Canvas Course Using Most Tools-Student View

Posted on June 1, 2011 by Online Learning

This discussion is for faculty designing a course in Canvas, but shows the student view. To learn about how to deploy the various tools, please visit the main UMW Canvas support site at Teaching with Canvas.

Moving efficiently and effectively from Blackboard to Canvas requires a change in mindset. Canvas is different and works differently than Blackboard. It would be counterproductive  to try to replicate the Blackboard experience inside Canvas.

So the first order of business is to understand the relationship among Canvas Assignments, Pages, Modules, Syllabus, and Calendar.

When the student logs into your course on the first day, they will need some direction. So, you will probably want to set up your course to display the “Front Page“. The Front Page is a web page that the instructor can edit to include text, pictures, and even video. For directions on how to do this, please see First Day Course Design. In this example training course, the home page has been set to be the Front Page:


For many courses (using most of the Canvas tools), the main organizational element will be the Modules tool. This is particularly true if your course is logically ordered into units and students proceed sequentially from one unit to another.

In this example training course, there is one short module, Mary Washington, organized into two areas, “The Person” and “The University”. In this view the user can see a list of items in the module. The icons to the left of each line show a page icon for an internal web page, a world for a web link, an A+ for an assignment, a circle Q for a quiz, and a conversation bubble for discussions. Those items with due dates have the date displayed on the right along with any associated point value.

Note: There are five graded activities listed here; one assignment, two graded discussions, and two quizzes.


The five graded activities shown above can be created (by the instructor) while editing the module or by visiting the assignment area (for creating assignments), the discussion area (for creating discussions), and the quiz area (for creating quizzes).

Important: The instructor can create a graded activity directly while in the process of creating a module. If so, the activity is automatically listed in the module being created. It is also possible to create items such as quizzes, assignments, and graded discussions in those areas. If so, the graded activity will be listed in the appropriate area but not in a Module. These items can be added to the module later.

Here is a view of the Assignments area. In this example course, all the graded activities were created while in the Modules area. The graded activities are placed in the Assignments area automatically by Canvas. Please note that there are five items here: one “assignment”, two graded discussions, and two quizzes. In Canvas, an assignment can be any graded activity. This is somewhat of a departure from the Blackboard assignment which usually involved a file submission.


Here is an alternate view of the Assignments area:


Parts of the Syllabus page in Canvas are also automatically populated. The Syllabus tool has two areas, top and bottom. The top part can be edited by the instructor and any text, images, or videos can appear in this top portion. Many instructors will want to copy and paste their normal syllabus information into this area. Other instructors may wish to upload a syllabus document as a Wrod file and just provide a link to that document in this area.

In either case, the bottom portion of the Syllabus tool is NOT editable by the instructor. The bottom portion of the Syllabus page is automatically populated with items with grades and due dates.


The Front Page is only one (special purpose) page that can be created in the Pages area. This example course has two additional pages, Directions for Module One and Directions for Module Two. These pages are also listed in the Mary Washington module.


The instructor can create any number of pages. All pages (except for the Front Page) can be set so that students can edit them. So they are wiki-type pages. Some instructors may want to save lecture notes here. Another possibility would be to create blank pages and let students fill those pages in with notes that they take.


Another page that is automatically populated by Canvas is the Calendar tool. Note: The calendar is associated with a person. If the person has access to many courses, all dates from all courses will show by default. To narrow the perspective to just one course, the user should un-check all boxes except for the course of interest. In this example all boxes are un-checked save for the Training_Course_100 course.


In summary, there are many ways to organize and design the student experience inn a Canvas course utilizing most of the tools. This page suggests concentrating organizing the course using the Modules tool. While creating the modules, the instructor will also be creating assignments and quizzes, and discussions, and other activities. In most cases, these activities will be automatically placed in the Assignments tool, the Syllabus tool, the Pages tool, and the Calendar tool.

For face-to-face courses not needing to use all the Canvas toolset, please see: