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Canvas Best Practices

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Course Setup: Getting started building your new Canvas course site

Print our Canvas Course Setup Checklist so you can check off items as you go!


  • Use a development site to build out your course.
    This minimizes any potentially major issues that may occur during course-building and guarantees that your students cannot gain access to anything that you don't want them to view during the course-building process.

    Please note: Development sites are not used to host courses and students will not be enrolled in them. Rather, development sites are platforms to play around with Canvas features and course organization and design. We recommend using development sites as course content repositories so that you just copy your content into the live semester course site each time you teach that same course. We also recommend that you import the ODL Quality Course Shell before building your course. By doing so, you’ll automatically build your course on selected quality standards based on the Quality Matters rubric.
  • Moving content within Canvas: Using the "copy a Canvas course" option is best.
    The "copy a Canvas course" import option allows you to take a whole course, or only specific pieces that you want, from one Canvas course to another. This is great if you want to carefully pick and choose what content you bring from one semester to another, or if you want to bring over all content into your new site. This is also the best way to transfer materials from your development site into your live course site.
    Do this BEFORE you start editing your Syllabus page in your semester Canvas site. The Syllabus page tends to be overwritten every time you import content into a course site.

    If you find you need to copy an individual assignment, quiz, discussion item, or content page into your course after you have copied content from your dev site, it is best to use the Direct Share feature. This will allow you to copy over the individual item without accidentally copying over duplicate items. Similarly, want to share individual course items with one of your FSU colleagues? The Direct Share feature is the best way to do it.
  • Create your syllabus
    Create your HTML Syllabus page and/or upload a syllabus document. If you opt to use the HTML Syllabus page in Canvas, we strongly recommend that you either create a backup of the Syllabus page in a regular Canvas content page, or do NOT import anything into your course after you have created your HTML Syllabus page. The course import tool will wipe out your Syllabus page otherwise and we may not be able to recover all of its content.
  • You must publish your semester course site and every item in it that you want students to access.
    It is generally best to publish the individual items and modules in your development site as you are building it out. That way, once you have copied your content into the live semester site, all that's needed is to publish the course site itself. We also recommend making sure that all course links, files, videos, and external links you provide in your Canvas course are active and working.
  • Import the FSU Emergency Module.
    The FSU Emergency Module is a critical tool to help with both proactive and reactive emergency course management that can be used in both distance-learning and face-to-face courses. We strongly recommend importing the FSU Emergency Module from Canvas Commons into your course sites and development sites. The module will come in already published, so it's ready to go for the start of your class. Learn more about the FSU Emergency Module and how to use it. For additional emergency preparedness ideas, see Incorporating emergency preparedness into your course design.
  • Make an attendance plan if you wish to keep track of it in Canvas.
    There are a few different options for taking first day attendance. The best option for taking attendance in Canvas throughout the semester will depend on your class size.
  • Communicating with students before classes start
    If you want to communicate with your students prior to the first day of class, use one of the methods recommended in How do I message my students in a course before the semester starts?
  • Managing a student finishing up an incomplete in Canvas
    Review this finishing incompletes in Canvas resource and submit the accompanying manual enrollment form to ensure your student has the course access they need to submit coursework.

Course Design

  • Organize your content using Canvas's Modules page.
    We recommend adopting these Overall Course Site Design guidelines for organizing your course content. Not only does following these guidelines make your course site accessible to all students, but these guidelines also tend to reduce student confusion which means fewer administrative emails for you!
  • Course Files are automatically hidden from student view when your course site is created, and we strongly recommend keeping the course files area unavailable to students. Modules present a far better way to share files with students because they allow individual files to be shared side-by-side with weblinks, assignments, Canvas content pages, and other items.
  • Customize/simplify your course navigation menu.
    As the instructor, you are able to view and access all the available course navigation links, however, we recommend that you customize the course navigation menu so that any tools you will not be using or do not want students to access will be hidden from student view.
  • Keep accessibility in mind while building out your course content.
    All FSU courses and their content must be offered in a format that is accessible to all students. We strongly recommend proactively creating your course content to be accessible rather than reactively making content accessible only once a student registered with the Student Disability Resource Center makes a request for course content to be offered in an alternative format. Learn more about our general text recommendations and accessible file formats.
  • Use Design Tools templates anywhere you use the Rich Content Editor in Canvas.
    Design Tools templates are accessible, and will make it much easier both to create visually appealing, mobile-friendly content and verify that your Canvas content is accessible

