Canvas Student Support and Syllabus Statement

OAI supports only faculty, but here are some ways for students to get help with Canvas.

  • The Learning Center has self-paced learning resources for students new to Canvas. We recommend sending students there first — and encouraging them to take the Center’s remote readiness course during the term’s first week.
  • The OIT Helpdesk offers “just in time” technical support. This is good for students having trouble logging into Canvas, finding or accessing Canvas materials, and other technical issues.
  • The Help item (on the global navigation bar within Canvas) reveals links to OIT’s Canvas resources and to technology support through the myPSU portal.

Syllabus Statement

Consider adding this statement to your syllabus:

This course uses Canvas as the main learning platform. If you haven’t used Canvas before, I recommend you take the PSU Learning Center’s remote readiness course this week. If you’ve used Canvas and you just need occasional technical support, contact the OIT Helpdesk. If they can’t help you, please let me know.

Growing with Canvas: Self-Paced Course

Growing with Canvas is a self-paced training course to introduce the main Canvas tools. You can self-enroll through the Canvas learning system.

The course is organized into modules with videos, text explanations, examples, and practice exercises. Consider working through the modules in order, because some topics build from others.

  • Introduction, which explains the course design.
  • ① Planting, which covers Getting Around in Canvas and the main Communication Tools.
  • ② Nurturing, which covers Customizing your Course and Course Design.
  • ③ Sprouting, which covers Pages, Discussions, Assignments, and Quizzes.
  • ④ Flowering, which covers Assignment Settings and Weights, and SpeedGrader and the Gradebook.
  • ⑤ Harvesting, which covers People and Groups, and Copying and Sharing Courses.
  • ⑥ Completed Growing with Canvas, which contains a recap and suggestions for next steps.

Each module takes one-and-a-half to two hours. Each includes a self-check quiz and activities to practice applying skills and concepts.

Key Things to Know about Your New Canvas Course

Canvas and D2L have many similarities and overlapping functions — but also some important differences. Here are some key differences you’re likely to come across as you review course(s) copied from D2L to Canvas and prepare to teach. If you have any questions about your course or these differences, please contact the OAI Faculty Support desk.

Grading and Assignments

All graded activities (including discussions, assignments, and quizzes) are automatically added to the Canvas gradebook. Unlike in D2L, you cannot have a Canvas grade item without an associated Canvas assignment.

  • “No submission” assignments are used to create gradebook items without associated Canvas submissions.
  • The Canvas Assignments tool lists all graded activities in the course. For example, if you had weekly graded quizzes in D2L, those quizzes are included in the Canvas Assignments tool. The Canvas Assignments tool is similar to the D2L Manage Grades list of grade items.
  • Deleting items from the Canvas Assignment tool will remove the item from your course.

The Home Page

Your Canvas home page is customizable. The template includes recent Announcements, but you can change that.


Discussions appear in order of most recent activity in the Canvas Discussions tool. For migrated courses, this is usually reverse chronological order.

You can “pin” discussions to put them in numeric or chronological order. Look in the lower section of the Discussion tool where your topics are in reverse order. Just to the left of each discussion topic, you’ll notice six dots in the form of a small rectangle. Click or tap, then hold this rectangle of dots to drag-and-drop a topic into the “pinned” discussion area. Repeat as needed to arrange topics in the order you choose.

Student Groups

Student Groups are much more expansive in Canvas than in D2L. Using groups will take some help and practice. A good starting place is to watch this short video guide for students.


Canvas Modules are containers for content and the main recommended way to organize your course. Modules can contain pages, uploaded files, and links to course tools or external websites.

  • Organize pages within modules. Students will access discrete Canvas pages through the course modules.
  • To display all Canvas pages in your course, click Pages in the course navigation, then View all Pages at the top of the page.


Canvas currently has two quiz tools: Classic Quizzes and New Quizzes. New Quizzes is expected to replace Classic Quizzes eventually. However, use Classic quizzes if you use Proctorio or if you use Question groups to sub-organize question banks.

Organizing Content in Canvas

Canvas has several tools for adding content to your course:

Here’s how to organize that content in ways students will find consistent and predictable.

Introducing Modules

Modules can organize course content by weeks, topics, or other parameters. They create a one-directional, linear flow of what students should do in a course.

Each module can contain files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials such as Pages. You create content using those Canvas tools, then organize it in modules.

OAI recommends using modules to develop course organization and simplify navigation. They can reduce the need to tell students to “go there and do this” and then “go somewhere else and do that.” This can be frustrating — as you may have experienced yourself in poorly designed online training.

A specific benefit of using modules: You can hide the Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files links from the Course Navigation menu in the student view. This gives students one central location to find everything. That means fewer “where is” questions for you and less frustration for your students.

