Teaching Strategies for Digital Class Meetings

Digital class meetings are sessions that some or all students attend via Zoom or another virtual meeting platform. Such meetings may be recorded for students to also use asynchronously. Digital class meetings are most often associated with these delivery methods:

  • Attend Anywhere: In-person instruction with remote alternatives for each session or activity
  • Online – Scheduled Meetings: Online courses with required meeting times
  • Hybrid: Fewer in-person class sessions with more online, remote, or self-directed activities

Learn more about PSU course delivery methods, including examples and guidelines, in the Faculty Guide to Course Delivery Methods.

Set Expectations

You and your students may have varied experience with digital class meetings. It can help to gauge student expectations and circumstances at the start of the term and to communicate your expectations clearly.

Try a Pre-Course Survey

A pre-course survey is a great way to get to know your students and understand where they are in their learning. When your course includes digital class meetings, it can help to include questions about students’ technology setups and their expectations for participating. For example, you might ask how students anticipate they’ll usually attend class (in-person or via Zoom). If they’ll attend via Zoom, it’s a good idea to ask about their Zoom and technology setup. Will they join:

  • From a smartphone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer?
  • At work, on campus, or at home?
  • In a private space or from a shared space?
  • With a camera and reliable internet?

All these factors can influence access to digital class meetings.

You can use what you learn from the survey to set your expectations and plan your digital class meetings. For example, if many of your students will join from a smartphone, asking them to pull up Google Docs, Canvas, or specialized software may prove challenging.

Communicate Your Expectations

As you plan your course, take some time to reflect on your expectations for student participation in digital class meetings.

For all delivery methods:

  • How will you assess engagement in person? On Zoom? When students use recordings?
  • How will you handle questions in the chat?
  • How will you handle technological issues that emerge?
  • Are there bare minimum requirements for participating (e.g. a way to take notes, access to the textbook or handouts)?
  • Will you require attendance?
  • Will you require or expect students to keep their cameras on? If so, how will you handle accessibility, equity, and privacy issues?

For “Attend Anywhere”:

  • Do you expect students to attend in-person and use Zoom only for emergencies?
  • Will you record every session and make it available to all students? Only when requested? Only in some circumstances? PSU student feedback indicates that the availability of class recordings is one of the best features of Attend Anywhere classes.
  • Will you always attend in-person? What is your backup plan if you or a family member gets sick?
  • Will remote students interact with in-person students? For example, during small group activities or class presentations?

For “Online – Scheduled Meetings” and “Hybrid”:

  • If students miss scheduled synchronous activities (whether digital or in-person), how can they make up the work?
  • What will students need handy during scheduled meetings?
  • How do you expect the class to stay in touch and on track between meetings?

Once you have a sense of your expectations, how can you communicate them to your students or even collaborate with students to define participation norms collectively? At a minimum, consider sharing expectations in your syllabus and in early class communications.

Beyond Lecture: Active Learning in Digital Class Meetings

Student feedback indicates that when synchronous class time is heavily lecture-oriented, students are less likely to attend class in-person (Attend Anywhere) or even remotely (Online – Scheduled Meetings or Hybrid). As you plan teaching strategies, remember to factor in what you know about your particular group of students and any technological or logistical constraints.

Among the many teaching strategies to consider, this handful may be particularly well suited to the constraints and capacities of digital class meetings:

  • Include self-paced activities online before class to help build a cohesive and well-balanced blended-learning environment.
  • Use short, ungraded knowledge checks to assess learning during sessions.
  • Give students opportunities for peer-to-peer learning using think-pair-share, jigsaw, and other small group activities.
  • Allow students to choose how to give presentations: via Zoom, in-person, or recorded and shared.
  • Punctuate lectures or course discussions with polls, problem sets, example generation, and/or other applied practice. Use Google Docs and forms to give students space to contribute answers and ideas regardless of how they attend.

Check out Flexible Teaching Strategies for more.

Make and Follow a Plan for Each Class

Deliberately plan each class, accounting for the technological complexity of digital class meetings. Plan your first class session especially carefully; it sets the tone for the rest of the term. As you plan, find ways to intentionally bridge the gap between modalities and create a supportive learning environment.

Here are some example plans with teaching strategies to engage students across modalities — and with planning down to the minute.

