20+ tips for using Canvas LMS

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, January 27, 2021

20+ tips for using Canvas LMS

20+ tips for using Canvas LMS
20+ tips for using Canvas LMS

Canvas is a full-featured learning management system, and when I say "full featured", I really mean FULL featured.

In fact, to illustrate the point ...

I like to compare Google Classroom to an airport. It's the way to get to the destinations of your dreams. Like hopping a plane, you hop on a link to a third-party app like Flipgrid or Adobe Spark to make the most of Google Classroom.

Canvas isn't an airport. Canvas is an all-inclusive cruise ship. You don't have to leave the ship because there are buffets of gourmet food along with relaxation spots and activities as far as the eye can see. If you want to hop off the ship at a port for an excursion, you can ... but you can do very well just staying on the ship.

So much is built into Canvas. This is a blessing and a curse.

It's great. But it can be ... well ... overwhelming. 

You might think, "Where do I even start? How do I use Canvas efficiently with all of these options?"

Let's start by asking people who know! We asked the subscribers of the Ditch That Textbook email newsletter for their best Canvas tips. They came through big time!

Check out these tips -- and leave YOUR best tip in the comments at the end of the post!

20+ tips for using Canvas LMS

1. Use the "test student" option  to view what the assignment will look like.

Use the test student option to turn in material before you give the assignment to students. This allows you to get an idea of how it will look once submitted to help students along the way and for grading purposes. Bonus if you screen record the steps for students to have a quick resource!

- Ashley Jackson

Find out more! Check out this tutorial:

 How do I view my course site as a student?

2. Set up Canvas like an interactive notebook.

Set it up like a textbook or notebook. The students view the module and then progress through using the "next" button. Instead of it just being a mess of resources, the students now have an organized progressive unit.

- Mollie Momenteller

3. Use a system to title assignments to make searching easier.

The Gradebook in Canvas often gets unwieldy because of tons of assignments that are both little and large. Take a few moments to streamline your titles for all work before you assign them so that you can leverage Canvas's latest update of looking at items by assignment, module or alphabetical order. This is especially helpful for students who cannot manipulate their Gradebook the same way we do and just see a mass of names and grade.

By using a system like Week-Day-Module/Unit students can CTRL+F what they need to find more quickly and and e-mail volumes will reduce :). Use something like "WK#01-Padlet03." Consider adding the 0 first so week 10 won't appear before week 1, 2, and 3.

THE KEY: Come up with a system that works for you , keep it consistent (for your own sanity and your students) and NUMBER EVERYTHING. Think about the file names in advance and you'll thank yourself.

- Sue Wright

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on creating assignments in Canvas.

4. Create an easy way for students to see upcoming assignments.

Create a chart on your homepage to list due dates for upcoming assignments. Go to Edit > Insert Table > Choose 5x5. Label the days of the week in the first row and the dates of the month in the other rows. You can then enter upcoming due dates or important reminders right on the students' homepage.

- Cindy Waller

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on creating a homepage with Canvas.

5. Make a plan to build your online classroom before you start.

Decide BEFORE you build your class: where you put assignments? Materials? Videos, etc.? Will it be link through a Bitmoji Classroom on the homepage? Will you place everything in Modules? Will assignments go on the Calendar and resources in Modules? Will you use a page for a week at a glance? Find what works for you and stay with it.

- Alynn Eggert

Find out more! Check out this video presentation on getting started with Canvas AND the accompanying slides.

6. Use badges to increase motivation.

Using the free version of the Badgr app is a great way to increase engagement and recognize students for meeting learning outcomes! I use Canva or Adobe Spark to make custom badges. Badgr shows a leaderboard (that can be anonymized) to motivate competitive students.

- Kristen Allen

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on setting up Badgr in a Canvas course

7. Match Google Drive folder colors.

In your Google Drive, color your file folder the same color as your class that you link it to. This way it is easier to associate the Google file to your class.

- Corrine Henke

8. Use a "blueprint" class as a master copy.

Teaching multiple classes can be challenging. Setting them up in Canvas can be simple. Use a 'blueprint' Canvas class and push all the changes to your classes with ONE button! The blueprint is like a MASTER copy! It's amazing.

- Ali Gravelle

9. Use the time stamp to check attendance.

We are currently face-to-face, blended, AND remote. From day to day we have students both on campus and online which makes taking attendance a nightmare! If a student opens your class page you can go to the "people" tab on Canvas and see the time stamp of when they checked-in. We are using this to help track our kids as being present online during class.

- Jane Schuster

Find out more! Check out this video on taking attendance in Canvas.

10. Autofill grades to 0 when the assignment is due.

Adjust settings in each course grades to auto fill with 0 when the assignment is due. Saves so much time and gets students' attention.

- Beth Ann Reinert

11. Organize everything in Modules.

Organize EVERYTHING in Modules, and disallow students from viewing anything except your Modules and your Announcements. That way they will have to access all content and assignments through Modules and see information the way you want it to be presented. As the start of each Module, I like to always have a page that has links to all graded assignments so far for that grading period. It helps students to have everything in one place.

- Sarah Haden

Find out more! Check out this video on creating modules in Canvas LMS.

12. Email/message based on assignment completion.

I love the feature in the grade book that allows you to email/message students based on whether a certain assignment has been graded, not turned in, or based on certain grades. This can be found on the 3 dots where you find the Speed Grader option -- "message students who."

- Callie Pinz

Find out more! Check out this video tutorial on how to use Gradebook in Canvas LMS.

13. Use keyboard shortcuts to save time.

In Canvas, you can highlight text and use Ctrl + K to insert a link and force that link to open in a new tab.

This helps students to stay in the correct location within Canvas because it does not open the link in the current window. Instead, it opens a new tab and they retain the Canvas tab where they originally clicked the link. When they are finished with whatever they need to do on the additional tab, the can simply close it out.

- Kim Shaw

Find out more! Check out this reference guide:

Keyboard shortcuts in Canvas LMS

14. Try using two windows.

Open course in two windows: one for edit, one for view.

- Julie Bernardi

15. Utilize the question bank (and add to it).

Make use of the question banks!! I add to them every year. It makes cheating a little more difficult and helping each other a lot more possible. Since each student is getting a slightly different question (randomly chosen from the bank), they can't copy answers, instead they have to explain how to find the correct answer. Voila ... they're learning!! 

- Christine Ashmore-Good

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on creating quizzes and exams with Canvas LMS.

16. Jazz up your pages with buttons.

Tip #1: Use Modules to organize all content (pages, assignments, quizzes, etc.) so that it's easier for students to find. Example: create a module for each unit and include all of that unit's content in that module.

Tip #2: Create a page to designate as your "Front Page", which will be the first page students see when they open your course. Embed a Google Slides deck where the first slide is your daily agenda or other important information. When you need to change the content, simply update the slide deck (as opposed to editing the Canvas page, which can be more time consuming).

Tip #3: Make your Canvas pages more visually appealing by adding buttons. Create a "button" in Google Slides/Drawings, download the image/slide as a PNG or JPEG file, insert the downloaded image on your Canvas page, and link the image to wherever you want to direct students (another page, assignment, quiz, module, external link, etc.).

- Melanie Winstead

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on page design in Canvas LMS.

17. Recover deleted files.

If you accidentally delete something in Canvas, you can find and re-add it by adding the word undelete to the end of the course address. Example:

/courses/11610/undelete

- Sarah Haisley

18. Create a template for assignments.

Use a standard template for assignments. I have one for formative and one for summative. It has a title banner and the headings of OBJECTIVES, INSTRUCTIONS, and RESOURCES. That way every assignment looks the same, it builds a routine, and the students can find what they need.

- Jennifer Madden

Looking for more shared resources from the Canvas community? Check out Canvas commons where you can access a full library of shared resources that you can use in your courses:

Canvas Commons overview

19. Hyperlink your weekly agendas.

Hyperlinked Weekly Agendas on the Homepage! It makes Canvas more manageable for students (and parents!!) It's an AH HA moment when a student/parents sees a weekly agenda and can click on the hyperlink to go where they need to go!! THIS IS A MUST to lower frustration!

- Shawn Lane

20. Use the embed feature to customize media.

I love that I can EMBED using HTML with Canvas...especially YouTube videos. Through the code, I can adjust the time the video STARTS and ENDS! I just need to do the math on the seconds! It has been great so that I can curtail the videos to what EXACTLY I want the students to focus on and now overwhelm them with a 20 minute video when all they may need is 5 minutes.

- Justine Wright

Find out more! Check out this tutorial video on how to embed content into Canvas.

Getting Started with Canvas LMS

The Canvas LMS Quick Start Guide

Canvas LMS Basics: YouTube Playlist

Playlist includes videos on:

  • Canvas LMS for parents

  • Microsoft Teams and Canvas LMS

  • Using Rubrics in Canvas

  • How to use Speedgrader

  • How to use Canvas to communicate with students


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  • Laurie Mullin says:

    For younger students, and those who struggle with organization, turn off the modules page and make a visual page with links to the work on the syllabus page. I make game boards with arrows directing them on to the next assignment. They actually have access to the same information in two ways on the page…the game board and the To Do list.

  • Cynthia Skinner says:

    Use the announcements as a Weekly Agenda (Large colorful fonts for each day and matching colors in a smaller font for details in each day. Hyperlink assignments in Modules) and every assignment is in Modules.

  • APKPure says:

    Very good article with complete information. These tips helps me a lot for photoshop.

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