    Click on the screenshots below to view examples of how Design Tools templates can be used in Canvas.
    • Module Overview:
    • Discussion Assignment:
    Check out our Design Tools Overview and to get started. If you would prefer, you can also schedule a one-on-one technical assistance consultation, or register for a workshop or webinar to learn more.
  • Keep in mind: Links on Canvas Content Pages are static.
    This means that they will not be updated automatically when you copy your course content from your development site to the live semester site, or if you copy course content from semester to semester. This does not pose a problem to external links (e.g., a link to, but internal course links (e.g., a link to an assignment or quiz) will break. You will need to manually update all internal course links when you copy your content into a new site.

Course Multimedia

  • Make sure all multimedia is accessible.
    All FSU courses and their content must be offered in a format that is accessible to all students.
  • We strongly recommend that you use Kaltura for any video or audio recordings that you make yourself. Kaltura automatically captions media for you with a 75% accuracy rate, and you can correct any mistakes in your automatic captions fairly easily. Kaltura items also will not eat up space in your Canvas course site because Kaltura is an external application that integrates with Canvas, meaning that your Kaltura items are stored on Kaltura's servers.
  • To add a Kaltura video to a Canvas Module, you will need to use a workaround.
    There is no way to add a Kaltura video directly to one of your course modules. However, there is an easy workaround: Embed the kaltura video in a Content Page via the rich content editor, and then add the Content Page to the module.
  • Integrate FSU Libraries resources into your Canvas site.
    This helps to set your students up for success by making it as easy as possible for them to find the resources they'll need for that research paper!

 Graded Work

Gradebook setup, use, and end-of-semester concerns

In order to save time and headaches at the end of the semester, we recommend following the guidelines in our Canvas New Gradebook Best Practices to ensure that your gradebook is set up correctly at the beginning so that it will be easier to use during the semester and your final grades will be calculated accurately.

Quizzes & Assessments

When using the Canvas Quizzes tool, there are several variables you can choose from that allow you to create the type of assessment you want (e.g. timed assessment, single or multiple attempt assessments, etc.). To learn more about quiz security and the best options for creating, administering, and analyzing quizzes, see our Canvas Quizzes Best Practices article.


In Canvas any graded item will display on your Assignments page, including discussion items, Canvas quizzes/exams, and written assignments. However, this "Assignments" section of the Canvas Best Practices article mainly addresses written assignments that will be submitted via Canvas.

If you do not need plagiarism detection for an assignment, or the assignment is not a written assignment, then use a Canvas assignment. If you do need to utilize plagiarism detection, then use a Turnitin Direct assignment. If you need both plagiarism detection and want students to complete peer reviews, use a Turnitin LTI assignment.

  • Regular Canvas assignments
    • If you wish to provide a grade for something that is not tangibly submitted, e.g., a participation grade, then create an assignment with the submission type "no submission."
    • For anything that will be turned in offline and in-person, e.g., a pop quiz or a paper exam, create an "on-paper assignment."
    • If you want your students to submit a video assignment, then use the submission type "text-entry": Your students can create a video that is uploaded to Kaltura, and then embed the Kaltura video into the text box of the assignment using the rich content editor.
    • If you need to adjust a due date for a single student, follow the directions in How do I assign students different due dates for the same assignment?
    • We recommend using Canvas rubrics when grading student work because they help to make grading more transparent and offer context for feedback.
  • Turnitin Direct assignments
    • Turnitin and the Safari browser do not play well together. We recommend that you and your students use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead when working with Turnitin.
    • If students will be submitting two very similar assignments, e.g., a draft and final version of a paper, make sure that in the draft assignment under the Turnitin settings you select Do not store the submitted papers.

