Outage Affecting Canvas Enrollments: 8/1, 8pm-8/2, 12,pm

Stop sign

A scheduled outage will stop the automatic-enrollment process in Canvas sites from Saturday, August 1st, 8pm to Sunday, August 2nd, 12pm. Any students who register for a course during the outage will not be enrolled in the course’s Canvas site, if one exists, until the outage ends.


We apologize if the enrollment-delay causes any inconvenience. If there are any questions, please email Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu.

Designing Your Canvas Site for How Students Learn

hammock on the beach

Ah, summer. The perfect time for enjoying trips to the shore, napping in hammocks, and of course, planning your Fall course sites.

Sure, you know how to upload a syllabus and add assignments in Canvas. But how do you plan a course site to help students learn more effectively?

At this year’s InstructureCon conference, Canvas users from the University of California at Berkeley presented a workshop called “Designing in Canvas for How the Brain Learns.”

UC Berkeley’s approach to course design focuses on humans as social creatures, who need the combination of motivation and active learning to achieve learner engagement. One way to do this is to create a sense of community within a complex and relevant learning environment.

The following ideas from UC Berkeley are five ways to design in Canvas for how the brain learns:

  1. Create a social presence. Steps like completing a user profile and recording a welcome video add a personal touch.
  1. Include opportunities to share information, expertise, and personality. This can be done by including professional and personal experience in the course, sharing opinions and interests in discussions, choosing student-selected projects, and using the discussion forums for class feedback.
  1. Create a “safe” classroom by establishing rules and norms. In order for participants to feel comfortable sharing opinions and their work for feedback, it’s important to establish trust, goodwill, honesty, openness, competence, reliability, and respect.
  1. Build a common space and use tools that promote community. Brand the space–whether it’s a page or blog or group portfolio–with images and language. Include open forums and use synchronous tools, such as chat and video conferencing. Ensure that the course site is accessible for all users.
  1. Focus on collaborative learning. Include games and negotiations, group debates, group research with wikis or pages, group projects and presentations.

How will you apply these ideas in your course? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Universal Design Tips For Canvas

What is Universal Design?

The Basics

Put simply, universal design is the practice of making things that nearly anyone can use.  Universal-design practitioners take into account persons with differing abilities when making things. While physical objects can be made with universal-design principles, the same can be done for web content like what one finds in a Canvas site.

Universal-Design Canvas Customizations

As a highly customizable platform, Canvas lends itself well to universal design. It is possible for teachers to set up their Canvas sites using universal-design concepts. Thus the goal of the “Universal Design Tips for Canvas” series is to show how to set up a Canvas site that students with differing abilities can use. To do this, each post in this series will focus on a universal-design tip that can be used when setting up or editing a Canvas site.

Universal Design Tip of the Week: Use Headers on Canvas Pages

Purpose of Headers

Headers <h1, h1, . . . h6> convey meaning to screen readers for persons who are visually disabled. Headers also affect text size, as in:

Examples of text using Header 2 and Header 4 to show differences in size.

What’s tricky about headers is that although you can increase or decrease text size using them, they aren’t meant to be used for formatting. In fact, headers were originally created to establish information hierarchy in a document or web page. Screen readers use headers in exactly this way–to identify discrete parts of text and to generate a table-of-contents used to order its reading.

Image of a the list of headings and heading levels for http://accessibility.psu.edu as shown in the VoiceOver screen reader.

Image borrowed from the “Heading Tags (H1, H2, H3, P) in HTML” page on Penn State’s Accessibility and Usability website (http://accessibility.psu.edu/headingshtml/). Please click to enlarge.

When used improperly for formatting (e.g., to increase font size), headers can confusing screen readers, cause them to disorganize or skip over parts of text, making a document or web page inaccessible.

Best Practices for Usable Headers

According to the Accessibility and Usability at Penn State website, headers are the most useable for screen readers for organizing information as follows:

  • Header 1 <h1>: Document or webpage title


Example of text using header 1 <h1>.

