Best Practices

Click on a link to view a Canvas best practice:

Canvas Avatars

Filing out a Canvas profile or adding an avatar is optional, but it is a good way to share information about yourself with your classmates.

If you decide to add information or an avatar to your Canvas profile, consider the type of persona you wish to convey and carefully choose the content you will share. Any Canvas user who’s in the same Canvas site as you can see your profile if they click on your name whenever they see it.

If you are a student, please note that your instructors and TAs can see your profile, so it’s a best practice to use discretion and present yourself well.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Career Services’ Developing Your Personal Brand Online has advice on how to cultivate a professional online presence that you can consult.

We recommend the following guidelines for avatars in Canvas:

  • It should be a recognizable and current photo or image of your face. (masks, extreme Photoshopping,distance shots, pictures with more than one person, or obscure images are not suggested.) Your face should cover 70% of the image. We advise against using the default avatar designs provided through Gravatar.
  • It should be a minimum of 500 x 500 pixels in dimensions.
  • A square-shaped image is best.
  • The image must be in JPG format.
  • Images that do not follow the guidelines may be deleted at the discretion of a system administrator.

* Adapted with permission from SUU Online

Canvas Dashboard Images

As of October 10, 2016, Canvas allows instructors to add a Course Dashboard Image that appears for students on their Canvas Dashboards (for instructions on how to use the Canvas Dashboard, please see instructor directions or student directions). Accepted image types include JPG, JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Images should be approximately 262 pixels wide by 146 pixels high. For more information, please see “How do I add an image to a course card in the Dashboard?”

Students are still able to select a color overlay and course nickname of their choice to display on their personal Canvas Dashboards. Instructors cannot select the color overlay or nickname that students see on their personal Canvas Dashboards.


Canvas has the ability to hide files or limit student access, but there are still some best practices for the content instructors should place in Files.

We advise against placing the following content in Files:

  • Exam answer keys or homework answers (unless they are a study tool or added to Files after the due date of the assessment).
  • FERPA (links to Privacy Office website) protected material, such as grading sheets from past semesters or past student assignments (unless students have given permission for their work to serve as examples).
  • HIPAA (links to Privacy Office website) protected material.
  • Material that should be available only to instructors/TAs/graders (in these cases we recommend a non-course Canvas site be used. For more information, please see our policy on Non-Course Sites Policy).

Another option for controlling access to Files is to hide the “Files” area of your Canvas site from students, which would allow them to only access material you expressly link to from Pages, Modules and other Canvas tools. To do this, go to Settings > Navigation and drag Files under the “Drag items here to hide them from students” heading. Instructions for Hiding a Course Navigation Button in Canvas.

Making a Canvas Site Public

Canvas allows for the option to make course sites public. Student data (names, assignments, grades, etc.) remains private but course materials can be publicly shared. For more detailed information on the options for making your Canvas site public, please see this guide.*

*As of September 17, 2016, Canvas has changed its settings terminology for course visibility. The “make this course publicly visible setting” is now called “Public.” For more information on the changes to course-visibility terminology in Canvas, please see the “Course Settings” section on this webpage.

Please note that by making your site public you are agreeing to adhere to Penn’s Policy on Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources and Penn’s Policy on Unauthorized Copying of Copyrighted Material and are taking full responsibility for this action.

For questions any questions regarding this policy or public Canvas sites, please contact