Structuring a Module

Once you have all your content in a module, you can order items to help students move through it in a logical way. You can manually drag and drop each item or use the Move To option, which is also accessible from the keyboard.

Also consider using text headers and indenting to create visible sections in your modules.

Creating a Checklist

You can make your module function as a checklist by adding requirements that help both you and your students track their progress.

Using Pages within Modules

Pages are used to present content that doesn’t exist in a separate file or other Canvas assignment. Since pages can also include links to other Canvas items, you can use them to organize content into weekly outlines. This helps you share course materials with more context and different organizational structures than are possible in modules alone.

Building Consistency

Consistency is key: Once you choose an organization strategy, the best thing you can do for students is to implement it as consistently as possible.

Example Modules

Condensed Module: Each module begins with an overview Content Page that lists books or chapters as well as links to other items for students to read, watch, and explore.

A module that begins with an Overview page, which would contain links to readings, videos, activities, and other items or resources.

Detailed Module: Each item in the module has its own link. This includes readings as well as activities and assignments.

A module in which each item or resource — including readings, videos, and activities — has its own link.

Content Samples

Use this example from the Commons to get started organizing your own modules. (For help using Commons, review Meet Canvas Commons.)

Note: Samples will import into their respective tool. If you import the Weekly Overview Page, it will show up in the “Pages” section of the selected course.

Adapted from “Using Canvas Modules” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.

Meet Canvas Commons

Commons is a learning object repository (LOR) that enables educators to find, import, and share learning resources in their Canvas courses. Commons gives you a way to collaborate with colleagues, share course design elements, explore new instructional ideas, and even iterate your own course design.


What's in Commons

You can find and share these course elements in Canvas Commons:

  • Modules
  • Assignments
  • Quizzes
  • Discussions
  • Pages
  • Documents
  • Multimedia resources

… and even full courses!

Everything shared with the PSU community appears on the main PSU Commons page — but you can also open your search to all public resources across institutions and Canvas sites. You can search for keywords such as author, institution, or title. You can sort by latest, most relevant, or highest-rated resources. To customize your search, use the filter to show only specific types of activities, content types, or grade levels. Each resource type in search results has a unique color and icon augmenting its text label.

In this screenshot of search results, colors and icons augment text labels to help distinguish resource types.

Examples of Commons Resources and Use Cases

Here are just a few examples of things you might find (or share) to improve your course:

Importing Commons Resources into Your Course

Once you find a Commons resource you like, you can import it into your course.

Most of what you find will be openly licensed, because most people upload to the Commons to share their work with others. However, it’s always a good idea to note the licensing information on the Resource Preview page.

In this screenshot of a resource’s Preview page, licensing information appears near its other statistics — date published, number of downloads, and number of times favorited.

If a resource is copyrighted, ask permission before using it in your own course. This can include images, text, or other content created not only by another person but also by you — if you have transferred copyright to a publisher.

Consider first importing resources into a sandbox course. Then you can review the content in detail, edit, and then move it into the course you will use with students.

Sharing Course Resources in Commons

You can share assignments, modules, quizzes, pages, discussions and entire courses to Commons.

When sharing a resource to Commons, you’ll need to:

  • Add details about the resource.
  • Choose a sharing option.
  • Select a content license.

The license you choose identifies how and to what extent others can reuse your original course content. A Creative Commons license allows you to share your content on your own terms. The benefit is that other instructors can use, build on, and improve your content. This creative collaboration can add value to your curriculum.

Note: The license you select for your resource in Commons is not tied to the license you set within Canvas course settings. Your course can be private in Canvas course settings, but public domain in Commons.

You’ll also need to choose how widely to share the resource:

  • Publicly — to share your expertise and course materials with anyone who searches Commons.
  • Within the PSU community — to create consistent design and student experience across courses or your department.
  • Privately — so you can have your own collection of learning objects to use and re-use anytime you design a course.

You may also belong to a group or consortium that shares resources with select people. For more information about sharing to custom Commons groups, contact OAI Support.

Managing Your Canvas Site

Canvas has many features and tools for teaching a course. But you also need these “under the hood” functions for managing your course site.

Personal Settings

Before getting started in Canvas, be sure to update your personal settings. It’s an important step to make sure you stay connected with your classes. You’ll need to do this only once, unless your preferences change.

The following list outlines the main settings you should consider reviewing and are linked to detailed guides:

Course Import Tool

Copy a course when you want to use or repurpose previously created content — including course settings, syllabus, assignments, modules, files, pages, discussions, quizzes, and question banks. You can also copy or adjust events and due dates. Not all content can be copied as part of a course. (Learn about “Import Limitations.”) Canvas lets you copy all content from one course site to another or select specific content.