  •  Header 2 <h2>: Major sections or headings in a document or webpage

Example:Example of text using header 2 to show font size.

  • Header 3 <h3>: Sub-sections or sub-headings in a document or webpage


Example of text in header 3 to show font size.

  • Paragraph <p>: Standard text usually constituting the bulk of content in a document or on a webpage.

Example (Please click on image to enlarge):

Example of text using paragraph to show text size.

How to Use Headers in the Rich Content Editor

You can select the header anywhere the Rich Content Editor appears in Canvas by selecting one from the “Paragraph” drop-down menu*.

Image of the "Paragraph" header drop-down menu in the Rich Content Editor*Please note: there isn’t a “Header 1″ option in the Rich Content Editor. If you are creating or editing a Page, the title is roughly the equivalent of “Header 1.”

Example Page in Canvas (Click to Enlarge)

Example of a Canvas Page using headers 1, 2, and 3, as well as paragraph.


Please contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu if you have any questions about using headers on in Canvas or if we can assist with anything else.

Canvas Production Release: July 18, 2015

Canvas operates on a three-week release cycle through which features are added or updated. Courseware Support posts highlights from Canvas’s production release notes, a link to these notes, and other relevant content to the Canvas at Penn blog a few days before the production release, which usually occurs on Saturdays. Please contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu if you have any questions about an upcoming production release.

7/18/15 Production Release Highlights:

  • Differentiated Assignments: Differentiated Assignments will no longer be a Feature option in Canvas and will be enabled for all Canvas users as a standard feature. For more information, please click here.
  • Differentiated Assignment Section and Student List: When assigning an assignment, discussion, or quiz to a section or student, Canvas displays a maximum of five sections and seven students. If a course includes more sections or students than the display limit, Canvas will display a prompt notifying the user to type and search for the section or student. Additionally, instructors can search for students by either first or last name.
  • Recurring Calendar Events: When creating a new calendar event, users can choose to create multiple copies of the event every day, week, or month.
  • Anonymous Peer Review & Student Names: The anonymity option now hides student names to avoid biased peer reviews. The submitting student’s name is hidden from the reviewer and any linked observers on the reviewer’s dashboard and the assignment submission page. In peer review notifications, student names are not yet hidden. This feature will be added in a future release. Instructors can always view the name of the student reviewer in SpeedGrader, Crocodoc comments, and the student submission page.
  • Assignment Details and Locked Assignments: Students are no longer restricted from viewing assignment details in locked assignments. Details can still be seen after an assignment is locked by a due date or an Until date.
  • Assignment Submissions Button: The student Submit Assignment link has been moved out of the sidebar and placed more prominently as a button by the assignment details.The Re-submit Assignment link has also been repurposed as a button.
  • Incomplete Quiz Score Icon: When students complete a quiz that includes a manually graded question, the Grades page displays a Quiz icon instead of the current score, indicating that the quiz score is not yet complete. When students hover over the icon, students can view a message indicating that grading is in progress.
  • Excused Assignment Notifications: Excused assignments are part of the Grading notification (under Course Activities). If users enable this notification, they will receive a notification when an assignment has been excused.
  • Autosave SpeedGrader Comments:  If an instructor adds comments to a student submission and then navigates away from the page, Canvas will generate a message warning that there are unsaved comments on the page. This feature only applies to leaving the SpeedGrader page; it does not apply to the comment field for each student submission. If an instructor creates a comment for a student but does not submit it before viewing another student submission, SpeedGrader retains the comment in the comment field for the second student—and any student—until the Submit Comment button is clicked and the comment is officially submitted as part of a student’s submission.
  • Restricted Files and Unpublished Folders in Concluded Courses: Instructors can view restricted files and unpublished folders in courses that have concluded.
  • Quiz Previews and Until Dates: The quiz preview page does not time out for instructors if the quiz includes an Until date.

Other Canvas Changes:

On August 8, 2015, all existing Etherpad collaborations that are hosted by Canvas will be permanently deleted.