Along with creating a detailed lesson plan for yourself, consider sharing a brief agenda with students at the start of each class meeting. This can help you set the tone for the day and communicate any particular needs or high priority items.

Here are some example class agendas.

Include All Students in Your Class Plans

Across modalities, it may be easier to connect with some students than others. In Attend Anywhere courses, for example, your instinct might be to pay more attention to the students in the room than those who join via Zoom or use the recording later. However, it’s crucial to engage with all students regardless of how they attend. Here are a few suggested practices to help connect across modalities:

  • Welcome everyone to each class, specifically speaking to in-person students, remote students, and students using the recordings.
  • Learn your students’ names, how to pronounce them, and which pronouns they use. Greet and refer to students by their names. (Get tips on learning students names, even in large classes.)
  • Find ways to show the contributions of remote and asynchronous students live and in class. For example, share the collaborative documents remote students are working on, or screen share the discussion posts asynchronous students have contributed.
  • Use Canvas as a “home base” for the course. This centralizes communications and provides a consistent space for students to interact across modalities when possible.
  • Take proactive steps to foster community and connection in your course.
  • Maintain your digital presence through timely feedback, virtual office hours, regular announcements, and other means.


Ideally, complete a practice run before your course starts in the classroom or space you’ll teach in.

  • Try out your classroom equipment, run through your day-one plan, make a practice recording, and test anything you’re worried about.
  • Ask a colleague or TA to join as a practice remote student.
  • Practice including all groups of students (in-person live, virtual live, and/or asynchronous).
  • Practice pulling up the various content you want to display and sharing it in the room and on Zoom.
  • Practice switching between items you’re sharing.
  • Practice basic touch-screen functions such as managing participants, turning the waiting room on and off, and starting/stopping the camera and microphone.
  • Use your practice recording to note any potential problems.

"Attend Anywhere" and Zoom Capabilities

Zoom capabilities in general pool classrooms might be different from what you’ve experienced elsewhere. Consider these key distinctions.

Instructor Controls and Sharing

These assume the instructor joined the meeting via the classroom’s Logitech touch panel.

You Can...

  • Start and stop recording.
  • Share screen from classroom computer display, doc cam or HDMI connection.
  • Mute/unmute Zoom participants.
  • Share computer audio to Zoom participants through screen sharing options.
  • Engage in limited chat with Zoom participants.

You Cannot...

  • Show chat screen and gallery view simultaneously.
  • Pause recording.
  • Launch Zoom polls.
  • Launch or manage breakout rooms.
  • Display remote participants in classroom.

In-Person Student View and Sound

These assume in-person students are not individually signed into the class Zoom session and are relying on the default setup for classroom technology.

Available to Students

  • Remote participants are audible. (Volume is controlled by classroom speaker settings.)
  • The instructor’s shared materials are visible — by either computer display or doc cam. This may mirror what the instructor is screen-sharing to remote students via Zoom.

Not Available to Students

  • Remote participants’ video and thumbnails are not visible.
  • What students say in the classroom likely isn’t audible  over Zoom. (The default microphone is at the front of the room; audio pickup varies when the speaker is not close to the microphone.
  • Zoom chat is not visible.

Remote Student View and Sound

These assume remote students are individually signed into the class Zoom session and the instructor is using the default setup for classroom technology.

Available to Students

  • The instructor is visible when at the front of the room, and audible when behind the default microphone.
  • A shared screen is visible, either from a computer feed or a doc cam, controlled by the classroom Logitech touch panel.
  • Zoom chat is available.

Not Available to Students

  • In-person students are not visible.
  • The in-class whiteboard is not reliably visible or legible.
  • In-class questions or conversations are not reliably audible.

To learn more about the technology for teaching an Attend Anywhere course, contact OIT’s Audio Visual Services and/or review OIT’s full technical documentation for Zoom rooms.

Getting More from Zoom in the Classroom

Before using these suggestions in class, try them privately to evaluate what you’re comfortable managing, along with which ones you feel will benefit you and your students the most.

Move the podium or the monitor/webcam to capture different camera views, if possible. This may be helpful for student presentations, or other times when you want to share a view of the full classroom with remote students.

