Using Canvas tools to improve college classes

by Bobby Winsler
Ph.D student, University of Florida

Bobby WinslerCourse management systems (CMS) such as Canvas can be critical in elevating any college course, be it online or in person, to its optimal effectiveness. Canvas offers features such as quizzes, module creation, speedgrading, and grouping. Though the software includes many other options, those four features tend to be the most often used in the program.


The quiz tool is essential to studying student performance. Quizzes can be graded or used more as a survey tool for student feedback. The real beauty, however, is in the analytics. Not only can students see their grades and correct answers on completion, but the professor can also see which questions were missed and with what regularity. Professors can easily rewrite questions and resubmit the quiz. Questions can be varied by computer, and Canvas tracks how long a student stays on a question, which can help cut down on academic dishonesty of sharing or looking up answers.

For more information on Canvas’ quizzes, follow this link:

Module Creation

Modules can be a great way to pace students. Prerequisites are put in place so the students have to complete certain tasks before moving onto the next module. This could be a reading, answering a survey, watching a video, taking a quiz, etc. Canvas tracks the analytics of who has viewed which pages, how long a student stays on a page, and how often a student visits a page. This is invaluable information for tracking student progress, especially when you combine the grade reports to see who may need extra help.

For more information on Canvas modules, follow this link:  


The speedgrader tool is a fantastic way to give student feedback on day-to-day assignments. Rubrics can be uploaded directly to assignment, and Canvas will even calculate the grade as the instructor enters how the student performed according to the rubric. Less formal grading includes the ability to highlight, make notes, and write on a student’s assignment in Canvas. This means it gives you all the tools you would find in Word without having to externally download the file, which saves time and space. The speedgrader tool has a comment box for each student that can even accept audio and video files. The grade book has a feature that can email students who have yet to submit the assignments. It’s a handy way to not bombard the full class with emails because of a few students.

For more information on speedgrader, follow this link:


The Canvas grouping feature is my personal favorite. Groups can be selected or randomly generated. Each group gets its own mini-Canvas page to share files, make announcements, and submit work. The instructor can see into each group but the groups can’t see each other. One student is designated as the group leader and is the only one with the ability to submit assignments so the professor isn’t being sent the same thing four times. Students can be moved around in groups at any time.

For more information on groups, follow this link:

The final great feature of Canvas is the personal account. Professors can save any type of course material that will stay with the account even after the course is closed. This makes saving what works well super easy for professors who teach the same course over multiple years.

The Canvas management system updates once every two weeks. That means if someone were to find a limitation of the program a change to the program could be written and that aspect of Canvas could be improved.

For any other information regarding Canvas, please check out the following link:

Bobby Winsler is a doctoral student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida and a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).


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