Canvas Quick Tips: 15 Essential Steps for Success

From Help Wiki


Canvas is our Learning Management System (LMS). Here are 15 Essential Steps for successful site setup, followed by Pedagogy Tips.

Level 1: Basic Canvas

Add your syllabus to Canvas

Use the Syllabus feature in Canvas or upload your syllabus as a PDF.

Choose your modular structure

Refer to the proposed modular structure in the Canvas template to determine whether thematic, weekly, or daily modules work best for your course or program.

Add assignments and readings to Canvas

Be sure that any work students need to do for the course, including assignments, readings, and any other learning activities, is clearly reflected in the modules.

Choose your meeting structure

Determine the appropriate balance of synchronous and asynchronous time and think about how you are going to use your synchronous meeting times in a way that maximizes interactivity and engagement with students.

Check your dates

Ensure there are clear due dates and deadlines for all assignments, learning activities, and class meetings.

Level 2: Intermediate Canvas

Record a welcome video

Use the video feature in Canvas or a third-party video recording tool to create a short video introducing yourself to students and welcoming them to your course or program.

Add some asynchronous discussions

Asynchronous discussion boards provide a space for students to interact with each other and the course content. Consider adding some asynchronous discussions that help to prepare students for in-class discussions, or that allow students to reflect after class.

Simplify navigation

Take a look at the Canvas course navigation sidebar on the left-hand side of your Canvas page and make sure that only the tools students will actively use in your course or program are visible in the navigation.

Record asynchronous lectures

Use the video feature in Canvas or a third-party video recording tool to record some short (ideally under 10 minute) mini-lectures to supplement in-class activities and help students better understand key concepts.

Add rubrics to assignments

Rubrics can help to simplify grading and make expectations clearer for students. Use the Rubrics feature in Canvas to attach rubrics to the assignments in your modules.

Level 3: Advanced Canvas

Create spaces for students to connect

Create engaging PowerPoint presentations

Avoid death by PowerPoint by incorporating images, animations, and other features into your PowerPoint presentations to make them more appealing to students.

Grade and provide feedback with ease

Try a Canvas collaboration

Students can collaborate using Google Docs or Office 365 directly in Canvas. Consider adding a Canvas collaboration as part of a homework assignment or as an activity that students complete in breakout rooms.

Experiment with third-party tools

Before experimenting at your curricular Canvas site, please contact Academic Technologies for more information around what third-party tools are available for use with Canvas at Evergreen.

Pedagogy Tips

Creating an engaging in-person class session

An engaging class session should provide many different opportunities for students to interact and engage with the course materials. These include chat, breakout rooms, short presentations, and large group discussions.

Communicate clearly to students how they should use the interactive tools in the session. This is particularly important for Zoom chat. Explain whether you will be monitoring the chat, or whether students should use another forum to connect with you. If you are going to be managing the session alone, it’s important to have a strategy for managing the chat. This could include selecting a student facilitator or building regular pauses in the class conversation to stop and check the chat. Be sure to communicate your strategy to students so that students know the best and most appropriate way to contact you.

It’s a best practice to use breakout rooms throughout a session to give students the opportunity to work and discuss in small groups. Breakout rooms are most effective when they are kept very small (i.e. 2-3 students/room) to maximize the time that students get to spend speaking and discussing with each other.


All documentation and materials related to an online course or program should be accessible. For more information on accessibility and how to make your course accessible for an online audience, please visit the Information Technology Accessibility guidelines page at our Evergreen website.

Creating an engaging video

Here are some general things to keep in mind when recording videos:

  • Use a clean, neutral background with minimal distractions.
  • Record in a quiet space and use a microphone if possible. (The built-in microphone in most headphones works just fine.)
  • Look at the camera. (It helps make the video feel more personal and engaging.)

Here are two videos about multimedia best practices:

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

Trauma-informed pedagogy can be exceedingly helpful in navigating difficult topics or in teaching during a pandemic. (Note: trauma is distinct from discomfort. While discomfort can help expand students’ horizons and help them learn, retraumatizing a traumatized student actively shuts down and blocks their learning process.) Here are some trauma-informed teaching practices you can implement:

  • Include a self-care statement in the syllabus to let students know that you are prioritizing their needs
  • Use warnings detailing the content, severity, and duration of any triggering materials (and provide alternative readings/assignments whenever possible)
  • Implement grace periods for a certain number of assignments each quarter (i.e. you can turn in 1 assignment/quarter up to 1 week late without penalty)
  • Connect students to self-care resources on your syllabus (and call them out on the first day of class so students are aware)
  • Have plenty of office hours and one-on-one time available for students and repeat this information throughout the quarter so students know they can talk to you if they need to
  • Implementing journal entries and/or check-ins before/after class can help give students plenty of space to express themselves if there is something that is troubling them
  • Follow up with any students who express concerns, whether these concerns are related to the course or personal

Creating a Community of Trust

Let students know that you prioritize their well-being by following some of the TIP practices outlined above. Provide as many opportunities as possible for students to connect with each other, both via structured class activities and via more informal unstructured class time. Structured class activities can include:

  • Small breakout sessions
  • Group projects (to make group work successful, be sure to clearly define students’ individual roles in the project so that everyone understands what to expect and how they are supposed to participate).
  • Peer reviews can also be a good structured opportunity for students to interact with one another (again, be sure to scaffold these well so that students understand what type of feedback is appropriate).
  • A Q&A discussion thread that is mostly run by students (but where you pop in occasionally) where they can ask each other question related to the homework, Canvas, or anything else related to the program.