Ask an in-class student to join the Zoom meeting and keep an eye on the chat. Make sure that student does not join audio. When questions or comments come up in chat, the in-person student should raise their hand and voice the chat contribution, crediting the contributor. Rotate this role each class session and let remote students know the plan. Let remote students know that direct messages to you may go unnoticed.

Join as the meeting host or co-host from your laptop or the podium computer. Don’t join audio (recommended), or keep your microphone and speakers muted to avoid audio feedback. As a host or co-host of the meeting from your laptop, you can:

  • Add live transcription to your meeting.
  • Pause and restart the video recording.
  • Initiate and manage breakout rooms.
  • Expand the chat window on your laptop view so you can more easily monitor and respond to chats.
  • Check audio or other Zoom functionality as a regular meeting participant.
  • Launch polls.

Join from your smartphone. Mute the phone microphone and speaker when using the podium mic, and vice versa, to avoid feedback. Adding the additional microphone connection allows you to:

  • Move around the classroom without dropping audio.
  • Use the second microphone to pick up student questions that can’t be heard clearly through the default microphone.

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.

Remote Lab Kit

Science labs often are either integrated components of larger lecture courses (lab sections) or smaller, self-contained courses. Either way, it’s worth defining what you want a lab to achieve before you select an online alternative.

Here are three possible scenarios based on lab focus. If your labs combine these scenarios, you could likewise combine recommendations — keeping in mind the appropriate time commitment for the combined activities.

Learning Techniques

If the focus is on learning techniques and their application to specific experimental situations, consider having students engage in online simulations that may cover at least portions of a protocol, if not the whole thing.

  • Harvard’s LabXchange has a suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques.
  • MERLOT offers a collection of virtual labs in several science disciplines.
  • PHET offers interactive simulations that allow students to vary parameters.

Many textbooks also list interactive, lab-based resources.

Consider having your students watch videos of experiments. Ask them to first make predictions and then discuss the results.

Interpreting Experimental Data

If the focus is on interpreting experimental data, consider using datasets from published literature aligned with the experiments students would have encountered in the lab, along with developed problem sets that focus on interpreting the data.

You could also intersperse the experimental protocols with questions that explore the reasons behind specific steps. In place of actually performing the experiment, students can gain a critique-based understanding of the method followed by data interpretation.

You could give students a random sequence of steps in the experimental methodology, and ask them to arrange the steps in the correct logical order. This requires students to critically understand why each step has to come before the next in a protocol.

You could also give students a blank step to fill in for themselves once they identify which step is missing. Here’s an example from LabXchange. (Select “Design” from the “Context” menu.)

Project-based Lab Research

If the focus is on project-based lab research (as is often the case in lab courses) your students have already been working on their projects since the start of the term. They may have a capstone assignment in the form of a final paper, grant application and/or poster that describes their work, with both context and future directions defined.

Consider asking your students to switch to the current capstone assignment with an emphasis on interpreting the data they have already gathered — or if they have not generated their own data yet, focus on having them predict their experimental outcomes and design the next experimental steps in detail.

Divide the rest of the semester into draft submissions of capstone sections. This will allow you to give formative feedback and enable your students to experience experimental design, further hypothesis building, and predictive data analysis. This approach aligns especially well with a written capstone styled like a grant application.

Modified with permission from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University.

Learn More Elsewhere

Getting Started with Canvas Basics

Course Access

To access your PSU Canvas account, go to canvas.pdx.edu. 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.

Discussions in Canvas

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

This video provides a basic overview:


303 – Discussions Overview from Instructure Canvas Community on Vimeo.

Using Discussions in Your Teaching

  • Have students introduce themselves to the class at the beginning of a semester.
  • Create a Q&A thread for the class and ask students to post questions instead of contacting you by email. You can even encourage students to respond to each other in this thread rather than waiting for you to reply.
  • Create a “water cooler” thread for students to chat about topics unrelated to the class. While this is not teaching per se, it allows students to connect with each other and helps build social presence in the course.
  • Ask students to use the media tools in the Rich Content Editor to post their responses. For learners who are more comfortable speaking than writing, this provides a means for them to respond more fluently. In a language course, this allows you to assess students’ pronunciation, grammar, etc.
  • Have students work through a case or problem.
  • Embed a media prompt (a diagram, video, etc.) for students to respond to.
  • Students can create their own discussions within Canvas Groups.

