions.
  • For more information on design, Download an explanation of how to transform your current exam questions into open-book questions

Option 2:  Permit collaboration and build it into your assessments.

  • Have students describe their process for consulting resources or people.
  • Provide a rubric that shows the criteria for levels of use of resources and feedback.
  • See this example of a worksheet (bottom of the post) or student pairs who provided each other with feedback as part of an individual paper assignment, this could be adapted for finalizing an open book exam.


First, Take Inventory

You might feel like the first thing to do for creating an online course is to understand the technology.  Before, you dive into that first assess what you’ve currently got going for you in your course as you have been teaching it.  Remember, the expectation is not for a fully developed on line experience, our circumstances really don’t allow for that.  And, our higher tech solutions may not stay reliable.  Some of the advice given when we first shifted to remote teaching is helpful:

3 steps for an inventory:

  1. What is the course catalogue description of this course?  The course should reflect this description.
  2. What is essential for students to learn given this catalogue description? In addition to the catalogue description, if the course is a prerequisite for other courses, what do students need to learn to prepare them for those courses. You may already have a statement in the form of learning outcomes in your syllabus.  But if you haven’t framed the essential things that students come to know or be able to do as a result of your course, listing them as “learning outcomes” now is a great opportunity and will make this process a lot more straightforward.  See our website, if you want some  guidance on writing learning outcomes.
  3. Which of your current assessments link to these learning outcomes?  You might make a table for yourself that shows these links.  It would be common for a single assessment to address more than one learning outcome, or for an assessment only to address one.   Just make it apparent to yourself how these connect.  Here is a sample of such a table.

Outcomes and assessments table

If you lay these 3 items out for yourself first, then you next start to analyze the fit considering  the opportunities and constraints of going online.

It’s Okay to Keep it Simple

As we all rapidly transition to remote instruction this week due to COVID-19, it is actually better to keep it simple.  When a friend sent me a blog post called Please do a bad job of putting your course online, I was initially offended.  As I read the post, I realized it offered some really good advice.  We aren’t trying to make awesome online courses (that takes too much effort at this stage), and faculty and students are dealing with lots of complications in their lives.  We are trying to protect ourselves and others with social distancing while ensuring students don’t lose the credits they are working for. With that in mind, here are some quick tips for rapid remote teaching:

  1. Choose to cut things that aren’t absolutely essential for students to meet learning outcome or objectives.
  2. Everyone already has a Blackboard shell for their course. Your students are already enrolled.  Use that as the home base for everything that you can.
  3. Keep the technology simple. Posting of simple text documents in Blackboard, like your notes, will be best for everyone.  
  4. If you have to use video, keep it very short.  Use small clips of 5 minutes or less if you can, and don’t worry about umms or editing for professionalism.
  5. Recycle what you already have.  Captured a lecture last year with Panopto – re-use it. 
  6. Avoid your class needing to meet at the same time (synchronous).  It will cause potential problems for students with low bandwidth and people dealing with sickness. 
  7. If you need to give a final, make the test open book if you can.  Technical solutions to proctor at distance are often ineffective or invade personal privacy.

Remember, everyone is working and learning in less than ideal conditions.  Simplify everywhere that you can. 

Other great links:


Featured instructor: Martin Gaal

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Martin Gaal, Lecturer

Faculty Member in Political Studies

Image provided by Martin

Martin teaches Political Studies 112, Justice and Injustice in Politics and Law to 100 students. He participated in CIC to help address his concerns regarding how to link learning outcomes to active learning strategies that ladder-in formative and summative assessments. Martin has noticed that student support for success is much more difficult with 100+ students than it is when he has smaller classes of 30 students. He continues to look for ways to tighten the course structure with technology and teaching strategies that increase student engagement and maintain a personal connection with students while seeking to maintain a manageable workload.

“Moving from what I am going to teach, to what are students going to learn”

For Martin’s large class context, having formative assessment strategies such as self-assessment and peer-reviewing allowed student development without becoming unmanageable. He has tried journaling, self-administered quizzes, peer-review feedback, and reflection assignments (amongst other strategies). One way in which reflection assignments helped was that he was able to share responses with the class. For example, if a student was successful at a certain task, their reflection about why they thought they were successful was a great formative feedback to share with the class.

In the future, Martin is going to try integrating a software called “statecraft sim” to allow students a virtual platform to test ideas. He also used some of his CIC funding to hire a student assistant. The student was helpful in creating TopHat assignments that students can answer via their mobile devices during the lecture.