For a complete production release update, please see:

July 18, 2015 Canvas Production Release Notes

2015-07-18 New Feature Screencast from Canvas LMS on Vimeo.

Help Us Plan the 2015 Symposium!

Our colleagues at the Weigle Information Commons have posted the event-brainstorming dates for the 2015 Engaging Students through Technology Symposium to their blog. Please click here to sign up for a brainstorm session.

Teacher looking at students' work, taling to students.

Let’s Work Together to Create Another Great Symposium!

We look forward to planning another great symposium. Hope you can join us!

Hooray! New Course Request Form!

It’s Here!

Children skipping and jumping up a hill.

The New Course Request Form is available now! Hooray!

The Courseware Support Team is happy to announce that our new Course Request Form is available to users! To access the Form, please go to Link to Course Request Form (same URL as the old form).

What’s New?

Here are some aspects of the New Form that we think you’ll love:

New Navigation

The newly designed interface simplifies navigation. You can access your list of Canvas sites for request from the homepage (click on Main to access if you have navigated from the homepage) or by clicking on Courses under “Browse.”

 Image of CRF side navigation with arrow pointing at the "Courses" link.

Click on “Courses” to Request Canvas sites.

Also on the the homepage, you can see your recent requests under “Site Requests” and links to all of you existing Canvas sites and export .zip files for Blackboard sites (Instructions: Using Blackboard Exports) in the “Existing Course Sites” section.

To request a Canvas site for a course, simply click on the link for it from either of the locations (homepage or Courses). Please click on the following screenshot for an example.

Screenshot of site-request interface.

Click on course number to request a Canvas site.

New Features

After selecting a course, a form will open, and you will have the option to apply settings to the Canvas site so that it is configured to your liking. All of the old settings remain, and there have been improvements to these, as well as entirely new settings added to the form. Here are three changes and additions about which we are the most excited:

Multiple Sections in a Single Canvas Site

The New Course Request Form lets you select sections to add to your Canvas site. Previously, if an instructor wanted their lab or recitation sections added to their Canvas sites, they would have to request this in the “Comments or additional instructions” box of the form, and we would have to manually add sections to the site, which could take a while depending on how close a request was to the start of the semester (the closer to the start, the longer to wait to due an increased volume of requests). The New Form makes section requests much easier, letting you add sections automatically to a site by checking a box. Please click on the following screenshot for an example.

Multi-section course description text, check-box for adding sections, and "Info" button to see what sections will be added if box is checked.

Click in the check-box to add sections to the Canvas site.

Important: We recommend clicking on the “Info” button before clicking in the check-box to see what sections will be added to the site. Here is an example of the section information that displays through the “Info” button:

Click on the "Info" button to see what sections will be added if you click in the section check-box.

Click on the “Info” button to see what sections will be added if you click in the section check-box.

Please note: Cross-listed courses don’t need to use the section-request feature to grant students who register under different course numbers access to the Canvas site. By default, any student enrolled in an officially cross-listed course has access to the Canvas site under which the site request was processed.  We have added a reminder about this to the Form (please click on the following screenshot for an example):

Teaching a cross-listed course and don't see sections in the "Info" button? Don't panic!  All students will have access to your site,

Teaching a cross-listed course and don’t see sections in the “Info” button? Don’t panic! All students will have access to your site.

Course Reserves

The option to add the Course Reserves button to you Canvas site is at the bottom of the form, just like it was with the old form. Please click on the following screenshot for an example.

Course reserve is under the "Library Services" section of the form.

Course reserve is under the “Library Services” section of the form.

The button now automatically appears in a site if this option is selected. Before, we would have to manually add this button to a site after it was created, and during busy times of a term (e.g., the first two weeks before classes start), users would have to wait for the button to be added manually, which could take a while. Now that the button is automatically added, users can place their Course Reserves requests as soon as their site is up.


Please contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu if you have any questions about the New Course Request Form, and we will be happy to assist you.