Setting Discussion Guidelines and/or Expectations

In your syllabus or on an introductory page in the Modules area, be sure to define exactly what you expect from students when posting to discussions. This can include general netiquette information, use of full sentences, citing sources, and specific information on how you will assess discussions (include quantity and quality of posts).

Considerations for Using Canvas Discussions

The “threaded discussion” option will make conversations easier for everyone to follow. Remember to select it when creating a discussion. (It’s not selected by default.)

You can use the Rich Content Editor in Canvas to format the text of your discussion prompt, add links (to other parts of the Canvas site or to other webpages), and embed videos.

For a graded discussion, you can review student responses in SpeedGrader. When you select a student in SpeedGrader, you will find all of that student’s posts to the discussion — which is helpful if you require students to reply to their classmates in addition to posting their own responses to the prompt.

You can attach a rubric to a graded discussion or require peer review for discussion responses.

Using Discussions with Groups

In a large class, consider breaking students into smaller groups and then having each group respond to discussion prompts.

Discussions in Groups allow for collaboration on projects.

Writing Good Discussion Questions

Asking the right question(s) is vital to creating a good discussion in your course. Consider the following discussion prompt:

After reading textbook chapter 5, please describe challenges that social workers face due to the social climate, economic changes, and political environment.

Once a few students have responded to the question, it’s likely they will have covered all potential answers. The rest will have little to add without being repetitive. Additionally, fact-based questions like the one above don’t help students identify their own knowledge gaps, explore multiple perspectives, or negotiate content meaning.

Instead, ask open-ended questions or questions that have more than just one or a few correct answers. These can offer additional discussion opportunities. For example:

How do you perceive that plan as adequate to the problem? What makes you think so? Where might that plan derail? What other plans are possible?

Questions that invite students to share their own point of view from their personal and/or work life can generate multiple perspectives.

Important Takeaways

Make sure responses are not “right” or “wrong” and cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” The best discussion prompts ask students to reflect and to demonstrate higher order thinking (analysis, synthesis, comparison, evaluation). Otherwise, discussions risk becoming “homework out loud.” Students perceive them as busy work, and you won’t enjoy reading and assessing the responses.

Discussions are meant to be interactions among learners. You may want to ask students not only to post comments to the discussion questions but also to respond to one or two other students. If so, give different due dates for initial posts to discussion and for peer-to-peer interactions. This will help you avoid a situation where learners post the discussions and interactions on the last day of the discussion, giving learners no time to interact with each other.

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

Using Canvas Modules

OAI recommends using Modules to develop course organization and navigation. Correctly using Modules simplifies navigation for your students. Modules let you organize instructions, content, activities, and assignments in the order you want students to progress through them. Using Modules avoids the problem of telling 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.

(Re-)designing the navigation and organization of your Canvas learning environment can reduce the cognitive overload on your students and allow them to engage with what really matters — the unit material.

— From [Don’t] Get Lost! Using Good Navigation and Organization to Improve Your Canvas Site

By organizing all your instructions, content, activities, and assignments in Modules, you can hide the Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files pages from the left navigation list in the student view. This gives students one central location to look for everything. That means fewer “where is” questions for you and less frustration for your students.

The more doors students have to the same items, the more confusing it is for them and the harder it is to be sure they are in the right place. In Canvas, all the other tools organize these items differently than in Modules. For example:

  • Discussions are ordered by time of the most recent comment. So if an earlier discussion is still attracting comments, it could appear above the current module discussion unless you have ordered discussions under the “pinned discussions” area.
  • Assignments are in the order created unless you grouped them by assignment and dragged-and-dropped them into your preferred order.
  • Files are grouped in folders to the extent that you build a folder structure for them. Generally, it’s best to hide the Files area from your student regardless of your planned course structure.
  • Quizzes and Discussions appear on their own tool page — and also on the Assignments Tool page if they are graded.

All these can lead students to lose their place in the course, which causes more confusion and delay.


There are two schools of thought about how to organize items in Modules.

Short Version

Each module begins with an overview Content Page that includes a list of the books or chapters for the module as well as links to other items the students are 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.

Long Version

Each item is a separate part of the module, including links and readings as well as activities and assignments. For reference, this course uses the long version.