Course shells for each new term will be available in the preceding term. For example, winter course shells will be available midway through the preceding fall term. If you need a place to work on your course sooner or just want a sandbox where you can test new ideas, create a new Canvas course shell from your Canvas Dashboard

Student View

It’s always a good idea to check your course from the student’s perspective. This helps you identify what elements a student can access and how the course navigation menu displays for them.

To enter Student View, select “Settings” in the course navigation menu. Next, select “Student View” from among the settings area’s options.

Screen detail of Settings in Canvas, with added arrow pointing to the link that launches Student View.

Student View has a highlighted frame or border.

You can navigate the course as a student, with some slight exceptions:

  • Groups: As an instructor in Student View, all group information will be available to you, while students will only have access to their own group. 
  • Inbox: The Test Student doesn’t have a Canvas Inbox, so you won’t be able to test communications.
  • Other tools: Some other tools (e.g., Panopto, VoiceThread, etc.) may not function as expected.

To exit Student View, select the “Leave Student View” button.

Screen detail from Student View in Canvas, with added arrow pointing to the "Leave Student View" button.

Canvas Link Validator

You can check all external links throughout your course with the course link validator. It finds invalid or unresponsive external links in both published and unpublished content. However, some links it flags as unresponsive (to Canvas servers) will still work for students.

Additional Course Settings

These settings are available only to the course instructor:

Adapted from “Managing Your Canvas Site” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.

Learn More Elsewhere

Getting Started with Canvas Basics

Course Access

To access your PSU Canvas account, go to You will be prompted to authenticate with your PSU Odin name and password. This will take you to the main Canvas Dashboard where all courses to which you have access are listed.

Home Page

When students log in to your Canvas course for the first time, they need something friendly and welcoming that orients them and directly communicates what to do. Make sure your Course Home Page is ready.


Canvas has several ways to communicate with your students. Learn how you can stay connected.


Canvas has a number of tools to help you share course materials with your students. Using Modules to organize this content can simplify navigation for both you and your students.


Discussions are threaded conversations on a single topic. They are asynchronous, which means participants do not have to be online at the same time. You can use this flexible tool for communication and assessment.


Canvas Assignments is an assessment tool. Anything a student submits for grading and feedback is an “assignment.” Learn about the ways you can use the Assignments page.

Student Interactions

In  online learning, you’ll often need to structure peer collaborations into the course and encourage them  through course structure, proactive communication, and feedback.


As with assessments in a face-to-face classroom, Quizzes in Canvas help you gauge student understanding of course content.


The Gradebook stores all information about student progress in the course, measuring both letter grades and course outcomes.

Course Management

Canvas has lots of features and tools for teaching a course. But you also need these “under the hood” functions for managing your course site.

Communicating in Canvas

Canvas has several ways to communicate with your students. Here are two of them:

  • Announcements are course-wide.
  • Inbox messages may be private between an instructor and a student or group of students, or a message between students.


You can use Announcements to give students news, updates, and reminders. Students receive email copies of your announcements in their campus email. This is based on their notification preferences; by default, they receive the message immediately — but they can opt for less frequent notifications.

Note: A default Canvas course is set to show the latest announcement at the top of the page. You can set how many announcements to display, but we recommend just one to make sure students notice the most important and current information.

Watch the video for a basic overview:


306 – Announcements Overview from Instructure Canvas Community on Vimeo.

Using Announcements

The primary use of an announcement is for news and reminders:

  • Notify students of class cancellation, if a class location has moved, if you will be out of town or delayed in providing feedback on an assignment, etc.
  • Remind students of upcoming due dates.
  • Notify students of campus events or news items of interest or relevance.

You can also use announcements to engage students at the beginning of each unit (week). Doing this consistently helps participants stay connected and recognize that you are a human with a personality (and not just a computer). It helps define your “presence” in an online course.

When writing an announcement, use the “inverted pyramid” model from journalistic writing. Open with the most important facts or information and then progress through less important details. Most people will read only the first sentence or two unless they perceive a need to keep going.

Guiding announcements generally include two or more of the following:

  • Introduction to the main idea for the week — short, one sentence, to motivate and encourage engagement in the topic of the week.
  • Any scheduling information such as days the teacher will not be available, a changed due date, holiday, etc.
  • Summary response to previous week’s discussion (or assignment submission). Provide positive feedback; whenever possible, mention student names and take quotes directly from their postings. This should be only a paragraph highlighting just one or two exceptional comments. (This recognizes and motivates, as well as demonstrating that you actually read the discussions.)