Canvas Production Release: June 27, 2015

Canvas operates on a three-week release cycle through which features are added or updated. Courseware Support posts highlights from Canvas’s production release notes, a link to these notes, and other relevant content to the Canvas at Penn blog a few days before the production release, which usually occurs on Saturdays. Please contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu if you have any questions about an upcoming production release.

6/27/15 Production Release Highlights:

  • Excuse an Assignment: Instructors can use the Gradebook to excuse a student from an assignment in their course. To excuse an assignment for a student, enter the value of EX in the corresponding Gradebook cell. The Gradebook will reflect that the assignment is excused for the student. Excused assignments are not included in the calculation for a student’s total grade. Students can also be excused from a Group Assignment; the other members of the group will still be able to view and submit the assignment. Discussions and Quizzes can be excused for students in the Gradebook, but students cannot see that they have been excused from the Discussion or Quiz. This behavior will be addressed in a future release.
  • Bounced Warning for Single Communication Channels: When a communication method (or channel) is invalid for a user, Canvas generates an icon notifying the user that the channel has bounced, or has become invalid, and needs to be corrected. This icon now appears if a user only has one communication channel; previously, the icon only appeared when a user had set multiple channels.
  • Complete/Incomplete Grades: Complete/incomplete grades display in SpeedGrader. When an instructor entered grades for an assignment as Complete/Incomplete, the points field only displayed a portion of the Complete/Incomplete indicator instead of expanding to a more suitable width. This behavior occurred because the points field was not coded to expand for any values other than points. Canvas code has been updated to expand the box for the Complete/Incomplete grading type.
  • Media Files in Safari: In the Safari browser, when a user tried to access a media file such as an audio or video comment, clicking the preview icon did not generate the media file. This behavior occurred because of a change in the Safari pre-load value for JavaScript media elements. Canvas code has been updated to redefine the pre-load value used for Safari.

Other Canvas Changes:

As of July 18, 2015, Differentiated Assignments are no longer a Feature option in Canvas and are enabled for all Canvas users as a standard feature.

For a complete production release update, please see:

June 27, 2015 Canvas Production Release Notes

Please click here to view the script for this screencast.

We’re Back from InstructureCon 2015

inflateable panda with "Canvas" logo posted outside at InstructureCon 2015

The Courseware Support team has returned from the scenic climbs of Park City, Utah ready and eager to apply for our users’ benefit the knowledge we acquired at InstructureCon 2015. We made a lot of new friends; learned invaluable information in workshops led by Canvas gurus; and avoided sunburn, dehydration, and the ever-dreaded altitude sickness (less learned from InstructureCon 2014!). Before we start sharing our new Canvas smarts on this blog (which we’ll do soon–stay tuned!), we wanted to address a rather important component of the conference, one which framed the experience and made it truly transformative for us. Amid the depth and breadth of experiences at InstructureCon 2015, the most poignant insight we took from it was a rather simple message–empathy is an important part of our jobs.

During the first keynote of InstructureCon 2015, Josh Coates, Instructure CEO, said, “universal design is driven by empathy,” and this sentiment set the tone for the rest of the conference. For each session we attended, the topics under discussion foregrounded the Canvas user experience and were inclusive of all possible users (teachers, students, staff, etc.). The conversations we had in and out of sessions centered on questions like “How will this (method, tool, suggestion, etc.) affect users?” Answers to these questions weren’t just hypothetical, as many teachers from colleges and universities from across the world shared their concerns.

It was evident that Instructure were listening carefully to these teachers, and the same can be said for the technical and support people in attendance. The quality of conversation around sundry topics, everything from the mundane to the sophisticated and esoteric, derived from the basic assumption that to serve our users, we must first empathize with them.

We’d like to thank Instructure, the presenters, and our fellow attendees for making InstructureCon 2015 such a rewarding, enriching event! Thank you all! As for our dear readers, please keep checking the blog for posts about what we learned and how we will use this knowledge to help Canvas users at the University of Pennsylvania!