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

In Review

Making each item a separate module element can significantly increase the length of the module. Long modules can appear overwhelming to students and reduce motivation.

On the other hand, students may skip over readings and not explore links unless they are required to progress through them one at a time.

A Big Takeaway — Consistency Is Key

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

Face-to-face students get in the habit of going to class at the same time and the same place every week. Online students need to form habits as well, to maintain consistent performance across the term. Consistent organization in your online spaces benefits all students, regardless of your teaching modality. Making sure assignments are always due on the same day of the week and modules always begin on the same day of the week goes a long way to providing structure.

Students also benefit from consistently having a written or video overview of each module describing what they are to do and learn. The overview should also include a list of reading (identifying chapters from books or linking to digital resources) and brief assignment descriptions or links to Assignments, Discussions, or Quizzes. Some faculty members like to put the overview description or video on one page, and then readings and resources on a subsequent page — and then have assignments and activities follow individually in the module. Either way is good as long as you pick one approach and use it consistently.


Use these templates from the Commons to help you get started organizing your own modules in Canvas. (For help, review how to import and view a Commons resource in Canvas.)

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.

D2L and Canvas: Tool Comparison

The primary tools in D2L and Canvas are similar — but Canvas is more user-friendly, with additional or streamlined features. This comparison will help orient you to the Canvas user interface.

Green boxes highlight interface elements, with arrows indicating how they change. On a few Canvas screenshots, red callouts indicate that course navigation changes slightly (or goes away).

You can explore these tools in more detail with your Canvas Sandbox. If you want to start experimenting, check out the Canvas Essentials page for tutorials.

The Home Page

The Canvas homepage is more flexible than in D2L – it can be formatted like a regular HTML page. The only “widget” used in the Canvas example below is for Recent Announcements at the top, the rest was added using the rich text editor. But you don’t have to create this from scratch – Canvas home pages are easily shared and added using Canvas Commons.

Canvas Course Navigation is also more flexible: items can be hidden when unused. In the example below, Quizzes are not in the navigation because they’re not used in the course.

Canvas sample home page

Index Pages

Each content tool in Canvas has an Index Page. These are automatically-generated lists of each item you create with that tool (like the Manage [Activity] areas in D2L). There is an index page for Modules, Discussions, Quizzes, Announcements, Assignments, and Pages. Links to these can appear in the course navigation.

The Canvas Assignments index page lists any activity you create that will be graded, including discussions and quizzes. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.


Canvas modules are located in a Module Index Page. This is the equivalent of D2L’s Table of Contents. You can hide/show modules, add materials, reorder, nest, and set date or prerequisite conditions for them.


The D2L Table of Contents = Canvas Modules index page.

Adding Content to Modules

This process is very similar to D2L, but the menus and options in Canvas are simpler. Media is added via URL or in a Page.

User interface to add content to a module in D2L
User interface to add content to a module in Canvas

Adding module content in Canvas is similar to, but simpler than, in D2L.


The Canvas Assignment index page automatically shows any graded activity, including quizzes and discussions. These can be grouped and given a percentage for weighted grading. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.

User interface to an assignment in D2L
User interface to add an assignment in Canvas

Adding a score automatically puts a new assignment in the Assignment Index Page and Grades. Assignments are organized in Groups.

Assignments Index Page

The Canvas Assignment index page automatically shows any graded activity, including quizzes and discussions. These can be grouped and given a percentage for weighted grading. This gives students one index page that shows every graded task for the course.

D2L Manage Assignments page
Canvas Assignments index page

All graded tasks are shown on one page. Assignment Groups make weighted grading easier to set up.


In Canvas you don’t create a separate Forum and Topic, as in D2L. Discussions are ordered by most recent activity unless “pinned” in position. Graded Discussions automatically appear in the Assignments index page and Gradebook.

Discussions in D2L
Discussions in Canvas

Creating a new discussion in Canvas is done in one step. Graded Discussions are added to Grades and Assignments.


Quiz question types in Canvas match those in D2L with some additional options. Question Library is called a Question Bank. Graded quizzes automatically appear in the Assignments index page and Gradebook.

Quizzes in D2L
Quizzes in Canvas

Question types and banks are like those in D2L. Graded quizzes are included in the Assignment index page.


