Technology for Teaching & Learning

34 Canvas – Getting Started

Canvas is UF’s Learning Management System (LMS).  It  can be an efficient way to make course material and grades available to your students.  It has features that can help you, whether you just want to house a few files or to teach a fully online course.

Request your Canvas course shell through the e-Learning Course Request form. Do this as early as you can (it can sit until you are able to work on it). Once you have your shell, set the course start date and time. This is VERY IMPORTANT! It starts your class off poorly if students can’t get to your course.

  • In your Canvas shell, select “Settings”
  • Under the Course Details tab, set the Start date and time (e.g., May 11, 2020, 8:00 am)
    1. Select the box next to “Restrict students from viewing this course before start date”
  • Select “Update Course Details” at the bottom of the page
  • Go back to the home page, and select “Publish” under Course Status

NOTE: Many students appreciate being able to log into their course BEFORE classes begin. This helps students to get a head start on course work and to reduce anxiety. If you are willing to open up the class a bit early, send your students an announcement to this effect. However, students may start emailing you with questions right away, so don’t open the class early if you are not able to respond.

How Can I Learn to Use Canvas?

  • Face-to-face and synchronous online workshops on how to use Canvas are available through UFIT Training.
  • Canvas Guides provide step-by-step instructions for all things Canvas.
  • LinkedIn Learning provides short video tutorials on how to use Canvas
    • Access LinkedIn Learning through the e-Learning home page
    • Use your Gatorlink credentials to access the LinkedIn Library at no cost
    • The LinkedIn Library is available to students too!

Communicate with Your Students


Use Canvas Announcements to send out general messages to your class. It is a good idea to provide a 0-points assignment that guides your students to set up their Canvas notifications. Otherwise, they may not receive your messages.

  • How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student?
  • Consider setting up “automated” messages before the semester starts these can include:
    • Weekly assignment reminders
    • Highlight assignment elements where students typically run into trouble
    • Link to additional resources that can support struggling or high achieving students
    • You can organize your automated announcements using the “Delayed Announcement Modifier” in the Multi-Tool (see below for details)

Setting up some automated messages before the semester starts gives you one less thing to worry about. Don’t forget to set your own notification preferences so that you don’t miss any student questions.


Chat is a synchronous text communication tool. Some instructors find that it works well for virtual office hours. Enable it within your course by going into “Settings” and dragging it up to the navigation items visible to students.

  • Be sure to let students know how to access the chat
  • Let them know when your office hours will be
  • Click on the “Chat” link in your navigation
  • The chat window can be open on your computer while you do other work
Inbox (email)

Tell students to set up their notification preferences so that their Canvas emails will show up in the UF email account. Students can also go to their Canvas inbox to check for messages. Be sure to let your students know how you will communicate with them.

You should set up your own notifications so that student messages sent to you via the Canvas Inbox will go directly to your UF email account. While you’re at it, this is a good time to upload a photo of yourself. Why? A friendly, smiling picture of you can help students to feel more comfortable about reaching out to ask questions.


The Canvas discussion forum can be a good place for students to ask general course and content questions. This will allow students to respond to each others’ questions and for you to provide FAQs.

The general questions or FAQ discussion forum should be checked daily. If students don’t receive a response to a query, then they are  likely to resort to emailing you individually. A quick response can help you to answer questions that more than one student may have and help to reduce your emails.

Course Content

There are two main ways to provide content to students. The “Modules” tool can be used with either method to further guide student progress through the course activities.


The Canvas files tool can make documents available to students. It is important to organize them so that students know what they should be looking at when. You can group materials into folders by week (or whatever organization schema you prefer) and then number them with the order in which they should be viewed. This method of organization works best if your course content consists of static files. If you have multimedia, links to content outside of your course, and explanations to provide, the Pages tool generally works best.

If you want students to access the files folder, you will need to make them visible to students within the left-hand navigation. How to do this:

  1. Choose “Settings” from the left navigation
  2. Select “Navigation” from the top menu
  3. Drag “Files” from the list of tools at the bottom (these are hidden) to the top list of items
  4. Click the “Save” button at the bottom of the page

The Pages tool allows you to create webpages with links to course materials as well as to provide text instructions or other information. Your Canvas pages can be as simple or detailed as necessary. Use headings and subheadings to divide content and maintain accessibility.


The Modules tool allows you to guide students through the course materials in an organized fashion. Create a module for each week (or whatever organizational unit you prefer) and then add pages, files, discussions, assignments and quizzes in the order they should be accessed. You can move things between modules and reordered them easily using the drag and drop interface.

You can also control student access to content based upon completion of assignments or specifying a quiz score. If you wish to use quiz score as a trigger, be sure to allow students multiple re-takes.

Canvas Time-Savers

Canvas has features that can save time for both you and your students.

The Calendar tool will automatically display any assignment deadlines that you create in Canvas AND it will update the dates automatically when you copy the course to a new term. Be sure to double check these to ensure they are correct. Incorrect due dates are a big source of frustration for both teachers and students.

Multi-Tool: Set/Adjust Due Dates and Times

Consider using the “Multi-Tool” to help you quickly set deadlines across all of your assignments.

  • To do this, go to Settings > Navigation and drag the multi tool up from the hidden items to the course navigation (students won’t see it).
  • Be sure to click Save.
  • Then click on the Multi-Tool in the left menu and choose Due Date Modifier

Multi-Tool: Delayed Announcement Modifier

Once you have enabled the Multi-Tool in your Canvas course (see above), you can use the “Delayed Announcement Modifier” to organize announcements for the semester. Faculty often worry about “spamming” their students. The truth is, students actually appreciate meaningful communications from their teachers. As long as you give them useful information, you are doing fine!



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