In his own words:

The CIC has influenced my practice as a lecturer in three ways:

1. It has shifted how I conceptualize the classroom

– Moving from what I am going to teach, to what are students going to learn

– Use explicit learning outcomes for each class and include these on the presentation slides

2. It has shifted how I conceptualize assessment

– Move the balance of core assessments to the student through formative exercises

– Ladder these formative assignments towards the summative assignments

3. It has shifted how I conceptualize an active classroom

– If the class space or size is an obstacle to active learning, move the engagement online

– Use groups to engage in active learning that can bring their findings into the classroom

With students in Brussels – engaging with students is foundational to Martin’s teaching practice. Image provided by Martin.

Featured Instructor : Colleen Bell

Image provided by Colleen

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Colleen Bell, Assistant Professor

Faculty Member in Political Studies

Colleen teaches International Studies 110, Global Studies, to a class of over 80 students. By participating in CIC, Colleen was able to gather new ideas on structuring student debates, improve her use of rubrics, and better able to select and sequence the content necessary to engage students (which sometimes felt like a sacrifice!). She used some of her CIC funding to support grading and coaching and another part to have a team-based competition in class. The competition motivated students to watch and evaluate videos made by their classmates.

Image provided by Colleen

Colleen’s concerns with large class teaching were that students at the back of the room often feel less connected and that class sizes were determined by factors outside her control – and beyond sound pedagogy. Through the CIC experience, she was able to get helpful ideas such as how to structure large class debates by watching a colleague’s class and she spent more time getting in touch with students outside of class time. In her own words, here are some practices she was able to implement:

  • I created rubrics and posted them in advance of assignment deadlines
  • I expanded my use of visual material and high profile events to explain and demonstrate concepts
  • I used class time to discuss academic and life challenges
  • I took significantly more time to explain assessments, and the learning benefits associated with them.
  • I demonstrated the political significance of content.
  • I positioned learners as researchers who could make discoveries
  • I designed a debate for the largest class I have ever taught to deepen learning and apply ideas
  • I took more time to gauge student understanding and talk it through

Colleen also took this opportunity to develop a first-year research experience (FYRE) where her students were exposed to the research cycle of questioning, investigating and disseminating findings. Students got to peer-review each other’s work and get formative feedback this way.

Through these changes, Colleen observed that students seemed to have a higher attendance level and that course evaluations were quite positive. By changing some of these small practices, students were more comfortable approaching Colleen for help outside of class time and she felt that this student rapport improved their learning.

Overall in the CIC 2019 cohort, Colleen met her goals to build connections with students, build foundational academic skills, improve attendance and enthusiasm, motivate students to collaborate productively, and most critically, develop the political consciousness and agency of students.

Featured Instructor: Derek Postnikoff

Course Innovation Community CIC 2019

Derek Postnikoff, Lecturer

Faculty Member in Mathematics & Statistics

Sessional Lecturer in Philosophy

Derek teaches Math 100, Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers, to a class of 85 students. By participating in CIC, he was able to attend two math education conferences: First Year Math and Stats in Canada in May 2019 and Canadian Mathematics Education Study Group in June 2019. Both of these events provided him with many specific ideas for themes and activities to incorporate in MATH 100. He is planning to use what remains of his CIC funding to attend both of these conferences again this year.

Image provided by Derek

Some of his struggles were that physical spaces for large classes are not conducive to active learning. Also, students in this course have a wide range of skills and knowledge of mathematics from secondary school (some have calculus, some have difficulty multiplying integers).

However, a great success was organizing ‘halftime’ or midterm meetings one-on-one with each student in lieu of a written exam. This allowed for greater interaction and formative feedback for both him and the student. Even with 80 students, these meetings took the same amount of time that would have been required for marking a traditional midterm exam.

In his own words:

“The supports that the CIC provided – instruction, a cohort of peers, and funding – helped accelerate the innovation process I had undertaken independently several years earlier.

◈ Training sessions reinforced familiar best practices as well as introducing new ideas and techniques. The structure this training provided helped focus and strengthen my course development.

◈ One-on-one discussions with each of the CIC instructors generated helpful suggestions and sympathetic encouragement.

◈ Innovating alongside the rest of the CIC cohort provided useful perspective and motivation, drawing into focus the commonalities and differences in the instructional challenges we face.

◈ Bespoke feedback from my CIC partner provided valuable insights into my classroom dynamic.

◈ Funding made it possible for me to draw inspiration and discipline-specific ideas from interactions with an international community of like-minded math educators.”