12 Ways to Up Your Canvas Game

1: Configure your profile.

Select a profile picture, add a bio or links to any relevant sites, and change your display name (if you have the appropriate permissions to do so) by navigating to the left sidebar and clicking the top button, “Account”  >  “Settings”  >  “Edit Settings” at the bottom. While you’re still setting up, you can also navigate to “Canvas Commons” to research what has already been created (everything from assignments to discussion thread prompts to entire courses) to find if there’s anything you might need or could use for your course.

2: Configure your notifications, and download the mobile app.

Customize your notifications by navigating to “Account”  >  “Notifications.” You can adjust settings for both Canvas, and for Push Notifications for mobile devices. Typically, you can choose to be notified immediately — say, when a student submits an assignment or posts to a thread — or notified when any changes are made in an email at the end of the day.

The mobile app can be accessed anywhere, but note that it does have limited navigation capacity.

3: Clean up menu items.

You can go to “Student View” by selecting “Settings” in the Course Navigation sidebar to the left after you’ve selected your course. From there, you can see how many menu items are listed. If your list is cluttered, it can cause extra confusion for students. You can hide menu items for students by going back to “Settings,” in the Course you want to edit, open the “Navigation” tab at the top.

From there, you can move around menu items, hide their appearance on the student side, or enable new links you want them to see.

4: Add external links to your menu.

The Redirect tool is an app that lets you add web resources and links to your course navigation, which could be important if you want students to have easy access to particular resources that you don’t want hidden in modules. Navigate to “Settings” in the Course Navigation sidebar within your course, and select “Apps,” and find the Redirect tool.

Click “Add App,” and insert the information (name of web resource, url, open in new tab, and show in course navigation). Refresh, and test the link.

5: Link Files, Assignments & Discussion Posts to Announcements.

You can easily add hyperlinks by highlighting text and clicking [Command + K], and then copy/pasting the relevant link. Within most text fields in Canvas, you can also select the button that looks like a chain, where you will have the option to add either an external link and copy/paste, or a Course Link, where you can navigate to the specific item you want to add as a hyperlink. This saves a lot of time in that you don’t have to go collect the link and return to the announcement.

6: Hide grade distribution from view.

Go to “Settings” within the Course, click “Course Details” at the top, and then scroll down to select “more options.” Select “Hide grade distribution graphs from students,” as by default students can see these graphs and can potentially calculate other students’ grades — which can make for some uncomfortable moments.

7: Set up a “This Week In…” Module, and an “Ask the Instructor” Discussion Thread

The former helps you place all the relevant information needed for a week into one module, so that students can easily see everything they need to accomplish then. You can even divide modules up with Text Headings to separate into sub-sections (like Assignments and Readings, for instance). The latter helps keep information that all students could benefit from consolidated in a particular location.

8: Track attendance easily with Roll Call Attendance.

If you are tired to tracking attendance through a spreadsheet or otherwise, you can easily set up the Roll Call Attendance external app tool, which offers an easy and intuitive interface for marking attendance by simply clicking on whether they were there, absent, or tardy.

9: Embed a Twitter widget into your course.

If you want to embed a widget that displays lists, moments, hashtags, particular timelines or topics into a discussion thread to generate conversations and post prompts, or on a page (including your Front Page!), then all you need to do is create a Twitter widget. This is — importantly — not the same as the Twitter app within Canvas, which has limited functionality. The widget provides much more customization options, and could even help encourage students to tweet about your class and have their posts show up on the Canvas page!

For instructions on how to publish and embed a Twitter widget, I’d recommend this tutorial, which isn’t exactly lengthy but not short enough to post here: https://canvas.ou.edu/courses/56095/pages/step-1-generate-twitter-widget

10: Find items you’ve deleted using the “undelete” function.

Simply type “undelete” after the final slash of your course url. The url will look, for instance, like this: [https://canvas.emory.edu/courses/85602/undelete]. This is a great function in case you’ve accidentally deleted something, or need to access older versions of pages, etc.

11: Utilize ePortfolio if you or your students need to create a portfolio of their written and other works.

Canvas has a built-in ePortfolio option as well. You just go to “Account,” and choose “ePortfolios,” then “Create an ePortfolio” and follow the steps to upload specific items. You can organize it into sections, and change the visibility between private and public in case you want others to see it. This function works for your students as well, so be sure to let them know about it.

12: And, finally, implement accessibility into your course design using the Rich Content Editor.

You can find specific resources for course design through AccessDL’s website, or through this “20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course” article.

If you are on Canvas, an important and easy-to-implement change is creating a Home Page. You can do this by navigating to your course on Canvas, then selecting Pages > View All Pages > + Page. Then, on the new page, press “Option + Shift + D” to open Canvas’s design tools.

Under Create/Edit content, you can select “Choose a Theme” and have Canvas do the heavy lifting of design for you. All you need to do is select a Banner Image from any image you’ve uploaded as a File on Canvas, and edit the Navigation links: for my Fall course, I had “This Week’s Overview,” “Syllabus,” “Zoom Room,” and “Resources” as my main links on the Home page. 

Another useful “Page” to create on Canvas is one where all the week’s necessary contents — readings, discussion posts, links, videos, assignments — are consolidated into one page, updated for each week. Your students then won’t have to navigate through seven different panels or locations on Canvas to get the information they need.

“Accessibility,” however, extends beyond making sure your course content can be accessed through screen readers. The cost of textbooks and required technology or subscriptions, for instance, is an important accessibility consideration — as many students do not have family contributions or “allowances,” savings, or the necessary funds for exorbitant coursework requirements. Consider asking your institution’s library to scan needed documents or chapters, rather than making students buy entire texts. Also, consider choosing texts that are available freely online.