Outside of these more structured interactions, setting aside forums for students to share their interests outside of class can help build connections. I recommend starting all online classes with a Welcome discussion thread that invites students to post a video sharing their name, pronouns, and some fun facts about themselves. You can even also set up other forums for discussion (even outside of Canvas) where students can interact more informally around prompts that are loosely related to the class, or related to things going on in their own lives (i.e. what are your plans for the weekend? If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go? What’s your favorite book? What TV series are you binging right now?).

In addition to these practices, it’s also important to let students know that there are guidelines and expectations for how they will behave and that there are consequences if they do not adhere to these guidelines. Having a clear policy in place for acceptable language and including some kind of netiquette statement, such as Core Rules of Netiquette, can help with this.

Staying Involved with Students

In the online context, you have to take a much more proactive approach to staying informed about what is going on in students’ lives. This means not only having office hours but also scheduling regular appointments with students for them to come to office hours. (To further promote engagement in office hours, it can help to have a specific topic being discussed at office hours each time. This doesn’t have to be overly specific—it should leave enough room for any student who has questions to feel like they can show up—but having a topic can also give students a pretext for showing up since they then don’t have to be the ones supplying the questions.) Otherwise, providing students with a lot of different forums to contact you and to express concerns (i.e. via email, via an anonymous survey, via a journal assignment, via one-on-one meetings) makes it the most likely that students will find a format with which they are comfortable and increases the likelihood that they will let you know what is going on. There are also plenty of online tools that will tell you what students are doing:

  • Online collaborative documents used during breakout sessions will give a clear picture of who is/isn’t typing into the document.
  • Canvas can show how much time students are spending in the course. It can also be set to make students walk through the content in a specific sequence. (Essentially, you can lock modules so that they only appear after students have gone through the content in a specified order.)
  • Certain video platforms, such as YuJa, will let you know exactly how much time each student spent watching any videos you assigned to them.

Defining Participation

Participation in an online course looks different. Generally, you should expect that students do more than simply log in to the Zoom session. Participation in an online course involves both synchronous activities via Zoom and asynchronous activities such as participating in discussion boards, completing handouts, or participating in a class chat conversation.

Define participation very clearly and share this definition with your students since it will look different in the online space (i.e. does participating by typing into chat “count”? Is there an expectation for how students will participate either by turning on their video and/or responding verbally to at least one question per class?). In general, because online classes are going to be different from their in-person counterparts, it can be helpful to have a wider definition of participation that includes things like participating in the chat, filling out online collaborative documents, and/or responding to polls or other generalized questions. For breakout rooms, having clearer deliverables as we discussed in our meeting yesterday can be helpful in ensuring that all students are participating. If you want to be able to see exactly who has written what and you are using a collaborative doc in the MS Office Suite, you could turn on track changes in the document so that each student contribution is highlighted and associated with their name. Once you have determined which modalities are most important to you, set clear criteria and standards for how students should engage with each modality, and communicate those expectations to students.

Ideas for Asynchronous Activities

Technically, asynchronous activities are any activities that students are completing related to the course or program outside of class meeting time. This includes homework and any other activities they are doing to learn and engage with course materials. Here are some asynchronous activities you could try in your online course that extend beyond completing readings and taking quizzes:

  • Podcasts
  • Creating museum exhibits or digital exhibits to showcase their learning on a particular topic
  • Games students play asynchronously to complete for who can get the most answers correct (Kahoot provides the option to do this either synchronously or asynchronously)
  • Recorded online lectures (these can be made much more engaging with the addition of polls or quizzes that can be embedded directly into the video)
  • A class journal that is kept as a collaborative word document visible to the student and the instructor(s)
  • Asynchronous online discussions (see a variety of options for how to set these up in Faculty Success)
  • Interactive/social readings (i.e. Hypothesis, eComma)
  • Augmented/virtual reality (this can range from high-tech tools to something as simple as filming a field trip with an iPhone and sharing the video with students). Google Expeditions is also a good tool for creating virtual tours.

Techniques for Online Seminar

The synchronous component of an online discussion should, ideally, be shorter and smaller (in group numbers) than its in-person counterpart. A good way to ensure depth of coverage of content is to bookend synchronous components with asynchronous prep work and follow up activities. So, instead of assigning a text for students to read and then discussing it in class the next day (as you would in-person) consider having students compile and share a list of key points from the text and then write a brief reflection on a topic that helps them to prepare for the discussion. (This reflection could also be done on an asynchronous discussion board.) Then, perhaps have different small breakout groups discuss related pieces of the larger discussion topic. When the whole class comes together for a synchronous discussion, structure the conversation by having a clear set of questions to move students through. One of the challenges of the breakout room + larger group discussion is that students can sometimes feel like they’re talking about the same thing over and over again. To prevent this from happening, be sure that they are addressing distinct but related pieces of the larger conversation throughout the seminar. After the synchronous conversation concludes, consider having a follow-up topic for discussion in an asynchronous discussion board, or having students write and share their reflections on the conversation.

Source: These quick tips were developed by educational content providers, Six Red Marbles.

Need Help?

  • When using Canvas and you encounter an issue, click on Help in the lower left corner of the Canvas site.
    • This opens a pop-up window with different help options such as:
      • Search the Canvas Guides - view help documentation by Instructure (the makers of Canvas)
      • Report a Problem - submit a help ticket via Canvas which goes to your Academic Technologies team
      • Ask the Community - a lively forum with answers to many Canvas questions
  • If you are unable to access/log in to Canvas, submit a help ticket to Academic Technologies or from the upper right corner of your MyEvergreen page.