      If you do not do this, then your students' final assignment submissions will return inaccurate information: The originality report for the final version submitted will show that your students have plagiarized themselves.
  • Turnitin LTI assignments
    • Turnitin and the Safari browser do not play well together. We recommend that you and your students use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead when working with Turnitin.
    • To avoid display issues, set all Turnitin LTI assignments to load in a new tab.
    • Under Turnitin's optional settings, make sure to check the "Allow late submissions" checkbox. This will ensure that if there are extenuating circumstances, a student will still be able to submit their Turnitin assignment.
    • If you are working with a co-instructor or TA and wish to use an online rubric to grade the assignment, we recommend that you use Canvas's rubrics instead of Turnitin's rubrics, and use Canvas's SpeedGrader interface to grade the Turnitin assignments. This is far easier than trying to share a rubric with a co-instructor in the Turnitin system!
      • If students will be submitting two very similar assignments, e.g., a draft and final version of a paper, make sure that in the draft assignment under the Turnitin settings you select Do not store paper.

        If you do not do this, then your students' final assignment submissions will return inaccurate information: The originality report for the final version submitted will show that your students have plagiarized themselves.


  • We recommend requiring students post to a discussion before seeing their peers' posts, and making discussion replies threaded.
    Requiring students to make an initial post before seeing what their peers have posted encourages greater originality and may lead to a more fruitful discussion, and threaded replies allow your students to respond to each other more easily.

  • Discussion items are not easily grade-able retroactively.
    Discussions can be easily graded in the SpeedGrader, however, if you retroactively make a discussion into a graded item - meaning that you wait until after students have posted to the discussion to make it a graded item - then you will not be able to use SpeedGrader to view and grade students' posts. You will have to manually go through the discussion and manually grade students' work.
  • Students cannot automatically attach files to discussion posts
    Instructors can always attach files to a post, but if you want students to also have this capability, it has to be enabled in the Discussion settings.




  • Configure your Notifications Settings.
    We recommend that you use the settings outlined in our Canvas Notification Settings Guide.
  • Specify how you want your students to contact you.
    Though the Canvas "Conversations (Inbox)" messaging tool is convenient for your students, it is not as robust as your FSU webmail. You do not have to use Canvas's "Conversations" messaging tool - it is optional. Make sure to include whatever communication method(s) you prefer to use on your course home page and/or syllabus.
  • Canvas course announcements are an excellent way to communicate with the whole class.
    If your students have set up their notification settings as we recommend, then they will receive an email notification when you post a new course announcement.
  • We do not recommend using "Chat."
    Canvas's "Chat" tool functions like an instant messaging platform, however, its messages are not private. All users in a course can view the chat history, so we do not recommend using this tool. If you do choose to use it, do not discuss grades or any private student information in this tool and communicate to your students that anything sent via this tool is visible to the entire class.


Web Conferencing Options

If you are teaching a fully online (distance learning) course, we recommend that you use Zoom for web-conferencing and follow our web-conferencing best practices for optimal experience. Zoom is available to everyone at FSU and can be used via its Canvas integration, or can be used outside of Canvas. You can record your Zoom meetings if you wish, and then upload them to Kaltura later. Canvas's built-in web-conferencing tool, Canvas Conferences, are also available for use in all courses in Canvas.

Keep in mind Conferences' limitations:

  • We do not recommend using Google Chrome with Conferences. Mozilla Firefox will provide a better experience.
  • Recordings of Conferences are automatically deleted after 14 days. There is no way around this automatic deletion.
  • Students must be invited to a conference in order to access it - conferences will not appear for a student unless they are invited to that particular conference.
  • There is a 100-viewer limit per conference (keep in mind: this may not be ideal for larger courses).
  • Uploading internal media content is not available. The screen sharing option does not transmit audio and has a reduced frame rate, so we do not recommend sharing video via Canvas Conferences. External links in the chat window is the only method available to share media content.
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