Other Considerations

  • By default, students receive an immediate email copy of a course announcement. However, faculty do not automatically receive copies of announcements they have created. If you want email copies of your own announcements (e.g., as reassurance that the announcement went out), edit your notification preferences.
  • You can schedule Announcements in advance or post them immediately. Delaying release — even by a little — gives you time to proofread (and revise if needed) before students receive it.
  • If multiple sections are loaded to your Canvas site, you can post an announcement to just selected sections if necessary.
  • Announcements are also available in Canvas Groups. You can post an announcement to just one group, and group members can post announcements to each other.
  • When you copy an entire Canvas site from one semester to the next, the announcements are included. You will need to go through them and delete any that are no longer needed or edit the release date for those you wish to reuse. Be sure to also edit out any information that was only relevant to the previous class!
  • You can use the Rich Content Editor and Content Selector when you create an announcement. Use these to format the text of your posts or to link to the items you reference; for example, if you are reminding students that an assignment is due, you can link to that assignment.

The Inbox

The Inbox allows Canvas users to send messages to one another within Canvas.

Both faculty and students can configure their notification settings to receive Canvas Inbox messages at the email address of their choice. You can also choose how often to receive these notifications.

Use the Inbox to:

  • Send information or updates to an individual student, a section, or a group.
  • Record a media comment (audio or video) to send to an individual student, section, or group.
  • Send file attachments to an individual student, a section, or a group.
  • Use the “Message Students Who…” feature in the Gradebook to contact students who have not submitted an assessment, who scored less than a given grade, or who scored more than a given grade.

Adapted from “Communicating in Canvas” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.

Assignments in Canvas

Assignments in Canvas is both a specific kind of assessment and any Canvas activity associated with a grade. This video provides a basic overview:

How to Use Assignments in Teaching

Students can submit several assignment types in Canvas:

  • A “no submission” assignment helps you track activities not completed directly in Canvas, such as attendance at a Zoom session.
  • “Online” assignments provide a space for students to turn something in online. You can select one or more types of online submissions to accept:
    • Text entry provides a text box with formatting tools where students can write a submission directly in Canvas.
    • Website URL provides a space for students to share a URL as their submission.
    • Media Recordings allow students to create and submit recordings directly within Canvas or to upload recordings created in another application.
    • Student Annotation allows you to provide a file that students can annotate directly in Canvas.
    • File upload allows students to submit file types including Word documents, PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets, PDFs, images, and videos. (You can restrict file types if necessary.)
  • “On Paper” assignments allow you to track hard copies handed in.
  • “External tool” assignments allow you to create assessments with tools not native to Canvas, such as Turnitin or PebblePad.
  • Graded discussions and quizzes are also considered “assignments.” These are listed under both Assignments and on their own respective Canvas index pages.

Assignments and Grades

The Canvas Gradebook is closely tied to the Assignments index. Anything you want a Gradebook column for must have an Assignment associated with it.

By default, assignments are listed in the order you create them. This also determines the order they appear in the Gradebook, but you can drag and drop them into the order you prefer.

You can also create Assignment Groups on the Assignments page. This gives you:

  • Subtotals in the Gradebook for each assignment group. For example, if you want a subtotal for all discussion assignments and another for all quizzes, you could create groups for each.
  • A place to assign weight for weighted grades. You could assign a weight to each group (e.g., 20% for discussions, 50% for quizzes).
  • A place to assign other rules for assignment groups, such as dropping the lowest score.
Canvas screen detail showing assignments arranged in Assignment Groups

Adapted from “Assignments in Canvas” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.

Student Interactions in Canvas

Student interaction plays an important role in learning and overall sense of community. Whether you’re teaching fully online, blended, or in-person, you might consider developing space to support such interaction in your digital classroom. Canvas has tools to help students digitally interact:


  • Create student groups to use with Canvas Discussions, Canvas Assignments, and Canvas Peer Reviews.
  • Create student groups randomly or manually, or allow individual signups.
  • Have student group members create and edit their own Canvas pages.
  • Have students create their own groups in your course (if enabled).

Peer Review

  • Facilitate students reviewing one another's work and giving substantive feedback.
  • Allow students to serve as an audience for one another's presentations, performances, etc.
  • Assign peer reviews randomly, manually, and both within or among group memberships.
  • Have students use associated rubrics to leave peer feedback.


  • Add a Google Doc as a collaborative document and share it with individuals or groups in your Canvas course.
  • Have students add their own Collaborations (if your course uses Collaborations). Student collaborations will automatically be visible to instructors. 
  • Use Collaborations to co-create certain course elements (e.g. syllabus, discussion guidelines, rubrics).


Students can:

  • Share learning resources with one another.
  • Teach topics or information to one another.
  • Help one another troubleshoot issues or answer content-related questions (e.g., course Q&A forum).

Integrating these instructional strategies and technology tools helps cultivate a safe learning community, foster peer interaction, and give timely and meaningful feedback by involving students in both doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.

Adapted from “Learner-Learner Interactions” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.