Canvas at Thayer School

Dartmouth and Thayer School have adopted Canvas as our Learning Management System (LMS).  It is powerful tool to help manage your course, deliver course materials, collaborate with the class, assess your students, and distribute grades.

This page contains information to help faculty, administrative assistants, and TAs learning and using the Canvas Learning Management System at Thayer School of Engineering. 

Learning Canvas

Canvas Updates

  • Canvas is updated every three weeks. With each update, release notes with new features are published.
  • If you wish to receive notifications of these updates via email you can subscribe to the Dartmouth EdTech newsletter here. This newsletter is published every three weeks and contains the Canvas production release notes.
  • A list of recent Canvas updates can be found on this Canvas Community page.
  • You can see summaries of current Canvas development projects here.

Organizing Your Course

  • Consider making calendar events for each class session.  We have "templates" with generic names for each session for the different class schedules.  This will put the sessions (you can name them by lecture topic) in student's calendars which they can consume many ways, including on their handheld devices.  Changing sessions (e.g. using an x-hour) becomes very easy to communicate to students - just update the calendar).  We have tested ways to copy at least most of the dated course information from one offering to another with the dates shifted appropriately.
  • Canvas offers "modules" to organize a course, but most faculty wanting to provide a structured view of their course organized beyond "Assignments", "Files", etc. are using "Pages" to make a mini wiki for their course with links to the other materials and external resources.
  • Consider creating a home page (this is the landing page students first see when logging into your course) for your course which contains, for example, basic logistical information, a welcome message, course organization and your syllabus. Canvas also offers you the option to use the list of modules as your home page for example. Click here for instructions on how to select your home page. If you wish to use a page you created as your home page you need to first designate that page as a "Front Page".

Online Submission

  • Canvas provides a good way for assignments to require a submission (file upload) which you or TAs can then access online, optionally annotate, and conveniently grade in the grade book.
  • If you wish to have multiple TAs grading each student's online submission, please contact us so we can help you avoid some potential pitfalls resulting from the way Canvas implemented recording grades.

Online Assessment

  • Canvas has extensive support for online assessment.  We encourage to think about strategies like "flipping" your class with reading or video assignments before class interspersed with quick graded online quizzes which once set up will grade themselves totally automatically.  Research indicates that long-term retention is much improved if we test students right after they learn material, and this is also a great way to automatically hold them accountable for doing their outside of class learning.

Grading

  • Canvas has extensive support for automating the grading process, including online assessment, paper submissions, and automatically incorporating grades from them.
  • With some planning, you can probably implement your grading scheme in Canavs and avoid having to do external grade calculations.  Should you hit a snag with this, you can always export the grades from Canvas and do your external calculations.
  • It is very important to plan and implement your grading scheme before students start doing online assessments.  It can be difficult to retrofit changes after their scores are in.

Quizzes

  • If a quiz has any questions that will need to be graded manually, it is suggested that the grades for that quiz be "Muted".  The reason is that the grade that the student will see after finishing the quiz, is  based on them getting no points for any question that has not been graded.  To "Mute" grading, hover the mouse over the particular quiz in the Gradebook.  Click on the drop-down menu that appears and choose "Mute Assignment".  Un-Mute when all the quizzes have been graded.
  • If a Student does not take a quiz during the assigned time, perhaps because they were sick, there is a mechanism for giving them another attempt.  Click on "Quizzes" and then the particular quiz.  On the right-hand side of the window, click "Moderate this Quiz".  Check the box next to each student that will get an extra attempt and then click the "Change Extensions for "n" Selected Students" link at the bottom.   By default the "Checked" students will get one extra attempt.  If you put a value in the "Extra Time" box, that number of minutes will be added to the original minutes allowed for the quiz.  Check the "Manually Unlock .." button to enable the changes.

Recovering Deleted Items

There isn't an official "undo" function for getting back deleted items, but there is an undocumented way to retrieve some of them.  Go to the URL https://canvas.dartmouth.edu/courses/<course #>/undelete , where you have put in the appropriate course number, and you will see things that you have deleted in a course with the option of restoring.

