What Students Want From Canvas Sites
In Fall 2020, CTL staff asked for feedback from undergraduate students about how Canvas has helped or hindered their learning. We talked with undergraduates from various schools and from different academic years. This page provides some insights from them about what has been most helpful as well as tips for how instructors might address these elements in their own Canvas sites.
If you need help customizing Canvas to meet your needs or if you would like another perspective on your Canvas site, consider consulting with CTL.
How do students navigate Canvas sites?
Plan how you intend to organize your course and think about your students as your primary audience before you start creating materials. What may make perfect sense to you is not perfectly legible to your students.
A good Canvas site should:
- Limit the number of tabs visible on the left hand side to only those the students need. Learn how to modify the course menu from the Canvas guides.
- Provide your contact information, how best to contact you and your office hours. If you have TAs, their information should be present as well.
- Show due dates for major assignments in a prominent place and call students’ attention to the “to do” list on the right side of the Canvas site. Be aware that things won’t show up there if they don’t have a due date.
- If you have a preferred way for students to ask questions, such as a Piazza or discussion post, direct them to those resources.
Consider the different options that Canvas provides for the home page:
- Use a Page: You can edit the page so that the due dates and information your students need are right there. You can link from that page to other elements of Canvas like Modules and provide links to your contact information, office hours and class meetings.
- Use Modules: Well organized modules can show students what is coming class by class and help them find materials quickly. You can create an “Information” module and use text headers to tell students where to find general information.
- Use the Syllabus: The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add your contact information and office hours in an editable box at the top.
- Use the Course Activity Stream: Using this page shows the most recent announcements, active discussions and upcoming assignments (but because it doesn't also include readings and other general information this type of page isn't useful for all classes.) The course stream automatically updates so that students see deadlines clearly.
Explain to students about how to find information on Canvas for your class (understanding that everyone does it differently). You can use class time for this or record a short video tour of your Canvas site.
Organizing Course Materials:
How do students prefer to access course materials?
Use Modules that you organize by week or unit. Modules that reflect the progression of the course are clearly helpful for students. Again and again students say modules, organized by class date, create the easiest way to find the information they need in a timely way.
Hide Files. You can use files to store documents and organize materials, but modify the course menu to hide the Files tab from students and encourage them to navigate the course through modules or some other means.
Guide students to Modules. Once you have created well organized modules, consider selecting the Modules view as your home page for students or you can link from your home page to the modules to help students quickly navigate to this area.
Edit your Canvas site throughout the semester. As you go through the course, move the modules that you have completed to the bottom of the page so that students encounter the modules they need to work on first.
Communicating Assignments and Deadlines:
How can instructors most clearly communicate key dates?
Remember, students find it useful when Canvas sites focus on what is most important to them. While they like some attention to design, they are looking for assignments and deadlines. Avoid unnecessary details and remove things that are out of date.
Keep assignments in Canvas. Students have to come regularly to Canvas and sometimes are frustrated when they have to check a number of different sites. If you are using external tools (like Gradescope) you should think about ways to remind students of assignments and grades.
Take advantage of the To Do list. Make important deadlines into assignments with due dates in Canvas so that they show up in your students’ “to do” list. Call attention to the list for your students and explain how you will use it.
Use the Calendar in Canvas. Assignments with due dates will show up automatically. You can also use the calendar to indicate major deadlines and things that students need to pay attention to (but not everything). Be aware that the calendar is where many students start when using Canvas.
Streamline your Canvas site throughout the semester so that the things students need to access are prominent and clearly identified. You can do this by updating the home page, using announcements that show up on the home page, and/or moving older modules and out-of-date information to the bottom and posting the most timely material to the top.
Visit CTL's guide to Preparing to Teach Online for more online teaching resources.
If you need further help beyond the resources here, contact the instructional technology support for your school.
Upcoming workshops on teaching.
Recordings and notes from prior Workshops on Teaching Remotely.
You can also contact the Center for Teaching & Learning for questions about how to meet your course goals using the available technologies.
Resources for Students
Tips and Support for Online Learning from Weingarten
Students needing assisstance to acquire the IT equipment they need to take classes virtually may complete an Emergency and Opportunity Fund Application.