In Canvas the default display is spreadsheet-style. Individual view is by student. Grade items are automatically added to the Gradebook when you create a graded activity. Assignment Groups/weights also appear automatically.

Grades in Canvas

Grades appear in spreadsheet or Individual view. Graded activities/groups are added automatically.

Submission Grading / SpeedGrader

The Canvas SpeedGrader tool is like the D2L assignment submission view. It shows any rubric used and has annotation tools for feedback. Navigation is from one student submission to the next.

Submission grading in D2L
SpeedGrader in Canvas

SpeedGrader has inline annotations, scoring, and rubric access like the submission view in D2L.

Navigating Your New Canvas Course

Using any tool for the first time can be overwhelming. This guide can help focus your attention on what matters most when getting started with Canvas, and make it easier to follow more detailed tutorials.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be able to:

  • Log in to Canvas at PSU.
  • Navigate to your dashboard.
  • Manage your user profile and settings.
  • Find where to toggle tools on and off for students.
  • Identify which Canvas tools may be most relevant to your teaching practice.
  • Locate and explore further resources.

First Things First: Logging in

Canvas is a web application, so you’ll start by going to a specific URL in your browser. Every university that uses Canvas has a unique URL for it. At PSU, it’s canvas.pdx.edu.

Logging in to Canvas starts with the familiar “Single Sign On” page if you’re not currently logged in to the PSU system. Enter your ODIN credentials just as you would for D2L or your PSU Gmail.

If you’re already signed into a PSU domain you may not get the “Single Sign On” page, and instead be automatically logged in.

Navigating and Understanding Your Dashboard

This screen detail from Canvas shows the Dashboard icon highlighted in the global navigation bar.
This screen detail from Canvas shows the Dashboard icon highlighted in the global navigation bar.

The Canvas Dashboard is your “home base.” You can do many things from the Dashboard, but its most important functions are:

  • Viewing and editing the details of your account (such as notification settings, personal pronouns, and user avatar)
  • Accessing your current courses
  • Viewing the global calendar
  • Submitting a support request to Canvas and/or access Canvas documentation

If you ever get lost, you can always come back to your Dashboard by selecting the Dashboard icon in the global navigation bar.

PSU’s tech support staff are still learning some Canvas features. For advanced support, they may need to research and get back to you.

User Settings

This screen detail from Canvas emphasizes the Settings link in the Account menu.
This screen detail from Canvas emphasizes the Settings link in the Account menu.

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

Here are the main settings to review. The links lead to detailed guides:

Designing Your Course

After exploring your dashboard, user preferences, and profile, think about course design options. Canvas is a collection of tools for creating materials and activities, but you can use them for teaching in many ways. More than one tool might help you reach a particular learning goal. Learning Canvas is primarily about discovering what each tool can do and then experimenting.

Getting Started with Canvas Basics is a guide for learning more about each tool and how to use them in your course to enhance students’ experience.

Navigation Options

By default, your Canvas courses will show links to the most commonly used tools in the main navigation bar. However, you can customize course navigation and remove the tools you’re not using. This will help students find activities and materials more easily.

Using Modules

Students may find it confusing to search through multiple links for the materials and activities they need. We’ve heard from students in the Canvas pilot that it’s frustrating when instructors don’t organize course materials and activity links in modules.

Using modules to organize all your instructions, content, activities, and assignments gives students one central location to look for everything. The Modules list is your course’s “table of contents,” so place it at the beginning of your navigation list. What’s more:

  • Using weekly modules is a practice most students find helpful.
  • By using modules as your “table of contents,” you can hide Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions from the navigation bar in the student view.

Moving Your Canvas Pilot Sandbox

You may have a sandbox created in our pilot version of Canvas. The URL for that is still pdx.instructure.com.

If you’ve migrated or begun building a course in your pilot Canvas sandbox, export that content and then import it to your new canvas.pdx.edu account as soon as possible. The pilot version will be archived at the end of the fall 2021 term, and its sandboxes will no longer be available.

Note: If you built Zoom links and other external tool links in your pilot sandbox, they may not import. Be sure to review these links after importing.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help moving your sandbox. Just contact the OAI support desk though our web form, via chat between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., or by emailing oai_support@pdx.edu.

The final version of Canvas is branded for PSU, but full integration with external tools and with Banner enrollment will not be complete until the winter 2022 term.