Copying a Course From a Previous Offering

You can copy content from another Canvas 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. If you with to automatically adjust dates, pay careful attention to both start and end dates.  What seems to work best is to find the earliest and latest dated items in the previous instance and figure out when those dates occur in the new offering and use all four dates in the import specification.

Exporting/Importing a Course

You can export a course instance to give to someone in another Canvas account, or to create a copy as a backup on your local computer. You can import it to another offering.  In the import, pay careful attention to both start and end dates.  What seems to work best is to find the earliest and latest dated items in the previous instance and figure out when those dates occur in the new offering and use all four dates in the import specification.

Viewing Grades

  • There are two modes for viewing grades: "Count all ungraded assignments as zero's" or not.  Each Canvas user can choose how to view grades for themselves, and if the instructor chooses to view it one way, it does not impact how a student will choose to view their grades.  When a new assignment is created, the default grade for every student is a "-" and will not be counted towards the final grade (unless ungraded assignments are counted as zero's).  When an assignment is graded it is possible that students who have not turned in the assignment will be left with a "-" which to Canvas means ungraded.  If the student chooses not to view "ungraded" as zero's then they will see their grade to be higher than it should be (assuming that a missed assignment is given a zero).  The bottom line is that it is important to make sure every student is given a grade when the assignment is graded.  
  • All "-'s" can be replaced by a number grade by hovering the mouse over a particular assignment in the Gradebook and clicking the little arrow that appears and then choosing "Set Default Grade".
  • The toggles for viewing "ungraded as 0's" can be found as follows:
    • For instructors, click the little "gear" icon in the upper left of the gradebook and choose the "Treat ungraded as 0's" option.
    • For students, in the gradebook on the right hand side is a little check box saying "Calculate based only on graded assignments".  Unchecking this box will treat ungraded assignments as zero's.
  • Any particular assignment can be "Muted" so that students cannot see their grade.  In the "Gradebook", hover over the assignment name, click the little blue arrow and choose "Mute Assignment"
  • Total grades can be hidden from students as follows.  Click on "Settings, Edit Course Details".  At the bottom of the page, click "More Options".  Check the box next to "Hide totals in student grade summary" and then click "Update Course details".

Do's and Don'ts

  • Search for Canvas help using Google.  Searches like "canvas instructure create assignment" tend to yield excellent results, especially if you focus on the instructure.com Help Center pages.  You can also access those pages from the Help menu in Canvas itself.
  • Take advantage of the excellent 24x7 Canvas Support online chat and phone hotline services accessible from the "Help" menu in Canvas.
  • Use the Dartmouth-created Canvas calendar templates as an easy way to get calendar entries for each class meeting time.
  • Start simple, but use the modules features from the beginning.  This will help promote a consistently rich set of ways for students to access Thayer School courses and will result in less work for you in the long run.
  • Remove unused "Course Navigation" links (the ones under your course name on the left) so students don't end up looking in empty places when they're looking for something.
  • Publish your course when you are ready for students to view it.
  • Publish assignments and quizzes when you are ready for students to see them.
  • Remove any test announcements before publishing your course.  Canvas won't send announcements to students before publishing, but the early announcements will still be in the course where students can see them.  There is at least a short lag between when you publish a course and when Canvas starts sending announcements to students.
  • Let Thayer School Computing Services know what you want/hope to do with the tool!  Canvas is a very rich tool with a plethora of add-ons available, so we will be learning about it ongoing and can focus our efforts on topics of interest to you.
  • Unless your course truly has sections (the vast majority won't), then leave the "For:" value in your assignments at the default value of "Everyone".
  • Don't try to do everything the way you did before.  Canvas has many powerful features that enable better approaches and works better organizing courses using its "modules" paradigm.  Please keep an open mind and try things the "Canvas way" before resorting to workarounds you developed because of limitations in our former LMS.

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